Leviathan:Volume 3 Chapter 1
Chapter 1 - The World Where There Are Dragons
It was taking place in a dream.
However, Haruga Haruomi aka Hal already knew.
Rather than a simple dream, this was a battle to the death that had actually happened. It was in the past, centuries or millennia ago, decisive battles that had taken place repeatedly with the stratosphere as the stage.
Down below, the blue ocean and the earthen-colored land stretched afar.
The altitude was approximately forty thousand meters.
A mere glimpse into the distance and one would easily see the horizon's curvature. The fact of the Earth's round shape could be confirmed as soon as one reached such a height.
At this superlative elevation that human fighter jets had yet to make their battlefield, two super lifeforms were currently facing off.
"How exciting. Long have I waited for this moment, Queen!"
"Hooh... As someone only worthy of running errands for me, you are displaying too much vitality."
The challenger was colored as white as snow, her voice filled with acuity.
The challenged bore the color of crimson, magnanimously smiling with faint wryness.
This was a showdown between dragons, adorned by the contrasting colors of white and red respectively. Both dragons had massive bodies on the order of twenty meters in length.
However, the white dragon was more slender, giving an overall impression that was more agile.
The outspread pair of large wings on her back was displaying the grandeur befitting one who dominated the skies. The skin over her chest and arms had ossified, looking like armor forged from blue crystals.
In contrast, the red dragon's physique looked stronger.
Not only a size bigger than the white dragon, she was also more built more muscularly. Similarly, the chest was ossified into golden armor. Furthermore, the nine horns on her head were also gold in color.
Like their contrasting appearances, the two dragons' stances were also polar opposites.
"I hereby decree to my emblem, the Arrow of Sirius, I, Yukikaze, will now transform into the dragonslaying arrow!"
"My emblem, the Bow Stars of the Southern Sky, manifest the dragonslaying bow in my hand immediately!"
The white dragon held the Rune of the Arrow whereas the red dragon possessed the Rune of the Bow.
Both parties chanted their respective mantras to issue orders to the runes of dragonbane residing in their right palms. In the next instant, the Arrow user's entire body glowed with blue-white radiance as she started flying upwards. At the same time, the Bow user summoned a golden longbow in her red left hand.
Hence, a supernatural battle began.
Just as the white dragon flying above had attained sufficient altitude and distance—
She flew straight at her enemy in a straight line. Accelerating fiercely and relentlessly, she easily broke the sound barrier, hurtling towards the target with speed faster than the eye could follow.
Flying like an arrow, the white dragon's body, glowing blue-white, had turned into the Arrow!
Confronted with this supersonic assault, the red dragon counterattacked with the Bow.
Placing the golden arrow that had manifested in her right hand onto the golden bow held in her left, she fired it. Simultaneously, a meteor rain—or rather, thousands of lights resembling meteors—descended from the sky. This rain of light was a barrage intended to pierce the white dragon.
Having turned into an arrow, the white dragon effortlessly evaded the golden barrage.
But in order to dodge the downpour of a thousand lights while flying at supersonic speed, she had to make split-second decisions in the air to perform all kinds of maneuvers, zigzagging left and right, swerving at high speed and moving up and down.
Her speed had reached the realm of lightning.
Continuing to evade with lightning speed, the white dragon soared through the sky, trying to penetrate her target.
Meanwhile, the targeted red dragon fired a second arrow.
As soon as it left the bowstring, this arrow turned into flames in the form of a nine-headed dragon, flying to incinerate the white lightning.
The flame dragon extended its necks fiercely, closing on the enemy from nine directions.
The white lightning flew circuitously so as to evade this attack.
—This was the showdown between the white dragon, who turned herself into a projectile weapon, versus the red dragon, the archer wielding the divine bow. Even among the runes of dragonbane, the bow and the arrow formed a special pair of runes.
Perhaps due to this reason, the successors of these two runes would tend to be more conscious of each other than necessary.
Hence, this battle was special for both of them.
Hal had no way of knowing this, but the mastermind causing him to experience this dream—the "magic wand" leading Haruga Haruomi the mortal along the path of unorthodoxy—had informed him.
However, this battle, supposed to be an extremely special occasion, ended up concluding in an exceedingly anticlimactic manner.
Because just as the two combatants were locked in an intense aerial battle with the stratosphere as the backdrop, the red dragon suddenly stopped moving.
The golden bow and arrow vanished from her crimson hands. Even the "imperishable protection" guarding her body disappeared as well.
Then the white dragon charged in a straight line like lightning. Enveloped in blue-white light, that massive white body was like an artillery shell.
Then came a violent impact. The crimson dragon was knocked away forcefully.
Perhaps due to the massive damage inflicted, the golden exoskeleton protecting her chest shattered, exposing what lay beneath. A huge hole had opened up on the red dragon's chest.
In truth, she was already heavily injured even before the battle began.
The red dragon managed to stop herself from crashing to the ground. Remaining hovering in the air, she stared at the white assailant with determined eyes. However, the magical power residing within her massive body had diminished greatly. Simply to remain hovering was already taxing her limit.
"So my path of conquest has reached an end here..."
The red dragon murmured, her tone of voice conveying self-deprecation and wryness.
She already knew this outcome before the battle. Due to the excessive damage accumulated in her heartmetal over her long life as a dragon king, she had already reached what was equivalent to the endpoint of longevity.
On the other hand, Hal was quite impressed that she could fight to such an extent using this body that was on the verge of death—
"My apologies, little lady. I cannot play with you any longer. Do not blame me for heartlessly passing away first. After all, it would be an insufferable insult to me as the great queen."
Confronted with assured death, the Crimson Queen was joking nonchalantly.
This fortitude made the white dragon pause. Originally intending to follow up the attack, the Arrow user murmured "hmm" and silently gazed at the enemy's majestic figure.
"Whether handing this head of mine to you or leaving my remains to lowly scum, I am loath to accept either outcome. If you desire it no matter what, find it using your own strength. This is my parting gift as the Crimson Queen!"
Smiling, the red dragon plunged her right hand into the hole in her chest.
What she drew out was a glowing red jewel. Roughly the size of a dragon's fist, it had a massive crack in it. This was the heartmetal belonging to an elite dragon—no, a great dragon king.
"Farewell, Princess Yukikaze, youngest of the dragon kings, wielder of the dragonslaying arrow!"
The red queen threw the red jewel downwards. Like a meteor, the red jewel fell straight down.
Ahead of it was a blue ocean and earthen-colored land. Having abandoned her most important organ, the dragon king's gigantic body began to gradually collapse and scatter like sand...
The instant the battle between fellow successors of the bow and the arrow concluded in an unexpected manner—
Hal suddenly woke up.
