Leviathan:Volume 4 Chapter 2
Chapter 2 - Towards the World Outside
Tokyo New Town had returned to a life of peace and stability for now. Although Hal and company knew that the situation would certainly not last indefinitely, for now, things were still in a rather relaxed state.
However, a certain person was injecting into their peaceful lives the poison known as "irregularity."
Namely, one of Hal's companions, Luna Francois Gregory.
"Welcome, Harry. Likewise to you, Asya, welcome to my office."
"W-What on earth made the school prepare this for you, a mere student..."
Asya grumbled with displeasure at the smug Luna Francois.
This was a small room somewhere in school. All the furniture including tables, chairs, cupboards and bookshelves were made of mahogany, resulting in a classic ambiance of elegance.
Thanks to the decor, the room had a solemn atmosphere almost like a principal's office.
However, the one sitting before the desk as the owner of the office was Luna Francois. Yet not only was she a student but she had only transferred in less than a month ago.
Luna went tsk-tsk and waggled her right index finger.
"Please allow me to make a correction. I am no ordinary student. In fact, as early as a week ago, I had been offered a position as a non-executive director on this school's board. Although I wanted to decline, seeing as it would be living too far above my means, at the school's repeated behest, I had no choice but to reluctantly..."
"As an American minor, Luna, receiving such an invitation is impossible!" Asya pointed out in fury.
"You clearly schemed your way with underhanded means to snag yourself that position!"
"Fufufufu. That would be a groundless accusation, Asya. Oh dear, all things considered, this school was founded with SAURU's funding and I am an important member of that organization. It wouldn't be surprising even if there were one or two unnatural and improper personnel assignments... Nevertheless, do you really think I would engage in such a ploy?"
"Isn't this tantamount to a confession already!?"
Luna Francois simply smiled tenderly at her fellow witch's accusation.
Meanwhile, Hal was thoroughly impressed by her shrewdness and asked, "Luna, you became the leader of SAURU's Kantou branch earlier too, could it be that you enjoy collecting these kinds of titles?"
"No, I have no interest in these worldly positions and titles."
The blonde witch winked lightly and replied.
"Conversely, I do enjoy exercising the convenient privileges that come along with status, such as this office provided for a non-executive director's use. Don't you find it very handy for skipping boring lessons?"
"Well said. If possible, please nominate me as the non-executive director's secretary."
"Oh dear, Harry. You are such a bad boy."
"Nowhere as impressive as you, my lord magistrate. By the way, I recently found the Tokyo specialty known as the 'golden monaka,' would you like to take some?"
"Really? But compared to confectionery, I still prefer genuine 24K gold."
"W-Why do you two look like you're really hitting it off!?"
Asya glared at Hal intently and grumbled.
This prompted Luna Francois to chuckle lightly with elegance.
"Seeing as this is a school, although it would pose no difficulty to find people who can recommend me to serve as a student leader—the student council president... I ruled it out in the end. After all, the student council president is tied down by all kinds of mundane business to handle."
"Rather, that is pretty much the position in charge of mundane business."
"I know, right? While obtaining special positions, I feel that even if they come with special privileges, sinecures with a minimum of responsibilities would be best. Sure enough, aren't we of like minds, Harry?"
"That goes without saying. It's better for work to be more leisurely. No argument there."
"I can't feel any vitality or spirit of diligence here. That's so counter to the image of teenage high schoolers. Are you two comrades in that sense...?"
"That's true too. I guess I feel quite compatible with Luna?"
Hal nodded in agreement with Asya's comment.
Undoubtedly, Luna Francois was someone who lived in a gray zone tending towards black. Not only that, but she would occasionally employ "black" methods without hesitation to secure her own interests.
The two of them were birds of a feather in that aspect. This was also why Hal felt a sense of camaraderie with her.
"By the way, Luna, did you call us here just to introduce this office to us?"
"Yes. Please feel free to drop by any time you wish. Do remember to bring some snacks over when you come. I adore the cookies that Asya bakes. However, the cakes and pies from Asya's dessert factory have an excessive abundance of calories, so once a month would be plenty enough♪"
"Demanding gifts matter-of-factly and even placing orders so haughtily!?"
Shocked by her fellow witch's demands, Asya shrugged.
Lessons were over for the day at the high school division.
"Then I'm heading out first. There's a test involving Rushalka later and I need to get to Tokyo Bay by taking a JMSDF battleship."
During the decisive battle the previous month, Asya's "serpent"—Rushalka—had been reborn.
After that, Asya had summoned her partner many times to carry out tests on various abilities including flying, mobility and pseudo-divinity over Tokyo Bay's waters.
Renowned in the past as Europe's strongest, Blue Rushalka, no problems had been found so far.
"If there are no problems today, it's time to certify Rushalka as fully revived."
"The European side will surely weep with joy if they found out. There will be an instant onslaught of loving calls to get you to go back, right?"
"That might happen, but a super formidable enemy, dragon king-class, is currently lurking in Tokyo after all," Asya responded to Hal.
"In the short term—I've no plans of returning."
"Fufufu. Are you worried by any chance? Because a woman like me is at Harry's side."
Smiling malevolently on the side was the blonde beauty, Luna Francois.
"All things considered, I am someone blessed with talent, intelligence and beauty while simultaneously favored by position and authority to an unbelievable extent... Even in a place like this, I am quite sought after (unlike Asya)."
"Hey! You added something unnecessary at the end, didn't you!?"
