Leviathan:Volume 3 Chapter 3
Chapter 3 - Treasure Hunting and Cohabitation
President M pursed her lips and blew vigorously.
Her massive body, a hundred and forty kilograms by estimates, was clad in the Academy's designated tracksuit. The location was the roof of the cultural clubs building.
The declaration of the camp's commencement had taken place yesterday afternoon. Twenty-four hours had elapsed already.
When Asya came to visit while bringing refreshments, President M happened to be doing bizarre exercises that one might doubtfully call gymnastics.
...Because she was twisting her body left and right while simultaneously repeating intense breaths that were far deeper than necessary.
"Is this what they call deep-breathing weight loss?"
"Fool. This is a special breathing technique for drawing out unknown powers dormant inside the body."
Asya's question instantly prompted the president to refute her readily.
"So it's like qigong or yoga?"
"Indeed. I was taught by an old master I met at a community center taiji class. He claimed that he had trained at Chenjiagou in China's Hubei province. I heard it's also effective for losing weight."
"You sure he's not some old guy from somewhere who's simply boasting about what he learned from watching television?"
"You are truly lacking in dreams. As the saying goes, 'believe well and have well,' right?"
"In that case, you definitely got conned."
After that, President M continued her mysterious training for a while before stopping to rest.
With large beads of sweat appearing on her body, President M picked up a two-liter bottle and gulped down the water in a matter of seconds.
Asya handed over the basket of sandwiches she had brought.
"How considerate. By the way, Haruga's side—"
"I didn't forget. Just now, I already made my way over there to give him the same thing."
"Way to go. Delivering food at opportune moments to emphasize your existence. To think you were able to realize this point, it looks like your feminine charm has grown slightly."
"Yes. I heard that Orihime-san had done this sort of thing earlier, so I immediately followed her example!"
"To distinguish myself from her, I even added something special."
"Oh? What did you put in?"
"A reinvigorating remedy of my own creation. Using the snake I caught at Mount Olympus in Greece, I steeped it in distilled alcohol for roughly half a year to result in a base, finished by adding a secret formula, spices and other things. It can instantly sweep away the fatigue and drowsiness from an all-nighter. Also, it helps with mental clarity."
"By the way, does that Haruga guy know its ingredients?"
"Yes. He was with me when I caught the snake—a European tiger keelback two meters long—and saw the entire process."
"...What a worrisome future I see ahead of you."
Swallowing a cucumber and egg sandwich whole, the president said, "Given the way you are, I think you might as well resort to a woman's ultimate weapon to force a change in the current situation. It might be easier that way..."
"Th-That kind of decisive weapon exists!? Tell me the specifics!"
In response to Asya's question, President M placed a sandwich containing Camembert cheese with three types of ham on her left hand then swung her right palm with a mighty shout.
Compressed between her left and right hands, the sandwich was flattened even more.
President M ingested this panini-like object in one breath as though downing a drink.
"What do you mean!?"
"Pin him down, enjoy... Thereby forcing the conclusion of a carnal relationship!"
"C-Carnal—!? B-But there was one time when we worked late throughout the night and the next morning, I woke up to find the two of us sleeping in the same bed. However, that Haruomi simply got out of bed nonchalantly and left the room..."
"In other words, nothing happened at all despite sharing a bed for a night?"
Listening to Asya recount the past, the president frowned and pondered "Hmm..."
"In terms of a romantic relationship, you two haven't even gotten started in truth..."
"I'm sure it's the same for others if a healthy nubile girl like me isn't getting anywhere! H-Haruomi must be suffering from ED at a young age!"
"But in case of a one in a million—no, a million million million million—chance, it would be best to try it."
"Please don't repeat the word four times!"
"I see, I see. Why don't you go along with this current surge of vigor and try to cast away your usual timid mindset? Perhaps you might change something?"
As for Haruga Haruomi, the subject of the intense discussion...
At this very moment, he was in the adjacent building, immersed in his work.
Inside Kogetsu Academy's library next to the cultural clubs building—
The second to sixth underground floors currently served as the temporary Witch Mansion. Hal was on the fourth underground floor where the entire level was being used a storage facility.
Steel shelves were lined up densely in a close-packed display.
Accumulated haphazardly on the shelves were antiques and ancient artifacts of all kinds. Piled on top of one another endlessly, they looked like junk or odds and ends. This was probably the reason why...
Despite the entire space covering as much as four classrooms, it felt especially cramped.
'Simply locating a specific item here is already a ton of work.'
Hal had made this comment before. Currently, he was in the middle of actualizing it.
He was looking for five types of objects. Iron swords, bronze pots, bronze mirrors, great blades of gilt bronze, red agate—
"But having said that, I've already found six orbs of red agate. Even in the case of iron swords, four have turned up so far."
Hal muttered to himself as though grumbling.
Although interspersed with naps and breaks, he had been working continually since the previous night.
Whenever he found a matching sword, pot, mirror, great blade or red agate, he would pick it out for safekeeping.
Visiting with refreshments earlier, Asya had told him that one night had passed. Without checking the time and being underground, he had lost all sense of time.
The childhood friend had offered to help but Hal refused her.
This was because Hal hoped that as master magi, she and Luna cold track down Galad's whereabouts. Besides—
"What I'm currently doing might not turn out to be useful."
In fact, it was more likely to be wasted effort... That being said, it would not be "treasure hunting" if he omitted this type of down-to-earth grunt work.
Just as Hal silently continued his task of filtering and selection—
"You appear to be looking for that, brat... But what do you intend to do after finding it?"
The voice belonged to a little girl but its tone was that of a haughty queen.
Hal looked in the voice's direction. The former dragon dressed in a scarlet kimono, Hinokagutsuchi, had materialized behind him without anyone noticing.
Hal did not answer her question. After pondering for a moment, he changed the subject.
"My wand—After that gun came into being, I've had the same dream many times."
"Hmph. You witnessed my final act of going all-out—that scene with the little lass, Yukikaze? The magic wand presumably wishes to help you understand the greatness and strength of the dragon kings."
"You already know the dream's contents, right? I was wondering whether it was your idea to show me that."
"Do I look friendly enough to actively help out like this?"
"Fair point. But you two really were crazy strong in that dream. Still, there's something else that I'm more curious about."
"I'm a treasure hunter after all. In the end, that thing you discarded as though refusing to hand over to anyone—I'm curious to no end. In other words, that object is worth you doing that."
"Indeed, that thing has its uses for those seeking to understand the secrets of Ruruk Soun's runes."
Hinokagutsuchi jeered in mockery.
"Be that as it may, brat, that thing is beyond the capacity of the likes of you and contemporary witches."
"That's why I have a suggestion. Would you like to enter an alliance with us humans—or rather, me?"
"An alliance? With you, brat?"
"Yeah. Establishing a clear position rather than taking things a step at a time like before. There's no need to talk about respect or putting faith in each other's moral character, so why not think of it as business partners and build a relationship of trust from the ground up?"
Confronted with Hal's suggestion, Hinokagutsuchi replied with undisguised laughter.
"Ha! To think a brat like you who became a Tyrannos by chance is trying to force the queen into an alliance!"
"That's right. After getting a hold of that thing of yours, I want to do an experiment, but regardless of the outcome, it won't go smoothly unless I have your cooperation, which is why I want an alliance. Let's build an amicable relationship of mutual benefit."