He was on the driver's seat of a light vehicle. Due to staying up the previous night, he could not hold back his drowsiness, so he said "I'll sleep for twenty minutes," and parked the car on the roadside to take a brief nap.
From the front passenger seat, the underclassman serving as Haruga Haruomi's "assistant" smiled.
"Have you slept your fill, Senpai? It has not even been ten minutes, you know?"
"Hmm... Yeah, I'm okay now. I already feel much more awake."
Hal suppressed a yawn and answered.
In fact, thanks to this brief nap, he had completely recovered the ability to think. More importantly, there was Shirasaka Hazumi's angelic smile.
Ahhh, she is so cute today too. Such inexplicably rude thoughts were making his mind operate at a higher speed.
Hal nodded firmly then gripped the steering wheel again. After lessons at school ended today, he had gotten changed at SAURU's New Town branch, Mirokudou, then set off on an "expedition" to the Old Tokyo Concession.
Currently, the two of them had passed the checkpoint at Ryougoku Bridge to reach the neighborhood of Kodenma inside the concession territory.
Half a month had elapsed since the battle against Pavel Galad.
It was now the latter part of May. Humidity was increasing in the air, heralding the arrival of the plum rain season. For Hal who had lived abroad over such an extended period of time, Japan's plum rain season was something he had not experienced in a long time.
"So all I need to do is fill these bags with the sand here?"
"Yeah. Don't bother sorting it out, just fill the bags up. By doing something akin to gold panning, we'll find what we need after we get back."
The place where he had brought Hazumi was the entrance to what was formerly Tokyo Station.
This was both the location where he had obtained the rune of dragonbane as well as the venue of Akuro-Ou's birth ritual. Activating magical sight, Hal took out the Clockwork Mage. Then invoking a spell to search for magical power, he gazed intently, capturing even the slightest of magical power.
Finally, he targeted a large pile of white sand in a corner and began to gather the sand.
While opening the vinyl bag he had handed to her, Hazumi asked, "Umm, how are we going to carry out the gold panning you speak of...?"
"By sifting with a fine filter. The ancient Greeks even had a method using sheep. Ever since ancient times, the sheep has been a creature that symbolized wealth and gold."
"U-Using sheep to find gold!?"
"First they use fleece to line the riverbeds of rivers where gold sand can be found. Then they gather the gold sand that adheres to the wool, thereby amassing a fortune of gold. And sheep are easy to raise. That's why the more livestock you have, the wealthier you'll naturally be."
Whenever he imparted trivia to her, Hazumi would keep nodding, feeling very touched.
She looked so cute that it would inevitably bring a smile to one's face. Hence, Hal would spontaneously bring up knowledge he had acquired as a "treasure hunter" whenever an opportunity presented itself.
Then for a long while, the two of them gathered "sand" using the same method.
After securing a sufficient amount, Hal and Hazumi left the former Tokyo Station and returned to the light vehicle.
"Are we going back directly to carry out the filtering you mentioned just now?"
Hazumi looked like she really wanted to say "Please allow me to accompany you." However, Hal offered a different suggestion to the underclassman who was sitting in the front passenger seat.
"If you don't mind, do you want to practice 'that' first?"
"Of course. And it won't cause anyone trouble either."
"Then please allow me to practice!"
Hazumi's eyes glimmered with joy.
Recently, Hal had been taking her frequently to Old Tokyo—
There was one time when sitting next to her upperclassman, a high school student who gripped the steering wheel and did whatever he wanted, Hazumi had murmured "I'd like to get a driving license when I grow up. It must be very fun, being able to go anywhere you want."
Immediately, Hal had invited Hazumi to take the driver's seat, then started to "instruct" her.
It was like how rural families would let their children drive on private farmland. Precisely because this was a dragon concession territory where there were no pedestrians or vehicles driving on the road, they were able to practice like this. Although Hal had indulged her in such an impulsive act simply because he wanted to see Hazumi's happy face, driving was something that needed as much practice as possible.
In the case of an emergency, this skill might save Hazumi's life perhaps.
While this inauspicious thought secretly went through Hal's mind, the "training" ended and they returned to Tokyo New Town. Hal drove her home directly because Hazumi wanted to be back for dinner, then they parted ways.
Then the next day arrived. Hal went to school as usual because it was a weekday.
While eating his lunch of rice cakes and udon noodles at the cafeteria, Hal suddenly noticed.
"Now that I think more deeply about it, I've spent my time after school with Shirasaka for ten-odd days already."
" "......" "
As soon as he muttered that, two gazes shot at him from girls who looked like they had something to say.
Sharing the same table as him, these two girls were Anastasya Rubashvili, aka Asya, and Juujouji Orihime.
"Y-You've been quite close to Hazumi-san. That's so unlike you, Haruomi."
Asya spoke in a slightly vicious tone of voice.
"I thought it was basically your policy to avoid troublesome human relationships as much as possible, wasn't it, Haruomi?"
"You're right, but Shirasaka is just so cute."
"C-Cute—how can the likes of Haruomi sound so much like a normal person with a fulfilling social life..."
"Moreover, she's obedient and doesn't cause any trouble. That's why I've decided to indulge her as much as possible."
"And a 180-degree change in personality to boot!?"
Next to the shocked Asya, Orihime sighed.
"Then Haruga-kun, I have something to say as Hazumi's 'elder sister.'"
After finishing the special of the day, a grilled fish set lunch, she put down her chopsticks and spoke.
"Isn't it time for you to show some restraint in teaching Hazumi weird things...? Guess what? Every night, she writes down your teachings as notes, Haruga-kun, to study over and over again."
"That's Shirasaka for you. She really is a wonderful and hardworking child."
"I asked her to give me a brief look. I can't believe I saw stuff including the likes of cosmetic surgery and Botox injections..."
"Oh that. We were watching television together a couple days ago when Shirasaka was curious about why a certain female artiste's facial expression was unnaturally stiff, so I gave her a brief explanation of the technique's pros and cons."
"S-Stop deliberately pouring that kind of evil knowledge into Hazumi's pure soul!"
"No no no, it'd be more worrying if she were completely ignorant of things like that."
"You might have a point but she almost finished an entire notebook in merely half a month. Isn't it time you held back a little!?"
Hearing Orihime's honest warning, Hal scratched his head and went "Oh I see."
Perhaps he might be teaching Hazumi too many random things on whim. Since he never had an assistant or apprentice before, Hal had no idea how to keep things in moderation either.
"Got it. I'll try my best to be careful."
"H-Hmm. I am really grateful to hear that from you."
Despite thanking him, Orihime continued to show a gloomy expression.
"Is there anything else worrying you, Juujouji?"
"N-No, it's nothing, just that—Oh right, because Asya-san's lunchbox is such a rare sight, I am quite curious where it was bought!"