"No, nothing at all♪"
"Sheesh... Sigh, although I don't think I need to take your bragging nonsense seriously, I guess I should still respond. It's true, given Luna's deceptive way with words, casually captivating ten or twenty boys shouldn't be anything hard."
Hal had heard. The number of boys who confessed to Luna Francois Gregory had reached twenty-three so far. Even a cult of worshipers akin to a fan club was apparently in the works.
This news came not from elsewhere but enthusiastically from Luna herself.
"But something big like Haruomi having weird feelings for Luna, that's totally impossible."
"Oh dear, I cannot believe you would assert that."
Luna Francois frowned with surprise.
Most likely, she had always felt confident in her ability to toy with Asya on the palm of her hand.
However, Europe's former Shootdown Ace was now puffing out her meager chest in confidence. This composure made Luna Francois incredulous.
"In that case, there should be no problem if Harry and I were to go on a date tonight, right? I shall tempt him and captivate him with my charm."
"Be my guest and do whatever you want. Then I'll be going now."
Saying that, Asya left the office on her own.
Her pace was unusually fast. Slightly displeased, Luna Francois watched her leave then faced Hal again to suddenly smile.
"Now that Asya has said so, let us begin tonight. What are your thoughts, Harry?"
"Putting that aside... Think about it, we still have business to handle today, right? Before leaving, I'd like to get a few miscellaneous tasks sorted out. It's time for us to go too."
Tactfully brushing the issue aside, Hal made his way to the door.
Luna Francois' smile twitched slightly for an instant. However, she immediately recovered her elegance and reached for her schoolbag.
Thus, Hal and Luna Francois entered the corridor together.
While walking to their destination that was determined in advance, Luna secretly felt impressed. Asya's understanding of this childhood friend bound by inseparable ties—Haruga Haruomi's thought processes—was truly thorough...
Hal and Luna left the high school division and walked to the cultural clubs building.
The place where all culture-related clubs were gathered, it was a building adjacent to the library. The pair's destination was the room of the UFO Research Club on the third floor.
"Ah. Haruga-kun and... the rumored transfer student."
Although President M's gigantic figure was nowhere to be seen, someone else had already arrived at the UFO Research Club. A female student facing a laptop on the long table—Mutou-san.
"I knew it, she's someone in your circle—SAURU. Given how she transferred at the very end of the first term and also after Tokyo's occupation, I was certain of my guess. Could it be that she's a so-called witch like Juujouji-san and the others?"
"Correct. This perceptiveness already makes hiring you worth it."
"Fufufu. Actually, I have a gift for you."
Luna Francois smiled tenderly and took out something from her schoolbag.
It was a keycard, a key for entering the newly built Witch Mansion under the library. That place was also where Hal had obtained Hinokagutsuchi's heartmetal last month.
"Haven't you heard from Harry? This is an invitation to the secret garden."
"Wow. I humbly accept with gratitude."
Smiling, Mutou-san picked up the card that the blonde stranger had placed on the long table.
"Oh by the way, about the materials Haruga-kun sent me, I've forwarded them to the UFO Research Club's Sakuraba-senpai too, so you should get a response soon. Apart from that, after reading it, something bothers me."
Mutou-san turned the laptop screen towards Hal.
Displayed there was the basic information about leviathans, witches and dragons that he had sent her the previous day. Passionate in her research, she kept diligently seeking knowledge even after school.
"Looking at the number of witches stationed across various eastern Asian countries... Japan, China, Korea and Indonesia have way more than the others. Does this have anything to do with economic conditions?"
"I suppose it does. After all, forging witch covenants is one of the services provided by SAURU for payment."
"Since the sponsors are local authorities or businesses, the economic climate inevitably has an effect. This cannot be helped either."
"Just as suspected. I was wondering if that was the reason."
Mutou-san nodded with understanding after listening to Hal and Luna Francois' answers.
"Howevever, 'serpents' can't be mass produced using money alone."
"The most important is finding girls with inborn aptitude to become witches. Apart from that, obtaining enchanted artifacts to become leviathan cores—Grave Goods—is very important too. Even for economically wealthy countries, the number of 'serpents' is only slightly more than for poor countries."
"I see now. Oh, there's one more thing—"
Mutou-san continued, "As an amateur who's just starting to learn the ropes, this might be a subjective opinion, I guess? I feel that SAURU is a bit stingy for treating witch and dragon matters as secrets when they're making money from that kind of business. Things would go more smoothly if they did things in a more aboveboard manner."
"That aspect is very influenced by the outlook of the old ladies."
"Who are they?"
"They're consultants and supervisors who are very important to the leaders operating SAURU."
"Furthermore, they are also eyesores. A collective composed of old ladies who only like to reminisce about the past. Incidentally, they are still talking about matters from three hundred years ago even though it's already the twenty-first century, which is a bit too..."
"It seems quite useless to be concerned about witch hunts and inquisitions by this point."
Just as the topic started to offer Mutou-san a glimpse at the inside story—
A clatter of footsteps were heard from the corridor. Next, the UFO Research Club's door was flung open loudly. However, the one who entered was not a member of the club.
"Thank goodness, you're all here! Hey hey, listen up, listen up!"
It was the other classmate, Funaki-san, who had signed an employment contract with Hal.
Her twintails were shaking on the sides of her head. Looking like she had sprinted over as fast as she could, Funaki-san was panting heavily.
"Just now, I discovered someone amazing at the Kanegafuchi Station!"