"Experiment...? What exactly have you thought up?"
Hinokagutsuchi frowned and glared at Hal. Then she suddenly jumped in surprise.
The color of comprehension began to spread slowly across the self-styled devil's child-like face. She had apparently figured it out. Due to discussing "that" just now, she immediately made the association.
"Since you are harboring such intents, my refusal is even more adamant. I have no intention of agreeing to your request."
"Then it can't be helped. Let's talk about the alternative."
Having predicted Hinokagutsuchi would answer like this, Hal quickly continued.
"Let me use that as a precious research sample! Our forefathers had devoted everything they had to gather ancient knowledge and dragon specimens to study repeatedly, finally establishing the method to synthesize leviathans."
Those involved in this accomplishment included Hal's father, Asya's grandmother and mother, as well as Luna Francois' father, Master Gregory.
Having watched his father's life of work from up close, Hal declared firmly.
"Even if it doesn't come in handy straight away, in five, ten years' time, it could very well become some sort of trump card."
"My remains... Do you mean to desecrate the queen's remains, peasant?"
Instead of scolding him, Hinokagutsuchi spoke calmly.
However, her tone of voice conveyed a queen's pride and dignity of such gravity it was impossible to describe. Still, Hal pretended not to notice and deliberately shrugged mischievously.
"Because that's the proper way to use a 'treasure.'"
Then Hal stared straight at Hinokagutsuchi and said, "I'm sorry to say this but so-called treasure hunting is the same as grave robbery. Those in my line of work have repeatedly done the same to kings and emperors across the world for the past millennia. You're no exception."
"Hmph. Be that as it may, do you believe that by giving this speech..."
After listening to Hal, the former queen of the dragons crossed her arms arrogantly.
"...I would sympathize with you lot? How do you intend to repay the debt from the birth rituals?"
"Since there's no other way, I'll have to find solutions using my own power. Luckily, this thing seems to be 100% loyal to me, unlike you."
Hal summoned the magic gun to his right hand and said, "Last time I asked whether this tool could take your place, you answered that chances of success were very low unless the conditions were all fulfilled. In other words, it is possible for it to replace you."
After looking at Hal and the magic gun, Hinokagutsuchi narrowed her eyes.
"Well, the wand is not just an ordinary weapon, after all. It also serves as the guide along the path of unorthodoxy..."
"My hand is forced if you want to keep playing mysterious mastermind. Let's cut our suspicious ties right here and now. Even though it'll be a pain, I'll find more comrades by my own power."
"You realized it, brat?"
Hearing Hal's declaration, Hinokagutsuchi reacted unexpectedly.
For the first time, the dragon queen in a young girl's guise smiled without arrogance. It was as though she was acknowledging Haruga Haruomi's caliber for the first time.
"That does imply you shall become the devil in my stead, yes?"
Leaving this question behind, Hinokagutsuchi vanished.
Hal put away his magic gun and sighed. Next, he carefully examined his right hand, where the Rune of the Bow resided, and raised his palm towards the fluorescent light on the ceiling—
"The queen keeps bringing up annoying things repeatedly... As expected of the incumbent devil."
After muttering quietly to himself, Hal returned to his task of sorting through odds and ends.
While eating the sandwiches Asya had personally made, he continued to work.
As for the reinvigorating remedy amidst the refreshments, Hal decided to keep it in reserve for when he actually felt "I seriously... can't go on!" Although he knew of the reinvigorating remedy's mysterious potency, he was also painfully aware of how it was made. This was not something that could be swallowed carelessly.
Then after roughly two more hours—
The door to the storeroom suddenly opened and a junior female student entered.
It was Shirasaka Hazumi. Like Hal, she was dressed in the Academy's uniform, probably conscious of being in school.
And in her hands, Hazumi was carrying a large travel bag.
"Isn't this Shirasaka? I can't believe you came to school with all the trains stopped."
"I-I asked Luna-san to drive me here..."
Besides Hazumi, every New Town witch was supposed to be at Kanegafuchi.
This was a matter of precaution. They were using a hotel next to the MPD headquarters as accommodates while on standby.
Incidentally, the Juujouji grandfather and the Shirasaka parents, who had been rescued in their unconscious state, were also housed inside a nearby police hospital. This was also to allow the two girls to be able to visit them any time.
"By the way, why did you come here today?"
"I... I came to help."
Faced with his question, Hazumi hesitated a while then said resolutely, "Please allow me to stay here and help out with your 'camp,' Senpai. It is fine even if you do not have work I can do. Whether cooking or laundry, I will work my hardest regardless!"
Hearing the adorable junior student announcing her decision to join in, Hal was instantly rendered speechless. But this also meant two members of opposite gender were going to live under one roof—
Confronted with unexpected trouble, Hal kept blinking in surprise.
'I am terribly sorry to say that we have yet to locate the dragon that bears the Rune of the Sword.'
"It seems that the elite dragon called Exhos hasn't found him either... But if possible, I'd like us to beat them to the punch. I'm counting on you."
Hal was calling Luna Francois from the underground storeroom.
'Looks you have a plan. Understood, I will try to handle things appropriately.'
"Thanks for your troubles. By the way, is it really okay for Shirasaka to stay here?"
'Her power as a witch is insufficient to participate in the search for the sword dragon. Don't you like having her standby over there? Besides, the Witch Mansion is inside the school too.'
"As long as you say it's okay... But it's just me and Shirasaka staying here alone together, you know?"
'Are you afraid, Mr. Herbivore?'
"No, I quite welcome it, actually. After all, she's so cute."
'You are truly honest to a fault sometimes, Harry... Oh right, the cabinet just made an official request to us, hoping we could defeat and expel the dragons that have invaded New Town.'
"Sure enough, they've dumped all the work on us."
By "us," Luna Francois was referring to the four witches on standby at New Town, which included Hazumi, Orihime and Asya.
'Indeed. Apart from elites, a new dragon king-class opponent has appeared, after all. The SDF and TPDO will not dispatch forces recklessly.'
"What happened to the people who remained unfrozen?"
'Everyone has been extremely cooperative. They have accepted life in the shelters with rationality and courage. Furthermore, they have not made willful demands to leave New Town. The Japanese people's high moral standards are truly cool and touching.'
"The entire New Senjuu Bridge incident's details were made into a report including a video of what happened then transmitted thoroughly to inform all shelters, after all. Of course the people will behave."
Security cameras installed near the bridge had captured footage at the scene—
Luna Francois was the one who had given orders to use the video after editing. Regarding this matter, this diabolical and capable administrator as well as SAURU cadre had commented "Not like it matters."
'Only by summing up with "morals" would it become a laudable tale of brilliance. Besides, this eliminates the need to divert personnel for surveillance and security, shorthanded as we are to begin with. Let us conclude here for now. See you later, Harry.'
Luna cheerfully said goodbye before hanging up.
Hal looked at his cellphone screen to see that the time was approaching 1pm. Hazumi had asked him to visit upstairs at 1pm...
Recalling this, Hal left the library's underground storage.
Since there was no elevator, Hal climbed up the stairs and arrived at the library's entrance.
Hazumi was not there. Exiting the building to have a look, Hal found his nose instantly stimulated by an aroma. This spicy fragrance undoubtedly came from curry.
