Leviathan:Volume 2 Chapter 4
Chapter 4 - Awakening
Pavel Galad had issued a deadline of five days.
Akuro-Ou and Rushalka's defeat had happened on the afternoon of the third day. Despite the battle, the dragon did not break his promise. He apparently curled up and went back to sleep, continuing to stay at Nagatachō...
Not simply hot-blooded, but perhaps he was very rigid and principled in personality too.
Was the silver dragon a hybrid or pure-blooded? In his hazy mind due to a high fever, Hal pondered such utterly inane questions.
After the miraculous survival, Hal was rescued personally by Kenjou who had sneaked into Old Tokyo.
Sitting in the escape vehicle was Asya who had been rescued first. Reportedly, the childhood friend had exhibited her prowess as a Level 5 witch by casting Feather Fall, magic for countering Isaac Newton's law of gravity to slow down an object's rate of fall.
"I don't think I'd stay in one piece if I had cast my magic thirty seconds later..."
In the car on the trip back to Tokyo New Town, Asya remarked in exhaustion.
Even so, she had apparently crashed into the roof of a multi-tenant building at a rate comparable to a speeding bicycle. It was only thanks to her defensive magic and guarding skills acquired from close quarters combat training that she got out with only minor scratches and bruises.
Back to New Town, Hal was dropped off at his own house. Soon after his crash landing, Hal started suffering from a thirty-eight-degree fever. As a result, he was forced to recuperate—
Then came the morning of the fourth day after the declaration. Hal opened his eyes while in his own room's bed.
"Well, you officially invoked the rune's power without using a wand after all. Of course there will be a backlash."
Hinokagutsuchi was whispering by his pillow. As usual, she was acting like she knew everything.
"Wand... Don't tell me you're referring to the 'magic wand' that last time's elite also used?"
"Yes. Whether you have one or not makes a huge difference in strain."
Hinokagutsuchi explained while leaning against the edge of the bed.
With her back facing Hal, who was still lying in bed, she started playing with a handheld game console. Whether hardware or software, all were Hal's possessions. She was currently killing time in a popular game, hunting monsters as a resident in a fantasy world.
"So what kind of monsters do I need to defeat in order to get the materials for that wand thing?"
"Find out on your own. That was what I did. Whether in games or in war, those who cannot look after themselves will never follow the road to completion."
Hinokagutsuchi was controlling a stalwart and brawny swordsman as her player character, "Hinokagutsuchi" spelled in hiragana.
He was clad in shiny black armor. The massive sword he was swinging with both hands was also a black magic sword with an ominous design. Both the weapon and the defensive gear were clearly rare items.
The self-styled devil's finger movements for controlling the character were also exceptionally experienced...
"Doing what you are taught, taking action when you are told, do you not find this kind of disposition extremely pathetic? If no one has blazed a trail beforehand, just make one yourself. It is that simple."
How unbelievable. Hinokagutsuchi was clearly just playing a video game—
Yet from the image of her back, Hal could see haughtiness and sternness forbidding all grumbling and complaints.
"Is that how you ascended to that throne of the whatever queen?"
"Hmm? This is how I conduct myself no matter what the task. I am my own lord across heaven and earth, fighting whoever offends my eyes, going wherever I please. Whenever I was worshiped, I would temporarily take on the responsibilities of a goddess. In the past, that was essentially how I spent my life of greatness."
"In the past huh..."
Hal repeated softly. Indeed, she was using past tense on purpose?
Then Hal felt it amidst his fever.
Helplessness. Emptiness. A sense of loss that he had lost count of how many dozens of times he had experienced it. Indeed. In various ways, this was an era where turmoil was everywhere, but due to his family background and occupation, this type of experience was particularly abundant for Hal.
"Was returning to Tokyo the wrong choice, just as I thought...?"
He thought back to Juujouji Orihime's covenant ritual. He should not have accepted the job after all, right?
The same thoughts would cross Hal's mind whenever witches, whose ritual he had taken part in, died in battle.
Although they had to be present on the frontlines, witches actually had a fairly high survival rate. Presumably, this was because the "serpents" were in charge of the actual fighting. Even so, deaths still occurred and were reported to staff who were acquainted with the deceased during the covenant rituals.
Had that ritual not taken place, would Orihime have lived longer?
In that case, she would not be "missing in action, chances of survival: slim" as currently categorized—
Regret and guilt surged endlessly. Hal could not even muster the strength to sigh. What surprised himself was this intense sense of loss.
Clearly, he had only known her for a month. How unbelievable.
Hal clicked his tongue at his body, listless due to the fever, while rising from the bed.
"What is the matter, brat? Are you tired of the world and wish to commit suicide?"
"Of course not. I just remembered a promise that I had made uncharacteristically."
Currently, there was no definite proof of Akuro-Ou and Orihime's deaths. Furthermore, Hal had promised to try his hardest to handle things appropriately, to use his unfamiliar power to save her.
However, Haruga Haruomi had not done anything.
Pushing Hinokagutsuchi away, Hal got off the bed with unsteady footsteps.
First, he had to infiltrate Old Tokyo and locate Orihime and Akuro-Ou's whereabouts. Should the enemy show up, then he needed to try his hardest to find clues and see if he could seize a chance to trigger his power's awakening just like how he acquired protection. In any case, nothing ventured, nothing gained. Taking action was his only recourse...
At this moment, Haruga Haruomi cocked his head and went "Hmm?" ...Because he seemed to be hearing something.
The instant he thought of Akuro-Ou, a faint cry for help reached his ears—
"Well, you and the priestess did preside over the birth ritual together. It would come as no surprise if a bond of fate were to arise between it and the officiating priests—akin to parents, hmm."
Hinokagutsuchi suddenly murmured such words, causing Hal to widen his eyes.
In that case, could it be that—
"You are planning to go the Old Tokyo wasteland!?"
"Yeah. I feel there's still a shred of hope, so I'm going," Hal told the surprised Asya.
Their location was the Metropolitan Police Department's headquarters in the Sumi East area. An area rich in the trappings of Shitamachi, the low-lying and traditional area of Tokyo, prior to the establishment of New Town, the north side of the Sumida Ward had been redeveloped into a modern office district.
Located at Kanegafuchi, the MPD headquarters was a twenty-story building constructed from steel-reinforced concrete.