The area around Kanegafuchi Station on the New Town Loop Line—
Prior to the return of dragonkind, it was just a suburban town of limited size. But the large-scale assaults of Raptors fifteen or so years ago had brought devastation to the surrounding area. After that, with the establishment of Tokyo New Town, this neighborhood had been redeveloped into an office district persisting to the present day.
The Metropolitan Police Department was also headquartered there. It was a neighborhood where Hal and the witches frequently visited.
Who exactly had she spotted there? The gossip-loving Funaki-san spoke up, "It's the handsome foreigner who was with us during the New Town Occupation last time."
"You mean the man who transformed into a dragon—no, the silver dragon that had merely taken on human form!?"
Listening to her classmate's report, Mutou-san jumped in surprise.
"Yeah, because he's so conspicuous, I couldn't possibly be mistaken. Although I chased after him in a hurry, I lost him along the way. But that dragon person is definitely still in New Town."
Possibly a bit excited to see the handsome man's lovely face, Funaki-san was grinning from ear to ear.
In contrast, Hal frowned. The silver dragon Pavel Galad was still lurking somewhere in the Tokyo area. Most likely, he was plotting for a comeback.
Like Hal and company, he was probably making thorough preparations while taking precautions for the next commotion.
"We have no choice but to prepare properly for the next time too. Let us depart, Harry."
"Yeah. Let's meet up with Juujouji earlier and go together to see how that person is doing."
Thus, the miscellaneous task of handing the keycard to Mutou-san was done.
However, the day's main event had yet to debut. Hal and Luna exchanged nods.
Roughly two hours later, Hal was at a different venue. Taking a taxi together with Luna Francois, he had gone to a hotel near Kanegafuchi Station.
The sixty-story skyscraper was a luxury hotel whose premises were deemed "super" from the fortieth floor and up.
This was originally a place where Haruga Haruomi would never frequent on his own.
Hal had always used reasonably priced inns or business hotels. The lack of hot water for baths was not an infrequent occurrence.
However, the same did not apply to the girl accompanying him. The large suite situated on the fifty-fifth floor of this building was precisely Luna Francois' "new residence." Back when she first decided to live in Tokyo New Town, moving house and living alone were considered too much of a hassle. Hence, she chose to live in a hotel instead.
As was customary, a master-class witch would be handsomely compensated for each sortie.
Luna Francois had dominated the trans-Pacific region as the Shootdown Ace for four years already. This extravagant lifestyle was befitting of her position and wealth.
After meeting up with Orihime who was waiting in the hotel lobby, the group's destination was—
"Hmm... Indeed it is not a bad contrivance."
The location was a heated swimming pool on the fifty-eighth floor of the skyscraper. A hotel facility.
Murmuring with a haughty expression was Hinokagutsuchi. The former queen of dragons was reclining lazily on a poolside lounge chair.
Furthermore, casually lifted in her hand was a glass filled with golden champagne.
"It was worth specially preparing this reception to hear this response of yours."
"Brat, is this going according to your plan?"
"I thought up the basic concept but I left stuff like the specific venue to Luna to plan out. The remaining preparations were only just completed by enlisting Juujouji's help—Something like that."
Sitting on the diving board on the poolside in his swimming trunks, Hal answered leisurely.
In addition, Hinokagutsuchi had finally changed her attire from her usual scarlet kimono. Like Hal, she was in swimwear.
A young body corresponding to an eleven or twelve-year-old's, clad in a red bikini.
"I see now. A venue overlooking the lower world from a great height could be considered a contrivance befitting an exalted queen such as I. It appears that you are quite well-versed in the etiquette of pleasing important guests."
"In return, please continue to look after us by providing information and various support."
"Well, I shall consider it."
It was currently after 7pm.
Looking down from this fifty-eighth floor, whose walls were made of glass, the night scenery of New Town was akin to hundreds of gemstones scattered on black velvet—Extravagant with a dash of decadence.
With the night scenery as a side dish to go along with her drink, Hinokagutsuchi downed her glass of champagne in one breath.
"Uh... Is this the moment when I should be offering 'Would you like another glass?'"
"It would not be a bad idea. However, I am personally looking forward to an elaborate performance along the lines of 'pouring wine while providing a deliberate view of your chest.'"
"K-Kagutsuchi-san. You really must rein in such words of sexual harassment!"
Orihime sighed and approached. The novice witch was also dressed in a bikini.
The white two-piece swimsuit, pure and simple, looked quite good on her. Orihime tilted the champagne bottle in her hand and refilled Hinokagutsuchi's glass.
"My goodness. And I was wondering what it was about when suddenly told that we had to assemble at a hotel..."
"Well actually, I could be the waiter to serve her too."
"Spare me that sort of farce. As if anyone would drink alcohol poured by a squalid man. Rather, it would be an insult to me, one who had been served by hundreds of priestesses and shrine maidens with reverence."
"I knew she was going to gripe like that."
"That's why you asked Orihime-san and I to offer our services, isn't that right?"
It was Luna Francois who spoke this time.
She was dressed in an extremely attractive, even seductive, black bikini while holding a dish piled with fruit. It was like a small mountain of watermelon, pineapple, mango, lemon, banana, lychee, papaya, etc.
"If it would please you, shall I use this fruit to concoct a cocktail for you?"
"Mm-hmm. You may have free rein."
Hinokagutsuchi partially closed her eyes in satisfaction in response to Luna Francois' suggestion.
Her mood definitely seemed better than usual. Sure enough, she was very appreciative of female company despite calling herself a "queen"... Not only that, she clearly enjoyed the female form.
