Leviathan:Volume 2 Chapter 3
Chapter 3 - The Power of Dragonbane
"Yesterday, Yokohama was apparently thrown into chaos because a dragon suddenly flew there."
Inside the UFO Research Club's room, Mutou-san finished speaking while watching the news on a 19-inch flatscreen television, prompting Hal to nod. Shown on the screen were people fleeing from all over urban Yokohama, as well as the silver dragon that happened to be captured on home video.
Although they were having an extended break, because today was a weekday, they still had to attend half a day of lessons.
After school, Hal was curious about the situation at the UFO Research Club so he went to the clubroom to have a look.
"Will internet news have any new scoop? Let's see, 'Last night at around 9pm, a large dragon attacked urban Yokohama. Fortunately, the dragon ended the attack in roughly ten minutes and flew away'... Hmm, almost every media outlet is writing the same thing. It's the same as this morning's."
Mutou-san checked the laptop browser and several newspapers while murmuring.
"However, according to people who happened to be on scene at the time, the dragon apparently said something. It was probably speaking in English. Here, listen to this."
She used the laptop to connect to a certain video uploading website then played an audio-only file.
Noisy voices could be heard from the speaker. Shouting, yelling, crying, screaming, all at the same time. However, someone definitely was delivering a loud speech in a pleasant voice amidst all the noise.
"Someone at the scene recorded this. But since the background is too noisy, you can't make out the words at all."
"Mutou-san, how did you obtain all this information?"
"I have many sources. This came from an acquaintance on the net," answered Mutou-san while smiling proudly.
"I'm going to visit Yokohama later. My plan is to check out the city with my own eyes then meet up with a friend who happened to be at the scene last night."
"Is there any need to go that far for a high school club...?"
"Ahaha. Searching stuff on the net doesn't count as research, you know? After all, lies and wrong information abound and get spread everywhere. You actually need to conduct interviews at the scene."
"You make a fair point."
"However, dragons are really visiting the Kantou region a lot lately. It's already the fourth time this month. It feels a bit too frequent..."
Hal mentally jumped in alarm, because he was reminded of what Hinokagutsuchi had said. "A number of dragons have apparently noticed this—"
"By the way, is your family planning to evacuate or leave the metropolitan area?" asked Hal deceptively.
"Since we're in the middle of an extended break, more than two-thirds of our class is absent anyway, right?"
"My family is quite complacent. They all think that 'Dragons could come flying no matter where you are in the world!' But if the dragon that vanished from Yokohama is lurking near New Town, I guess evacuation would be an option too."
As a member of SAURU, Hal was privy to undisclosed information.
However, the information obtained from the radio station located at the building and all mass media related personnel who happened to be at the scene was not released to the public. This was because the incident involved an elite dragon and therefore information was kept restricted.
In front of the silent Hal, Mutou-san picked up her schoolbag.
"Oh, transfer student. Thanks for the tea you prepared, it's very good. Then I'm heading out."
"You're welcome—Oh, she already left."
The departed Mutou-san was originally sitting with Hal at the long table in the middle of the room.
With her back towards them, Asya looked up and replied. She was facing a small desk next to the wall, preparing red tea there.
"Still, Mutou-san really takes a lot of initiative..."
"The unexpected perk of joining this research club is that it allows me to reconfirm how ordinary people view reports on dragons."
Asya and Hal made poignant remarks to each other.
"Especially since we've been in SAURU for so long, our perceptions have deviated from the norm. This kind of situation is truly refreshing and interesting. By the way, Asya."
Hal looked at his childhood friend again and changed the subject.
"Can I ask why a member of the Literature Club went out of her way to brew tea here?"
"There's no special significance. If anything, it's to train myself."
Asya responded with an incomprehensible explanation. Just earlier, she had knocked and entered.
Furthermore, she was pushing a clattering trolley that carried black tea leaves and a set of tea ware.
"I've obtained permission from the president... Rather, I should say that it was her orders. She said something about 'go ahead and visit my various clubs whenever you're free!'"
"She's still so mysterious..."
Just as Hal muttered quietly, Asya turned back to her task of brewing black tea.
Her action was filled with a wondrous sense of motion, giving off an impression of distinct rhythm. With her back straight, her standing posture was very proper. Hal could not help but feel his gaze drawn to her. Bemused, Hal cocked his head and went "Hmm?"
He watched Asya cooking many times before. Usually, she went full steam ahead and it would not be strange to hear accompanied shouts of "Urya!", "Orya!" or "Toryaa!" Using brute force to subjugate a large amount of food, her figure was definitely bold and swift.
But right now, she was giving off an impression more like a figure skater in pursuit of artistic points.
Suspiciously, Hal gazed at Asya's back.
She was dressed in the Academy's female uniform. Due to the lower height of the desk where the tea ware was arranged, his childhood friend had to stoop forward slightly. Hal jumped in surprise.
A faint glimpse of the view under her skirt. Out of sight. No, in sight now—Or not?
How incredible. Asya was quite nonchalant about matters on this front. Whenever she was wearing a miniskirt, Hal would sometimes think to himself indifferently behind her back: "Oh, so it's white today..."
Perhaps because she left herself completely open, he did not feel any excitement at all.
But this tension of faint glimpses just now was truly refreshing—
"Excuse me, Haruomi?"
Hal came to his senses to find Asya looking at him shyly.
"Could it be... You saw it?"
"What are you referring to?"
"Basically, uh... No. N-Nothing."
During the conversation, the childhood friend suddenly held down the back of her skirt with both hands.
Hal found it rather curious. Why was he getting this sort of disappointed feeling...?
"Speaking of which, the president's absent when clearly an incident of that sort happened the previous day."
"She went to attend the Drama Club's rehearsal 'that must not be missed no matter what,' insisting something like 'I am the only one who can wear the Nurarihyon youkai mask!'"
"What the heck is that play about? I'm so curious..."
After having tea in the clubroom, the two of them left the UFO Research Club.
Asya returned to the Literature Club whereas Hal made his way to the underground floors of the library adjacent to the clubs building.
Hal was told that the underground space would become the Mansion's substitute facility within the next few days. Things were supposed to have arrived this morning, which was why Hal came to check.
Several large racks were transported here for placing books and magic apparatus later on.
Walking among them, Hal jumped in surprise, because he found a familiar face.
"Ah, Haruomi-kun. How serendipitous, fancy running into you here."
"What a big coincidence. I didn't expect you to be here, Hiiragi-san."
"After all, the children under my care will be placed here soon, so I was thinking I should come and check."
Hiiragi Yukari, SAURU's technical consultant. Despite his surprise at this unexpected encounter, Hal still asked what he wanted to know the most.
"The silver elite that appeared in Yokohama is lurking in Old Tokyo after all, right?"
"Rather than lurking, he is gracefully making his temporary residence there. Want to have a look?"
Hiiragi-san took out a tablet computer from her bag.
Shown on the LCD screen was a blurred image. It was probably taken by an unmanned drone.
The overhead view showed what appeared to be somewhere in Old Tokyo. Shining with metallic silver luster, the elite was sitting there with his eyes closed, his body curled up in leisure.
In addition, the building behind where he was lying down looked very familiar.
It was the former National Diet Building, a historic site that used to be the center of Japanese politics in the past.
