Difference between revisions of "Leviathan:Volume 2 Chapter 2"

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(Created page with "==Chapter 2 - Shadow of the Uninvited Visitor== ===Part 1=== "But aren't the dragons flying from the Pacific Ocean towards the Miura Peninsula—approaching Kanagawa!? I...")
 
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===Part 2===
 
===Part 2===
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"Yesterday was such a trying experience..." Orihime remarked in utter exhaustion the next day after her first long-distance battle.
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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.
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"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..."
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Today, Orihime's face was showing fatigue that any bystander could see.
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"I was never told that I had to visit sponsors to report my victories..."
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"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."
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Smiling wryly, Hazumi corrected her cousin.
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Studying in the third year of the middle school section, she had been brought here by Orihime as well.
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"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..."
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"Ah, so what Hiiragi-san meant by 'regular business' was going over to greet sponsors."
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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.
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To show up at a gathering of representatives and engage in lengthy dialogue—
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This was indeed a heavy burden for a girl who was still a middle schooler until recently.
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Nevertheless, Orihime was bolder than average, after all. Hal felt that she would rapidly get used to these duties.
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"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."
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"Because, witches are irreplaceable human resources, their positions are ultimately much stronger."
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"Start with kicking tables. Then order people to buy drinks, complain about the taste and pour the drinks over them."
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"If anyone raises objections, just hint that you'll apply to be 'reassigned' somewhere else."
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"Stop tempting a newcomer with such immoral suggestions!"
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After listening to Asya and Hal's chattering advice, Orihime could not help but scold them.
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"Good grief. Haruga-kun and Asya-san, seriously you two... But it's not like I am totally opposed to the devil's temptation."
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"N-Nee-sama!"
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"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."
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Orihime sighed and explained in response to her cousin's protest.
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"Is it someone's death anniversary if you're paying respects at a grave?"
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"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."
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Orihime's attitude was the same as usual, without suppressing or adding extra emphasis in her voice.
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"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... On dear, even though dragons were not fully responsible, I was thinking I should still report to my family."
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Hal was informed that Orhime's family consisted only of herself and the grandfather.
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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 at Istanbul. Although this was not the reason, Hal still tried asking:
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"Hiiragi-san probably owes me a favor or two. Want me to talk to her?"
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"If you count me in, then that's a debt of three favors, okay?"
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"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."
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After replying to Hal and Asya in a joking manner, Orihime nodded at her cousin.
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As soon as this subject was brought up, Hazumi had immediately gone over to Orihime's side to silently cuddle against her.
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"Oh, that reminds me. I need to talk about something completely unrelated," said Orihime very suddenly.
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Hal and Asya shared a common aversion to depressing topics of conversation. Orihime apparently was the same.
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"Actually, I thought about it after the battle ended yesterday. Haruga-san had Rushalka use the Rune of the Bow last time, right?"
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"Oh, you mean that thing."
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"Wouldn't it be very handy if Akuro-Ou could make use of that rune too?"
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"Well, that's definitely true."
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Hal agreed with Orihime so he nodded. But unbelievably, somehow inexplicably, Hal had a feeling that things would not go so smoothly. Why?
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"Indeed, Rushalka and Asya-san were really amazing last time."
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"I know, right? If Minadzuki recovers, I would like her to try using it too."
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"If you put it that way... I guess there's basically no problem."
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The cousins nodded at each other and Hal expressed agreement. However.
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"N-No! That's a bond belonging (exclusively) to me and Haruomi (grumble grumble)..."
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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.'
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Speculating what his childhood friend was saying between the lines, Hal then spoke:
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"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."
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"Uwah. As expected, Haruga-san's line of thought went in that direction..."
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"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..."
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After muttering that, Hal stared at Orihime intently.
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The arrival of a collaborator possessing a "serpent" in excellent condition had stimulated his ulterior motives.
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"Now that you've suggested it, let's go test it out."
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"H-Haruomi!"
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"It's fine even if it doesn't work out. Let's, how did it go last time?"
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Ignoring Asya's protests, Hal began to search his memories.
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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—
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"Juujouji, hold my hand."
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Hal extended his right hand.
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Orihime nodded vigorously and slowly held Hal's hand.
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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.
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This continued for almost a minute. Hal quietly said:
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"Seems like it's not working. I guess it looks like I can't entrust that rune to Juujouji."
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Why was it not working? Hal began to contemplate.
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Then when it was after school, Orihime departed in a hurry to attend that dinner party something or other.
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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.
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Furthermore, he had brought Orihime's cousin, Hazumi, with him.