Hal nodded while giving a warning, "Let's be upfront with the rules. No making moves on the dancer girls."
"Well, fine. The pleasures of debauchery shall be enjoyed another day. Impatience is ill-suited to merrymaking in that arena. Only by taking things step by step will one be able to fully savor the experience."
"Now that's quite convincing coming from a former queen."
"Th-That kind of event isn't going to happen any time, even in the future! Kagutsuchi-san!"
As a side note, these familiar faces were the only ones present at the pool. For the sake of today's reception, Luna Francois had reserved the entire venue.
While being served by two beautiful maidens, Hinokagutsuchi sipped cold champagne.
Her sharp gaze was directed at New Town's night scenery every now and then. Haughty and indomitable, the way she conducted herself exuded dignity befitting a self-styled "queen" with every move.
It was not just the night scenery. Likewise, she was examining the girls next to her with satisfaction.
As mentioned previously, Orihime's was white while Luna Francois was clad in a black bikini. The two of them were also wearing pareos around their waists and artificial flower wreaths on their heads.
But more importantly—
Orihime and Luna Francois had excellent figures to begin with.
Hal had already confirmed the wonders of Juujouji Orihime's body with his eyes and his right hand. Now that he was allowed to confirm again at the poolside, it was truly a feast for the eyes.
Those bulges of her bosom, estimated to be F-cups. The curve of a tight, narrow waist. The wondrous roundness of the buttocks.
Going further, there were those thighs, so slender despite their overall fullness, tracing out beautiful curves all the way to her ankles in a display of irresistible charm. Whether the sexiness in the line of the neck or the posture of her body, slightly huddled in embarrassment, everything was beautiful. Beyond perfect.
Next, there was—Luna Francois.
With her standing next to Orihime, one could see that she had an excellent figure rivaling the young Japanese maiden's.
However, Luna Francois was actually a bit taller, probably around 170cm. Although the various sizes as indicated by her height and BWH measurements were overall similar to Orihime's, the American girl edged out slightly in the bust and hip numbers...
Inexplicably voluptuous despite a very slim figure overall.
Luna Francois' body was a perfect coexistence of two contrary elements.
Furthermore, the hue of her complexion was very striking. Orihime had healthy ivory-tone skin but in contrast, Luna Francois' skin was breathtakingly pale and as smooth as porcelain.
Delicate skin texture with excellent suppleness.
Luna was apparently a frequent patron of this hotel's beauty salon. The creation of such extravagant beauty would be impossible without being backed by a commensurate input of time, effort and money.
"Although it might be a little late to mention now, may I ask a question?"
Orihime suddenly spoke up.
"I have no problem with holding a reception as a gesture of gratitude for Kagutsuchi-san's many acts of guidance, but it seems that Haruga-kun's presence isn't necessary..."
"What are you talking about, Juujouji? But what you make a perfectly valid point."
Hal put on a serious poker face and objected.
"Even someone like me would want to seize rare fortune once in a while. And now is exactly one of those occasions!"
"Abundant honesty in this area is precisely one of those things that make Harry amusing... Oh well, a mere look at swimsuits would not be too much as a privileged perk for the show's producer."
Luna smiled malevolently after offering her opinion and immediately winked suggestively at Hal.
"Or would you rather see something more amazing?"
"L-Luna-san, Haruga-kun is a closet pervert. You mustn't tease him recklessly!"
"I-I do draw the line somewhere proper, you know? Stop worrying about me."
After defending himself, Hal turned his gaze to Hinokagutsuchi's prepubescent body in a swimsuit.
"Anyway, information is essential to us right now. Although I'm not going to demand that you spit out everything you know, please try to tell us as much potentially useful information as possible."
Dressed in swimwear like the girls, Hal spoke to Hinokagutsuchi once more.
He summoned the magic gun—the magic wand—with his right hand. This was currently the vessel possessed by the ghost of the former dragon as well as the "testament to the covenant" between Hal and Hinokagutsuchi.
"You can have as many receptions for thanks as you like. I'll even prostrate myself if need be. Please."
"Well, after all, you and I are currently in the same boat, so to speak..."
Showing a faint smile, Hinokagutsuchi emptied her glass again.
Orihime immediately refilled the champagne. Bubbles of carbon dioxide popped audibly.
"If you cater to me dutifully, perhaps I might tell stories from the past or offer rare advice on whim. Be that as it may, I have no intention of going chronologically in sequence. Naturally, I cannot be bothered to teach tirelessly in earnest detail either. Listen carefully if you understand."
"That goes without saying."
"In that case, may I ask a question right off the bat?"
In front of the nodding Hal, Luna Francois spoke up.
"It was quite inconvenient last time with me being the only one unable to use the Rune of the Bow, wasn't it? I wish to make proper use of that rune's magical power, whatever it takes."
"So how exactly could it be done? Personally, I intend to assist Harry without reservation."
"Listen, blonde priestess, the reason is due to your harboring of ulterior motives."
After asserting that, Hinokagutsuchi snickered and did not continue her answer.
"Meaning she can't become a vassal unless she aids me while abandoning all thought of risk and benefit, you know? Consider this, Master Bruce Lee used to say 'don't think, feel,' right?"
"...In other words, the crucial element consists of guiding principles along the likes of friendship power and bonds of the heart?"
"Yeah. Basically those shounen manga principles that transcend logic and foreshadowing. Friendship, hard work, victory."
After listening to Hal's explanation, Luna Francois fell into deep thought.