"Haruomi, if a 'magical bond' really exists between you and Akuro-Ou, then it's indeed possible..."
"Doesn't matter either way. Let me know immediately if the situation changes. I will have you guys meet up before Galad launches a fierce attack."
The two of them were talking in the lounge on the seventh floor.
Asya was currently on standby for a rematch against Pavel Galad.
She was here because the Old Tokyo Concession, now turned into a battlefield, was under the MPD's jurisdiction. Ever since the return of the dragons, the trend of arming police forces had risen in many countries. Japan was no exception. The drone helicopters sent to monitor Old Tokyo also belonged to the MPD.
"If only we could fight side by side."
"I don't think there are any witches nearby who can nonchalantly ignore the wishes of their sponsors."
"Perhaps national characteristics play a role in why Japan has so few witches as strong as I am."
Speaking in a relaxed manner, the two of them were each drinking a coffee-flavored milk carton.
Whether the sudden disappearance of a well-acquainted comrade or getting stuck in a battlefield due to dragon-related incidents, all of this was commonplace. At most, what differed from the past was a noncombatant, Hal, entering the predetermined battle zone for reasons apart from investigation—
"Haruomi, I'm not going to give advice like don't overdo it. If you get caught in danger, find a way to escape from death. Only by moving forward with resolve in the face of certain death will you actually have a chance of surviving."
"Isn't this the time when you should be saying 'a real pro doesn't take risks' for the sake of mood?"
"If military experience alone was enough to overcome the situation, I could accommodate... But when magic and dragons are involved, the enemy often transcends the realm of such experiences..."
"Enemies that don't follow the manual are so annoying..."
Hal grumbled poignantly after hearing Asya's advice.
"To add to that, make sure you get the timing right when running away."
"Doesn't that contradict your advice about 'moving forward with resolve in the face of certain death' just now?"
"That's something you need to be flexible with based on feeling. Knowing the difference naturally is what makes you a full-fledged adult."
"That's why you're described as someone with instincts like a wild beast..."
While Hal held back the final statement in his mind, the childhood friend suddenly said:
"In that case, I think it's better if you took a helper along."
"Yes. Go to the lobby and wait a while. I'll introduce you presently."
Hal could already guess the identity of Asya's aforementioned helper.
In any case, he went to the lobby first. Before he left, Asya said:
"If you really manage to find Orihime-san and Akuro-Ou, I will give you a hug, Haruomi. I'm serious. So no matter how much hardship lies ahead, you must find them!"
Asya, too, hoped for the survival of the Japanese girl who had suddenly become her junior. Finding a supporter, Hal could not help but smile. Then he exited the lounge.
It was currently after 8am. His fever yesterday had completely subsided.
The fever's cause was probably not some kind of flu but what Hinokagutsuchi had said.
"A magic wand huh?"
Muttering to himself, Hal took the elevator to the ground floor. As expected, there were many people in uniform. But in addition to police, there were also a few who looked like civilians.
A young girl approaching him was clearly in that category.
Just as he thought. Hal nodded. The girl in school uniform was Shirasaka Hazumi.
"I have already heard Asya-san explain the situation."
Hazumi looked haggard and her eyes were very red. She must have slept poorly.
"Why are you here, Shirasaka?"
"After hearing that Nee-sama went missing, I have been thinking all along about what I could possibly do. Although Yukari-san said I didn't need to do anything before the dragon battle, it really didn't sit well with me to stay at home... So I contacted Asya-san—"
Naturally, Orihime's family was informed of her missing in action. This included her younger cousin, Hazumi.
Feeling restless, she had come to the MPD. Hazumi had been a witch fighting on behalf of New Town for a long time now, so entering this place was probably nothing difficult.
Just as Hal figured things out, the witch in control of an injured 'serpent' said to him:
"I beg of you, please take me along! I wish to help in any manner possible!"
She expressed her will clearly, contrary to her usual air of reserved politeness.
In fact, Hal had considered refusing Hazumi's request.
After all, it was a rare opportunity when she, a middle schooler whose personality was clearly ill-suited to be a witch, was suspended from work.
Hal believed it would be good for her to continue resting too. However, common logic would dictate that having a witch to accompany him was something to be glad about—
In the end, Hal still departed with Hazumi. After securing necessary equipment from the used bookstore at Higashikomagata, which also doubled as a SAURU branch, they crossed the Sumida River to enter Old Tokyo through the Asakusa Bridge.
"Umm, Haruga-san, I believe you are a first-year high school student like Nee-sama... Is that right?"
"Yes, that's right."
"U-Umm, in that case, what about your driver's license?"
Sitting in the front passenger seat, Hazumi questioned acutely.
In contrast to his underclassman who was in school uniform, seated in the driver's seat was Hal in casual clothing, dressed innocuously in a hooded parka. Although he possessed a "license," it would be far too careless to grip a steering wheel while wearing the school-prescribed uniform.
Apart from that, he was driving a four-wheel drive wagon, the one that Kenjou was using the previous day.
"Well, SAURU members receive lots of technical training."
Let alone training, Hal had not even taken any driving course at all. However, he was merely paying lip service.
Hazumi seemed to accept his explanation. Glancing sideways at his nodding companion, Hal thought poignantly to himself: Someone who grew up normally would definitely put in a snide comment about this issue.
Orihime had thrown many a disapproving comment last time.
Recalling the missing girl, Hal felt a bit unsettled.
"By the way, I think you probably understand. Although I said something about hearing Akuro-Ou's 'voice,' it's hard to say whether it's real or not. I'd advise you not to be too optimistic."
"Y-Yes. About that... I am pretty much prepared."
Hal had laid down a defensive line against the worst-case scenario. This was essential for both himself and Hazumi. However, the girl with the angelic appearance contemplated for a while then said, "It is just that whenever I feel depressed about Nee-sama's situation, Minadzuki, who is sleeping in my heart, seems to want to wake up. I get the feeling that she is telling me 'Nee-sama is still alive.'"
"Yes. I wish to say that Minadzuki could very well be sensing the same thing as you, Haruga-san."
Supposing this was a revelation brought by a witch's spiritual senses rather than a girl's sentimentality and optimism...
Then perhaps there was no reason to reject it. Just as Hal plunged into deep thought...
"If priestesses are blood-related, then their serpents can sense each other's bonds between souls. This is nothing uncommon."