"Volunteering to conquer Japan and choosing to stay at Nagatachō. Now that's what you call ironic."
"And openly too, without using magic to hide. However, he seems to detest getting disturbed. Reportedly, every spy plane sent to monitor him was destroyed."
"If this were a Hollywood movie from the past, the American military would probably fire a nuclear missile in this situation."
"But past precedent has already shown that nuclear weapons don't work against the defensive magic of elites."
Hal and Hiiragi-san exchanged nods.
The elite dragon's speech was virtually drowned out by background noise on video upload sites, but Hal and company had already watched the clear and complete version that was not released to the public.
Likewise undisclosed was news that the elite dragon calling himself Pavel Galad was currently in Old Tokyo...
"A bronze elite appeared just half a month ago and this time it's silver? The number of times Raptors flew to the vicinity of the Kantou region in the past two months has been high. Are these two linked after all?"
Although Hal knew the answer, he could not speak it. Instead, he said, "By the way, can I ask a question? Was the dragon's demand reported to the government?"
"Yes. Even the government doesn't dare procrastinate with a leisurely 'Wait and see' response. Instead, they quickly declared that 'hostile neighbors who threaten our nation's sovereignty should be firmly asked to leave the country immediately'—"
"Was this message delivered?"
"They seem like they really have the intention. But if our battle against Pavel Galad ends in failure, they might very well try to make the most of a hopeless situation and send an emissary."
Asya and Orihime had already agreed to fight the elite. Hal had heard them talking about it in the classroom, so he tried asking:
"Although there are a few days left, when are we going to make a move?"
"The last second until the deadline, when we've gathered enough 'serpents' for reinforcements... But there might be a limit to how long we can wait."
"I'm afraid that dragon might get impatient and start going on a rampage before the deadline."
After pointing out the belligerent personality of elites, Hiiragi-san made a worried expression.
"Actually, I came here today in hopes of checking on Orihime-san and Hazumi-san. If they're feeling nervous, I could chat with them too."
"Shirasaka too? This time, she should be staying on standby at New Town, right?"
"Yes, but she is that kind of 'good girl' after all. She probably feels very strongly about her inability to take part in battle."
After parting ways with Hiiragi-san, Hal left the school. It was already evening.
Hal went to the nearest train station at Ryougoku to take the Loop Line because he intended to go home directly. Taking out his touchscreen cellphone, he brought up some pictures.
They were photos of a wasteland. What they depicted was not a Japanese town.
Instead, it was a view of New York State's Old Manhattan Concession. Also a Monolith. A triangular prism of pure black was towering over the place previously known as Wall Street.
These photos had been taken using Visual Reprint, in order words, a spell for printing out images seen through magical sight.
Above the Monolith at the former Wall Street, a large rune of Ruruk Soun, which humanity still had yet to decipher, was traced out in platinum-colored light.
A pictograph consisting of a sharp rhombus connected to the tip of a long straight line.
For a long time, humans still could not understand what it meant, but now, Hal could see it from a single glance.
This was the dragonslaying runic symbol signifying the Rune of the Spear.
"I guess the Monolith at Old Warsaw probably has a dragonslaying seal too..."
A glowing dragonslaying rune on top of a Monolith was a declaration of occupation—
That was what Hinokagutsuchi had said. And the Old Manhattan Concession was Red Hannibal's while the Old Warsaw Concession was the territory ruled by the "dragon king-class" Caesar Draconis named the Black Lightning Emperor.
Due to reaching Narihirabashi Station, which was closest to home, Hal put away his cellphone.
Then getting off the train, he started on his journey home. Finally reaching his house, he found a girl at his doorstep. It was Shirasaka Hazumi. Why was she here? Just as Hal wondered, Hazumi approached him.
"Haruga-san, I have a favor to beg of you!"
Normally very reserved and polite, Hazumi was making a rare display of forcefulness today.
"Please allow me to meet Hinokagutsuchi-san. Haruga-san, I would like to ask her why the power of your rune could not be entrusted to Nee-sama!"
With serious eyes, Hazumi gazed intently at the troubled Hal.
The first holiday in May, Golden Week, was finally in full swing.
On this morning, Hal and Juujouji Orihime agreed to meet up at the cafe in front of Ryougoku Station. Based on this description alone, one might conclude that they were a couple on a date.
However, there were two additional participants on this occasion.
"Listen carefully, little lady. Simply stated, both the brat and the priestess are lacking in mutual resolve."
"R-Resolve is it?"
A four-person round table in the open-air cafe's sidewalk area.
Seated around the table together with Hal and Orihime, Hinokagutsuchi and Hazumi began to converse. After listening to the request Hazumi had visited the Haruga residence the previous night to make, the lazy self-styled devil had given the following reply.
Get a hold of the priestess named Orihime or whatever she was called. Although it was a pain, she would instruct them this once...
"I shall cut straight to the chase, brat. Approach the priestess immediately and tell her 'I want you. Give everything of yours to me.'"
"D-Did you just say everything? Don't be ridiculous, Kagutsuchi-san!"
Orihime could not help but protest against the absurd suggestion. However, Hinokagutsuchi remained unfazed.
"Priestess, I would advise you to read the mood and answer 'I am willing to offer you my body and soul' in one fell swoop, obediently allowing yourself to be deceived just once. This would allow the matter to be resolved to everyone's satisfaction."
"M-More and more ridiculous. Absolutely not!"
"I don't think it's possible for Juujouji and I to do that..."
"Such a level of mutual resolve is necessary for you two. That is, if you wish to establish a vassal covenant."
Dressed in a scarlet kimono as usual, Hinokagutsuchi was just a cute little girl in appearance.
Such a being was arrogantly reclining in her open-air seat. In addition, there was the additional presence of Orihime and Hazumi, two young beauties. Consequently, the group was attracting plenty of attention from customers and staff in the cafe as well as pedestrians passing by outside.
However, perhaps such a lineup ended up producing an aura of intimidation. Not even a single customer sat near them.
" "......" "
Hal only figured it out after listening to the self-styled devil's sloppy instructions. I see, so that's why I can't entrust the Bow's power to her? Meanwhile, Hazumi seemed quite shocked.
"H-Hand over everything... To offer one's body and soul, in other words..."
Hazumi's face turned bright red while she huddled her slender body and murmured.
Seeing her cousin like that, Orihime hastily said, "H-Hazumi, Kagutsuchi-san is simply making an analogy. Don't get led astray—D-Don't think of it in romantic terms!"
"I-Is that how it goes?"
"Hmm? No, priestess. If you are mentally prepared to go all the way, even at the cost of sharing a bed together, the vassal covenant will be easier to complete."
"—Go all the way!?"
"Don't imagine it. Seriously, don't do it, Hazumi!"
"Conversely, if the brat has the mettle to think 'I will surely make this woman mine' then the matters will be different again. Hmm."
Hazumi looked feverish, Orihime was flustered, while Hinokagutsuchi was putting on a knowing look.
After listening to the conversation between the three girls, Hal had no choice but to keep quiet. Helpless, he could only space out and think "so Juujouji will cry out 'don't' repeatedly when she gets flustered"—Just at that moment...
"B-But Haruga-san already has Asya-san as his girlfriend. Even thinking about proceeding with this would be wrong..."
"Y-You really need to stop thinking about weird things. I'm about to get mad, okay!?"