But before long, she gazed at Hinokagutsuchi's smiling face and asked again, "Now that I understand the precondition, please allow me to ask another question. A secret technique to easily borrow Harry's power without having to jump through this massive nuisance of attached strings—Is there really none?"
"...You two are truly alike."
"...I don't deny that."
Hal admitted it without thinking, prompting Hinokagtsuchi to shrug.
"In that case, the rest depends on this brat. If he were to desire your loyalty and submission from the bottom of his heart, wishing to claim your body and soul for his own possession, he could apparently regard you as a vassal by force."
"Is that so? In other words, there is a method after all."
Luna Francois smiled suspiciously after listening to Hinokagutsuchi.
Meanwhile, watching on the side with a champagne bottle in her hand. Orihime began to grow anxious for some reason.
"H-Hold on, Luna-san. Although Haruga-kun looks like a herbivore, his true nature is a boy both closeted and perverted. If you tease him like this, the dark side of the Force might accidentally awaken. Please beware!"
"Hmm—Orihime-san, could it be that you have experienced it personally yourself?"
"N-No, I haven't. It was just an objective deduction. Haruga-kun, you too, stop getting funny ideas!"
"I-I know. Putting that aside, I do have a question too."
Since the conversation had strayed in a weird direction, Hal instantly changed the subject.
"Whether the secret of dragons or Princess Yukikaze's origins, I've got a ton of things I want to know. But out of all that, there's something I want to know with top priority."
"Oh? And what question is burning you to such an extent, brat?"
"If there are dragonslaying runes still scattered somewhere on Earth, can you tell me where? Although we've got the Bow in our possession at the current stage, I'd like to get my hands on one or two more runes."
Orihime and Luna reacted with surprise. In the earlier battle against True Genbu-Ou, what finally became the decisive factor for victory had been the Rune of the Sword borrowed from Pavel Galad.
However, if they were to find themselves in a similar predicament again, they would have to overcome the challenge on their own—
After all, the silver dragon was not necessarily going to side with them next time.
As expected, Hinokagutsuchi responded haughtily.
"Hmph. Do know that the dragonslaying runes are priceless treasures sought by all dragons fervently, not little pebbles. How could they possibly be left on the ground randomly? If you wish to seek them, it is necessary to go on an adventure no less epic than making your destination the stars of Ruruk Soun on the far side of the ocean of stars, wandering the dimensional gap somewhere in the multiverse, or visiting extraordinary realms of the demonic and the sacrosanct..."
At this point, Hinokagutsuchi suddenly fell silent.
After brief contemplation, she slowly started speaking again.
"Nevertheless... You may not need to go that far on this occasion. I have a clue here."
The former dragon king's words implied the beginning of a brand new journey.
At the same time, it was an opportunity leading Hal and his gang out of Tokyo New Town.
"Eh? You are going on a trip!?"
"That's right. In short, the destination is a beach at Izu Peninsula."
Hal nodded at his surprised junior—Shirasaka Hazumi.
It was the next day after the swimsuit reception. Hazumi had paid a visit to the Haruga house again instead of making a morning call by phone. Hence, Hal announced his "expedition plan" to her.
The two of them had left the Haruga house. Hal filled her in while heading to the nearest Narihirabashi Station.
"Summer vacation will start in a few days, so we're planning to set off the first day. The purpose of this trip will be as mentioned just now, to search for a new dragonslaying rune."
"The new weapon you mentioned earlier that you wanted..."
"That's why I'd like to investigate the clue Hinokagutsuchi provided. However, there's no loss even if nothing turns up. It's still better than doing nothing at all, after all."
"I understand. Then in your absence, Senpai, I will hold the fort properly."
Slightly tensing her adorable face, Hazumi exhibited her "determination."
"Please focus on your task and do not worry about New Town. Despite how I may look, I've always worked hard on my own before the arrival of my seniors. It will definitely be fine!"
Quite a strong-willed declaration—rather, it was a declaration to express her trustworthiness.
Originally, Shirasaka Hazumi had been the only witch defending Tokyo New Town. That was before Orihime became a witch and the arrival of Asya and Hal to New Town.
With Minadzuki as her only partner, the young Hazumi had fought and battles on her own and survived all those years.
For this purpose, she was not allowed to leave Tokyo and could not even participate in school excursions.
Hence, that was probably why she reflexively concluded "she had to hold the fort" when told that Hal was going on an expedition. However, Hal had prepared a surprise for her.
"No, Shirasaka. This time, you're coming along too."
"I already made arrangements with New Town's administration and the sponsors last night, so there's no problem. Authorization has been secured for you and Juujouji to leave New Town temporarily."
"I-In other words..."
"I'm sorry you have to rush out as soon as the summer vacation starts, but I'd like you to come on the trip with us. There's me, Juujoji, Asya, Luna and Hinokagutsuchi. What do you say?"
"With pleasure, of course! It has really really been a long time since I last traveled!"
As expected, the junior student's entire face lit up with a dazzling smile.
But what Hal did not expect was for her to throw herself against his chest, overjoyed. Hugged by Hazumi, Hal could not help but begin to panic.
"Although I've traveled with family during the early years of elementary school, ever since becoming a witch, I almost never leave Tokyo..."
"Th-The itinerary was left to SAURU's Kenjou-san to plan."
With Hazumi leaning tightly against him, Hal spoke while his heart raced.
It was all because of his close contact with the adorable junior student's soft sensation and body warmth.
"He said remember to bring a swimsuit. I guess we're treating it as a company recreation trip while we're at it."