Hearing this comment delivered with a tone of arrogance, Hazumi exclaimed "Eh?" in surprise. Unfazed, Hal simply stopped the car.
The vehicle just happened to reach a Yasukuni Street intersection in Iwamotomachi.
Without them noticing, Hinokagutsuchi had appeared in the car's back seat. She was currently staring curiously at a remote-controlled unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) for taking pictures from the sky. In other words, a reconnaissance helicopter. It was fitted with a video camera and GPS.
Capable of filming and scouting dangerous areas, it was one piece of equipment Hal had loaded onto the car.
Hinokagutsuchi had been playing with it the whole time ever since she materialized without anyone knowing.
"Seeing as it can be sensed by a serpent, just use magic to search. Isn't that much simpler?"
"M-My apologies, I am not too skilled in magic..."
In response to what Hinokagutsuchi suggested from the back seat, Hazumi hung her head gloomily, sitting in the front passenger seat.
Hal had heard that Shirasaka Hazumi was a Level 2 witch. In fact, this level was the most standard among witches across the world. Hazumi was not as incompetent as she had claimed. It was possible that her use of the words "not too skilled" stemmed from her own mindset that she did not deal well with magic.
Because so-called magic was knowledge belonging to darkness, not light. Meanwhile, Hinokagutsuchi frowned.
"Contemporary priestesses are still so poorly trained. To think that magic of this level is beyond you."
"M-My apologies, I did not study hard enough. I am terribly sorry..."
"My goodness. A halfwit of your likes would never have made it as a priestess serving in my holy precinct, not even as an apprentice."
"P-Please accept my sincere apologies—Oh."
Hazumi huddled her slender body, looking very ashamed. However, she suddenly realized something.
"Umm.. I heard about this some time ago. Last time, Nee-sama made a deal with you, Hinokagutsuchi-san, asking you to bring about Akuro-Ou's birth using magic."
"Yes. Indeed that is correct."
"Then may I make the same request to you?"
"I will fulfill all of your demands, Hinokagutsuchi-san, so please, teach me the magic for finding Nee-sama!"
Hazumi finished with a very serious look on her face. Hinokagutsuchi smiled and went "Oh..."
"Now that is what I call spine. Little lady, answer my questions."
"Why do you wish to negotiate a deal with me? Have you not thought about kneeling before me to request instruction?"
Despite the smile of the self-styled devil's face, it evidently did not stem from delight.
The smile was brimming with a queen's haughtiness and nobility. It seemed to convey her intention to personally test the impertinent petitioner, to pass down punishment in the event of an unsatisfactory answer—
"U-Umm, I simply feel that you might not dislike something of this sort, Hinokagutsuchi-san. There's no special meaning. I am sorry..."
"Oh, so it is simply a feeling. Is that how you perceive my temperament?"
"Y-Yes. I have heard Nee-sama talk about you and there is also how you are reluctant to tell Haruga-san about the rune, so I guessed on my own..."
"Ha! You are not only humble and honest but also perceptive and resourceful."
Faced with the huddled Hazumi, Hinokagutsuchi laughed briefly.
"Very well, I am not opposed to having you as a priestess serving by my side. Little lady, I accept your deal. Be that as it may, do not misunderstand."
"W-What are you referring to?"
"As a queen, I shall not extract compensation simply for teaching an insignificant little spell. Should an opportunity arise in the future, I shall pay the rightful price in exchange for your obedience. Wait patiently."
While Hinokagutsuchi was listening contentedly to Hazumi's honest reply, Hal spoke up:
"Hey, don't anything weird to this girl."
"Unlike Asya and me, this girl has a good upbringing and probably isn't as strong as Juujouji."
"Yet conversely, her personality is very docile and she has a good head on her shoulders. Listen carefully, brat. There are occasions when I wish to be flattered by an adorable and considerate girl, thereby deriving brief consolation!"
"Even if you emphasize that..."
"Handling an arrogant brat like you who keeps talking back has made my personality sinister lately."
"You are a sinister person to begin with. That should be indisputable, right?"
Just as Hal warned against the girl who called herself the devil, Hazumi smiled faintly at him.
Compared to insincere words of thanks, this better conveyed her feelings of gratitude. Hal felt extremely embarrassed and could not help but look away. At this moment, Hinokagutsuchi opened the door and exited the vehicle.
Hal and Hazumi exchanged nods and followed her.
"Summon your serpent, little lady."
Standing at a crossroad in the former Chiyoda ward's Iwamotomachi, Hinokagutsuchi crossed her arms and commanded.
Hazumi nodded then closed her eyes, presumably to focus her mind.
"Minadzuki... Respond to my voice."
After Hazumi murmured softly, a glowing pentagram immediately appeared over her head.
This star instantly turned into an infinity symbol, transforming into a long and stout serpentine dragon emerald in color.
It was Minadzuki. Its body, long like a snake's, slithered and twisted in the air. The lizard-like head featured antlers while the leviathan flew in the sky as though swimming. Of the four limbs, the right arm alone was roughly twice the size of the others.
Sharp as swords, the four claws on her right hand served as her horn counterpart.
However, the massive body was shrouded in a red mist. Marking her entire body were countless tiny wounds where blood seeped out to produce a mist of blood.
"She's really injured all over..."
"Draw out that thing's divine power and release it in this city. This magic is nothing noteworthy, so using a bit of divine power is fine. During this time, also think about the person you wish to see."
Hal was surprised to see Minadzuki's tragic state. On the other hand, Hinokagutsuchi started giving instructions.
Meanwhile, Hazumi looked up at her partner with unease.
"I-I will try, but I am not good at controlling Minadzuki to do my every bidding. It is always a struggle when asking her to fight, so I apologize if I fail..."
While attempting the task, Hazumi apologized with a heavy conscience.
Hal began to worry. In order to control a "serpent" skillfully, a witch needed the arrogance of self-confidence bordering on shamelessness without considering the possibility of failure at all. In Hazumi's case, her reserved personality and lack of confidence were probably reinforcing each other in a vicious cycle.
Should he advise her to act less nice? Just as Hal was agonizing over this decision...
"Neither control nor fighting is necessary here. Transmit your feelings directly."
Hinokagutsuchi explained simply.
"The 'serpent' you employ is an 'imitation deity' after all. But it is still listed under the lineage of the gods despite being considered a fake. Tracing back to the root, its noble spirit towers above mankind."