Noticing Hazumi's misconception, Hal quietly interjected:
"Oh, not at all. That's not the kind of relationship Asya and I share."
"Really? S-Sorry, I jumped to conclusions."
Hazumi bowed her head deeply in response. But the instant she looked up, a puzzled expression appeared on her face that was as cute as an angel's.
"E-Excuse me, may I ask a question? How do you feel about Orihime-neesama, Haruga-san? I don't have any special intentions, but how do you view her as a woman, a member of the opposite sex..."
"Nee-sama, I-I really don't have any special intentions. I'm just a bit curious..."
After clumsily paying lip service to her troubled cousin, Hazumi gazed unerringly at Hal.
Was this what one called pure and innocent? Hal somewhat prided himself on his eloquence, but for some reason, he felt no desire to exercise this skill.
Aware that he was no match for Hazumi's gaze, Hal said:
"Hmm... Well, I guess she's a very attractive person."
"I-In that case, the rest depends on what Nee-sama thinks... I-I suddenly have something urgent to attend to!"
Hazumi stood up, causing her chair to screech.
Frantically with trembling hands, she took out her purse, put down money on the table for the cafe latte she had apparently drunk earlier, then bolted for the exit.
"N-Now for the youngsters to proceed at their own pace...!"
Leaving parting words like a marriage agent, Hazumi left.
"Wait, Hazumi!? Sheesh, she always loves to worry..."
"Oh my, you are about to fight an elite after all, Juujouji. She probably wants you to gain some more weapons. However, it's thanks to Shirasaka that we have this excellent chance."
Just as Orihime was grumbling, Hal finally managed to talk properly.
This was all due to the decrease in the female fraction. He first stared at Hinokagutsuchi who was sitting across him directly then turned his gaze towards the western sky.
Their current location at the cafe provided a vantage point with excellent visibility.
Hence, it was possible to see the tallest structure in the Tokyo area, the pure-black Monolith.
There was also the Rune of the Sword shining with platinum light above its pinnacle.
"I believe it's time for you to spill the beans honestly as a former dragon. It's perfectly fine to talk here today, right?"
"Hoo—Actually, I am not someone who likes to put on airs."
Confronted with Hal's calm questioning, the alleged ghost of an elite dragon, Hinokagutsuchi, spoke.
"Revealing too much before time is ripe would be a fool's behavior. Such a mistake would be impossible for one as wise as I am. However, it is almost time indeed—"
Hinokagutsuchi looked out to the Monolith as well. Orihime seemed to realize what they were looking at. After blinking a few times, she gazed in the same direction and nodded.
Magical sight was apparently activating successfully. In the next second—
"Well then, Queen, allow me to make introductions next."
A voice suddenly spoke. It was a strongly astringent voice that sounded rusted.
"O young man who inherited the dragonslaying bow, I shall offer you my blessings first of all. I am very happy for your existence. Allow me to congratulate you."
Without them noticing, a man in a black suit had started standing behind Hal and the others.
The man was in the prime of life. His well-proportioned face likewise emanated an aura of astringency. He was also tall in stature.
However, his race was indeterminate. For an oriental, his facial features were too deep-set. His tanned skin was too dark to be Caucasian, but he did not have any negroid features visible either.
"I am Sophocles, in charge of facilitating the Road to Kingship—the grand yet barbaric game revolving around dragons, runes and the earth. My work could also be described as running errands."
While introducing his name, the suspicious man sat down in Hazumi's former seat.
Then with a great sense of familiarity, he called for a waitress and ordered a cup of coffee.
"Contemporary humans refer to sapient dragons as elites... Between dragons, they are known as the Zizou."
After a sip of coffee, Sophocles began to explain tirelessly.
"Actually, all of the Zizou share a common objective. Namely, to seek eligibility to enter the Road to Kingship, vowing to reach this road's endpoint no matter what it takes."
Hal muttered and peered at Hinokagutsuchi's face. Regarding the explanation given by the man who seemed to be her old acquaintance, the girl who called herself the devil shrugged then crossed her arms. She looked like she intended to listen quietly.
Meanwhile, the dumbstruck Orihime was listening intently to what Sophocles had to say.
"Indeed, that is the nature of the creatures known as the Zizou. Following the Road to Kingship to the very end is their ultimate wish. It is for this purpose that they raise their intelligence and hone their magic so as to allow the mysterious power of runes to inhabit their resilient bodies..."
"This 'kingship' you speak of... Would that be referring to the dragon kings?"
In response to Hal's question, Sophocles looked straight at him and nodded firmly.
"Correct, becoming dragon kings is precisely the cherished wish of all Zizou. However, the key to the Road to Kingship is not easy to find. For the sake of their quest, the Zizou wander between the earth's surface and underground, dive to the very depths of the sea, and even fly to the sky to enter the domain of the stars."
Hal could not help but look at his right hand. The hand where the Rune of the Bow resided.
At this moment, Sophocles smiled. That being said, it was extremely faint.
"Your comprehension is very strong, young man. Your imagination is correct. That dragonslaying rune is precisely the key for entering the Road to Kingship—It is what makes you eligible."
Sophocles whispered solemnly as though reciting a prayer.
"That is precisely why the Zizou bear a grudge towards those who inherit the power of dragonbane. In their eyes, these inheritors are beings who could potentially become dragon kings faster than them. To those who have stepped foot into the Road to Kingship, they give the title Tyrannos—false kings. Their desire to kill these false kings at every opportunity is completely driven by these feelings of hatred and jealousy."
"So that's why Soth saw me as a thorn in his side..."
"O young man, I know not whether you have the passion for advancing along the Road to Kingship, but you must become strong in order to survive. No matter what kind of dragon comes to challenge you, you must repel them then exterminate them in turn. Since you cannot commit suicide easily, this is your only recourse."
"C-Can't commit suicide? What do you mean by that?"
"The dragonslaying runes are the supreme symbols of Ruruk Soun. Even though their forms have changed, they have endured to this day since the ancient age of myths. A mark of indestructibility. Bearers of such runes cannot possibly die so easily."
Sophocles stared at Hal with an extremely sincere expression.
"The runes confer imperishable indestructibility to a certain extent, but of course, not to the point of invincible immortality. It is essentially impossible to die by hanging yourself. If you intend to commit suicide, then be prepared to spend a commensurate number of years to make perfectly thorough preparations."
Hal gasped. Next to him, Orihime also felt shocked.
The cheerful classmate, who was always as bright and cheerful as the sun, went pale this time.
"Be that as it may, young man, if you intend to die, there is no need to worry. Just devote your full effort to fighting powerful dragons. Warriors capable of challenging usurpers should have various mystical techniques in their arsenal to destroy imperishable bodies."
Leaving Hal speechless, Sophocles brought his cup to his lips. Perhaps the coffee had gone cold already, so he finished it in one go. Then he said:
"Please feel free to summon me any time if you make up your mind to follow the Road to Kingship to become a dragon king."
"Indeed. By conquering water, sky and earth, successors to the power of dragonbane can become even stronger. If you wish for power as befits kingship, do consider what lands you intend to conquer then make a proposal as a trial. The more you increase your territories, the greater your power will grow, while at the same time, the closer you will get to becoming a dragon king..."
"Y-You're saying that I can become a dragon king?"