"Oh, I was just thinking of going down to call you."
Naturally, this voice, as clear as a bell, belonged to Hazumi.
Arranged in front of the library were four chairs and a foldable table used for camping, set up as an impromptu dining table.
"I tried making lunch... though I'm not confident it is good..."
Reporting demurely, Hazumi was holding a lidded pot in her hands.
The aroma of curry was drifting out from the pot. She had probably carried it over after cooking at the cafeteria kitchen. Furthermore, Hazumi was wearing a yellow apron over her school uniform.
—Uniform x Apron = Infinite Power of Devastation
Witnessing this truth of the universe with his own eyes, Hal could not help but nod in approval. Truly fabulous.
"Here, Senpai, please come over."
After setting the pot on the table, Hazumi pulled out a chair.
She was urging him to sit down. Just as Hal took his seat, Hazumi brought over a tray with two portions of rice, cups filled with mineral water, as well as a plate of salad—
Judging from her slightly unsteady movements, she was not very used to doing this sort of thing.
However, this gesture of Hazumi's earnest care was causing Hal's face to tense up solemnly. Then he smiled and secretly muttered to himself, "Underaged bride... A middle schooler for a wife... This is truly wonderful..."
"...? Did you say something, Senpai?"
"I was just savoring some phrases that surfaced in my mind just now."
"Wow, Senpai, you're a poet!"
"No no no, that'd be too much of an exaggeration."
Faced with Hazumi's highly transparent smile, Hal acted reacted with modesty. However, it really would be "too much of an exaggeration" to call his musings poetic.
"If the food is not to your taste, I apologize in advance..."
"My mouth is probably defective if that actually happened!"
Listening to the reserved and polite junior student offer a warning very much in her style, Hal instantly replied and ate a mouthful of the curry rice. Although Hal always tried his best to dote on Hazumi, this time, he spoke seriously without any intent to flatter, "Yes, it's good."
The simple praise elicited a blooming smile in return.
Hal could not help but feel an urge to smile, so he made a serious face and answered "Of course." Thus, Hazumi sat down opposite Hal and the two of them started lunch face to face.
"Since the flavor itself comes from curry roux available on the market, strictly speaking, this is like a joint product between you and a food company, but let's totally disregard that for now. Yeah!"
"Fufufufu. Senpai, you went with the flow and revealed your true thoughts!"
Although Hal had made a slip of the tongue, the generous Hazumi remained smiling.
"In truth, I was hoping you'd enjoy the curry rice even if it turned out to be a bit of a miss... If only I could make something better tasting, sorry."
"No no, that's the kind of mindset which breeds success. By the way, where did this table come from?"
"Luna-san transported it by car when she was driving me here."
"Huh? She's nearby?"
She clearly had not made any mention of it on the phone earlier.
Confronted with the stunned Hal, Hazumi added to explain, "Yes. She is apparently quite interested in your plan, Senpai, and even told me, 'Assist him as much as possible.'"
"I see now..."
Rather than waste time on inquiring at a stage of uncertainty, it would be better to let Hal focus on his task and speed up progress. Was that what Luna thought?
Luna Francois Gregory was not only bold but very meticulous as well.
If Asya was a ferocious beast of the wild, Luna would be the girl equipped with courage and the devil's mastery of details.
"By the way, it's been a while since I last ate at a dining table."
"Oh—Sorry. Would it be better if you could work while you ate!?"
"Nah, although that is better in many cases and that's how I've always done things. However, I think it's nice to eat like this for a change of pace every now and then."
Hal candidly explained to the apologizing Hazumi.
Since Asya was also the type to immerse herself completely when serious, she had departed swiftly after dropping off sandwiches, knowing that staying longer would be pointless. Hal was well aware of this too. That being said, Hal definitely felt relaxed, basking in Hazumi's very feminine care and warmth.
In this manner, Hal finished lunch and breathed a sigh of relief.
After relaxing fully, a sense of intense fatigue suddenly surged.
He had been cutting back on sleep for almost half a month now, clocking in mundane work without pause. All this was for the sake of that—"treasure hunting."
The goal was right before his eyes. He was one step away.
Hal jumped in surprise because someone suddenly touched his shoulders.
Without him noticing, Hazumi had circled around behind him and started to massage Hal's shoulders.
"Senpai, this is shocking. You're so stiff."
Hearing Hazumi's smiling voice from behind, Hal forcefully opened his eyes wide.
"I-Is something the matter?"
"Those words seemed to light a fire inside my heart—No wait, Hazumi. You don't have to go this far. After all, I'm still young..."
Hal disguised his lewd reaction and declined Hazumi's kind offer.
However, the unfazed Hazumi continued to massage his shoulders. Although her delicate fingers were not very strong, she accurately brought relief to the aching parts with skill and thoughtfulness.
"Please don't be shy. Contrary to appearances, I am actually used to doing this because I frequently offer massages to my grandfather and father. Senpai, your shoulders are really stiff."
"...I guess you're right."
"May I ask what you have been working on the whole time lately?"
"...Failure will be scary if I carelessly put up your hopes. But things will come to a conclusion either tonight or tomorrow, so let's wait until after that if possible..."
"Very well. Then I shall be patient and not hurry you. Oh, by the way, Senpai."
"What is it?"
"Since you look very tired, I have prepared something nice for you tonight. So please hang in there a little longer until things reach a conclusion."
After massaging his shoulders for a while, Hazumi left with these parting words.
Hal pondered when he returned to the library's underground level.
Although Hazumi probably did not go as far as to conspire secretly, she would always help Hal catch a break at appropriate moments, encouraging him while refraining from pestering him with incessant questions—
Perhaps Hazumi was unexpectedly adept at getting along with someone in Hal's line of work.
While feeling impressed at how Hazumi was surprisingly suitable as an assistant, Hal resumed his work. Namely—Filtering through the piles of ancient artifacts and antiques to select his targets.
After spending four hours underground like this, Hal returned to the surface again.
It was past six in the evening. Hal left the library to look for Hazumi. The setting sun was dyeing the school building and sports ground an orange color.
"Senpai! Are you done already!?"
Hazumi happened to be walking towards him.
Confronted with a junior student who had changed into the school's PE uniform for some reason, Hal said, "Yeah. The task is over in a way, so I was thinking of taking a break."
"Then please come over with me. I have prepared 'something nice' as promised."
Hazumi pulled Hal by the hand towards where she had come from.
If memory served Hal correct, ahead of them was—Three minutes later, Hal confirmed that his memory was correct. This was the building where the rooms of the athletic clubs were gathered.
The cultural clubs building was four stories, but the athletic clubs building was wide and single story.
Hazumi entered the building and began to walk into its depths. Soon, the two of them arrived at the girls changing room. Ahead was the holy sanctuary protected by a glass door—in other words, the female bathroom.
Fully equipped with showers and a bath for students of athletic clubs to wash their sweat away, this was a space of soothing.
"Please come here, Senpai."
"Huh!? In other words, you're asking me to enter the female bathroom!?"
"Yes. There isn't a single soul in the school apart from us. I think there shouldn't be a problem."
Hazumi smiled tenderly and said, "A student from the track and field team showed me before how to use this place. I heard that putting hot water in the bath was a job for underclassmen, so everyone seems to know how it's done."
"So this is what they call the tradition of athletic clubs..."
