Leviathan:Volume 4 Chapter 5
Chapter 5 - Battle at the Dragon Palace Court
Bound by the dragonslaying chain, Juujouji Orihime became a captive.
The instant she was captured by the gray Draconian by a technique of assured annihilation, her vision went dark, but—
As soon as she opened her eyes, she was greeted by a vast sky filled with stars.
Orihime slowly got up. She did not know how much time had gone by, but it seemed like she had been sleeping. By the time she noticed, she found herself on a stone-paved road. This seemed to be somewhere at a plaza.
In the surroundings were a number of wooden buildings.
Each building was grand and luxuriant. Rooftops were adorned with golden glazed tiles. Carvings of dragons and phoenixes were everywhere. White jade was used abundantly as stone for construction. Evocative of ancient Chinese architecture, the buildings seemed quite similar to the view of the Dragon Palace Court witnessed at the shore earlier.
Next, Orihime began to examine her own body. The bath towel wrapped around her was about to fall off, so she hastily fastened it.
"Sure enough, I've been taken to Kagutsuchi-san's castle...?"
Orihime had just woken up, so her thoughts were still hazy.
Then she noticed. She was not the only one present at the plaza.
The ten-odd-meter long white nine-tailed fox-wolf's massive body was also lying on the ground. A long and thick metal chain was wrapped around her neck and body several times over, imprisoning her securely.
Her partner called out softly in response to Orihime's cry.
Akuro-Ou's voice and demeanor were very grim, clearly not in a good mood. Orihime stood up and tried to walk over to the giant white body when a clang was heard at her feet.
Like Akuro-Ou, she had been restrained too. Not only that, the other end of the prisoner's chain was held in the gray Draconian's hand—
"You have woken? Priestess of the mortal race."
The Draconian chain user spoke in a gloomy voice.
"I am your new owner—The Gray Aristocrat. Offer your body and your life in totality to me."
"Th-The Gray Aristocrat?"
Another elite dragon Tyrannos—or dragon king—had arrived.
Meanwhile, a breeze blew by, carrying the smell of the sea. The gigantic dreadnought-class turtle with a magnificent palace on its carapace was presumably floating leisurely in the ocean under the night sky.
While in doubt, Orihime asked, "You call yourself my owner. What do you intend to do with my Akuro-Ou?"
"A foolish question. The blood of female dragons is a rare panacea. You need not worry about a lack of uses."
The Gray Aristocrat looked at the captured Orihime and Akuro-Ou.
"To confirm the identity of the one making suspicious summons, I tried sending a minion to investigate—and ended up encountering the Tyrannos of the Bow. A rather unfortunate turn of events. However, considering this good opportunity allowed me to obtain precious female dragon blood, I suppose it was fortunate too."
Orihime remembered. Several months earlier, an elite dragon had captured her cousin Hazumi and her partner Minadzuki, just like her current situation.
At the time, the severely injured Soth had recovered by drinking Minadzuki's blood.
(In other words, this dragon aims to do the same? But he clearly doesn't look injured?)
The questions and thoughts in Orihime's mind accelerated.
Naturally, she had no intention of obediently giving blood to help the Gray Aristocrat. She wanted to find an opening to escape with Akuro-Ou, but the problem was—
The Gray Aristocrat was holding the chain imprisoning Orihime.
His left hand was free but he opened and closed it repeatedly. Every time the Gray Aristocrat opened his palm, the five clawed fingers would move restlessly, as though doing warm-ups. Warm-up exercises for tearing apart the human before him—
Orihime tried to imagine.
If the very mysterious Gray Aristocrat was planning to hold the blood extraction ritual now instead of some day, trying to find an opening would be virtually impossible. Furthermore, he was also staring at Orihime intently with morose eyes like a mad scientist about to perform a dissection experiment!
"Uh, can I ask a question just out of curiosity? When is that ritual scheduled to begin...?"
"The creation of the Ruruk Soun magic circle for performing the ritual is in progress. It might reach completion before daybreak perhaps..."
Orihime asked her question in trepidation but the Gray Aristocrat answered with surprising honesty.
However, what she received was a most ominous result. Orihime hastily tried to make a suggestion.
"I-I think rushing things would be bad, don't you agree? Think about it, Haruga-kun—my friend—might be invading this place to take me back, right!?"
"This possibility is within my expectations. When the time comes, I shall simply intercept him accordingly."
The Gray Aristocrat's low voice was gloomy yet calm and staid.