"It might take years, decades or even centuries before you ascend to the throne. O young man, I hope you will survive well before that day arrives."
Sophocles made that faint smile of his in the end, thereby ending the explanation.
However, Hal retorted strongly:
"Hold on, there's a decisive point of contention in what you said just now. I'm a human, not a dragon. How can I possibly become a dragon king!?"
"Racial difference does not constitute any barrier."
In contrast, Sophocles answered very calmly.
"In the past, the type of non-dragon creatures known as 'hybrid' dragons—In truth, they were unexpectedly commonplace. Of course, pure dragons were very numerous too."
Hybrids, pure dragons. Getting a vague sense of the meaning of these words, Hal instantly felt his spine run cold.
"You mean they were humans to begin with but transformed into dragons...?"
A complete transformation of ordinary humans, reborn as dragons. This was totally unheard of, yet Hal found himself unable to laugh.
His terrifying experience with the Rune of the Bow prevented him.
"However, it is fine too if you have no intention of becoming a dragon king."
"Speaking of which, it is rather curious how among the dragon kings, there are many who remain indifferent to the Road to Kingship despite having obtained the power of dragonbane, devoting themselves to single-minded pursuit of their own paths. This includes King Hannibal for instance. The same goes for Princess Yukikaze. Perhaps that approach might suit you more."
After Sophocles finished, Orihime finally spoke up for the first time in a while. With a fearful expression, she asked:
"Knowing so much, who on earth are you...? One would think you're a dragon too...?"
"No, priestess. He is human."
Instead of Sophocles, it was Hinokagutsuchi who answered.
"Like all of you here, this man is human. During the height of heavenly Hyperborea in the past, he was known as an unrivaled sorcerer. He was a priest who served ancient gods. At the same time, he is also an immortal who has obtained eternal life."
Finally breaking her silence, Hinokagutsuchi spoke with mockery in her tone.
Hal glared at Sophocles and felt compelled to ask:
"Why would someone like that side with the dragons...?"
"Rather than siding with the dragons, I simply play the role of facilitator in the Road to Kingship game where the exceptional existences called dragon kings are born. In other words, I run errands. You can even call it fanning the flames."
"Fanning the flames?"
"Yes. I simply wish to watch. Using these eyes to witness the world in flames due to the conflagrations known as dragon kings, the dazzling light given off by life and chaos—"
These were his last words before he left. A spring breeze blew by.
Then Sophocles vanished, as suddenly as he had appeared. Hal silently shook his head then sighed.
After Sophocles' departure, Hal pulled himself together, only to find that the bill had also vanished from the table.
He called the waitress to confirm and discovered that everyone's order had been paid for, apparently the doing of the man in the black suit when he left.
"He does things quite thoughtfully for someone who's clearly involved with dragons..."
Collapsing in his chair in exhaustion, Hal muttered.
Then he turned his tired eyes towards Hinokagutsuchi who was seated directly opposite him.
"Personally, I'd really like to think that more than half of what he said was total bullshit."
"It is your freedom to do so. The truth is that you will experience it personally sooner or later. It is quite unimportant whether the timing is slightly hastened or postponed."
Hal instantly felt a wave of fatigue from hearing this kind of answer that evaded all responsibility. Hal worried whether the dragonslaying rune's excessive firepower could entail some kind of troublesome trap—
"Just for reference, let me ask a question. Does your appearance change into a dragon when you become a dragon king?"
"It is not entirely uncommon to dragonify even without becoming king, assuming the dragonslaying rune turns into a weapon to make its wielder closer to a dragon."
"But there is no need to be too concerned. Relax."
Despite asking him to relax, Hinokagutsuchi's tone of voice was not gentle at all.
"Whether humans or dragons, the majority of those who obtain the power of dragonbane will die before it matures. A moment's carelessness during successive challenges from Zizou and they end up slaughtered as usurpers."
"I cannot think of even one reason why you will become a rare exception."
"Thank you for your heartwarming provision of information. It's definitely a valuable reference."
Sighing deeply with mixed emotions, Hal muttered:
"So that's what you meant when you told me not to thank you for saving my life..."
"Hmph, if you had burned to death there, you could have died normally."
After grumbling about something said in the past, Hinokagutsuchi rose from her seat.
Hal did not know if she was concerned about the gazes of bystanders, but she did not vanish instantaneously. Instead, she walked out of the cafe on her own two feet.
"Struggle all you like. Ultimately, if you manage to become the greatest hero of the era, perhaps you might even be able to advance 'farther along.'"
Leaving these words behind, Hinokagutsuchi departed.
Only Hal and Orihime were left at the cafe's open-air seating.
However, Hal had no energy to spare towards attending to the girl sharing his table. He simply sat there, spacing out.
A human turning into a dragon—How could there be something so absurd? But that happening to himself was definitely a possibility.
Things were getting more and more ridiculous.
Although he was not the type to revel in angst-filled monologue to curse destiny, he still needed plenty of venting. Like 'give me a fucking break.'
"What a pain..."
Just as Hal was muttering quietly to himself...
The girl seated to him, looking at him in worry, suddenly asked:
"So, Haruga-kun, are you free today?"
"Regardless of whether you're free or not... Would you like to go on a date with me later?"
Suddenly making a suggestion, Orihime had recovered her usual cheer.
"Aren't we going to be fighting the silver dragon next? I was thinking we should relax a bit before that."
"I suppose you may have a point..."
"We ought to be entitled to taking out one day of the break for a change of pace, right?"
Orihime was probably making this suggestion in concern for Hal's low spirits. Hal's ability to read the mood was not so poor that he would fail to notice this—
Hal smiled faintly. He tried his best to calm his mind and pull himself together.
After roughly twenty seconds of silence, Hal gave a very uncharacteristic answer.
"Yes. Indeed, a date every now and then would be nice."
Thirty minutes later, Hal and Orihime arrived at a cinema's lobby.
Hal did not know if the recent "Dragon Appearance in Yokohama!" headline was to blame, but the crowd was rather thin despite the current extended holiday.
Orihime checked the list of movies available and said:
"I ask this only because I am convinced the following statement is absolutely impossible."
"Haruga-kun, you are a seasoned veteran in the battlefield known as the dating scene, having gone on countless dates with the ladies—Oh, I mean girls other than Asya-san—How's that? If that were the case, I was thinking I could simply leave everything to you as my escort."
The beautiful classmate looked mischievously at Hal's face from beside him.
"Or should I treat you as a recruit who has never seen actual combat?"
"So you're belittling my ability?"
"Rather than belittling, it would be better to say I am trying to analyze your strength as calmly as possible."
"Don't underestimate me—"
"If you have the guts to say 'I want you' explicitly, Haruga-kun, I will prostrate myself and apologize to you."
"...You in prostration, now that's something I'd like to see."
"Fufu. Your reaction is exactly as I predicted. I guess I should go easy on you with the comments."
"But wait, Juujouji. If you're saying that, can I treat you as a seasoned veteran?"
"If that's the case, please offer guidance on how to navigate this battlefield. After all, you totally called my experience level. I'm really looking forward to your exciting stories."
"Given our friendship, there's no need to be shy, right?"
"Ahem. A novice would do well to find a fellow novice to make plans through detailed discussion, then slowly decide the route to climb the mountain. That is what I believe to be the proper way."