"Yet you humans 'control' them and force them to 'fight,' such excessive arrogance. Go and pray, little lady. It is enough for you to transmit your wish with humility, piety, sincerity and total dedication of your mind and body. Next, it will respond to you on its own."
Hazumi closed her eyes again and clasped her hands together in front of her developing bosom.
"Please, Minadzuki. If Nee-sama is somewhere in this city, tell me...!"
As she finished whispering like a prayer, a gust of wind blew.
A gentle breeze, it felt comfortable brushing against one's skin. The source of the wind was the gigantic emerald body hovering in the sky.
Minadzuki was apparently a leviathan bearing the pseudo-divinity of Wind.
Having received a dragonslaying rune's blessing, Hal could feel the investigative magic in the breeze.
"To think such an insecure girl could succeed..."
"This is the only way for one who lives in the light as her. However—"
Answering Hal's muttering, the former dragon queen looked up at Minadzuki in the sky.
"That sort of girl has been paired with a 'serpent' born from the seedbed of darkness after all. It is truly impossible to expect great accomplishments from her. The guidance just now was just a petty trick to muddle past the issue."
Hazumi opened her eyes and reported the result with happiness on her face from the bottom of her heart.
With Hal's location as the center, Minadzuki's wind was gradually spreading out like a wave. Then before long, Hazumi's desire to locate her cousin had spread throughout the entire Old Tokyo Concession. As a result, the magic in the breeze seemed to stimulate the caster's spiritual senses.
"I think... it should be that direction."
Inside the car traveling along Yasukuni Road, Hazumi pointed towards Shinjuku with her index finger.
It was like a compass needle pointing accurately at north.
"Just now, Minadzuki's wind 'felt' Nee-sama's Akuro-Ou somewhere ahead—That is what I think. It should be right."
"You are very confident this time..."
"Yes, because Minadzuki helped."
As soon as Hal commented from the driver's seat, sitting beside him, Hazumi immediately expressed her trust in her partner from beside him.
Meanwhile, Hal could see from the rear-view mirror that Hinokagutsuchi was playing with a dangerous tool.
"Stop playing with that, even though the ammunition's not loaded."
"So you have prepared a weapon, brat. To be honest, I am quite surprised."
"A weapon...? Ehhhh!?"
Hazumi looked back and jumped in fright. Hinokagutsuchi was examining a handgun closely.
Instead of the revolver that Hal had carried before, this was a 9mm semi-automatic pistol, superior in both stopping power and ammunition capacity.
It was one of the items Hal had taken from the used bookstore earlier.
"That's not mine but something from SAURU's New Town branch. Although it won't work on dragons, at least it can serve as a bit of self-defense..."
Hal explained himself as though in response to Hazumi's massive surprise.
"By defense, what exactly do you defend yourself against!?"
"Although Old Tokyo is quite safe, concession territories across the world are still quite dangerous places. They've become home to wild animals or pets and livestock that has gone feral. There are even places where such animals have turned into magic beasts. With supernatural phenomena of a magical nature occurring frequently, those are genuinely danger zones."
"W-Why does that happen?"
"It seems like it's due to the massive activation of magical power in the vicinity of these concession territories. Old Manhattan and Old Warsaw are very good examples... No one can guarantee that Tokyo won't end up like that in the future, right? Shouldn't we be worrying about this type of danger?"
Hal was asking the self-styled devil seated in the back.
Hinokagutsuchi brushed him off with a smile then returned the gun to its proper location—The waist pouch where Hal kept his work equipment. This bag was made in America and included a holster inside for concealing a handgun.
The time was just past noon. If they found Orihime just like that, this rescue mission would have proceeded more smoothly than one could hope for.
In fact, Hal's prediction was as such: They would start in the vicinity of Nagatachō where the battle had taken place the day before, use investigative magic and the equipment they had brought to start a search, frequently clicking their tongues in frustration from a lack of results, thus leading into the night, finally abandoning the search to welcome the arrival of the following day.
But while driving the car, Hal was aware that "hope" had increased in his heart.
Arriving near the west entrance of Shinjuku Station, Hazumi spoke up.
"Excuse me, could you drive over to that side...!?"
She requested an amendment to the route. Her tone sounded a bit excited. Perhaps the destination was near.
The car headed in the direction Hazumi indicated. Passing in front of the no longer bustling train station, they came to the area that used to be known as the heart of Shinjuku.
There were countless high-rise buildings in modern style, laid out in organized rows.
Old Tokyo's city hall was also in the neighborhood. After looking at the state of a certain building, Hal sighed—Good fortune was in short supply.
From the front passenger seat, Hazumi gasped, seemingly in pain.
A thirty-story building adjacent to Koushuu Route. A viscous mercury-colored liquid metal was colliding with this building like a tsunami.
This living metal was like steel that had melted into liquid form inside a furnace.
It was Pavel Galad's minion—the Large Living Metal Slime. As before, it continued to radiate intense heat. Simply being nearby was making one sweat profusely.
Unbelievably, the surroundings of the targeted building was slowly shimmering like a heat haze.
The living metal seemed unable to touch the building due to this fluttering air.
Deflected by the heat haze barrier, the tsunami of liquid metal suddenly broke apart and scattered.
However, the remains relentlessly gathered together again after turning into fragmentary waves, smashing itself towards the building again. Even after getting scattered, it still repeated the same action stupidly...
"You said Minadzuki sensed Juujouji's location, which turns out to be—"
"Yes. It is inside there..."
Hazumi's finger pointed clearly at the building and the mercury-colored liquid metal.
"Although I'm surviving by the skin of my teeth... This is virtually like defending a besieged castle, right?"
Orihime reacted uncharacteristically. Namely, she sighed.
Her current location was the entrance lobby of a high-rise building in west Shinjuku.
This was actually a ruin without any lighting except for sunlight streaming in from outside.
Starting yesterday, a bizarre siege battle had been taking place outside the building. A showdown between the liquid metal tsunami that was trying to invade the building versus the heat haze barrier blocking it—
The heat haze barrier was created by Akuro-Ou using the pseudo-divinity of Fire.
Thanks to that, the enemy's invasion was halted and the molten metal's high temperature did not enter the building. Defenses were impregnable for the time being.
"It's very safe right now but I have no idea whether it will be the same three hours later."