"I-I only have the swimsuit I use for the school pool. I suppose it's better if I bring a different one, right!?"
"How about taking this opportunity to buy a new one?"
Although a little frightened by Hazumi's rare excitement, Hal still nodded. Putting in so much effort was worth it, even if only just to see this reaction...
"Say, there are fanatical fans of the school swimsuit too."
"I will go shopping immediately after school!"
Swiftly disengaging herself from hugging Hal, Hazumi declared very energetically.
Whether the hug or separating herself, it seemed as though both were subconscious acts for Hazumi. Seeing Hazumi excited for the "beach trip," Hal felt very gratified—yet he was starting to worry too.
"By the way, it's better if you don't get your hopes too high. Although it's a beach, our destination isn't anywhere like a 'tropical paradise' or an 'island closest to heaven.'"
He could not allow Hazumi's anticipation level to rise too high.
Slightly worried about that, Hal tried to put a damper on things.
"Although I'm not too clear on what Japanese beaches are like, from what I've heard, there seem to be many desolate places."
Haruga Haruomi had been to all kinds of dangerous places, mysterious realms and overseas locations.
However, he had little experience in visiting ordinary Japanese tourist attractions. After all, the vast majority of his trips were work related. That being said, he still had recollections to a certain extent.
'Seaside swimming that was so packed that it was like washing potatoes,' 'expensive and poor tasting ramen at seaside establishments,' 'hotspring towns that went in recession with a decline in tourists,' 'dinners at inns that inexplicably served defrosted sashimi despite being located by the sea.'
Recalling these memories, he warned in advance just in case.
However, Hazumi smiled like an angel as usual and said seriously, "That would be fine too. I am extremely happy simply to be able to visit the beach with you, Senpai, Nee-sama and the others."
"I see now."
"By the way, Senpai, why travel to Izu?"
"Back when I got my hands on Hinokagutsuchi's heartmetal earlier—There were mentions about a shrine in the Tokai region that worshiped her as a 'fire goddess,' right? That particular shrine is located at Izu."
'Although I quite enjoy Atami Castle and the Banana Crocodile Park, I don't have the fortitude to go all the way to the Izu Islands to scuba dive.'
"I knew it, would it be better to treat it as a relaxing tourist destination for recuperation?"
'Indeed. A soothing place unsuitable for seeking thrills and the latest trends, I guess.'
Hal was having a conversation with Kenjou Genya displayed on his cellphone screen.
During lunch break at the library's underground level—the temporary Witch Mansion. Hal had specifically come here to hold a video conference with one of SAURU's few permanently stationed staff at Tokyo New Town.
Fourth level underground. A vast floor with a forest of steel shelves.
This was also the place where Hinokagutsuchi's heartmetal had been found previously. As always, the shelves were stuffed full of antiques and ancient artifacts.
Young man Kenjou's voice resounded in this disorganized space, roughly the size of four classrooms.
'Well, since it's the Izu area, you can still hurry back even if New Town has an emergency, or send a serpent remotely. It should be quite appropriate to treat it as the destination for a company recreation trip.'
'Go frolic in the sea and eat some roasted conch-in-the-shell. Thanks to your authority, those nagging sponsors were all silenced successfully.'
"That's thanks to Luna, not me."
'Hey hey, the only reason why Miss Gregory is using her status as a SAURU cadre to put pressure on various circles and show off her deep ties with the TPDO is ultimately because you're at New Town.'
On the small LCD screen, Kenjou smiled malevolently.
Permission for Hazumi and Orihime to "leave New Town" could not be given so easily. The two witches were supposed to be stationed at Tokyo New Town constantly, focused on the task of defense. This viewpoint was deeply entrenched in the New Town region and the minds of sponsors.
This mindset was particularly bolstered by the unusual increase in dragon appearances recently.
'This is quite refreshing once in a while. "Exerting pressure on the government and businesses," don't you find that very secret association-like?'
"Even though the New Town branch was clearly a small and insignificant place not too long ago."
'Indeed. Let us gradually increase our branch's authority according to this pace. Also, I've already sent you an email about local conditions. Call me if there's anything you're unclear about. Bye now.'
The chat with Kenjou ended there.
Kenjou was definitely a young man worthy of the description "handsome" if only he would ditch the unkempt facial hair and other flaws of sloppiness. Instead of joining this expedition, he was staying back to hold the fort. If necessary, he would also serve as backup to provide support to Hal and company depending on the situation.
"I need to hurry and recruit him to my side too..."
Just as Hal was muttering to himself—
The door to this floor opened and Luna Francois entered.
"So you're here, Harry. I spent so much time looking for you."
"You could've called or sent a text. Is there something urgent?"
"Yes. I suppose that wouldn't be an incorrect way of putting it... Listen, Harry, don't you feel that the two of us should become more intimate? Or perhaps call it deepening our mutual understanding."
"On the other hand, I think we're intimate enough already."
"To start things off—Let us have lunch together, just the two of us. I haven't had lunch yet and I recently discovered a nice restaurant nearby—"
"What shame. I already ate some bean jam bread."
"Would you be free today after school? I have some minor business at SAURU's Yokohama branch. Could you accompany me? Shall we go for a spin and enjoy some alone time together?"
"Sorry, but I'm already booked for today. Let's see next time."
"Listen, Harry, do you know you've been very cold starting a few days ago even when I make passes at you? Are you pretending not to notice my feelings?"