"I prepared this specially, hoping it could help alleviate your fatigue somewhat," said Hazumi cheerfully.
In recent days, Hal had not even bothered to take baths properly, always opting for quick showers instead. Indeed, such a gift might be more fitting than any other.
—Hence, ten minutes passed.
Enjoying a hot soak in a large bath for the first time in a long while, Hal relaxed greatly.
"...Oh dear, although this is normally a female bath, it'd be too ungentlemanly to engage in obscene delusions here. I've got to be careful."
Despite his self-awareness as a closet pervert, Hal still wanted to exercise gentlemanly restraint. Due to the vast amount of imagined scenes surfacing in his mind, Hal had to convince himself in this manner.
Then just as he was getting out of the bath, Hal heard an unexpected voice.
"Excuse me, Senpai... Please pardon my intrusion."
It was Hazumi. She was speaking politely from outside the bathroom.
Furthermore, what came next was the sound of the glass door sliding open.
Hal grabbed a towel and frantically wrapped it around his waist.
He looked back, only to be greeted by the unbelievable sight of Hazumi entering the bathroom in her PE uniform.
Witnessing the exposed sight of his underclassman's delicate limbs and those dazzlingly pale thighs, Hal was greatly shaken.
"Shirasaka, why did you come in here!?"
"U-Umm, I was thinking of washing your back for you..."
"This is clearly an unnecessary show of concern, indeed!"
"R-Really? In the past, I washed my father's back when he was fatigued from work and he was very happy..."
"Probably because you were only in kindergarten or elementary school at the time, right?"
"—! Senpai, you're so amazing. How did you know!?"
"A deduction most elementary, my dear Watson. Putting that aside, it's time for you to leave."
"A-As you wish..."
For some reason, Hazumi was walking out of the bathroom with a hurt expression. Although the sadness shown on side of the junior student's face was causing Hal's heart to tremble, at least he was left on his own now. Relieved for now, Hal returned to the bathtub.
Soaking himself in hot water up to his shoulders, he intended to count up to a hundred to calm his mind—
However, the glass door clattered again as it slid open.
Hal looked behind him in trepidation and was immediately stunned. Hazumi had entered the bathroom again.
This time, she was not in her PE uniform. Instead, her slender body was wrapped in nothing more than a bath towel.
After issuing a greeting first, Hazumi entered the bathroom and came to Hal's side.
Her entire body was bright red in addition to her face, most likely due to embarrassment more than the heat of the water. Compared to the PE uniform earlier, there was not much difference in terms of the area of exposed skin.
However, those smooth shoulders were completely laid bare and even the area around the base of the thighs could be seen—
Hence, the shocking impact was almost double compared to before.
"S-Shirasaka? What the heck are you...?"
"U-Umm, Senpai, please take a bath with me!"
"I have given it plenty of thought. The reason why you can entrust the rune's power to Nee-sama... but not me, is ultimately due to this sort of difference..."
"Because Nee-sama became able to use the rune's power... Senpai, after you saw that."
Hazumi brought up "that" in embarrassment, prompting Hal to remember.
Half a month earlier, there was an accident when Juujouji Orihime was taking a bath. Blessed with unexpected good fortune at the time, Hal had been treated to an eyeful of heaven.
"T-That is why I wondered if this sort of experience might be what is lacking between us, Senpai. I-If I could bare my body and soul to you like Nee-sama, to go as far as to wash your back, Senpai, I believe our hearts can surely become connected...!"
"T-Taking a bath together for this kind of a reason, that's way too extreme!"
"I want to become stronger... to be able to use the rune's power by winning your trust like Nee-sama and Asya-san, to help even more people—I must do this."
Within the same tub of hot water, Hazumi leaned against Hal.
Thanks to that, Hal was able to see her maturing figure clearly. Nothing less expected from Orihime's cousin. At the tender age of an eighth grader, she had already developed ample volume.
Although one could not be certain whether she would grow to match Orihime's size, she would probably mature into a voluptuous figure at this rate.
Despite his state of confusion arising from Hazumi's behavior, Hal still suppressed the embarrassment in his heart.
Wanting to become stronger for the sake of helping others. The benevolent and responsible girl had expressed resolve that matched her character. Sure enough, Hal wanted to respond to these feelings of hers.
"To be honest, if you're the recipient, Shirasaka... I think the rune's power can probably be entrusted to you."
"I'm ashamed to say this, but my own resolve is the reason why I've neglected the matter all this time. It looks like I've caused you a lot of unease, so I'm really sorry."
"Resolve... What do you mean by that?"
"In Asya and Juujouji's cases, I desperately wanted to avoid casualties at the time, so I went with the flow and did it."
Hal confessed while sighing lightly.
"But after being entrusted with a rune of Ruruk Soun, a witch's life will become even more chaotic than before. Like this time, getting caught up in conflicts caused by monsters beyond the elites, things like that might become 'commonplace' in the future."
"That's why I haven't been able to muster my resolve, but—"
Hal muttered quietly.
"I fear the time I have for hesitation is running out soon... Shirasaka, I will give you a clear answer within the near future. Could you wait a bit longer for me?"
"V-Very well... But I am relieved now."
Hazumi pressed her hand against the towel over her chest and spoke softly.
"Actually, I had been agonizing over how I could earn your trust, Senpai."
"What are you talking about? Aren't we friends already?"
"Really? Fufu, I'm so happy to hear that—Oh, then allow me to ask you once again... Would you like me to wash your back?"
"W-Why are you still bringing this up!?"
"Because... Senpai, we are friends, aren't we? Right now, we have already laid our thoughts bare to each other without hiding anything—And it's a rare chance too..."
Thinking about it calmly, Hal knew that this was not an issue of rareness at all, but he could not help but nod.
Influenced by the current circumstances, he and Hazumi were probably in a state of excitement.
"I-I see. So 'this is a rare chance' is one way to look at it..."
"Y-Yes! I will do my very best!"
"Actually, I've never had anyone wash my back, but I guess there's a first time for everything—"
Despite his fear of what would happen if Juujouji were to find out, Hal still found himself wavering in the face of temptation.
At that moment, a ringtone could be heard coming from the changing room.
It was Hal's cellphone. Clearly he could ignore it, but a guilty conscience was tormenting him. Hence, he rushed out of the bath while leaving behind words of "I-I'm going to have a look!"
Hal dashed straight into the changing room and checked his cellphone. The caller's name happened to be displayed on the screen.
"......Hello, Haruga speaking."
'Ah, Haruga-kun. I've arrived in school now. Is Hazumi there too? I brought food, so let us have dinner together. By the way, Haruga-kun, where are you right now and what are you doing?'
"I-I was just taking a bath, yeah."
'Is it the athletic clubs building by any chance? They have showers and baths there too. In that case, let me head that way too. I am already in front of the library.'
"N-No, you don't need to come over, Juujouji!"
Hazumi's cousin, Juujouji Orihime was apparently talking on the phone while walking. Although Hal tried his hardest to persuade his observant classmate...
'Don't worry, walking over from here won't take five minutes. See you later.'
However, she simply hung up.
Hal hastily rushed into the bathroom and yelled to his underclassman, "Oh no! Juujouji is coming over. We've got to hurry!"
"Even so, where on earth has the dragon bearing the Rune of the Sword disappeared to?"