Orihime sighed again. Everyone knew she was an optimist whose favorite catchphrase was "I'll know when I get to it, no need to hesitate, just do it." But the current circumstances were too harsh.
When struck down in the air yesterday, Orihime was too shocked, halting her thinking temporarily.
However, her partner flew desperately after Orihime, catching up to carry Orihime on her back, succeeding to land at least. Then from there, they began to run. Nothing less expected from the Akuro-Ou whom the former dragon, Hinokagutsuchi, had praised as "amazing."
Nevertheless, Akuro-Ou's mobility was decreased due to injuries from the shockwave, making it difficult to fight.
Flying at high altitude might make them a target for another shockwave attack. Left without a choice, Orihime had to order Akuro-Ou to fly low. But they were finally cornered in Shinjuku, so they had to take refuge in this building.
Then invoking pseudo-divinity to deploy a barrier, they set up the only obstacle.
"Next, it's a matter of whether my stamina will last until help arrives..."
Exhausted, Orihime leaned back against Akuro-Ou's belly and whispered.
She no longer had the strength to stand. Her entire body felt lethargic and powerless. Her mind was spacing out. Even sustaining the physical body of the "serpent" would continuously consume a witch's power, resulting in symptoms akin to anemia.
Meanwhile, the white fox-wolf cuddled against Orihime, waiting on standby in a crouching position.
Since the previous day, she had maintained her shrunken size. After turning into a three-meter body, the fox-wolf's belly and fur served perfectly as bedding.
"I'll be taking a quick nap, Akuro-Ou, so don't disappear. Stay by my side and protect me.
After hearing her partner bark like a dog in response, Orihime closed her eyes, reassured.
Keeping a "serpent" continuously materialized would cause a constant drain on stamina even during sleep. She had already experienced that last night. But if Akuro-Ou were to disappear, the barrier would go away as well. Hence, there was no other choice.
But Orihime had no idea whether anyone would come rescue her even if she waited like this.
The satellite phone she had taken in advance could not connect anywhere, probably due to the barrier or because she was indoors. Either way, Orihime was unable to contact the outside world.
What had happened to Hal and Asya who had fallen off at the same time?
Common logic would dictate that they could not have survived. However, both of them possessed special skills and magic, which lent some hope to her, but dark thoughts still reared their ugly heads.
Her friends had lost their lives, rescue was not coming, Juujouji Orihime was approaching death all alone like this... Thoughts of this sort. She felt very afraid.
For the first time, Orihime was experiencing stress and fear.
Her only consolation consisted of drowsiness and fatigue that prevented her from staying awake. Exhausted, Orihime closed her eyes while praying that she would wake up in safety.
"This building is protected by Fire pseudo-divinity..."
The mercury-colored slime smashed itself into pieces against the heat haze barrier repeatedly, but each time, it reformed itself into a tsunami to challenge the heat haze—Hal watched this repeating scenario while speaking quietly.
He had gotten off the car with Hazumi.
Due to the heat given off by the living molten metal, this place was as hot as a steel mill.
"If Akuro-Ou has been using magic continuously since yesterday—I am very worried about Nee-sama!"
Hazumi cried out uncharacteristically. Hal nodded.
"Even without doing anything strenuous like fighting, she has been sustaining a 'serpent' for almost a day after all... Her body and mind must be reaching a limit? In that case, there's only one choice."
"What is it, Haruga-san?"
"Summon Minadzuki and swiftly defeat that slimy thing."
Hazumi jumped in surprise at Hal's suggestion.
"However, that elite dragon only seemed to summon his minion at a critical moment, so don't be too surprised if that thing is harder to handle than a Raptor. Considering Minadzuki's injuries, I think it's best to decide the battle instantly."
"If the enemy counterattacks even a little, I don't think Minadzuki can withstand at all, right?"
Like breaking waves, the living metal attacked the heat haze barrier again and again.
It did not do anything else and showed no signs of attacking Hal and other humans. However, if Minadzuki, a leviathan, appeared, the situation might change.
"What do you think? Do you have any confidence of success?"
"Sorry—None at all..."
When Hal asked to confirm, Hazumi lowered her eyes.
"I really am not good at asking a 'serpent' to attack... Even when I beg her to 'defeat that dragon,' Minadzuki always moves very slowly. I'm barely able to defeat small dragons slowly, but—"
Hazumi spoke timidly, never looking up the whole time.
"H-However, I will try my best. This is for rescuing Nee-sama..."
Speaking of which, Hal's first glimpse of Minadzuki was in combat. Hal recalled the battle back then.
Now that he thought back to it, she had to expend a great deal of effort just to eliminate a single Raptor. If Akuro-Ou were there instead, she would have killed it instantly with a single attack, fast as lightning.
"Recall what I said previously. There is no need to fight."
Hinokagutsuchi alighted the vehicle.
"All you need to do is transmit your prayer. Leave the 'serpent' to decide on its own how to best bring your wish to fruition. She will come up with better methods than you in your inexperience."
"No way... But—"
"You do not need confidence. Do you not understand what I said?"
Comprehension surfaced in Hazumi's eyes. Looking up stiffly, she stared at the building.
Then she blinked and took a deep breath. Her facial expression, conveying worry about the person she held dear, immediately switched to a slightly tense countenance. Finally, she said to Hal:
"A-Although I have no confidence, I have decided to believe. Haruga-san, please step back."
Seeing Hazumi acting a little different from usual, Hal felt surprised.
Distancing himself from the girl whose personality was supposed to be reserved and polite, he came over to Hinokagutsuchi.
(...What a friendly teacher act you're putting on. How unlike you.)
(I made a deal—or rather, am going to make one—after all. Naturally, I will look after her as appropriate.)
(But all you did was give brief advice? How can things proceed that smoothly...)
Paying no attention to the pair who were neither benevolent nor honest, Hazumi finally began.
"Minadzuki, respond to my voice."
Her summoning voice sounded more forceful.
The emerald serpentine dragon suddenly manifested over Hazumi's head in response to her call, taking position behind the metal slime. A bloody mist floated around Minadzuki, dyeing the air red.
Slosh! Ripples appeared on the liquid metal.
It seemed to be entering a state of alert upon sensing the arrival of an enemy.
"I hope you can save Nee-sama. If you need my power for this... Take as much as you need—!"