Orihime waggled her index finger while deliberately putting on a serious face.
"So, Haruga-kun, let's discuss which movie we are going to watch. I'm very curious about that Mr. Hawkwood."
"Let's see... 'The heroic exploits of a mercenary during the darkness of medieval Europe. A tale of iron, blood and trickery, where betrayal and murderous hostility only serves to make oneself stronger. Fight, Hawkwood. This is the first neighborhood of Hell..." Hmm, there isn't a single actress among the main cast. I think it'll be very interesting."
Orihime was pointing to a poster whose color theme was dark overall, without any glamor to speak of.
The protagonist depicted in the photo was clad in a matching set of an iron helmet, plate armor and chain mail covering his entire body.
He had his weapon raised high. A large war hammer, in other words, a steel shaft fitted with a heavy weight on one end. Because blades were ineffective against enemies protected by full-body armor, bludgeoning enemies to death was the solution. How old school to choose such a weapon. Too old school.
"But is this a movie that should be watched by two people going on their first date together?"
"Then how about 'My Neighbor Seki 3'? Or 'From a Board Game on a School Desk to a New World. The World Cup this time! Fight on Japan's behalf!' That's what's written there."
"I'd watch this one even if I were by myself. I'd most likely buy the DVD too."
In fact, diabetes-inducing romance movies were also showing.
However, they did not seem to catch Orihime's eyes at all. In this regard, one might say that she was truly living up to her past nickname as the "Kotengu of Fukakawa." In any case, after some discussion, Hal and Orihime decided to watch a popular action movie adapted from an American comic.
Taking out their own money to buy their respective tickets, choosing two neighboring seats.
After a slight pause to think, Orihime bought a large size popcorn as well.
Before the movie started, the two of them entered the dimmed interior and took their seats. Orihime immediately proceeded to put down the bucket of popcorn between herself and Hal.
"Sharing the same bucket of popcorn between the two of us, doesn't this make it seem like we're a real couple? In a fashion—No, since it's a rare date after all, this is the bare minimum."
Orihime smiled, leaned over from the adjacent seat and whispered with her face up close.
Hal felt inexplicably frightened by this. Then the movie finally began.
After fully enjoying the two-hour show, the two of them went on to have lunch together.
As befitted their identity as high school students, they went to a fast food joint next to the cinema and ordered from the set menu. Then taking a brief walk towards the Sumida River, they arrived at a riverside park.
A sunny May afternoon. The gentle breeze blowing across the riverside felt very comfortable.
"If you're okay with it, how about I treat you to something as thanks for today?"
"I can't think of a reason why you need to treat me... But since you brought it up already, I'll take you up on the offer."
Orihime smiled in response when Hal made his suggestion in front of a soft drink vending machine.
He bought two cans of green tea and passed one to Orihime. Although he felt that this gift was too cheap, at least it counted as a sincere gesture of gratitude.
Looking out to the Sumida River together, side by side, Hal and Orihime began drinking their tea.
"Do I actually look that depressed?"
"A little. Your countenance is haggard and the usual poker face is nowhere to be seen."
"But now, you look more like the usual Haruga-kun."
Orihime smiled demurely.
Haruga Haruomi was not an indomitable tough guy. Consequently, if he looked like he had recovered his vigor, it was probably thanks to her, even though Orihime was clearly the one who was about to fight an elite dragon for the second time. Furthermore, she had entered the world of witches only recently.
In terms of being in a difficult predicament, she and Hal were not too different.
Hal took a deep breath and said, "I've recalled the magic words that are particularly effective in times like these."
"What are they?"
"'We'll cross that bridge when we get to it.' Think about it, it's not like we're out of options immediately. It'd be more constructive to prioritize weapons that are effective against elites."
Hal deliberately extolled optimism. However, there was nothing he could do when they reached the "bridge" for real.
He hoped that his future self would have the ability to evade danger...
"Given this rare chance, allow me to make thorough and effective use of this burdensome rune. So long as Asya-san, Rushalka and I are together, there will surely be a way to use it."
"Needless to say, I'll help out too. That goes without saying."
After Hal smiled in an intentionally frivolous manner, Orihime added, "I really wish that rune could be used on my Akuro-Ou too."
"I agree but we can't help it if it doesn't work."
"Yes. Then I've decided to stop worrying. No matter how powerful the enemy, Haruga-kun, I believe you will activate that incomprehensible superpower to rescue us with perfect timing just like in manga."
"Are you sure it's okay to expect someone like me to turn in a performance like in a hot-blooded shounen manga?" Hal disagreed tactfully in the face of Orihime's optimism.
However, she smiled and was not bothered by it.
"Don't worry. Although it does feel like a miscast, Haruga-kun, you are a boy after all. Where there is a will, there is a way."
"Unfounded idealism will only lead to failure, right...?"
"Is there anything wrong with idealism? The likes of a man's pride and honor are things that I don't dislike."
Hal found it difficult to argue against that.
Although he was not a witch himself, Hal was her senior in the business. However, all he had done today was cause Orihime to worry about him the whole time. Wasn't it time for his turn to look after her?
This concerned "a man's honor." Hal did his best to speak casually.
"Got it. I'll try my best to handle things appropriately."
"You should act cool in times like these and assert 'I will protect you no matter what' without any basis or vision. That would be the correct answer in shounen manga, right?"
Orihime seemed quite familiar with manga aimed at that particular demographic.
Finding her reading habits quite fitting for a self-styled "tomboy," Hal could not suppress a wry smile.
"Going along with your line of thinking, I'll also need narrow vision and excessive narcissism in addition to honor and pride. That's setting the bar a bit too high—However."
Without averting his eyes away from the especially dazzling Orihime, Hal said, "I will try my hardest to handle things appropriately. Honestly."
His voice sounded even more serious than he had imagined.
Hiiragi Yukari had said "it would be best if we don't wait until the last second before the five-day deadline is up."
As dictated by these words, it was decided that an offense would be launched ahead of the deadline against the elite dragon currently sitting in the Old Tokyo Concession.
In other words, the next day after Hal and Orihime's "date."
As always, this emergency decision was apparently influenced by the fact that serpents could not be gathered for reinforcements.
"Since the dragon declared the conquest of Japan, it is only logical that they can't maintain uninvolvement... But because last time Soth was defeated by relying on New Town's 'serpents' alone, the others are taking a 'wait and see' approach. In truth, Asya and Rushalka's power is renowned all over the world. Everyone is saying that there will be a solution just by relying on them—That's what I heard."
Hal explained the situation to Orihime.
Since there was no advantage in waiting, it was pointless to delay the inevitable. Hence, Asya and Orihime quickly got ready to head to Old Tokyo.
To avoid the elite dragon's magic, no one escorted them along the way, of course.
However, Hal alone accompanied them as support personnel. Nominally, he was described as someone possessing abilities useful in this situation.
Driving a large four-wheel drive vehicle, Hal set off together with the two witches.
Recently, he had been handling certain "sundry chores" in Old Tokyo whenever he had time to spare. Thanks to that, his grasp of the geography was completely restored. Hal drove steadily for an hour or two.
Arriving at the Hibiya Park, he stopped the car. They were already very near their destination.
It was after 2pm. The weather was cloudy.
"If possible, let's try launching a surprise attack."