For some reason, Orihime changed the subject in a joking manner.
Despite finding it strange, Hal still turned his gaze to his childhood friend's lunchbox. Creative Japanese cuisine. Inside the plastic container were all sorts of fried food that seemed to be vegetable tempura, Japanese-style rolled omelet, California rolls, yellow-colored rice that looked like it had been cooked with turmeric, etc.
"Nothing less expected of you, Orihime-san. How observant."
Asya finally calmed down, possibly because the discussion had turned to the topic of food.
"I bought this at the Little Buddha, my top recommendation among all the shops near the school."
"Huh? Isn't that an Indian curry shop?"
"It is, but the head chef is actually a Nepalese who learned his craft at a Japanese restaurant in India. More so than curry, his specialty is 'imitation Japanese food.' It's only because curry sells better that he started his business with a curry shop as the main draw. This is something I found out after frequenting the shop for about a week continuously."
"So you ordered a custom-made lunchbox..."
Since this was very much something that Asya would do, given her obsession with food, Hal could not help but nod in acknowledgement.
On the other hand, Orihime made a look as though she had difficulty accepting the idea.
"Advertising Indian curry when the head chef is clearly Nepalese, is that really okay...?"
"But not all Indian curry shops in Japan are opened by Indians either."
"From what I can see, there are many chefs who originated from Nepal or Pakistan."
"This actually involves all kinds of issues related to brokering Japanese work visas for these people, so it's unexpectedly complicated."
"Both of you are at fault for always bringing up this kind of trivia and being a bad influence for Hazumi..."
After Hal and Asya commented one after another, Orihime expressed her opinion.
Judging from her look of mixed feelings, she seemed to be having trouble deciding whether to feel surprised or impressed.
After school today, Hal planned to go to SAURU's branch at Mirokudou as usual.
But prior to leaving school, he made a visit to the underground of the library building.
All books and enchanted artifacts from the previous Mansion had been moved over.
Hal came here because he wanted to make a quick confirmation. As usual, he brought Hazumi along.
The floor being used as a substitute storeroom was as large as four classrooms. There was already a line of steel shelves set up in place. Placed haphazardly on the shelves were old swords and various weapons, metallic objects, ornaments, ancient texts and scrolls, etc. At a casual glance, one could easily mistake them for piles of junk.
In fact, the value of these objects was probably no different from junk for people with no interest in antiques and ancient artifacts.
Without exception, they were either filthy, damaged or covered in rust. Esthetically, they were quite poor in appearance. Holding a catalog in his hand, Hal looked at these odds and ends.
"I'm told that there was originally a plan to assign someone like a curator to manage these things properly."
"Why didn't it happen?"
Hazumi asked while following Hal closely. Hal shrugged.
"The collection apparently includes 'certain cursed objects.' Two curators, who were not easy to hire, I tell you, died inexplicably one after another."
"Although SAURU has disposed of the cursed objects afterwards, the position of curator has remained vacant ever since. And the collection has been left neglected in storage without anyone to care for them."
"I had no idea of this at all..."
"Simply locating a specific item here is already a ton of work."
"U-Umm, please go ahead and tell me if there's any way I can help, no matter how."
The aspiring assistant and underclassman declared firmly, but Hal shook his head.
"This job requires knowledge and appraisal-type magic. It's too soon for you, Shirasaka."
"I see... In that case, please at least allow me to make coffee for you."
"Yeah. Thanks in advance."
As soon as Hal finished speaking, Hazumi smiled and answered "Yes!"
That radiant smile on its own was already enough to make him feel as though the dim lighting had brightened by 30%.
If this pure-hearted underclassman were to pour tea for him, the soothing effect could very well increase his work efficiency to 120% or more.
Hal nodded secretly to himself, but on the side, Hazumi's expression turned slightly gloomy.
"By the way, Senpai, may I ask a question?"
"Oh sure. Why are you asking like this all of a sudden?"
"This time, it's about what is within my power. Senpai, I asked you last time, hoping you could make me and Minadzuki able to use the rune's power..."
"Well—Uh, that's also too soon for you, Shirasaka."
"B-But it's just trying it out once like in Nee-sama's case."
After the battle against Pavel Galad, Hazumi had been zealously requesting Hal to entrust the rune's power to her as well.
Hal had declined her, citing the reason that "it was a power that must not be recklessly passed onto others."
However, Hal felt certain in his mind. In Hazumi's case, she would most likely be fine.
Perhaps this underclassman also had a faint feeling that she would succeed? Hence, she was persistent in pestering him regarding the issue, contrary to her characteristic tact...
"For better or worse, that rune's power is far too strong. But right now, there's no pressing need to fight, so it's best not to mess around with it for no reason."
In any case, Hal glossed over the issue and refused her.
One day, he would still need to make a decision, but wouldn't it be nice to enjoy the remaining time until then? Hal thought to himself.
Towering next to the library, the clubs building was a conglomeration of rooms for cultural clubs.
Inside the Literature Club on the third floor, Asya was face to face with her "teacher." Amazingly, this was the exact same moment when Haruga Haruomi and Shirasaka Hazumi were entering the underground of the library.
"Hmph, to think that Haruga guy is getting so close to a middle school girl..."
President M was the mysterious character who commanded more solemnity in her presence than a teacher despite being a mere high school student.
Leading all members of the Literature Club, the UFO Research Club, the Drama Club, the Mass Media Research Club and the Science Insider Club as their president, she was the eccentric, a hundred and forty kilograms by visual estimates, and "mother."
As a side note, she was dressed like a housewife today in a cooking apron with a white kerchief.
"Y-Yeah. I can't believe a pure and innocent girl with a promising future is addressing Haruomi as her 'Senpai'!"
"It would be dangerous if that is the case. The girl could very well have fallen to Haruga's paws."
"Eh? But in my view, I don't think Haruomi, a textbook case of a herbivorous personality, would have the guts to do that."
"Fool. Once you strip off the veneer of skin, his body is a mass of lust inside. I dare guarantee you that he is surprisingly lustful to the core despite appearances."
"Huh, lust? Is that the portal into his body!?"
Asya instantly panicked after listening to President M's profound warning.
"W-What should I do at a time like this? From a humane perspective, it'd be wrong to put drawing pins in Hazumi-san's indoor shoes, so doesn't that mean I have to bash Haruomi's head with a board eraser!?"
"Hmm, the issue of having a rival is truly a tricky matter."
"Please give me some advice on this front."
"You have no other recourse but to spend time alone with Haruga as much as possible, right? Besides, as you are now, you don't have a snowball's chance in hell of winning even if you confront that Hazumi girl in a direct duel."