Hazumi was not like Asya who controlled her "serpent" using mighty willpower and fighting spirit.
Instead, she clasped her hands before her chest in prayer, closing her eyes.
This meant she could not watch the battle situation or issue orders, which was equivalent to giving up on fighting. But conversely, it also meant that she had resolved to entrust her life to Minadzuki's judgment—
"I don't have the confidence to command you with finesse, but I am able to place my trust in you... So I am counting on you!"
The liquid metal began to move like a tsunami as it did yesterday.
It rushed towards Minadzuki behind it, trying to swallow her whole. In response, the extensively injured leviathan howled "Kyuahhhh!"
At the same time, Minadzuki released ultrasonic waves from her mouth.
Invoking the pseudo-divinity of Wind, she caused the atmosphere to vibrate. This pulse of air easily blew away the liquid metal.
"Fortunately, that silvery brat is absent."
Seeing Minadzuki obtain victory, Hinokagutsuchi commented patronizingly.
"Were that guy present, he would employ dragonslaying skills to confer his minion with the power of the Sword. With that, the battle would not have been won so easily."
"This world is way too easy..."
Meanwhile, Hal felt a bit anticlimactic. However, the self-styled devil disagreed defiantly:
"Are you referring to the fact that I simply gave tiny hints? Foolish fellow. There is no need to waste a thousand words to teach mere tricks of the unorthodoxy."
Hinokagutsuchi puffed out her prepubescent chest and asserted solemnly.
"That magic just now was finally brought out by that little lady on her own when cornered without options, after exhausting both her body and mind. That is precisely why it could be used with such ease and naturalness. A thousand words would prevent her from learning the trick. All she needed was a single sentence profound enough to enlighten her."
"I will have you know that my greatness as a master is amazing."
"Well, that might be true this one time..."
Just as Hal revised his opinion of the smug Hinokagutsuchi for the first time, Minadzuki cried shrilly.
Her voice sounded like a call to a faraway companion. At this moment, the heat haze barrier guarding the building suddenly vanished, because Minadzuki had conveyed a message of safety to her kin.
Then the faint red mist in the air around the hovering Minadzuki grew more and more dense—
The bleeding had likely increased due to the strain from using pseudo-divinity persistently. Hazumi frantically cried out:
"Thank you, Minadzuki! It's okay now, you can rest!"
The emerald serpentine dragon of a leviathan gradually vanished.
Meanwhile, Hal entered the building. The damage near the entrance was very severe. Most likely, a giant creature—Akuro-Ou—had broken through by force.
As expected, the white fox-wolf was dutifully crouching at the entrance lobby on standby.
Dressed in uniform, Orihime was sleeping, treating Akuro-Ou's belly and white fur as bedding.
Due to the excellent quality of Akuro-Ou's fur, she seemed to be sleeping quite comfortably. After lowering the sleeping Orihime to the ground, the "serpent" disappeared by her own will, having accomplished her mission. It was possible that she was worried about the strain on Orihime.
Hal caught a rare glimpse of Orihime's dazed face as she woke up.
It was presumably due to her just waking up combined with the her massive exhaustion of stamina. Hal nodded at her.
"Thanks to Akuro-Ou and Shirasaka's efforts, I was able to rescue you."
"Hazumi came too...? I-I must thank her. But can I ask a question...?"
Orihime gazed in Hal blankly then complained.
"We clearly made a promise, but aren't you arriving way too late this time...?"
"Sorry. After all, I'm still new at this, so getting the timing right is hard."
"You leave me speechless... Next time, I will lend you the 'Heroes of Justice Reference Collection' I made in my childhood, so study that well..."
"It's getting easier and easier to imagine what kind of childhood you had..."
"But this time really was awful."
While Hal was feeling impressed, Orihime sighed in exhaustion.
"For the first time in my life, I thought I might die..."
"This is actually quite common in this world. Even without participating in battle, I've come close to dying many times. It's fine once you get used to it—But whether you can think of things that way varies between individuals."
Hal tried his best to speak casually as usual.
"Juujouji, you probably belong on the side that's fine."
"I don't really want to accumulate this type of experience... By the way, would it kill you at all to say a few considerate words to a novice like me?"
Orihime made a sulking expression but the corners of her lips were smiling.
"Nevertheless, I am really glad to see you in good spirits as usual, Haruga-kun. After all, it would be too lame if we were wiped out like that yesterday. As for Asya-san—"
"If I survived, how could she possibly die?"
"Indeed, one does get a very resilient impression from Asya-san... But if that is the case, I really feel reassured for now. I am so tired, may I sleep?"
"Yeah. Once we leave this place, you can sleep as much as you want."
Lending Orihime his shoulder for support, Hal brought her outside. Feeling her body's seductive warmth through the school uniform, Hal began to blush.
Noticing his reaction, Orihime whispered "pervert..."
Despite the embarrassment and turning red to his ears, Hal also felt relieved.
Despite experiencing a situation of life and death, Orihime did not seem to have suffered much mental trauma. Was it due to her inborn personality of boldness and having Akuro-Ou's protection by her side that she could dispel her fear?
"How are you, Nee-sama!? But thank goodness you are safe!"
Presumably feeling relieved, Hazumi was rushing over with tears in her eyes. Together with Hal, she supported Orihime. At this moment, a giant shadow blotted out the sunlight.
Hal looked up reflexively at the sunny sky and gasped.
Pavel Galad was spreading his silver-white wings, descending from the sky.
"I sensed the demise of my minion and came to have a look—So it was you."
Landing on the ground, Galad spoke in his usual beautiful voice.
"However, I am sorry to say that I have already lost interest in you. Even if we stare at each other like this, I cannot muster the slightest shred of fighting spirit."
"I don't want to fight you either..."
Hal was having a conversation with a dragon for the first time in his life.
While engaging Soth in combat, he never tried to communicate actively. This was only natural. Dragonkind and Haruga Haruomi belonged to totally different worlds.
"Is that so? Then I shall show mercy by erasing you instantly."
"I'd be very grateful if you could quietly let us go."
"Is that meant to be joke? I am sorry to say that I am a dragon lacking in the talent known as 'humor,' so a splendid reply truly eludes me—Then regarding the manner of your death, would you prefer fire or lightning?"
"Forget about no talent, you're showing a lot of promise in playing the fool..."
Hal tried his best to run his mouth off while maintaining his "usual attitude."