Before disembarking, they held a final meeting. Asya was the first to speak.
"We'll do it without getting our hopes too high. After all, the target is an elite, so whether it succeeds will depend on the enemy's personality."
"Personality? What do you mean by that?"
"In other words, a cautious dragon would deploy meticulous defensive magic, remaining on alert even while sleeping. In such a case, a surprise attack must not be undertaken no matter how impatient you are. However, if the opponent can't be bothered to take such precautions, you'll find a way as long as you prepare properly—That's what I've been told."
Since this was knowledge learned directly from his childhood friend, Hal repeated it to Orihime in a quoting tone of voice.
Meanwhile, the veteran witch Asya seemed to be worrying about other matters.
"I feel very concerned that this elite is too unguarded. I can't believe he's brazenly sleeping in a conspicuous location in the wasteland."
In the past few days, as well as before the New Town invasion, they had been using surveillance drones—small autonomous unmanned helicopters—and investigative magic to keep tabs on the dragon.
"Isn't he afraid of getting attacked?"
"Chances are higher that he's tempting us to attack."
"In fact, he probably doesn't care whether anyone listened to his speech at Yokohama asking Japan to surrender! There won't be a fight if the humans surrender. He probably doesn't want that."
"But we have a trump card. Isn't that right?"
Orihime finished as though summing up. Hal and Asya nodded.
Next, they were going to improvise while following a plan.
As a side note, Hal still had not told his childhood friend about yesterday's encounter with the man named Sophocles or the content of the conversation that had taken place. Hal and Orihime had decided this together. Since it would only complicate the situation further, they intended to keep quiet until the current incident was resolved...
"By the way, are you sure you want to be wearing that?" Hal asked, looking at the school uniforms of his childhood friend and Orihime.
Even though they were clearly going to fight a dragon, both girls were in school uniform.
"I heard that Japan's witches don't have any special combat uniform, so to differentiate from my casual wear, I'd like to fight in something I could consider a victory outfit."
Orihime answered nonchalantly.
"Also, a high school's formal uniform works out perfectly, so I might as well wear our school's uniform."
"I decided to follow suit after hearing what Orihime-san intended to wear."
Asya had put on her frequently worn military jacket over her uniform. As a side note, Hal was dressed totally casually in a denim jacket paired with black jeans.
As long as they were fine with it, Hal thought to himself irresponsibly then took out a pocket watch.
Hal's oft-used Clockwork Mage was a tool for generating magical power.
Due to his work as what would be called a professional treasure hunter, Hal knew a variety of magic for exploration and stealth movement. He even knew more than Asya, a Level 5 witch.
Techniques acquired through necessity-driven learning were the best after all—
"How do you conjure images in your mind when using magic? I totally don't have a clue."
"Just use your own approach. There's not much point in imitating others."
"Those who can vividly conjure detailed images, imitable by no one, are actually the type of people who become excellent magi."
Hal offered beginner advice while conjuring an image in his mind. A scene where he, Asya and Orihime were moving as shadows with their sound, appearance and physical form erased—
Then with the three of them as the target, he cast three types of magic one after another—
First was Sound Suppression, followed by Visual Interference and finally Olfactory Nullification.
By using these spells, Hal and company would only cause faint sound even if their bodies or carried objects made large movements, they became as inconspicuous as camouflaged insects, and even creatures with a keen sense of smell would have difficulty detecting their scent.
(Then let's go.)
Asya gestured, urging the group to set off. Due to Sound Suppression being active, even the volume of speech was dampened, so it was impossible to hear one another unless you spoke in the listener's ear.
With the Level 5 witch in the lead, Orihime and Hal followed in that order.
Hibiya Park was very close to their destination. After walking on foot along Uchibori Street for a while, the National Diet Building's staid appearance came into view. Continuing on would reach the National Diet Building's main entrance. Nearby was a highway—what was formerly the Shuto Expressway.
The trio stopped at an intersection near Sakurada Gate.
The next set of traffic lights was located at the National Diet Entrance intersection, in other words, right in front of the National Diet Building.
And lying at the Diet Building's doorstep was a dragon. Ten-odd meters in length, an entity covered in dragon scales of metallic silver.
It was Pavel Galad, the elite that had appeared at Yokohama.
With his tail against his head and wings folded, the posture was like an oval shape. With eyes completely shut, he looked like he was sleeping. To confirm, Hal invoked Heat Sensing magic.
Dragons were commonly perceived to be cold-blooded animals similar to reptiles.
It was unknown if having flames inside their bodies was the explanation, but active dragons clearly had a higher body temperature than when sleeping. Just to be safe, Hal used magic to check but could not confirm the high temperature indicating activity.
Hal nodded to the two witches in his company.
Next, it was their turn to enter the stage. Asya and Orihime suddenly tossed out their trump card.
(O ancient divine seal of purity, let the transient blue dragon manifest over our heads!")
(Akuro-Ou, come fight by my side!)
Under the effects of Sound Suppression, their voices only sounded like private whispering.
However, two glowing pentagrams appeared in the sky above in response to their calls. Turning into infinity symbols at the same time, they ultimately materialized into two leviathans.
Nine-tailed Akuro-Ou, the fox-wolf bearing white fur and glowing with red light.
And Rushalka, the faint-blue wyvern. On her forehead was a long and single horn.
Suddenly appearing, these dragonoid homunculi carried immense magical power within them. The pulsation of this magical power apparently stimulated the senses of the nearby sleeping dragon.
Pavel Galad's massive body shuddered violently then his left eyelid slowly rose.
However, Orihime and Akuro-Ou had already sprung into action.
"Akuro-Ou! Use Fire magic—pseudo-divinity. Make haste!"
Responding to her covenantee's directions, Akuro-Ou extended her nine tails in the air.
The sight was almost like a giant flower blooming in the sky. Next, a blazing fireball appeared on each tip of the nine tails and were launched to the ground all at once.
Naturally, the fire was hurtling towards the silver dragon, Pavel Galad.
Struck directly by the nine fireballs, the giant body of metallic silver began to burn intensely.
The explosive flames roared fiercely. Lying in a vortex of fire, the dragon should not have enough time to invoke his rune of Ruruk Soun to defend. However—
"Here at last. I have been waiting ages for you... Waiting for humans who challenge dragons! Has that moment finally arrived now!?"
A silhouette stood up amidst the explosive flames in front of the National Diet Building.
Lifting its long neck and spreading its wings, the silhouette had a dragon's form.
"Looks like you are in hiding. Please hurry and show yourselves. O brave warriors who dare challenge dragonkind, I shall brand your deaths deeply upon my retinas!"
Tiny pulses of magic were released together with the voice, spreading out around the explosive flames.
The three types of magic that Hal had used to hide the three of them were all dispelled.
"Over there, yes? Your courage and flames have made my blood boil with excitement. Please allow me to use this hot blood to incinerate you all!"
He looked like he had discovered Hal's group that was one block away.
The silver dragon's voice was stern and dignified, filled with masculinity and even sounded a bit refreshing.
"The elite dragon this time is a hot-blooded man... I suppose?"
"But then again, this type of description doesn't really suit a dragon."
Hal and Asya conversed, but no longer in whispers caused by Sound Suppression. Judging from the fact that the enemy could leave himself so open, it was predictable that pseudo-divinity would not work.