Luna Francois was speaking from the driver's seat while steering boldly.
The domestic luxury sports car entered a sharp corner of the New Town Highway's Tatsumi Junction without losing speed at all, making the turn by following an ideal out-in-out line.
Despite her young age of sixteen years, Luna was an incurable speed demon.
Looking at the speedometer which read 200 km/h, Asya frowned from the front passenger seat.
"Please don't race wantonly just because it's an emergency situation."
"Who cares? There are no other cars driving after all. Besides, I haven't even broke 300 km/h."
Tokyo New Town had essentially turned into a ghost town.
There were almost no pedestrians or vehicles on the road. However, rare exceptions like Asya and Luna should still be present somewhere.
"I attempted to use Detection magic all around New Town for the past two days, but could not find any signs of an elite-size dragon in hiding..." said Asya.
She was replying to her fellow witch's earlier murmuring.
"I believe it is extremely likely that he has shrunk his size to take on a Draconian form to hide."
"Oh actually, I have an unfavorable conjecture."
Hearing Luna speak as though a sudden thought had occurred to her, Asya frowned.
Luna Francois' so-called "unfavorable conjectures" often came true with very high probabilities.
"The girl who called herself a dragon king earlier was in human form, yes? If elite dragons were able to cast magic to turn themselves into humans, then..."
"Right! The elite we fought some time ago also said it was possible but undesirable!"
"Disguising as a human and hiding among New Town's refugees would be highly probable. The dragons forbade us humans to leave Tokyo because they are worried of this possibility, right?"
"True, it'd make sense if that's the case..."
With that, the search for Pavel Galad escalated greatly in difficulty.
Furthermore, the Raptors in search of Galad would even attack the people remaining in New Town—The risk of this happening probably increased in likelihood too.
"It looks like it'll be increasingly necessary to rely on Haruomi's rune."
"Indeed. I wonder if Hazumi-san and Orihime-san are assisting him well?"
"—!? L-Luna, what did you just say!?"
Carrying the two worried master magi, the race car sped in Kiba's direction.
At the makeshift dining table that Hazumi had set up before the library...
Orihime, Hal and Hazumi, the three of them were seated around the foldable table. The main dish for tonight was the curry rice cooked during lunch time by the youngest girl present.
Hal did not know if the school location was the reason, but Orihime was also dutifully dressed in uniform.
"Hazumi and Haruga-kun, you both seem a bit unsettled. Did something happen?"
"N-Nothing, it's just that the curry's a bit spicy."
"T-That's right. It really is a tad too spicy, Senpai."
"...Really? On the contrary, I find it to be medium spicy to an exceedingly ordinary level."
Hal and Hazumi's bathroom episode had taken place roughly an hour earlier.
After that, Hal had dried himself and gotten dressed with lightning speed before heading out of the club building to greet Orihime. During that time, Hazumi also made herself presentable then met up with them with feigned composure.
Thanks to that, their problematic behavior had not come to light. Thus, dinner started without issue.
However, Hal and Hazumi had yet to dispel the uneasiness in their hearts. They were still far from returning to normal.
"B-By the way, Juujouji, why did you suddenly come over?"
"Well, of course I am here to assist and monitor you, Haruga-kun."
"Yes. Since Hazumi is staying over here too, I was thinking someone needs to monitor you, Haruga-kun, so as to prevent the dark side of the Force manifesting within you. As such, this humble Juujouji Orihime has volunteered to shoulder this responsibility."
"No no no, I can't possibly do such unspeakable things to Shirasaka. That's what I believe. Essentially. Probably."
"See? Although your assertions cannot be trusted seeing as you are the self-styled closet pervert, the case is even more evident now that you have failed to make an assertion. Don't you agree, Hazumi?"
"I-I think that... S-Senpai is the one person who won't do such things, Nee-sama!"
"See that, Haruga-kun? Even Hazumi cannot believe in her own words with full conviction, which is why her gaze is currently this unsteady. As such, my coming to monitor you is not entirely meaningless, is it?"
" "......" "
Hal and Hazumi could not help but fall silent in response to Orihime's words.
Due to the vividness of their most recent memories, they could not muster a strong rebuttal.
However, Hal remembered something just as the trio were essentially done with dinner.
"Come to think of it, I forgot to call President M over."
"Oh, about the president, she already ate five bowls of curry at dusk. She said she had to eat dinner early because she was going to the pool for butterfly stroke training."
"Swimming immediately after eating so much, that's quite amazing of her. Nothing less expected of the president."
"That really is quite astounding, but isn't she engaged in training for some kind of unknown superpower?"
Hal muttered while imagining President M swimming the butterfly stroke.
That massive body, estimated to weigh 140 kg, propelled along the water surface. Such a sight, the embodiment of mystery and horror, would probably rival that of the famous White Whale, Moby Dick.
Despite his burning curiosity to witness the president's swimming appearance, Hal decided he still had work to take care of.
"I'm about to start wrapping up my task. How about you two come along? I could tell you what I've been doing all this time."
Possibly because this was the first time for Hal to willingly explain his undertaking—
Hazumi and Orihime looked up abruptly and immediately nodded. Taking the two girls, Hal returned to the library's underground storage level.
A number of selected items were placed on a blue tarp laid out in a corner of the floor.
Six rusted fragments of iron swords, four slightly filthy bronze pots, two Gabuntai divine beast mirrors of bronze, one blade of gilt bronze, and nine orbs of red agate.
"I believe that out of all these things, one of them is a former dragon king's heartmetal... Hinokagutsuchi's."
The words Hal finally uttered caused Orihime and Hazumi to stare wide-eyed.
Late at night. It was after 10pm...
Hal was still in the library's underground storeroom. He was rapidly browsing through reference materials spread out on a table. At this moment, the door opened and Orihime entered alone.
"Presumably exhausted. She already went to bed."
The girls were staying in an office on the library's ground floor.
Hazumi had apparently retired for the night there, probably tired out by cooking and preparing the bath, tasks which she was unused to. Frail in health to begin with, she was definitely not a girl with abundant energy.
However, while the two of them were alone, Orihime said with some displeasure in her expression, "Hazumi loves you inexplicably, Haruga-kun..."
"Although she is very kind with a personality like an angel's, this is still my first time seeing her go such lengths for someone other than me or family."
"What? So by love you were referring to the likes of familial love."
"...Are you by any chance confident that she would offer you another kind of love?"
"O-Of course not. We're senior and junior students, my conscience is clear."
"Oh? But lately, it seems that there have been many opportunities for you two to spend time together alone."
Orihime was usually cheerful, lively and caring, but right now, her stinging words were frequently mocking Hal. What on earth was going on?
And today, Hal was also harboring a guilty conscience about the bathroom episode.
If she were to continue pursuing the matter, perhaps he might let slip unnecessary information.
"It feels like you're acting jealous today, Juujouji. Even if I've snatched your cousin away from you..."
Hal tried to strike back in a somewhat contrived manner. He had a feeling that his position would progressively worsen if he stayed on defense the whole time. However, this ended up eliciting an unexpected reaction.
Orihime was sudden stunned, looking quite shocked.
"J-Jealous—!? D-Do I really sound like that!?"
"Well, umm, just a personal opinion, I guess? I'm the only one who got this impression."