However, his throat was very parched due to excessive tension. His heart was also beating rapidly. But right now, Hal was gradually changing his perspective. Despite his reluctance, he had to admit that the world he inhabited was rapidly changing. If he insisted on surviving this moment, he must first alter his mindset thoroughly.
Otherwise, even the two other people present would get swept into a journey to death—
Hal entrusted Orihime's powerless body to Hazumi while motioning with his eyes for them to retreat.
Although the two girls watched him in worry, Hazumi still tried her hardest to support her stumbling cousin Orihime while leaving.
The two of them were unable to use "serpents" right now. They were probably worried they would be a liability for Hal.
"If you do not have any special requests, then I will choose on your behalf."
"You can choose whatever you want, but I've no intention of accepting quietly..."
Hal and Pavel Galad were separated by a distance of ten-odd meters.
Just as he looked up to gaze at the dragon's gigantic body, the enemy opened his jaws wide. A blue-white fire source could be seen lighting up in his mouth. The hot-blooded dragon had apparently chosen to use fire for the finishing blow.
Hal took a deep breath and thought back to the survival drama last time.
Obtaining imperishable protection by imagining himself to be an indestructible adversary.
"Farewell, successor of the Bow!"
"Screw that! How could I let you kill me so easily!?"
Hal extended his right palm forward with the Rune of the Bow surfacing on it.
A pearly glow enveloped his entire body. From above this light, Galad spewed out blue-white flames. Only after releasing blistering flames for a minute or two, he finally closed his mouth—
But when the flames ended, Hal had not been burned at all.
"Oh... You have learned imperishable protection in merely a day."
Seeing Hal unharmed, Galad narrowed his eyes.
"Then I have no choice but to draw this."
The silver-white arm reached high towards the sky. It was the right hand whose palm was showing the Rune of the Sword.
Galad intended to use his trump card! Hal stared wide-eyed. In that case, he intended to imitate all the way. If the enemy deployed protection, he would deploy protection too. If the enemy summoned his magic wand, he would summon a magic wand too—
Hal watched Galad intently and tried to emulate the whole process, to subject his opponent to the same move.
"O trails of the flint star shining in the sky, trace out the secret records of Ruruk Soun."
The instant he activate magical sight, Hal saw.
Macrocosmic darkness was hanging around Pavel Galad's surroundings. An uncountable number of stars were twinkling in the distant far beyond, forming an ocean of stars!
"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!"
The instant Galad called out, a group of stars over his head became more dazzling.
This was constellation known to Hal and other humans as Orion. Among them, three stars in a series—the three stars symbolizing the hunter Orion's belt—gave off platinum-colored radiance.
Then a beautiful longsword appeared in Galad's right hand.
A rune consisting of three Vs descended upon this sword. The Rune of the Sword. The rune came from over Galad's head—The Three Stars of Orion.
The instant the sword merged with the rune, Galad's longsword radiated platinum-colored light!
"Is that how that guy's sword, his magic wand, is created!?"
"Hmph. The dragonslaying sword versus imperishable protection, allow me to test which is more potent!"
Galad swung the dragonslaying sword down.
Hal blocked using the power of protection. The instant the gigantic sword's blade struck the pearly radiance, the center of the glow shook from the astounding impact. Hal lost balance and fell to his knees.
However, the pearly radiance displayed excellent defensive power. Hal remained unharmed—
"Haruga-san...!" "Are you alright!?"
Orihime and Hazumi cried out from somewhere but Hal could not see them.
Hal was unsure whether it was due to magical sight but even his own surroundings had turned into the universe. Even though he was standing firmly on the ground, what lay underfoot was a macrocosmic abyss.
Currently, this universe only contained two surviving existences, Hal and Pavel Galad.
"Fufufu! As one would expect, crushing imperishable protection is not that easy!"
Was it the instinct of dragons to delight in the enemy's strength?
Galad swung the dragonslaying sword again. This time, it was a diagonal thrust downwards.
The instant he blocked the attack, Hal felt a powerful impact again but he was not injured. Next, Galad chopped straight, sliced sideways, then slashed as though swinging a golf club.
Every time it was struck, the pearly protection would shake intensely.
Hal's body would shake accordingly, but he did not suffer harm at least. The protection's power was truly an inviolable barrier of defense—Logically speaking, that was the way it should be, but symptoms began to appear.
Every time the shaking happened, Hal would feel pain in his heart as though getting pricked by needles.
Hal groaned. It looked like he could not rely too much on the protection's defensive power.
Suffering blows at this rate, his heart was going to explode sooner or later—Hal felt his mind invaded by terrifying certainty. I want a wand. I need a magic wand after all!
"If the Rune of the Sword is Orion, then what constellation is the Rune of the Bow...?"
Stars. Speaking of which, didn't Hinokagutsuchi mention it before?
"Bow Stars—of the Southern Sky!"
The instant he chanted this name, a group of stars over Hal's head became more dazzling.
Among them, Sirius was without a doubt particularly striking in brightness. It was said that Alpha Canis Majoris in the Canis Major constellation was the brightest among all stars. Was that the Bow Stars of the Southern Sky? ...No.
Diagonally down from it, at the tip of Canis Major, an arched bow could be seen.
More precisely, there was a series of stars resembling a bow. That constellation was precisely the Bow Stars of the Southern Sky!
At the same as when he realized that, a magic symbol descended from the bow constellation. It was a runic symbol that seemed to embody a "tilted half moon" as a pictograph, the Rune of the Bow.
Next, all he needed to do was find a "bow" for it to inhabit—
Hal instantly reached his right hand into the waist pouch behind his back.
Then pulling the zipper open, he gripped the heavy sensation of steel. It was the pistol that Hinokagutsuchi had been playing with earlier. Hal pulled the gun out of its holster.
Hearing a whisper from the self-styled devil from somewhere, Hal saw it.
After receiving the Rune of the Bow that had descended from the heavens, the gun shone with platinum radiance.
He raised the glowing gun with one hand. In fact, this gun was not loaded—but filled with confidence, he pulled the trigger.
BANG! Accompanied by a loud noise, the recoil was transmitted to his arm instantly.
The gun shining with sacred platinum light ejected an empty shell that was not supposed to exist in the first place.