After dealing the killing blow to Asya, President M added as an afterthought, "Next up, you will have to accept that course, right? The lecture on the dark techniques of love that will enable you to overtake your rivals and strike the target accurately like a sniper."
"There's that kind of course? Why didn't you teach me earlier?"
"Because you can't even manage the basics of the basics. Even if you learned these skills at the current stage, you won't be able to apply them flexibly. Wouldn't they end up causing you to self-destruct instead?"
Despite President M's tireless lecturing, Asya smiled coolly with a "hmph."
Asya felt touched by President M's care and concern, but she was a girl who had fought on various battlefields all over the world after all. A trial of this level should be possible to surmount no matter what.
"Please don't belittle me. Compared to the month of harsh training I endured at a Nevada military camp, this sort of thing is nothing."
"Here you go again~ Confessing that sort of depressing past... Whatever. Then I shall let you have a go."
After sighing deeply, President M spoke up, "You are currently attending a group date. With equally balanced genders, there are a total of ten participants."
"However, among the men, only one of them can be considered outstanding. Right now, the five women are vying viciously in secret for the seat beside him. Very well, what are you going to do!?"
"I get it. This is a simulation exercise the same as usual."
"Indeed. However, you may not poison the other women."
"Like hell anyone'd do that."
Once the question's intent was figured out, there was nothing to be afraid of.
Asya instantly thought of the best tactical choice.
"I will drug the male target, using a muscle relaxant to render him weak and powerless. Swiftly approaching him while he is unable to resist, I will take him outside under the pretext of looking after him. I am free to do with him as I please from that point onwards. With that, victory is all but guaranteed!"
"Great, you fail~~ Looks like it's still too soon for you to graduate from the basics lecture."
After school, Juujouji Orihime visited the cultural clubs building.
Although she came to the UFO Research Club on the third floor, there was no one in the room. However, she already knew her classmate Haruga Haruomi would be absent. She had heard that he was apparently going with her cousin Hazumi somewhere to do something...
Orihime sat down on a pipe chair in the clubroom and sighed.
She had never experienced this type of despondency before. She found it difficult to accept no matter what.
Just as Orihime was fully occupied, dealing with the "despondency" in her heart, the clubroom's door opened. Dressed in a cooking apron, President M walked in.
"Oh my, you have come. If you are looking for the famished foreign student, she already left fifteen minutes ago or so."
"No, I did not come to find Asya-san. There is something I would like to discuss with you today... Oh, it's not about me, but something troubling a friend of mine."
Orihime hastily added the last explanation in an attempt to misdirect.
As a result, President M went "hmm," exhaled through her nose, shrugged and said, "Oh I see, I see. So it is your female friend who is caught in the dilemma of a love triangle."
"You are correct, but lately, it has actually evolved into a four-sided relationship... My friend's cousin and the boy have gotten close."
"My friend thinks there is nothing wrong here, per se, but every time she hears about her cousin's intimacy with the boy, she feels very despondent inside."
"Despondency stemming from jealousy."
"Y-Yes. Hence she could not help but gripe unnecessarily, yet loathe herself for behaving this way..."
Taking this chance to vent her frustrations, Orihime did something uncharacteristic of her.
In other words, she slumped her shoulders in dejection. Seeing that, President M said, "In that case, how about this? Doesn't she have two choices before her? Either swallow all this 'despondency' and stay silent or step up to defeat the enemy."
"T-There is no enemy here!"
"What are you talking about? Whether cousins or friends, the truth of being romantic rivals is not going to change. If you are up for it, would you like me to provide you with a lecture course? A lecture on the dark techniques of love to seize initiative from multiple rivals."
Orihime widened her eyes upon hearing this unexpected offer.
"A so-called good man or quality man refers to someone with a stable partner early on. In the vast majority of cases, those who remain single, despite what they have to offer, turn out to be poor choices."
"S-Sorry, but I dislike your way of putting things."
"To think you would make a 'good girl' response so naturally... Moving on, as the saying goes, you won't know unless you try it. Regardless whether you take my advice to heart, would you like to listen to my lectures? There are a variety to topics and settings, including the classroom, group outings, dates, the bedroom, traveling, marriage preparations, etc."
"Uh... I appreciate your kind gesture, but no thanks."
To be frank, Orihime was not entirely opposed to listening to the lectures for information's sake.
After brief contemplation, Orihime looked up with resolve and answered in no uncertain terms.
"Whether the boy or the cousin, both of them are important to me. Although such a notion might be excessively wishful thinking... Ultimately, it would be best if everyone could get along well."
Everyone getting along well. After speaking these words as a test, she found the despondency in her heart had eased slightly—
The surprisingly refreshing feeling compelled Orihime to nod firmly.
"Nothing less expected from the girl who is like the sun. A rather magnanimous speech."
Pulled back to reality, Orihime noticed that President M was gazing at her with eyes of wise resignation more than kindness, like a mother who would shrug and remark "no helping it" after listening to a child's willful fancies.
"But in your case, perhaps this sort of magnanimity might be the correct method. Simply by radiating light on its own, the sun is already the brightest existence."
"S-Sorry, but I am not that amazing—"
Just as Orihime was about to express her humility, she suddenly jumped in realization and hastily corrected herself.
"Umm, what we were just discussing is my friend, not my personal matter..."
"Oh—right right right. Indeed that is the case. However, since you, or rather, your friend is in possession of such outstanding power to begin with, yielding this level of compromise might be an appropriate arrangement."
"Indeed indeed... After all, there exists an overwhelming gap in power between the few of you. All you need to do is maintain the status quo and no one else would have a chance. However, if the cousin were to go through a super awakening, perhaps it might evolve to a one-on-one duel..."
Halfway through, President M began to mutter ambiguously to herself.
Unable to hear what she was saying clearly, Orihime could not help but cock her head. Even so, the conversation just now had helped lift her spirits by an unbelievable degree.
Thanking President M while exiting the clubroom, Orihime then left the clubs building.
For the first time in a while, she walked with springing footsteps on her way out of the school. While making her way to the school gates, she saw Asya sitting on a bench. This senior witch, who was also a slightly awkward Georgian girl, had her head lowered with contemplative expression. Muttering to herself, she was uttering bizarre things.
"In that case, how about abducting Haruomi to imprison him in a lakeside mansion...? Using physical means to cut off his ties to society, thereby preventing Hazumi-san's interference, perhaps this might be a good method—"
Orihime repeated President M's earlier response.
In other words, she shrugged helplessly while gazing at Asya with eyes of leniency.
Then Orihime showed a faintly wry smile, approached the bench and said to her, "Asya-san, I will be heading over later to Haruga-san and Hazumi to help out with worked that was planned for today. If you are free, would you like to come along?"
"!? Are you serious, Orihime-san?"
After nodding at Asya, who had looked up in surprise, Orihime immediately took out her cellphone.