A crisis with no way out for Orihime seemed to be brewing without impediment. The ritual would most likely be held several hours later. Orihime gulped and held her breath.
After Orihime's abduction and the Gray Aristocrat's retreat, roughly two hours passed. Dawn had yet to arrive.
The Dragon Palace Court slowly advanced across the ocean during the night, gradually leaving the island.
The magnificent palace had been erected on its carapace. Its only illumination was the faint moonlight and starlight cast down from the night sky.
However, this world was different from urban environments. There were no artificial light sources to blind one's eyes.
The Dragon Palace Court's scenery was filled with dreamy light. This was plenty bright enough.
Hal and Luna Francois were on a corner of the Dragon Palace Court—near the giant turtle's hip connected to the left hind leg.
"At first glance, my impression is that the area is roughly fifteen times that of the Tokyo Dome from the last century. At a rough estimate, there are eight hundred to a thousand buildings."
"The scale is comparable to the Forbidden City at Beijing."
Both of them showed very focused expressions. The infiltration operation was halfway through. They needed to search the Dragon Palace Court's interior and rescue the abducted Juujouji Orihime without the enemy discovering them—
Within the premises whose area covered fifteen Tokyo Domes was neatly organized city with perpendicular roads intersecting like lines on a chessboard.
The large number of buildings were sufficiently spaced out, allowing for excellent visibility.
"Anyway, let's first locate Juujouji and Akuro-Ou."
Hal used a number of searching spells such as Enemy Detection and Sense Magical Power.
However, he did not get any result because the entire Dragon Palace Court had been enchanted with magic to interfere with magical means of searching and detection.
"He is called the Gray Aristocrat, isn't he? Of course, he must have cast this magic... Looks like he intends to intercept us inside this Dragon Palace Court," replied Luna Francois.
In fact, back when the Gray Aristocrat vanished, Hal had froze for a minute or two.
'Harry! Let us sneak in over there straight away!' Luna had said to him immediately at the time.
The Dragon Palace Court was capable of moving anywhere freely across the vast ocean. Once lost, it would be very hard to pick up its trail quickly again. If they wanted to rescue Orihime as quickly as possible, there was no time to waste here.
Luna's suggestion was clearly based on this reason.
Hence, Hal and Luna attempted to infiltrate the Dragon Palace Court.
Luna had shrunk Glinda to minimum size for her and Hal to ride. Hal also cast his specialty spells, Sound Suppression, Visual Interference and Olfactory Nullification, contributing to the stealth operation's success.
Haruga Haruomi was in possession of a dragon king-class heartmetal as well as this "wand," the magic gun.
Probably thanks to them, Hal had somehow become able to cast spells at a level approaching the strength of elite dragons, as long as it was magic he specialized in.
Glinda flew silently and approached the Dragon Palace Court that was moving away from the island.
She delivered Hal and Luna Francois to the destination safely.
Furthermore, the three-headed lion had de-materialized and was no longer by their side. Hal said to the only person accompanying him, Luna Francois, "Let's celebrate our successful infiltration of the enemy camp first. If this crazy huge turtle dives into the sea, we're going to be helpless."
"The Dragon Palace Court is quite massive," Hal's magic gun suddenly whispered. It was Hinokagutsuchi's voice.
"Consequently, its movements are very slow too. Simply reaching the outer sea will take a long time."
During the battle against the Gray Aristocrat, Hinokagutsuchi had banished her consciousness to strengthen the magic gun. She had apparently woken up at some point.
At this moment, Hal noticed something.
There was a transparent force field deployed around the Dragon Palace Court, as though shrouding the gigantic body.
Very similar to imperishable protection—Hal recalled the pearly defensive field that he was able to use.
In fact, this seemed to be a similar magical barrier. Once the surrounded by the transparent force field, the Dragon Palace Court started to sink gradually into the sea.
Blocked by the force field, the seawater could not reach the interior of the palace.
By the time they noticed, the Dragon Palace Court's gigantic body was fully submerged in the sea.
Until just now, Hal and company still had the starry sky over their heads. Now, it was replaced by seawater that shone faintly from the moon and the stars' light. The Dragon Palace Court was apparently moving slowly just under the sea surface.
The Dragon Palace Court seemed even more fantastical than under direct moonlight.
Even so, Luna Francois' quiet comment was ordinary and mundane.
"The seawater isn't flowing in despite the entire place submerging. Oxygen is definitely maintained too."