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"But is this okay? Leaving a witch's equipment and books in school..."
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"Although it's not ideal, it's still better than other random places," Hal answered Hazumi's worried whispers.
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"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..."
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"Teaching magic to ordinary people!?"
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"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."
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Why would a secret organization devoted to researching magic run schools?
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Curious about this question, Hal had tried investigating. Similar schools seemed to exist all over the world.
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"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."
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Even relocating the Witch Mansion here as a temporary substitute facility would be no problem at all.
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"I heard that the underground spaces here were built in consideration of such situations."
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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.
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Along the way, Hal happened to run into Hazumi. Then unintentionally, he revealed what had happened.
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However, Hal did not expect Hazumi to make the following request politely:
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"May... I come along with you? Please allow me to help out."
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Was she quite concerned about the fact that she could not contribute on the battlefield despite being a witch?
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Despite coming up with many excuses to reject her, in the end, Hal decided he might as well agree to let her accompany him—
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Hal brought Hazumi to the first floor underground.
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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.
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Proceeding from this point, the second to sixth floors underground were to become the temporary Mansion.
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Hal and Hazumi walked through each floor together.
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Every room was empty. They checked whether the air conditioning, locks and lights were functioning normal. There were no problems with any of them.
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"Looks like it's safe to move the materials at the previous Mansion over here. It's time to withdraw, I guess."
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After the checking was complete, Hal told his impromptu partner.
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"Fortunately, the checking task was relatively simple. If things always turn out like this, life would be much easier."
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"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?"
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"That's basically correct. But there are various other matters to handle too."
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"Various matters, I see... For example?"
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"Well, such as infiltrating concession territories in various lands for internal investigations or the like."
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"So you even do that sort of thing."
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"There are also ecological studies on dragons as living organisms. Like observing packs of Raptors from close range."
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"That is truly dangerous..."
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"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 worst than having those things target you."
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"That's for certain. Please be careful!"
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Hal felt intrigued. For a listener, Hazumi seemed too enthusiastic...
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"You're interested in this kind of stuff?"
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"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."
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"By adventure, do you mean conquering the tallest peaks on every continent or taking a sailboat across the Pacific?"
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"Yes. Stuff like cycling across the European continent is also my favorite."
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Hazumi smiled with a chuckle then added shyly:
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"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..."
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"You're in charge of protecting these lands after all. It can't be helped."
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Hazumi was the witch tasked specifically with guarding Tokyo New Town and the surrounding region.
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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 whim.
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A "mercenary" like Asya who fought in various places was actually quite rare.
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"It's not like you're Juujouji. Why not take this chance while your 'serpent' is recuperating to go on a trip?"
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"Fufufu, what a lovely idea. However, that won't work."
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Revealing her highly transparent smile, Hazumi shook her head.
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"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."
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"That's so so conscientious of you. But... your judgment is most likely correct."
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Hal scratched his head while agreeing. He felt kind of defeated against her.
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"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."
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"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?"
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"......"
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"I think this type of 'cautiousness' probably isn't futile. Fufu."
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Seeing this girl, younger than him, smile cheerfully, Hal thought to himself.
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Although she was a bit reserved and less striking in appearance, this girl might actually be even more reliable than himself or Orihime.
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She had persisted in fighting dragons over the years even though her magic was not particular strong.
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Having experienced all kinds of hardship, many considerations must have crossed her mind. Hal felt himself revise his opinion of Hazumi a little.
   
 
===Part 3===
 
===Part 3===

Revision as of 12:39, 31 July 2015

Chapter 2 - Shadow of the Uninvited Visitor

Part 1

"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."

"Hello."

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—

"Akuro-Ou!"

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.

"Switching works..."

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 Search, 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—"

"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 has 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."

"I-I see."

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 nature 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.

"Yes, that."

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...

Part 2

"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."

"N-Nee-sama!"

"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... On dear, even though dragons were not fully responsible, I was thinking I should still report to my family."

Hal was informed that Orhime'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 at 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."

"H-Haruomi!"

"It's fine even if it doesn't work out. Let's, 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 normal. 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 worst 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 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.

Part 3

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Part 4

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