This was to call Hazumi to inform her that she was going to meet up with them presently.
After visiting the library's underground level, Hal took Hazumi to ride the New Town Loop Line.
Their aim was to make an appearance at SAURU's branch office, Mirokudou, at Higashikomagata. Despite the shop's appearance as a used bookstore, the manager, who also served as the organization's contact, was frequently absent.
But today was different. Rare as it was, Kenjou Genya was present in the shop located on the fourth floor of a mixed tenant building.
"Hello, youngster. You arrived really soon, even though I only just texted you in the daytime."
This was a young man who could be described as handsome without exaggeration. But for some reason, there was no "wildness" in his demeanor despite his stubble, crumpled shirt and tie, etc.
Rather, it would be better to describe him as giving off a first impression of "carefreeness."
Kenjou placed a small, A4-sized corrugated cardboard box on the checkout counter. This box was made of pH-neutral cardboard used for storing ancient texts. The object Haru had ordered was inside it.
During the daytime today, Hal had received a text on his cellphone informing him of his order's arrival.
"Because I'm a high schooler, I'm basically free after classes."
"Isn't that nice? I'd like to stay cooped up in this unfrequented used bookstore every day to enjoy times of leisure as much as possible in a celebration of sloth."
"E-Excuse me... Are you usually handling SAURU's work outside?"
The one who interjected with a question was the middle schooler, the youngest person present.
Although Kenjou and Hazumi were mutually acquainted, they were not intimate at all. Since the middle schooler witch who had defended Tokyo New Town for many years was a VIP, her interactions with SAURU's members were limited to technical consultants at most.
However, despite her reserved and polite personality, Hazumi was also highly inquisitive and bold.
Timidly yet clearly, she asked what she wanted to find out. Hal did not know if Kenjou was impressed with this attitude of hers, but he grinned and nodded.
"Yeah. Within SAURU, this New Town branch of ours is relatively small in scale. Since I'm the only staff stationed permanently here, I have to go out to handle all sorts of miscellaneous tasks.... However, things seem to have started to change in this area."
"Change? What do you mean by that, Kenjou-san?"
Ignoring Hal's impolite tone of voice, the part-time used bookstore manager replied, "You see, didn't the Trans-Pacific Area's Shootdown Ace arrive half a month ago?"
"You mean the daughter of Greg-sensei—Master Gregory?"
"In fact, she is still at New Town and also nonchalantly~ interfering in the organization's affairs. Currently, she has become SAURU's highest authority in eastern Japan. Furthermore, she is skillfully scheming to increase the New Town branch's manpower."
"Then what about Hiiragi-san?"
"Hiiragi-neesan has become Miss Gregory's direct subordinate of sorts. Oh dear, thanks to this black ship, it looks like I'll be able to tend to the shop full-time in the future."
"Yes, because of increased manpower..."
"Miss Gregory apparently intends to turn New Town into Japan's—no, the entire Trans-Pacific Area's—frontline against the dragons. These preparations are probably made in anticipation of that."
After receiving his goods together with the unexpected news, Hal left the shop together with Hazumi.
Along the way to Higashikomagata Station, Hazumi's cellphone received a call.
"That's a wrap for today's work."
"Then it's all good. Let's all have dinner together."
In the end, the four of them, Hal, Orihime, Asya and Hazumi met up in front of Higashikomagata Station.
Although the only item left on today's itinerary was going home, due to the rare opportunity, the entire group entered a nearby family restaurant to have dinner.
Hal had heard that Hazumi rarely ate out except when working as a witch. However, after phoning home to tell them she was accompanied by her cousin Orihime, she obtained her family's consent to join in.
Perhaps because such experiences were rare for her, Hazumi was smiling more radiantly than usual.
"Fufufufu. I am overjoyed to be eating out with friends like this."
"After this, let's head over to my most recommended Chinese restaurant nearby. It's a great place where you can eat authentic Cantonese cuisine imported from Hong Kong, and very few people know of it."
"Oh, that's the shop where they sell deep-fried scorpions."
Just as Hal nodded and concurred with Asya's suggestion, Hazumi widened her eyes.
"Scorpions are edible!?"
"They're crunchy and taste great. Many people like to use them as snacks to go along with beer. It's very popular."
"A-Although it sounds a bit scary, I'm quite curious..."
"However, that might be setting the hurdle too high for a Japanese girl who's just trying out Cantonese cuisine. As for Juujouji, anything goes."
"W-Why am I dismissed like that!? Haruga-kun!"
"Because you are strong and brave, Juujouji. You look like the type who'll eat anything."
"Although I know that you are probably praising me, I still feel a bit indignant about being described that way..."
Possibly due to gathering together without a purpose, the four of them chatted about inconsequential topics.
This made Hal feel surprisingly delighted. Perhaps it was a reaction to the past half a month of thoughts occupied by dragons, runes of Ruruk Soun and the like.
In addition, Hal could also sense that Orihime and Asya's smiles were more cheerful than usual.
Hal could not help but feel a bit worried due to seeing the two girls show gloomy expressions on a frequent basis lately. However, they both seemed very happy tonight.
After that, the four of them parted ways at the station.
Orihime and Hazumi were taking the Loop Line in the Shin-Kiba direction, so they went through the turnstiles together.
On the other hand, Hal and Asya were headed in the opposite direction towards Kanegafuchi. Hastily, just as they were about to pass through the turnstiles, Asya pulled Hal by the sleeve of his uniform.
"H-Haruomi, w-would you like to visit a restaurant later to see beautiful night scenery!?"
"...We just had dinner, after all. Making me accompany you for a second meal would be asking too much."
It looked like his childhood friend had not eaten her fill yet.
After the cautious rejection, Asya suddenly realized something in alarm and changed her tune.
"D-Do over, forget what I just said. How about going on an evening spin, just the two of us—"
"I'd like to read the book I bought from Kenjou-san, so give me a break tonight, okay..."
"Do over again! Uh, right. Yeah, it's about Rushalka. I'd like to have a proper discussion with you about her, so could you come with me?"
In the end, Hal and Asya went to Kogetsu Academy at Ryougoku.
Since they needed a wide area to do their "work," the school was an excellent choice. Having passed 9pm, chances of encountering anyone in school were very low as well.
Hal and Asya climbed over a wall together and successfully sneaked into the school's premises.
No lights were on apart from the staff room in the school building. Hal took out a flashlight from his bag. It was a stick-shaped flashlight the size of a ballpoint pen with the advantage of taking up little space.
Hal always carried handy tools of this sort purely due to his nature as a treasure hunter.
Relying on the faint light, Hal and Asya reached the sports ground. Just by looking up at the night sky, the 70% waxing gibbous moon could be seen glowing faintly between the clouds.