The enemy must have used some kind of method to defend—
"Next, it's time to see how much of an effect our trump card can make. Asya, I'm counting on you."
"Got it. Rushalka!"
Hal focused his awareness in the center of his right palm. Hence, a magic symbol surfaced there.
The Rune of the Bow, a design depicting an arrow nocked to a bow. When Hal started to think silently about entrusting this rune to Asya, the childhood friend beside him nodded instantly. Next, the Rune of the Bow also appeared on the ground beneath their feet as well as in front of Rushalka in the air.
"Rushalka, Frost Breath!"
The attack that had defeated Raak Al Soth reappeared.
Conferring a massively amplified magical shot upon a vassal dragon, that was the Rune of the Bow.
Under the rune's blessing, the airborne Rushalka discharged cold air and icy breath, attempting to engulf the elite dragon target along with the explosive flames, thereby freezing them.
A storm of blue-white ice shards swirled up at the main entrance of the National Diet Building.
The explosive flames released by Akuro-Ou earlier were quickly scattered by this blizzard. The silver dragon's massive body, which he had boldly allowed the flames to burn, was once again revealed.
"Fufu... So this is the power of dragonbane? I see, it is certainly nothing simple—"
Listening to the dragon's arrogant voice, Hal's trio could not believe their eyes for a moment.
"Completely unharmed, is he...?"
"Crap. I was hoping to see how much damage the rune's attack could inflict, but..."
"Total ineffectiveness is too unexpected, right!?"
Calm and composed, standing inside the blizzard's vortex, the enemy remained completely unscathed.
Whether the cold air or the storm of ice shards, neither could cause the slightest damage to the dragon's silver scales. Pavel Galad's massive body was enveloped by a pearl-white glow.
This light was protecting the silver dragon, blocking the freezing attack from the Rune of the Bow!
"The light of indestructibility...? Meaning the trait of imperishability...?" Hal murmured blankly, vaguely understanding the magical nature of the pearly radiance.
"The dragonslaying runes are seals of imperishability. It is said that they have existed since the beginning of the universe."
Galad's whispering voice carried faint laughter.
"By deploying the rune's imperishable divinity, this body can obtain the protection of imperishable indestructibility... O successor of the dragonslaying bow, do you not know that?"
The silver dragon's eyes definitely captured Hal from afar.
Only then did Hal notice that the dragon's eyeballs were amethyst in color.
"Still, I never expected the Bow's user to actually show up."
At this point, the storm of cold air finally ceased.
However, the silver-white dragon scales remained lustrous and dazzling, without the slightest scratch on them...
"Ever since I was told that a successor was present in this island nation, I have been secretly anticipating. Perhaps there might be a chance to fight a fellow successor of dragonbane."
"You already said you're going to conquer Japan, of course I've no choice but to resist..."
Hal's murmuring was very feeble compared to Galad's shouting.
...Because he did not have any mood to enjoy a conversation. However, the dragon apparently heard him.
"Fufu. So you are challenging a dragon to protect your country? Bow's successor!"
"N-Nothing that grand. I'm just forced to take defensive action because I don't have a choice!"
Seeing that a dialogue had been established, Hal grew anxious.
Meanwhile, Pavel Galad proudly said the following.
"Since the opponent wields the power of dragonbane, I have no choice but to draw my sword. O trails of the flint star shining in the sky, trace out the secret records of Ruruk Soun!"
Galad chanted in his beautiful and highly masculine voice.
Then he extended his right hand, raising his palm high up towards the sky.
"I offer prayer to the seal in my possession, that of the Divine Sword of the Heavens. Let the dragonslaying sword come to my hand now!"
Instantly, a beautiful longsword appeared in Galad's right hand.
It was a double-edged sword with a long and thick blade. The hilt portion was very long, possible for Galad to use a two-handed grip with room to spare. Hal had seen the same weapon in the Yokohama video.
Holding the longsword, Pavel Galad rose up into the air.
"That's... the dragonslaying sword? The Rune of the Sword?"
Hal whispered in shock.
"Unlike me, he can materialize the rune—into a weapon?"
"Haruomi! You lose if you get intimidated by the enemy's weapon. At least resolve yourself to fight back and take the initiative to attack!"
Asya scolded from beside him. Experienced in battle and possessing a wild beast's instincts, she evidently realized this moment was the key to deciding the outcome.
Hal reached out with his right hand to hold his childhood friend's left hand.
At the same time, he mentally invoked the Rune of the Bow—to entrust its firepower to Asya and Rushalka.
"Rushalka, Lightning Bolt!"
The Rune of the Bow was deployed again in front of Rushalka who was on standby in the air. Immediately, the lone horn on her forehead released blue-white lightning!
Giving off the distinctive odor of ions, Rushalka's lightning devoured the gigantic silver body—
However, Pavel Galad casually swung his longsword horizontally. Just by doing that, he sliced the lightning and erased it.
He did not even use that pearly glow—imperishable protection—to defend.
"I would advise you not to underestimate me. Now that I have drawn the Sword, I can eliminate a Bow of this level without even needing to rely on protection."
From the sky, Galad looked down on the ground—Hal's location—and declared presumptuously.
The tide of the battle was already fixed by this point in time.
Seeing the light from the longsword in the silver dragon's hand, Akuro-Ou turned her face away in extreme discomfort. Speaking of which, the same had happened with Soth last time. After all, this was likewise the power of dragonbane.
Rushalka too. Her entire body was disintegrating in a gradual process of collapse—
Furthermore, though it was unclear whether unleashing the Bow twice was the reason, Rushalka seemed utterly exhausted. Glaring at Pavel Galad, her sharp gaze was also much more hollow than in the beginning.
However, the silver-white dragon said, "O user of the Bow, isn't it time for you to show your true power? No need to hold back. For the sake of racing along the Road to Kingship, I must become stronger than anyone. Only by withstanding ever fiercer strikes and slaying ever stalwart foes will I become even stronger than I am now!"
Everyone's jaw dropped in shock, whether Asya, Hal or Orihime.
"Please! For the sake of my training, strike with everything you have!"
"Even if the opponent requests that, an impossible task still remains impossible..."
The enemy in the air could not possibly have heard Orihime's murmurings.
However, perhaps smelling the subtle air between humans, Galad suddenly showed a stunned expression.
"Impossible—Did you use your full power in the earlier attacks already?"
Hal could see the color of disappointment in the dragon's eyes, gazing down on mankind from the sky.
"This... This is such a disappointment. I was expecting the imminent battle to be the first step along my path of conquest. It was only just now when I swore to absolute victory and slaughter in my heart!"
Pavel Galad was evidently very hot-blooded in personality.
"In that case, you leave me no choice. Weak enemies have ways to die as befitting weak enemies—"
Twelve runes were shining above Galad, but they did not include the Rune of the Sword.
Naturally, they were also magic symbols of Ruruk Soun. This arrangement of runes carried the dual meanings of "alchemy" and "bestowal of magical power"...
"Then I shall let my blood boil then turn the hot blood into a minion to butcher all of you. Such weak foes are not worthy of facing the dragonslaying sword that stands as the supreme blade..."
Surprisingly, Galad's voice sounded quite dismayed.
He even slumped his shoulders and showed extreme sorrow towards Hal's "state of weakness."