Luna Francois finally could not help but furrow her brow and started to complain about Hal's attitude.
"Is this the latest fad? A tactic for men to intentionally pretend to be dense so as to avoid disrupting harem situations where they are surrounded by girls?"
"Nope. After all, I basically know your thoughts and intents. Pretending to like me so that I'd feel that way and become able to entrust the Rune of the Bow to you—That's what you're planning, right? According to what Hinokagutsuchi told you yesterday."
"Since you already comprehend to this extent, Harry, why don't you just play along obediently?"
Luna Francois spoke with an expression of worldly understanding.
"The ability to accept a woman's adorable pranks is precisely the generosity a man ought to have. Given Glinda and my power with the power of dragonbane added, wouldn't that stack strength upon strength, like 'arming an ogre with a metal club' as the Japanese saying goes?"
After saying that, she went further and smiled seductively.
"Besides, you will get to enjoy a 'romance game' with me. Harry, don't you find this reason to be plenty sufficient already?"
"I can understand that the reason is very legitimate, but it's still a bit hard to accept."
Hal muttered quietly with a sigh.
"Since I've never thought of master magi like you and Asya as members of the opposite sex, it's quite hard to view you as that kind of partner."
"Are you implying a kind of professional awareness—an inability to regard work partners as romantic prospects?"
"Probably the exact opposite. Although this is just my personal view, I've mentally listed out the 'top three professions one should avoid as marriage prospects if possible.' Actresses are third on the list."
"That's quite a rare view. Normally, actresses would tend to be very popular."
"Among women in that line of work, there are many who think of themselves as the protagonist, living their lives as though they were the center of the world. Despite their outward glamor, stress does build up and it's apparently quite hard to build romantic relationships in private. It's said that resignation rates at talent management agencies are very high."
"Then what is second on your list?"
"So-called authors, like female manga artists or novelists. Both are professions with quite high rates of divorce. Sigh, I suppose it's the same for both genders in this respect."
After saying that, Hal continued with an additional explanation, "By the way, the reason is similar as for actresses. Apparently, many of them either have queenly dispositions or they're princesses who need to be pampered. Although it's fun to be friends with people like that, it's a bit much to treat them as romantic prospects."
"...Harry, your viewpoint almost sounds as though you're trying to pick a fight with the entire industry there."
"No no no, I think those in the industry will agree with me instead. Finally, the champion spot goes to master-class witches, of course. All of them are beautifully broken."
Fairly recently, Hal had said the following to Juujouji Orihime:
You probably won't accomplish much as a witch. The knowledge and techniques of the unorthodoxy are things belonging to darkness and their mastery requires a learning witch to have a matching disposition.
Luna Francois smiled a little wryly and nodded.
"I concede that. With cases like Asya around us, Harry, your viewpoint might be quite reasonable. Apart from her, our ranks include a world-class authority on the research of cannibalism, a noblewoman alchemist who is also a fan of male homoerotic fiction, someone with a cleanliness obsessive compulsive disorder who spends five hours a day taking baths, an armchair witch who never takes a single step out of the house no matter what..."
"A partial list already feels quite unbearable."
Witches were categorized from Level 1 to 5 according to their abilities.
Only witches Level 4 or above received master-class certification. In Asya and Luna Francois' case, they were the cream of the crop, two witches from a total of only eight in the world to reach Level 5.
As far as Hal knew, not even one of these witches had a "kind and pleasant personality."
It was quite uncanny now that one thought about it, but master-class witches consisted only of eccentrics, weirdos, prodigies and unconventional geniuses, all featuring bizarre personalities. As one might expect, only those possessing this type of character, labeled as one category, would naturally reach heights of accomplishment in exploring the dark body of knowledge of magic.
"However, I am unlike the others whom no man in their right mind would approach."
Luna Francois pointed her index finger at herself and smiled seductively.
"You know that I am very popular, don't you?"
"Yeah, you quite enjoy shooting down the boys who attempt to ask you out one after another. I've heard you mention it yourself before."
"Indeed, I am also a Shootdown Ace in that regard."
As a strategist adept at negotiations, Luna Francois had quite a way with people.
The majority of master-class witches were eccentrics. Among these genius-type characters with poor communication skills, Luna's personality traits were extremely rare.
However, sociability did not equate to nobility in character. Hal sighed towards the sky.
"Anyway, I'm ultimately going to get dumped if I bite on your hook."
"Don't worry, Harry. I will favor you with special treatment."
"I really cannot promise a lifetime, but for a short duration—approximately two years—How about we thoroughly enjoy a romance game together? Worry not, I have already conceived most of the script."
"The setting starts with love at first sight on my part. In the beginning, I will actively seek dates to present my appeal. This is Season 1."
The blonde witch explained in quite a rhythmic tone of voice.
"Season 2 will have me living in your home. Due to a promise between our parents, Harry, we are actually engaged to each other—Such a retroactive backstory is revealed. Hence, I begin to take up residence in your home as your fiancee..."
"It's almost like a plot twist in weekly manga."
"Season 3 will have the two of us on a world tour as a premarital trip. Season 4 will finally be the advent of the eve before marriage. The theatrical release will be inserted at this point. After a spectacle worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster, I unfortunately lose my memory. Finally, we step into the ending arc with two people in love with each other yet going their separate ways, a surprising breakup. Thus, towards a future filled with hope... Ready? Go."
"What a super long story..."