"Then I'll summon her."
Asya suddenly extended her right hand with her palm facing the ground.
Next, the figure of a blue-white magic beast was projected on the sports ground's white sand. The wyvern leviathan whose body measured dozens of meters long. Naturally, this was Rushalka.
Despite some fuzziness, it was a vivid image akin to a photo taken by a camera.
Curled into a ball, Rushalka was in deep slumber. What Asya was trying to present visually was not the blue leviathan's physical body but her soul—The state of the serpent's spiritual body.
Bathed under moonlight, the ground was substituting for a screen.
"It's already impossible to wake her up by calling quietly. Recently, Rushalka's mind has remained in deep sleep the whole time. In the near future, I fear she will enter eternal slumber."
"And earlier, her state of health had improved slightly..."
Through the infusion of dragonslaying power, Rushalka had exhibited a brief but temporary recovery.
But after the battle against Pavel Galad, her condition had worsened again. Presumably, fighting a successor of dragonslaying power would take such a massive toll on her health, right?
"But unlike back in early spring, we now have hope for a cure."
"The birth ritual, right?"
"Yes. Since Hazumi-san's Minadzuki—even a 'serpent' that heavily injured—could be revived, surely Rushalka can also be restored. You must lend a hand, Haruomi."
"Sure, as long as that weird self-styled devil agrees."
"Making her agree is your job, Haruomi."
"Besides, the magical power needed by the ritual also needs to be secured. Since it apparently has high requirements in both quantity and concentration, it's not a ritual that can be done at a moment's notice."
"...Haruomi, don't tell me you're reluctant to do it?"
As expected of the childhood friend, her perceptiveness was truly sharp. Asya narrowed her eyes with suspicion.
This was because she had sensed Haruga Haruomi's feelings on the matter through his subtle wording and indifferent attitude. Hal shrugged and voiced his thoughts.
"I want to do it. If Rushalka could recover successfully, that'd be very encouraging. But with that, the life in seclusion I've always wanted to live will become very distant..."
"Life in seclusion—Ahhh, Haruomi, you still haven't given up on that plan?"
Asya widened her eyes in surprise.
"You're clearly someone in possession of a dragonslaying rune, you know? It might be a bit much coming from me, but let alone living a peaceful life in retirement, there's a very high chance you won't die a natural death at the end of a long life..."
"You are so correct that it's not even funny."
"No helping it. This is what it means to be chosen for a hero's destiny."
Hearing Hal's calm murmurings, Asya smiled faintly.
There would be no end to it once they started worrying seriously about somber matters. Hence, since a long time ago, the two of them would deliberately make jokes out of similar issues and take the chance to engage in frivolity.
More than likely, his childhood friend intended to do the same this time too.
Treating it as conversational fuel was probably in consideration of maintaining Hal's mental balance.
"Never mind. If that's the case, I'll shelve this for now. After all, it's a problem that needs to be confronted sooner or later, no matter how unwilling, besides—"
At this moment, Asya glanced at Hal as though she had something to say.
"It looks like you've been pulling all-nighters lately."
"I discovered an RPG dating back to the era of 8-bit CPUs that has been re-released on the cellphone, so playing it has been addictive. It's the kind of game with only blocks of pixels moving around, lacking not only movies but even sound effects."
Hal explained with a random excuse while suppressing a yawn.
Due to having too many things to do lately, he was only getting three hours or so of sleep a day.
"Like stripping all money and items from a newly created character then kicking him out of the party, or going to the casino to make a killing using secret skills, or amassing enough gold to overflow the bank and using it to buy the strongest equipment, or buying out all stat-raising potions, I've tried out many things that can't be done in modern games."
"A hero's party that's out to save the world shouldn't be doing those kinds of things!"
"Oh dear, that's because there's no hero in my party. Besides, asking this mere group of four or five to save the world is an overly ambitious quest in the first place."
"That's because the people who work hard seriously in these areas are the ones who become heroes."
While chatting, Asya casually waved her hand.
Rushalka's figure vanished from the ground. Then Asya remained by Hal's side as though nothing had happened. With a calm and composed expression on her face, she did not bring up topics related to "serpents" again.
Sure enough, this ease of getting along was achievable only by the childhood friend whose fate was inexplicably entwined with his.
There was the sense of comfort that the other party would still be able to sense one's thoughts even without spelling everything out. A relaxing atmosphere without worry. Hal was truly grateful for all this.
However, at this moment, an unfamiliar girl approached the chatting duo.
A blonde Caucasian, roughly sixteen or seventeen in age. Despite the location of a school sports ground, she was in casual attire.
She was dressed in a low-cut black one-piece dress with a loose-fitting silhouette. Her hands were clad in gloves of white lace.
The combination of white and black gave an extremely mysterious impression.
"Greetings, Asya. A pleasure to make your acquaintance, Haruga-san."
The girl in the dress greeted them then bowed gracefully.
In terms of facial features, she was very pretty too. A young beauty with a slender oval face. On her delicate and beautiful face, like an antique doll's, a gentle smile surfaced.
A sheltered young lady, raised in an aristocratic household—
That was the kind of airs the girl exuded just by smiling. In truth, her earlier greeting was also elegant and gracious.
"My apologies for my tardy greeting, but please listen to my explanation. Ever since arriving in Japan, I have been buried in work. I almost thought I was going to die from overwork. However, my dear friend Asya would be saying to me with a smile, 'I don't mind at all. You've worked hard, Luna♪', wouldn't you?"
"H-Here you go again with this sort of act, even after such a long absence..."
Asya frowned and stared at the blonde girl.
Then in an extremely reluctant tone of voice, she said to Hal gloomily, "Let me introduce her. This is Luna Francois Gregory, a master mage under SAURU as well as being Chief Researcher of the Trans-Pacific Area. We're acquaintances."
"My goodness, Asya. I shan't accept anything less than the description of friend with the word 'great' in front of it."
Luna Francois smiled tenderly while chiding her fellow witch.
"In any case, this is my current title."
Saying that, Luna Francois extended her business card.
This was an official business card that Hal and Asya seldom used. On white paper, the SAURU logo was printed. Above the row of Latin alphabetic characters reading "Luna Francois Gregory" were the words "Acting Branch Chief, Kantou Branch."
"Acting... Branch Chief?"
"Indeed. The former branch chief expressed the intent to retire yesterday, citing family and health reasons. Consequently, I was nominated to take over the duties for now, inexperienced as I am. Fufu."
"Hold~ it right there!"
In front of Hal, whose face was filled with doubt, Asya retorted against the smiling Acting Branch Chief.
"Why would you be nominated for that kind of post, Luna!? You're clearly an outsider who just came over from America, without any connections to Japan at all!"