Although Hal asked Orihime not to worry, she did not take his words to heart. Murmuring softly, she was saying things that were hard to make out.
"I am jealous—jealous over Hazumi. To think I unintentionally... this sort of matter that has no need to be brought up..."
"Forget about the conversation just now, Haruga-kun! Never mind, I have something else to talk about!"
Forcibly changing the subject, Orihime said, "You're not hiding something from us by any chance, are you?"
"Uh, recently I've been occupied with trying to locate Hinokagutsuchi's heartmetal—"
"I already heard about that. I'm asking if there is anything else. For example, about your body, Haruga-kun, or the like."
"I've written about runes and dragon kings in the report, so there's nothing I need to hide particularly."
"I already read that report too. You wrote plenty about Kagutsuchi-san and the encounter with the man in black... but you omitted the most important part."
The man in the black suit, Sophocles, was a mysterious being who claimed to be a human instead of a dragon.
Taking a "believe it or not" mindset, Hal had candidly included in his report an organized account regarding the Road to Kingship and the encounter with that man. However—
"The possibility that you might turn into a dragon—This was not mentioned anywhere at all."
"Oh my, that's too far-fetched and ridiculous after all."
"Please allow me to confirm one matter tactfully. You haven't mentioned this to Asya-san either, have you?"
"I somehow feel that you wouldn't have concealed it if you were truly not worried, Haruga-kun."
"...Well, I don't deny taking various measures due to this reason. Even disregarding various issues such as possibly turning into a dragon, I'm apparently destined to die out in the streets at some point in time."
By the time he noticed, Orihime's worried gaze was already focused on him.
After looking into her eyes and nodding, Hal turned his gaze to a corner of the storeroom. This was the location of the enchanted artifacts and antiques that could potentially be Hinokagutsuchi's heartmetal.
"Although I've no right to say this, I still want to help future generations a bit."
"Yeah. Well, a dragon would probably say something like 'fighting is my duty.' But as it so happens, I'm human and a treasure hunter to boot."
The conflict revolving around the dragonslaying runes was apparently known as the Road to Kingship.
The mysterious man, Sophocles, had called it a type of quest and described it as a game. It was surely a great adventure involving numerous battles like an epic RPG.
"Even if those guys prefer authentic orthodox RPGs, I'm not obliged to humor them. I'll ignore the proper script and focus on finding loopholes in the system or mini-games to play. Then I'll take all of my gathered gold to redeem somewhere else."
"Indeed... Haruga-kun, you're still a mortal."
After listening to Hal's explanation, Orihime smiled faintly.
"Then as the only friend privy to your secret, let me make myself clear. If anything happened to make you suffer so much that you'd want to cry during the night, call me. I will listen to you as long as I have time and visit you if I have the opportunity to do so."
"...I'm not that fragile."
"Hard to say. You may find yourself cornered in the future."
"I see. Then I'll gratefully remember your offer."
"Yes, it's a promise. In addition, please call me without reserve when you need a comrade-in-arms. Let's work together and give it our best like last time."
"Last time huh..."
"...Haruga-kun, are you having indecent thoughts by any chance?"
"Of course not. I'm just remembering the intense battle."
"But you always act especially serious whenever you're having lustful thoughts, you know?"
"Have I been seen through!?"
Hal's tense and proper expression was exposed by Orihime with a single comment.
In truth, Hal was definitely recalling that particular instant. The five fingers of his right hand had sunk into Orihime's soft body part that was about the size of a small cantaloupe, enjoying the excellent suppleness.
"Next time, you are not allowed to touch me in such an obscene manner!"
Orihime scolded angrily.
"Back then, Haruga-kun, you were squeezing my breast as hard as you could, refusing to let go no matter what..."
"Juujouji, it's probably because your breasts are too majestic, that's why I accidentally—"
"This kind of dirty talk is not allowed!"
As a side note, he had not written about the "action for transmitting power" undertaken at the time either, for no special reason except that Hal himself judged that it was not definitely something to be disclosed.
While bowing his head to apologize, Hal realized.
Orihime apparently said "next time" just now... Hal stared at her face in surprise.
Although his classmate and novice witch was still showing an offended expression, she had turned her gaze away in embarrassment to murmur, "I-It cannot be helped either. The next battle will surely be a tough ordeal and even a queen of the dragons has appeared... B-But don't you get the wrong idea!"
Orihime's tone of voice turned feeble mid-sentence as though in an attempt to argue, only turning into what seemed a little like anger at the end.
"It happened only because I had no choice, ultimately necessitated by battle!"
"O-Of course. I'll carve this in my heart."
"It is absolutely not because I enjoy it..."
"I figured. I absolutely won't have any weird misunderstandings."
"B-But putting this aside, I mentioned earlier as well, since fate has brought us together so much, I think I would be totally fine with dating you."
"That is what I think..."
For some reason, towards the end, Orihime kept staring into Hal's eyes as though trying to tell him something.
Orihime's eyes were a bit moist. Her gaze caused Hal's heart to race. He even felt that if he were to say certain "magic words" this instant, it would decisively change something.
But would that be okay? Clearly she had told him not to get the wrong idea.
Just as Hal found himself in a conundrum, Orihime suddenly reacted with surprise. As though chastising herself "What am I saying!?", she shook her head forcefully and suddenly shouted, "R-Right, Haruga-kun! Next, let us talk about what is over here!"
Orihime pointed at the materials laid out on the table.
Photocopies of ancient Japanese texts. These had been ordered recently by the used bookstore, Mirokudou, a special purchase Hal had asked Kenjou Genya to make.
At the same time, this was information about Hinokagutsuchi—the red dragon queen.
This was what Hal had originally intended to discuss with Orihime and Hazumi tonight.
The materials Hal had prepared was a certain shrine's historical record.
A so-called historical record referred to a document recording a shrine or temple's roots and origins. This particular shrine was located in the Tokai region of Honshu on the Pacific shore. Established during the early Kamakura period, its history stretched quite far back.
Every generation of the chief priest left behind diaries and notes. All related documents that could be obtained were all gathered here.
"Tracing back to the root, my encounter with Hinokagutsuchi at the Witch Mansion was the beginning of everything."
Hal renewed his vigor and began to recount tirelessly.
"However, can my encounter with her be explained simply by coincidence?"
"Haruga-kun, do you believe there was a reason why you two met?"
A question from the audience, Orihime, prompted Hal to nod.
"Yes. In the beginning, I thought she was a ghost attracted by the Mansion's spiritual energy, but lately, I've thought of other possibilities."
That dream was the clue that had inspired Hal.
The Crimson Queen had committed suicide to decide the battle between dragon kings. At the time, the queen i.e. Hinokagutsuchi had dug out her own heartmetal and cast it down to the earth.
After repeatedly experiencing the dream, Hal had confirmed clearly.
The heartmetal had undoubtedly fallen somewhere along a series of curved islands—Japan.
"These all come from the collection at Shin-Kiba's Witch Mansion... Books and objects related to magic and collected from all over Japan."
"Speaking of which, the library there was also where I met you, Haruga-kun."
"And then, rather than Hinokagutsuchi—a dragon's ghost—showing up in the Mansion for no reason, I believe it'd be more convincing to say that she was haunting an enchanted artifact related to her."
"What you mean, Haruga-kun... is that artifact has been moved here together with the Mansion?"