Instantly, Hal switched from magical sight to ordinary vision, returning from the starry macrocosm to the Shinjuku wasteland—
He did not know if the previous scene was the reason, but the surroundings were filled with astoundingly concentrated magical power.
Dressed in their school uniforms, Orihime and Hazumi were watching him with tearful expressions. Hinokagutsuchi was not visible, apparently hidden.
Standing sternly like an intimidating guardian statue, the silver-white dragon was enveloped in pearly light.
He had deployed imperishable protection to guard himself. While praising "Wow...", he gazed down at Hal—More precisely, he was looking at the steel-colored gun held in Hal's right hand.
It was the weapon that had attacked Galad by firing bullets together with dragonslaying magical power.
"You have materialized a dragonslaying rune into a 'wand'!"
"I finally succeeded by using your method as reference..."
The gun in Hal's hand was the color of dull steel as before.
However, its appearance was giving a different impression now. Its basic shape remained as the 9mm semi-automatic pistol but flowing golden lines had been added in certain places as decoration, adding an element of solemn elegance to this vulgar tool of violence.
A tiny Rune of the Bow was inscribed on the gun's grip in golden lines.
Solid and elegant, rugged yet magnificent—
This was a "magic wand," a handgun capable of shooting even dragons to death with ease. What an absurd object. While muttering mentally, Hal did not forget to pull the trigger.
And it was four times in succession. Four bullets glowing with red light were fired, all infused with the power of dragonbane.
If struck in a vital, even an elite dragon would die easily. One would expect them to defend desperately using the runes of Ruruk Soun.
However, Galad simply swung the dragonslaying sword.
Just by doing that, pearly radiance enveloped the dragon's gigantic body. The dragonslaying gunshots were all deflected by the light, but did not fail completely in causing damage.
This time it was Galad's turn to groan, clutching his chest with his unoccupied left hand.
That was precisely the location of a dragon's heart—on top of the heartmetal. Like Hal just now, his heart, or equivalently, his heartmetal, must have felt a sharp pain.
"Hoo—So defense alone is not enough!?"
Then Galad swung the dragonslaying sword with lightning speed.
In that instant, Hal guarded his head using his gun, deploying pearly light immediately.
Imperishable protection once again guarded Hal from the sword's strike. However, Galad did not stop there. Swinging the dragonslaying sword nonstop, he attacked again and again.
One slash, two slashes, three slashes. The flurry of attacks did not pause.
With every impact, Hal's heart would suffer sharp pain. It felt almost suffocating.
If this pain were to persist for two or three minutes, Hal feared his heart would rupture and result in his death. Hal gritted his teeth and stared at the gun in his hand.
"If possible... Increase the firepower a bit!"
In the next instant, mechanical action could be heard. It came from the interior of the gun—Was it responding to my thoughts!?
Hal endured the pain and pointed the gun's muzzle at Galad. Then he pulled the trigger only once.
As a result, three red glowing bullets were fired consecutively. A triple burst—The magic wand had switched to burst mode to fire thrice per trigger pull. These three shots sent Galad flying.
The silver dragon's massive body landed on its back.
However, the attack did not succeed in breaching the protection. The enemy remained unharmed too. Galad swiftly got up and raised the dragonslaying sword again.
Equally ready to fight, Hal pointed the muzzle at Galad.
With imperishable protection deployed, the two of them glared at each other for dozens of seconds continuously.
"I see now. Defeating a dragonslayer requires a more powerful sword..."
"So I guess it's better if I fire multiple bursts each time...?"
Dragon and human, the two living beings of different species spoke simultaneously.
Both sides quietly confirmed the basic abilities of their own weapon.
Like Hal, Pavel Galad was still learning about how to use the power of dragonbane. Hal could deduce this from his various comments. In that case—Hal took a deep breath.
"How about a proposal from me?"
"Successor of the Bow, what is it?"
"It looks like both of us were testing our weapons just now. In order to put this knowledge to practical application, how about we resume this battle later?"
"You've lost that slimy minion while I want to let my friends rest. I think both sides stand to gain if we schedule a rematch..."
Despite saying that quietly, Hal was secretly in trepidation.
Galad actually had a winning tactic—Just continue fighting. Although their weapons were equally matched, the original power gap was too wide. Hal was supposed to lose badly.
However, if the battle could be postponed, Hal could expect to receive Orihime and Asya's support—
He was relying on Galad's "hot-blooded temperament" next. After all, Galad had even felt sorrow because Hal fled.
This dragon probably liked to fight fair and square. Please act like a whimsical elite dragon, Hal prayed to God whom he had never believed in.
Galad bowed his head to look at the magic wand in Hal's hand—a weapon that could be called a magic gun.
A 9mm semi-automatic pistol. Hal had fired with one hand almost every time today. Given Hal's arm strength, doing that should result in extremely low accuracy and severe arm pain.
However, Hal was able to control the magic gun easily despite firing with corresponding recoil.
'That magic just now was finally brought out by that little lady on her own when cornered without options, after exhausting both her body and mind. That is precisely why it could be used with such ease and naturalness—'
Hal recalled what Hinokagutsuchi had said. So that was what happened.
At the same time, Galad lowered his blade.
"Very well, successor of the Bow!"
The silver dragon spoke sonorously in a beautifully masculine voice:
"Although I was very disappointed with you in the beginning, things have changed now. For a moment, I even felt elated for a showdown against you. I will acknowledge you as a candidate foe formidable enough to make my blood boil in excitement!"
"Thank you very much..."
"Then when will the rematch take place?"
Galad finally asked the decisive question. Hal took care not to reveal his joy on his face while replying:
"You originally set the deadline for sundown on the fifth day, right? Tomorrow happens to be that day. How about a rematch tomorrow at dusk?"
"That would be too slow! Much too slow!"
Galad yelled ferociously in almost a roar.
"I wish for a duel tomorrow at daybreak. I cannot wait any later than that."
"...Very well, then it is decided."
In any case, he had succeeded in buying time. Hal could not have hoped for more. He nodded.
Then Pavel Galad spread his silver-white wings and flew into the sky again.
"Let us meet again tomorrow in these parts when the sun rises. Between the successors of the Sword and the Bow, whose valor proves to be greater—It shall be decided then!"
Leaving these courageous words as a parting gift, Galad flew away.
Meanwhile, Hal had no desire for a contest of valor at all. Sighing, he slumped his shoulders greatly.
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