"I am willing to play a romance game with you, Harry, following such a flowchart. During this time, please enjoy my charm to your heart's content. To you, isn't this equivalent to a heaven-sent chance for you to experience the privilege of being Luna Francois Gregory's partner? Even if there is a time limit, wouldn't it still be extreme happiness?"
Suddenly, Luna Francois drew her face near.
Smiling suspiciously, the blonde girl's beautiful face was right before his eyes. Despite the calculative nature of her proposal, Haruga Haruomi could not help but feel his heart racing.
"However, this is ultimately just a 'game,' right? It's not like I get to romance you for real."
"That being said, many fan service scenes have been planned for the sake of securing audience votes during serialization."
"Fan service scenes!?"
"Changing mishaps exposing me in underwear. Harry walking into the bathroom coincidentally when I'm showering. Two people tangled together in scandalous postures. Since I am American, kissing you on the cheek is natural physical contact, almost turning into a lover's kiss by accident—Perhaps it could develop into a relationship just short of crossing the line."
Haruga Haruomi was a high school boy who had personally admitted to being a "closet pervert."
After listening to the pre-planned story, he had almost fallen for Luna Francois' proposal, of course. Fortunately, he managed to keep himself together by way of a gentleman's pride.
Trying to maintain a composed expression as much as he can, he said calmly, "No, but in the end, it's just playing at couples. Beyond a certain line, everything ends in abortive attempts. Isn't this hands-off style no longer fashionable?"
"Silly Harry, even a 'game' can be played for real, you know?"
At that moment, Luna Francois smiled adorably.
It was undoubtedly an impish smile. While feeling his heart pound faster, Hal contemplated calmly in a corner of his mind. Well, the final point she raised would presumably be nothing but lip service.
Such provocative suggestions were completely part and parcel of the art of persuasion.
However, he could also think from another perspective. If he were to go through with this, it would count as a state of "increased intimacy." A sudden "vassal covenant" like in Orihime's case arising would not be impossible.
Hal tried to call the magic gun with his right hand. While gazing into Luna's beautiful face, he silently spoke in his mind.
—Make this girl my vassal.
Nothing happened. Hence, Hal was certain of one thing.
"Hmm. I knew it, this route doesn't seem to work."
"...Harry, you are suddenly making an expression of comprehension, you know?"
"This gun is actually the 'wand' that teaches me the magic of Ruruk Soun. Thanks to summoning it just now, I'm now clear on the conditions for obtaining a vassal."
His heart rate had stopped speeding up. Hal smiled wryly and said, "A relationship of control, possession, mutual trust or similar must be created between me and the intended covenant target. Alternatively, I have to hold either an intense obsession or a deep-seated delusion about the one I want to make my vassal."
"Obsession or delusion..."
"In the style of the twenty-first century, that means I can't make you vassal unless I desire you to the point of becoming a stalker, Luna. That's not gonna fly no matter how you cut it."
In front of the deeply pensive Luna Francois, Hal shrugged.
"So that's that. Let's be decisive and give up on the love simulation game route. Asking me to be that infatuated with you when you reveal your hand right off the bat, that's way too hard. However, completing a covenant naturally through normal interaction is possible."
"To be honest, that's how it was done with Shirasaka and Juujouji."
"Harry, what you say is not quite right, is it?"
Seeing her expression suddenly revert to seriousness, Hal went "eh?" in surprise.
Luna Francois continued to speak in a rational tone of voice.
"Friendship, hard work and victory will always reap success—The world is nowhere near that friendly, is it? Besides, you and I are birds of a feather, Harry. We are both at high risk of becoming intellectual criminals given our calculative and shortcut-loving natures and twisted hearts, you know? I believe that it will be no easy task to cultivate a trusting relationship of the kind you described."
"Indeed. Hence, this is what I think. Chances might be higher if I used my charm to seduce you with a honey trap, Harry, to make you so infatuated with me that you virtually become a stalker."
"No, like I said, you already revealed your own hand, this'll surely—"
"Not a problem. People still hope to form romantic relationships with others despite knowing they are being deceived."
This declaration was very objective and rational. Hal fell silent.
He could not help but agree with Luna Francois' assertion. It was precisely because of this principle that Kabuki-chō in Shinjuku, Ginza and the Roppongi neighborhood were able to prosper as Japan's premier entertainment and red-light districts in the olden days, fostering intense competition between those in the "water trade" such as hosts or hostesses, known euphemistically as "nocturnal butterflies," "empresses," or "kings of the night."
Faced with Hal who had given up on arguing back, the beautiful blonde witch smiled again.
"In addition, if the deceiver happened to be Luna Francois Gregory, then victory is all but guaranteed. Besides, Harry, you are quite an amazing closet pervert, aren't you?"
"Fufufu, after all, you even harbor such thoughts towards Orihime-san and Hazumi-san too. In that case, there shouldn't be any problem. Please accept my poisoned fangs, be a good boy and fall head over heels over me."
"My right to refuse—"
"Does not exist. Speaking of which, perhaps this expedition might be perfect timing. During the trip, I shall tempt you in all kinds of ways, so look forward to it, okay? Please become my captive as soon as possible and offer up the dragonslaying rune as tribute. Understood?"
Luna Francois' declaration made Hal painfully aware of this: no matter how excellent a schemer, no matter how adept at social interactions, sure enough, she was still a master-class witch. The notions in her mind were all beautifully broken.
Never did he expect to reach this kind of conclusion through this sort of development...
"Goodbye, Harry. Before retiring to bed tonight, I shall phone you to say goodnight♪"
After taking her leave, Luna Francois departed lightly.
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