"Yeah, that's what I'm trying to say."
Saying that, Hal looked at Orihime squarely.
"Banking on this idea, which is more like a whim than a hypothesis, I tried to search through the Mansion's catalog. Among the densely written list of items, I ended up discovering the 'five types of divine treasures related to Goddess Hinokagutsuchi.'"
Iron sword, bronze pot, Gamontai divine beast mirror, great blade of gilt bronze and red agate.
These were itemized as the "five divine treasures."
Hal had picked out everything matching the description and placed them in this corner.
"This so-called Hinokagutsuchi was the name of the fire god appearing in Japanese mythology, right? But rather than a goddess, he was genuinely a male deity. But here, it's written as goddess on purpose."
Hal was quite well-versed in fields such as mythology, history, archaeology and folkloristics.
In order to gather the Grave Goods used in covenant rituals between "serpents" and witches—magical apparatus for enshrined object emulation—Hal had learnt a great deal of knowledge.
"There is one theory that the sun goddess Amaterasu was actually a male god. However, this is my first time seeing Hinokagutsuchi in gender reversal. This really bothered me, so I tried to investigate the shrine that venerated Goddess Hinokagutsuchi's divine treasures... I investigated its origins."
Hence, Hal had made a request to Kenjou, asking him to delegate to a certain SAURU branch in the Tokai region the task of gathering information about the shrine in question.
"During the Ken'ei era—in other words, the early Kamakura period—the 'fire god's fragment' fell from the sky. Reportedly, 'a goddess that looked like a child' appeared beside the pillow of a villager who had collected the fragment."
"Looked like a child... That's the same as Kagutsuchi-san."
"Thereafter, the fire god's fragment was venerated as divine treasures for which a shrine was built."
"But concluding that Kagutsuchi-san's heartmetal comprises those treasures based on this... Aren't you overthinking things?"
"Responding to your point, I saw it in a dream."
Confronted with the surprised Orihime, Hal explained the magic gun's guidance and Hinokagutsuchi's last moments.
In particular, "the heartmetal dropped by the red dragon king from the stratosphere" was related to "the origins of the shrine worshiping Goddess Hinokagutsuchi."
"Hinokagutsuchi had said something that could be construed as an admission to this, so I think it's surprisingly probable that my hunch is correct. But it also depends on whether she was lying or not."
"Kagutsuchi-san... probably wouldn't lie, right? After all, she has so much pride."
Orihime commented on the personality of the self-styled devil who was nowhere to be seen.
"As if anyone would stoop as low as lying to you, that's what I feel she'd say."
"I agree. That's why I tried to pick out all the artifacts whose appearance match the five types of divine treasures related to Goddess Hinokagutsuchi. The heartmetals of dragons and 'serpents' are mostly precious metals in spherical form, so the red agate—one of them—should be the most likely."
Just red agate alone, there were already nine pieces. Every orb was chipped or cracked.
Then there were six iron swords, four bronze pots, two divine beast mirrors made of bronze and a blade of gilt bronze. Looking at these selected objects, Hal crossed his arms.
"It's also possible that rocks or metals fallen from the sky were melted down and processed, so I can't jump to conclusions. How should I confirm...?"
"Can't you use a treasure hunter's intuition or experience to find a solution?"
"Unfortunately, a dragon's heartmetal isn't part of my professional expertise."
Hal shrugged and muttered, "Although I tried reading a part of the collected information, hoping there might be clues... It was futile. I'm guessing nothing essential will be found in the unread remainder too."
The gathered ancient texts were laid out on the table.
Hal had hastily read through the shrine's historical record, which the chief priest had recompiled during the Meiji period, as well as the chief priest's diary that had recorded shrine related matters.
The remainder consisted of materials dating earlier back to the Edo period and even the Muromachi period.
However, he would have to be prepared to spend a great deal of time if he wanted to read these materials in detail. And he was not optimistic regarding whether corresponding rewards could be reaped.
"Even if I used magical methods to check—"
Hal stared intently and activated magical sight.
The majority of the various artifacts selected as heartmetal candidates glowed faintly. The rest of them were shrouded in dim mist instead. However, enchanted artifacts carried magical or mystical energies to begin with, which was why they were housed in the Witch Mansion. This was an expected and logical result.
"It doesn't seem particularly meaningful..."
"I might as well bring a police dog and have it look for things with Hinokagutsuchi's scent, how about that?"
"But she is a ghost without a scent to begin with, right?"
"Since she's able to eat and touch things, she should have a tangible body of sorts. I've also gathered a portion of her remains."
Hal picked up a flask kept on the side of the table.
"Back when I received the Rune of the Bow, Hinokagutsuchi had briefly and temporarily revived her past body—the one she had as a dragon—to drive away the pursuing dragon."
"Ahhh! It was when the dragons were targeting us in Old Tokyo!"
"Yeah. Back then, Hinokagutsuchi's body quickly crumbled into dust and was blown away by the wind... But I gathered some of it from the scene at Tokyo Station. After thoroughly eliminating sand and dust, this remaining powder is what used to be part of a dragon's body."
The flask in Hal's hand was filled with white powder.
The dragon king known as the Crimson Queen in the past—part of the scattered remains when her body collapsed. Hal had gathered it as a sample.
Looking at the flash and the white powder, Orihime exhaled.
"How astounding, to think you went to such lengths... It's a bit beyond my imagination."
"Rather, it's better to say this is my field of expertise in the first place. Brandishing a weird gun to fight dragons in massive battles is the special exception instead. However—"
Hal sighed, naturally because of gloom.
"What comes next is hard to say."
"Eh? Haruga-kun, don't tell me you intend to switch careers to become a hero!?"
"I know I'm not cut out for it, at least. If I'm going to switch careers, I'd most likely change to something even more useless."
After chuckling ironically, Hal looked up above him.
"Sigh, let's get back on topic. The current problem is finding the heartmetal. It's probably pointless even if I bring a police dog or a drug detection dog. What to do?"
"Speaking of dogs... Isn't Akuro-Ou similar to a dog?"
Hal could not help but smile wryly because Orihime was speaking with a serious expression.
"No no, no matter the resemblance, she's ultimately just a dog-like non-living creature—"
"But if it's her, she should be quite sensitive towards magic-related things and dragon presences, shouldn't she?"
Hal wanted to dismiss the notion with a laugh, but immediately changed his mind.
The leviathan named Akuro-Ou possessed a form intermediate between a fox and a wolf. But regardless, nothing changed the fact that she belonged in the canid family.
And just as Orihime had pointed out, one might place their hopes on her superior senses to surpass what could be achieved by smell—
"So this is what Akuro-Ou selected."
Hal pointed at an orb of red agate, seven centimeters or so in diameter. Roughly a third of it was missing and the surface was covered with tiny cracks.
Next to the outdoor dining table in front of the library, Hal was explaining to Asya and Luna Francois.
As a side note, the two girls were dressed identically in the Academy's uniform.
"A former dragon king's heartmetal. The 'fire god's fragment' that had fallen from the sky roughly eight hundred years ago. Hinokagutsuchi's spirit dwells within this thing."
A night had passed since Akuro-Ou finished appraising.
This was already the fourth morning after the dragon king's army had "occupied" Tokyo.