"Well, that is because no one surpasses both my rank in SAURU and my level as a witch."
"Going with that line of reasoning, I'm at the same level as you, Luna."
"Then it is probably a matter of character—Oh, excuse me. I certainly do not mean to say that your character is inferior to mine, Asya. Nevertheless, there is ultimately a difference between commoners and those who are born with leadership potential..."
"Y-You haven't changed at all, always blowing your own horn surreptitiously."
Luna Francois delivered her words as though with great compassion, but Asya scowled with displeasure.
"Either way, there's no doubt that you were acting on your own as usual, making under-the-table deals or exerting pressure to enact ploys to make your own work easier..."
"You keep doing this, Asya, unilaterally denigrating others with such baseless judgments."
Luna Francois lowered her eyelids mournfully.
The side view of her melancholic face conveyed a sense of martyrdom like that of a heroine in a tragedy. Seeing her like that, Hal's silver-haired childhood friend scoffed in defiance. So that was how things were.
Hal nodded. He now understood the kind of relationship between them.
Apparently, Luna Francois' personality was diametrically opposite to that of Asya, the feral prodigy.
"Haruga-san, I came over to speak to you as the organization's representative—as SAURU's representative. Bluntly stated, the main agenda here is to amend your contract."
"By contract, don't tell me you mean my contract with SAURU?"
Luna Francois suddenly turned the conversation over to him, stunning Hal for a moment.
His current relationship with SAURU was very simple. Apart from obligations of secrecy, jobs were all piecewise assigned on short-term contracts. Using business organization as an analogy, it would correspond to something like a contract employee.
"Indeed. Haruga-san, you are currently in an extremely special position, aren't you?"
"Well, after all, I've had this weird rune foisted on me..."
"In light of that, I have prepared contract money, long-term contracts, high annual salary, preferential treatment and various other conditions to negotiate with you. Since the situation could evolve to a very complicated state, I have made arrangements in advance to silence various Japanese entities, New Town's government agencies first and foremost. As a result, we should be able to sit down quietly to have a proper discussion."
"Don't tell me that you secured the branch chief title to facilitate this sort of thing?"
"Fufufu, you are free to exercise your imagination in this regard."
Her smile, more calm than necessary, convinced Hal of his suspicions.
With this, Hal figured it out. He had found things unbelievable for a while now. In the roughly half a month since the battle against Galad, no one had contacted him, whether SAURU or influential people in New Town. Thanks to that, he was able to focus his full attention on handling sundry chores and spending time with Hazumi—However, countless bargaining had likely taken place behind the scenes.
It was probably because these matters had settled down that Luna Francois finally made her appearance.
"Naturally, I won't pull out a contract immediately for you to sign. Today is merely for me to deliver a brief greeting. Besides, you also have the option of treating your acquired power as an asset to enter negotiations with the anti-dragon organizations of various nations."
"An option huh?"
"Furthermore, through flexible application of your power, capable even of striking dragons dead, you could try setting a goal of conquering the world or some such."
"I haven't gotten to the point of having such notions."
"Fufufu. In other words, you have considered everything apart from that."
"Well, you do have the freedom to cut off all ties and live as a hermit, after all. It is a decision that ought to be made by you. However, SAURU will do everything it can to prepare a tempting offer. This is what I came to tell you tonight."
Winking seductively, Luna Francois delivered the above speech.
"So she's currently SAURU's highest authority in the Kantou region?"
"Someone else will probably take over soon as the new branch chief. However, developments will surely unfold such that no opposition should come to Miss Gregory's will."
It was the following day after the encounter with Luna Francois on Kogetsu Academy's sports ground.
After school, Hal had gone straight home without loitering elsewhere. Since his plan for today was reading, Hazumi was not by his side either. However, Orihime came to visit him alone when evening arrived.
This conversation was taking place after Hal had invited his classmate, who had already changed into casual wear, into his living room.
Incidentally, Orihime was dressed in a white blouse with a loose and frilly hem paired with light-gray pants, a simple choice of wardrobe. However, due to her natural gifts, this level of attire was beautiful enough already. This followed the same principle as how professional models could look good in clothing sold by major retailers.
"By the way, Juujouji, why did you come to my house today?"
"Shouldn't you be asking this question before revealing a secret association's latest personnel news? Whatever."
Nonchalantly expressing her expectations for Hal's social sense, Orihime put down a hand-carried paper bag on the table. Speaking of which, she had been holding the bag the whole time since entering the front door.
"Here you go. If you could express exaggerated joy towards these things, I would be very pleased as the one who provided them to you."
"Golden bean-jam wafers?"
"Wrong. Just ordinary refreshments. My domestic helper, Granny Yamamoto, made them together with me. Roughly half-half in proportion, I guess."
What Orihime took out from the bag were a number of tupperware containers.
Urged by Orihime's gaze to open them, Hal did as instructed. The contents included octopus, turnip, boiled ganmodoki, fried egg, burdock cooked kinpura style, tsukudani, pickled turnip, rice balls, etc. Overall, they were simple yet delicious dishes.
"What I've brought are practically all pre-made food that can be kept, so don't be shy and accept everything. Please, you really need to replenish your nutrients."
"I'm quite touched, but why so suddenly...?"
After puzzling over Orihime's sudden gesture of care, Hal was suddenly struck by the light of inspiration.
"Juujouji, could it be that our close proximity lately has caused you to fall for me, which is why you're showing concern for my health with that type of maidenly airs—!?"
"D-Don't be ridiculous! I am simply concerned for you as a friend!"
"Darn, I knew it. What a shame."
"That's odd? Did I say something wrong?"
"No, it's nothing. Haruga-kun, you are functioning normally as usual."
Although Orihime looked a bit offended, she had personally insisted that Hal had gotten the wrong idea.
Since there was no need to dwell further on this question, Hal used his fingers to pick up a piece of ganmodoki and popped it into his mouth. Juices flowed out as soon as he bit down. Richly flavored to the core, it was very delicious.
"Mm, it's very delicious. Thank you."
"This type of comment from you won't be winning any invitations to cooking shows, but I'm glad you like it. Besides, Haruga-kun, I doubt you have had chances to offer compliments like now."
"Listen up, even if just going through the motions, I think you should deny it at least."
"Maybe you're right. By the way, I'll ask you this again. Why did you suddenly visit with refreshments?"
"It's because of what you said yesterday, don't you remember? When eating that failure of a hamburg steak at the family restaurant, you whispered 'It's been so long since I last ate proper food like this.'"
"Now that you mention it, I really could've said that."
"Let me ask a question for reference. What did you have for dinner the day before yesterday?"
"Bread from a convenience store, it's right over there. I opened it and ate it directly without toasting it. If memory serves me right, I ate two slices?"