In the next instant, blood spilled out from his—a dragon's left arm. Surging out like from a fountain, the blood resembled mercury. The bleeding soon stopped but the great volume of blood spilled on the asphalt road began to move.
It looked like flowing slime or melted metal.
Furthermore, it was quite humongous. The plaza and road in front of the National Diet Building was covered in mercury color within the blink of an eye. Had protesters been holding a demonstration here, hundreds of people would probably drown in an instant.
"Compared to that of other dragons, my blood is more vigorous. This is an attempt to turn blood into a minion using magic. Living metal born from my blood as a seedbed... Will you be able to handle it!?"
"Are you sure that's what vigorous blood means!?"
While throwing out a retort, Hal felt stunned at the same time.
In a RPG situation, this would be the arrival of a monster called "Large Living Metal Slime."
Resembling the shape, motion and super high temperature of metal melting in a furnace, this liquid metal began to move. Indeed, it was extremely hot. The mercury-like fluid was giving off astounding heat and rushing towards their location like a tsunami.
In the process, various "things" were gradually swallowed by the liquid metal.
Trees lining what used to be sidewalks, the remains of street lights, abandoned cars, etc—The majority melted away. This was only natural since the temperature was similar to a furnace's after all.
Just the hot air reaching Hal's trio was already enough to make them all covered in sweat.
Swallowed by that thing, a human would probably get annihilated without anything left, not even bones!
"Since our most powerful move didn't work, there's no point in continuing the fight."
Asya suddenly yelled.
"In that case, let's flee as hard as we can! Start retreating at full speed!"
"The Thirty-Seventh Stratagem? Roger that!"
"Orihime-san, Rushalka can't hold out much longer. Please use the method I taught you to shrink Akuro-Ou so that all of us can ride her. Not only will this make her more agile but it's also easier to hide!"
"Understood. I'm counting on you, Akuro-Ou!"
Rushalka had disappeared from the sky already.
Meanwhile, Orihime closed her eyes and began to concentrate. As a result, the motionlessly hovering Akuro-Ou gradually shrank in size. Originally large enough to rival elite dragons, her massive body now turned into a fox-wolf roughly three meters long—
Witches Level 3 or above had the ability to shrink their "serpent" to a certain extent.
The miniaturized Akuro-Ou swiftly landed on the ground and knelt down. Orihime was the first to mount her back. Hal and Asya followed suit.
As soon as everyone had mounted her back, the white nine-tailed fox-wolf began to run along the ground with her four legs.
Right in the nick of time. After Akuro-Ou began to sprint, the tsunami of liquid metal reached their former position and the surrounding roads.
Even on a highway, Akuro-Ou was soon racing comfortably at high speed.
But due to a lack of safety goggles and shock dampeners, the rider experience was pretty much awful.
Intense up and down movement. The three riders clung desperately to the white fur with both hands while clamping Akuro-Ou's body between their thighs, gritting their teeth and trying not to get thrown off.
Even so, the liquid metal was still closing in from behind while moving like a tsunami!
Probably realizing it was impossible to escape on the ground, Orihime issued her command.
Instantly, Akuro-Ou floated up lightly to the sky, instantly reaching a height overlooking the roofs of five and six-story multi-tenant buildings. At the same time, the riders were spared from the awfully bumpy ride.
"In any case, first fly towards Western Tokyo. Be careful and don't drop us!"
Akuro-Ou flew west as requested. However, the chase was not over.
This time, part of the liquid metal bulged out, reaching for the sky.
It had turned a portion of its body into tentacles in an attempt to catch the flying Akuro-Ou. Also, rather than attacking just once, these tentacles launched wave after wave of attacks at Hal's group!
Orihime could not help but direct Akuro-Ou to rise higher. The fox-wolf loyally followed orders—
At this moment, Hal felt his spine suddenly shudder once.
Because he felt a gaze. Someone was staring at him.
He looked back to see the dragon hovering motionlessly above Nagatachō. Majestically, he spread his silver-white wings and stared at Hal's fleeing group. Then Hal heard his voice:
'How saddening. A rare encounter with a fellow successor of dragonbane yet you turn tail and flee instead of rising to the challenge...'
Probably delivered directly to Hal's ear using magic, Galad's voice sounded full of sorrow.
'However, since you lack power, there is no helping it. I will bring the curtain down on this farce while fantasizing about the great and formidable foe I shall encounter next time. Farewell—'
The mournful howl reverberated across the Old Tokyo sky along with these parting words. Released by Pavel Galad, this atmosphere-shaking shockwave was filled with magical power.
"Orihime-san, use pseudo-divinity to defend! The impact is coming, hurry!"
As Asya finished her warning, the surrounding air instantly shook like a heat haze.
Orihime's reaction speed was undoubtedly outstanding, but still not fast enough. Akuro-Ou was blown away like a tiny airplane in a sudden storm. Sitting on her back, the trio was thrown into the air.
Despite the shockwave surrounding them, everyone seemed to be unharmed.
The activation of Akuro-Ou's pseudo-divinity had probably protected them. However, Hal, Asya, Orihime and even Akuro-Ou were all getting blown away.
And they were flying in different directions.
Separated from the group, the shocked Hal was falling in a parabolic trajectory.
The wind was roaring noisily in in his ears, striking his entire body mercilessly. Dozens of meters below, he could see the roofs of what seemed to be office buildings.
The ground was further down. However, regardless where he landed, death was certain...
Hal thought with a detached outlook.
A witch with powerful magic reserves might have a chance in surviving. However, Hal did not know any magic that would prove useful in midair. In other words, he was out of options—No wait.
While crashing to the ground, Hal remembered.
'The dragonslaying runes are seals of imperishability. By deploying the rune's imperishable divinity, this body can obtain the protection of imperishable indestructibility—'
This was what the enemy had personally taught him. In addition, Hal had learned the fact that he could not kill himself easily.
In other words... While falling, Hal imagined Galad's impervious form that he had witnessed earlier. At the same time, he thought to himself that Haruga Haruomi was supposed to achieve the same.
Hence, the Rune of the Bow manifested on his right palm while his field of vision was filled with pearly brightness—
"What kind of gag manga is this...?"
Hal surveyed his surroundings and muttered in self-deprecation.
After falling for a duration that seemed long but was actually short, Hal crashed into asphalt.
However, he was completely unharmed. For an instant, Hal experienced intense pain that felt as though his entire body was breaking apart. Right now, various parts of his body was still aching, but there were no serious injuries at all. The asphalt road surface that had taken Hal's impact was in a far sorrier state.
Roughly eight or nine meters in diameter, a crater had formed on the road.
What created this hole was not a meteor but a human body that had crashed down like a shooting star. Confronted with this absurd situation, Hal sighed before looking around him.
Based on the road signs and urban landscape, his current position was probably in the vicinity of Yotsuya in the Shinjuku.
Hal searched the inner pocket of his denim jacket where his satellite phone was kept. He took it out for a look. Luckily, it was not damaged either.
Although he wanted to confirm the location of his crash, finding out his friends' situations took priority.
Hal first phoned Hiiragi-san at Tokyo New Town and get an update on the situation in the process—The call picked up.
"Yes. Yes. Hmm, okay, I guess... Huh? Asya's fine?"
He felt all energy draining from his body. Involuntarily, Hal almost dropped the phone to the ground.
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