Last night, Hal and Orihime had moved the various artifacts, heartmetal candidates, out to the sports ground then summoned Akuro-Ou. As before when they summoned her in Old Tokyo, she was shrunk down to roughly three meters in body length.
Then Akuro-Ou examined these artifacts like a drug detection dog.
The result of the appraisal was now reflecting the sun's morning rays on the table. It was one of the nine orbs of red agate.
"...But we still can't be 100% certain."
"However, judging from your description, this possibility seems to be highly likely."
Luna Francois nodded while Asya murmured on the side, "R-Right. Thanks to Haruomi and Orihime-san, the dragon king's heartmetal was found... But come to think of it, I can't believe you were happily flirting away with a girl under the same roof..."
"Fufu. This is also an outcome of camping together~~"
Asya was making a sour face for some reason. In contrast, Luna Francois was beaming on purpose.
"After thoroughly enjoying a camping life served by two young beauties, commonly known as having a lady on each arm, Harry's motivation must have risen to the highest point, yes?"
"Haruomi! You're better off acting like a herbivore and doing nothing as always!"
"But actually, I enjoyed it quite a bit... It's also true that they helped out a lot..."
"Fufu. If it pleases you, I could arrange another one next time, how about that?"
"...If a chance comes up, please do lend your assistance."
"Gah, you traitor!"
"It's clearly just camping together in harmony, why am I getting scolded...?"
Denounced by Asya, Hal tilted his head in puzzlement.
Meanwhile, Orihime and Hazumi had gone over to the cultural clubs building next door to deliver breakfast to President M.
Hal looked at the table again. Apart from the heartmetal of red agate, there was also the flask of white powder gathered from the remains of Hinokagutsuchi's collapsed body.
"We need to gather samples of this type in vast quantities for research. The ultimate goal is to create 'new imitations,' I guess."
"Different from the current leviathans?"
"Yeah. Instead of imitation dragons, imitation dragon kings."
Hearing Hal, the master witches jumped in surprise.
The "serpents" they controlled were precisely "imitation dragons," but compared to elites and dragon kings, "serpents" were undoubtedly feeble beings.
"Think about it for a second. Didn't our parents' generation discover within arctic ice the creation of ancient magi, a homunculus in dragon form—a goddess of antiquity—thereby using them as a reference to synthesize leviathans?"
"Yes. That goddess is Grandmother Immortal."
"And right now, she continues to live in Istanbul's underground, the grandmother and archetype of all 'serpents.'"
Since the trio had been involved with SAURU starting from their parents' generation, communication was particularly easy.
The two girls immediately understood what Hal was implying.
"Anyway, after securing this heartmetal—"
Looking at the red agate on the table, Hal whispered quietly, "As the first modern human to discover 'the power of dragonbane,' I wish to fulfill my obligations to future generations. Even if I were to perish in the immediate future, resulting in the loss of the Rune of the Bow... My intent is to leave something like a sapling of hope for future generations by securing this heartmetal."
"Haruomi, it's time for—"
Just by listening to this introduction, Asya understood.
Completely setting aside her earlier expression of bitterness, she nodded solemnly.
"Yeah, Rushalka's rebirth. Apart from that, I guess we've got to attempt the challenge of retaking Tokyo New Town. Still, it feels like 'there's nothing to lose' in trying to retake New Town."
Hal chanted a magic incantation. In truth, it was an exceedingly difficult mission.
"An elite alone would be fine, but this time, there is a dragon king and her minion backing him."
"If we were to fail, New Town would be abandoned immediately, scrapping the city—Isn't that right?"
Luna Francois and Asya concurred rather irresponsibly.
Precisely because they knew best how formidable were the enemies that had shown up at New Town, they did not recklessly speak in optimistic tones.
In any case, the master-class witches and Hal nodded at one another.
"By the way, can I ask a question, Luna?"
Once the discussion reached a conclusion, Hal changed the subject.
At the same time, he stared at this American girl who had inexplicably changed into the Academy's female uniform like Asya. Starting from the moment he saw her this morning, Hal had been very curious.
"Why are you in uniform today?"
"Do as the Romans do, so the saying goes. Besides, wearing the same attire allows my physical traits to be more clearly contrasted against Asya's♪"
"W-What do you mean by contrast!? Sure, it's true that Luna's slightly more curvy!"
"Not slightly but far more voluptuous, yes? However, I might possibly lose out to Orihime-san. Japanese figures are marvelous these days."
At this moment, Hal's cellphone rang.
It happened to be the subject of their conversation. The owner of an outstanding figure was calling.
"What's up, Juujouji?"
'Ah, Haruga-kun? President M has issued emergency summons. Hurry over now!'
Reportedly, President M was apparently on the clubs building's roof when breakfast was delivered.
Ignoring the arrival of Orihime and Hazumi, she kept her eyes closed and meditated for thirty minutes. Then without warning, she opened her eyes wide and emitted a mighty shout.
Emergency breakfast time followed immediately.
After finishing an entire rice cooker's worth of white rice, cooked from four cups of raw rice, President M said, "Get me everyone involved in my clubs! I shall show you the fruits of my training!"
Consequently, Hal and Asya rushed over in haste.
Under the gazes of four people including Hazumi and Orihime, President M slowly began to speak, "Two full days of training has led to my ascension to a new realm. The way I am now, I feel that I can even oppose the Great Old Ones and phantasmal demons from the macrocosm's abyss..."
"Although it's worth pointing out that training duration was only two days..."
Ignoring the whispers between Hazumi and Orihime, President M shouted "Hah!" loudly.
Expecting a massive explosion, Hal entered a precautionary stance but surprisingly, nothing happened at all. On everyone's behalf, Asya asked skeptically, "...Are you trying to do something like a transformation?"
"Don't be ludicrous, it's not like I have some kind of hyperbolic whatever chamber. Two mere days of training won't amount to monumental changes. Nevertheless, I still achieved distinct results. Am I right, Haruga?"
Stared at by President M's round eyes, Hal could not help but feel a pang of fright.
"When I 'looked' at you last time, I could not see anything resembling a proper destiny. But as I am now, I might be able to see something. Would you like a try?"
"Uh, my destiny?"
"Indeed. The high-level skill of Life Consultant is an ultimate finishing move. Even a boy as irregular as you would surely beg me for life coaching out of admiration. You are welcome."
"Sure... Then I'll try it out."
The instant Hal made his request, President M leaned over without warning.
Her flowing steps were surprisingly agile, By the time he realized, the president had already struck Hal in the chest with her palm.
Hal's body was sent flying spectacularly by the sudden palm strike.
Then he fell on his bottom just like that. Meanwhile, President M gazed down at Hal aloofly and said with solemnity, "...Your guiding light has been in your hand since a long time ago. Please remember it when you find yourself cornered and unsure what do do..."
"I-In my hand?"
However, President M did not answer his question.
Her massive body, estimated to weigh 140kg approximately, swayed left and right before collapsing limply. The eccentric, whom Hal and the others ought to call their leader, remained lying on the floor like that.
"She fell asleep...?"
Regular breathing sounds could be heard from the president's mouth. Her eyes were closed.
Had she used up her energy? Next, Hal noticed that his chest was stinging dully even though it was just a light strike.
"As always, anything is possible with her..."
Watching the sleeping president, Hal felt impressed from the bottom of his heart. However, he totally could not comprehend the meaning of the advice she had just offered him—
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