Hal was the kind of person who lost his appetite when busy.
Recently, even at the school cafeteria, he would often order just a bowl of udon or ramen noodles. The Japanese-style hamburg steak meal set last night was "normal food" he had not eaten for quite a while.
Meanwhile, after listening to Hal's confession, Orihime sighed and said softly, "You are more undisciplined than I imagined..."
"No no no. Japanese bread has cream and salt added, so it's good enough."
"It feels like your intake will be just right only if yours and Asya-san's are added together and divided by three... I can't believe you're living on this kind of diet. Bringing refreshments over really turned out to be the right choice."
"Sorry, it looks like I've worried you."
"It's okay. We're friends after all. But Haruga-kun, I heard from Hazumi that you've been busy with this and that lately. You're not getting much sleep at night either, right? You need to watch your health."
Suddenly confronted with such advice, Hal did not know how to respond. Having lived alone for such a long time, he was unused to receiving care and concern over this sort of issue.
As though reading the troubled thoughts in his mind, Orihime casually changed the subject.
"Lately, Haruga-kun, I've begun to understand the differences between you and Asya-san."
"Yes. Asya-san is actually someone who does things without any planning, isn't she? I don't know if I can call it going with the flow, but it feels like she is very good at adapting to changing situations."
"Yeah... You finally noticed?"
During battle situations, Asya always remained calm, issuing orders decisively.
However, if one were to ask whether she had carefully considered the big picture, the answer was actually no. Hal's childhood friend lived on mottos such as "fights are organic" or "think about what will happen ten minutes later when those ten minutes are up." This would be rare talent for a warrior or the captain of a combat unit, but it meant she would never be strategist material.
"What's amazing about Asya is her ability to come up with the most suitable solution through that kind of method. I don't know if I should call it a beast's sixth sense? Or a genius' intuition that no one can imitate?"
"But I was surprised that you are someone who works diligently on prior preparation and training!"
"Really? If possible, I want things to be easy all the way."
Hal shrugged after listening to Orihime's candid comment.
He did not have the aspirations to be the kind of behind-the-scenes worker who enjoyed preparatory work in a grounded and modest manner. If possible, given Hal's personality, he would rather be the grasshopper than the ant. However, Orihime continued unfazed.
"I don't know what you are doing, but no matter what, you have to pay attention to getting enough nutrition and sleep, because not just me but even Hazumi is very worried about you too."
"By the way, how about asking Kagutsuchi-san for help?"
After hearing Orihime's suggestion, Hal summoned his "magic wand" to his right hand.
It was the magic gun of steel decorated with gold and also the personalized weapon that had shown Hal a certain dream multiple times, thereby warning him.
"Although that is what she suggested, what do you think?"
Hal stroked the gun's body while concentrating.
This was for the sake of seeking spiritual energy while guided by the magic wand—Got it. A non-human presence occupying a corner of the living room. It belonged to the former queen of the dragons, a little girl who called herself the devil.
She probably noticed Hal searching for her.
The air began to drift and a girl dressed in a red kimono appeared in a corner of the living room.
"Hmph. You have apparently started to engage in bizarre behavior recently."
Her haughty manner unchanged, Hinokagutsuchi said in taunting manner, "Then I shall ask you in return, do you intend to beg for my pity?"
"If it's a yes or no question, then the answer is no. You're the kind of self-styled devil that only helps out on whim without even demanding payment, right? The consequences are too frightening, so I can't ask you for favors. However—"
Using this excellent chance, Hal probed the summoned ghost for information.
"I've got something to confirm with you."
"What is it? If it were to interest me, it is not like I could not answer you."
"The Witch Mansion at Shin-Kiba was where I met you. I was wondering if there might be any other factors involved apart from chance?"
"I'll be blunt, even though you might get the wrong idea. It seems more like—an encounter by design rather than chance."
"What an uncharacteristic comment given your personality. It also sounds like a lunatic's delusions. Have you grown fond of believing in fated encounters?"
"Of course not. If anything, it's more like theoretical inevitability."
Instead of answering, Hinokagutsuchi sneered "hmph" and disappeared.
Hal nodded. During the moment of Hinokagutsuchi's ambiguous response, Hal had realized the answer instead.
"Thank you, Juujouji. It's all thanks to you that I remembered her. I now feel slightly confident in what I'm currently doing."
"W-What did you figure out from just now?"
Just as Orihime was taken aback by unfolding developments...
Her bag began to ring from an incoming call on her cellphone. She instantly took out her phone, only to see a young woman's face displayed on the LCD screen.
It was a photo of SAURU's technical consultant whom Hal also recognized, Hiiragi Yukari.
"Juujouji speaking. What's the matter, Yukari-san?"
'Bad news as usual. Orihime-san, where are you right now?'
That was how Orihime replied after setting the cellphone to speaker mode and putting it on a table.
From other side of the call, Hiiragi-san calmed down obviously.
'Haruomi-kun, don't tell me you've finally entered puberty and so you're trying to get close to Orihime-san or something...? I am truly touched...'
"Although I've no idea why you're touched, can I ask a question?"
Interrupted by Hal, Hiiragi-san answered, "Yes, go ahead."
"Regarding SAURU's personnel matters, Hiiragi-san, are you really going to be the next chief of the Kantou branch?"
'—!? Where did you hear this news from!?'
"It simply occurred to me in a moment of brilliance. I heard from Kenjou-san that you've been getting along with Miss Gregory lately, so I tried to fish for confirmation. I'm the one who jumped in surprise to find out my guess was correct."
'Well, it is just as you imagined, thanks to her connections.'
After saying that candidly, Hiiragi-san sighed.
'A major increase in monthly salary is good and all, but it's really a pain now that I can't visit the scenes of incidents at will ever again. By the way, may I continue and finish delivering the bad news? Not long from now, a flock of Raptors will be invading Tokyo Bay. Numbers are estimated to be two hundred at least.'
At least three digits! Hal and Orihime looked at each other. Flocks of flying Raptors attacking the earth in "dragon strikes" normally did not exceed twenty.
"The scale is quite shocking... Why did the TPDO allow such a massive number of Raptors to approach Japanese soil?"
Actually, Hal could already guess a certain answer. Nevertheless, he still sought confirmation on purpose.
As expected, Hal received the answer just as he had predicted.
'Reasons are unknown. However, it is highly likely that some sort of magic was used by elites to interfere with reconnaissance. Involved parties all share the same opinion.'
Next, Hiiragi-san added, 'In fact, I was just about to call Haruomi-kun too. This is a message from Miss Gregory: "If possible, could you accompany me to watch 'our friends' in battle?"'
Raptors numbering three digits at least, combined with foreseeable intervention from elite dragons.
It looked like the grace period for Hal and friends was gradually heading to an end.
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