"It's already amazing how wooden buildings from a thousand years ago have been preserved this perfectly. I can't believe the waterproof function and air-conditioning equipment are both flawless. Definitely a great bargain for its price."
"Let me state for the record, brat. Imperishable protection can achieve the same thing."
Hal's comment was equally unimaginative. On the other hand, Hinokagutsuchi provided a piece of trivia.
At this moment, the blonde witch coughed to clear her throat and change the subject.
"It is very likely that the Gray Aristocrat is waiting for us inside the palace, isn't it? Meaning that he reasoned that he could win inside the Dragon Palace Court even though he had clearly avoided a showdown against Harry just now. Why is that?"
"Now that you mentioned it, I think he called himself 'the shadow of a dragon king' or something like that."
"Hmph. A witty way of putting things but simply stated, he is no different from I."
Hal nodded after listening to Hinokagutsuchi. Another sloppy hint, but at least the riddle was not too difficult to figure out.
"The Gray Aristocrat could be considered my longtime friend. I heard that he had met his demise somewhere far away a long time ago... But apparently not."
"So just like you, he refuses to accept death gracefully huh?"
"Indeed. With this, it is now deducible why the Gray Aristocrat has chosen to make this Dragon Palace Court his residence."
"It's more comfortable to stay at a place where magical power is concentrated? Like the Witch Mansion at Shin-Kiba where you used to live before encountering me..."
"Not only that, but he most likely has the Dragon Palace Court's heartmetal in his grasp."
Hal tried to imagine. The Dragon Palace Court was the same kind of super creature as Genbu-Ou, so its heartmetal was able to produce massive amounts of magical power. In other words, was the Gray Aristocrat planning to use this power to intercept Haruga Haruomi?
Luna Francois nodded too.
"This is why the Gray Aristocrat retreated so readily, hoping to lure Harry to this place. He believes that it would be advantageous instead to shift the battlefield to the Dragon Palace Court..."
"Isn't that like a boxer who's bad at footwork...?"
A boxer deprived of the functionality of his legs would be forced to engage at close range in a clumsy exchange of blows. Precisely because of that, the Gray Aristocrat would temporarily retreat from Hal's presence, returning to his home field for an advantage.
"This is all that I have noticed. The rest is up to you two."
The magic gun fell silent again as Hinokagutsuchi's consciousness returned to slumber.
Hal first began to ponder the massive palace's layout.
The Dragon Palace Court was standing on top of a spacious carapace. At the center were several palace buildings that looked like they would be used for administrative purposes. Near the base of the giant turtle's neck were close to ten small palaces packed together densely in a line, probably the harem built for the queen.
"To conquer this dungeon, there's no way to skip through the process."
"Indeed. Orihime-san and Akuro-Ou's situation is worrying, so I really wouldn't want to spend time exploring a maze."
"However, a dragon probably won't be using the captured Juujouji as a hostage."
"It's only during times like these that I feel grateful that elite dragons are so obsessed with battle..."
At this moment, Hal sat down on the ground instead.
Rather than moving recklessly, he needed to think first. Luna probably thought the same thing as Hal. She sat down next to Hal, stretching out her slender and pale legs.
"We should avoid engaging the Gray Aristocrat in combat now that he has returned to home turf. He is probably able to extract magical power from the Dragon Palace Court's heartmetal to fully bring out a former dragon king's power."
"However, this 'reliance on the heartmetal' is also the enemy's weakness," Hal pointed this out and shrugged.
"Although we don't have enough manpower to take advantage of openings."
"Even if you can materialize the Crimson Queen, Harry, the operational duration isn't long."
Luna Francois remarked softly with what seemed like a sulking expression.
She was probably unhappy with the current situation where she still could not contribute to combat potential when facing a dragon king-class opponent. However, Luna's expression suddenly relaxed and she cast a probing gaze at Hal.
"Hey Harry, lately it seems like you've been getting tired easily, right?"
"I've been staying up every night because of too many things to do recently."
Hal fell silent for a while before replying.
Hal took care to make his tone as laid back as possible because he had sensed a vague idea of Luna Francois' intent in asking this question. However, the blonde witch continued, "That's something only an older man in his thirties or forties would say. However, Harry, you are only a teenage boy. At your age, you should be able to work for at least half a year sustained by two-hour naps, right?"
"That type of work environment would be too exploitative, right? It's not like I'm a manga artist or working at a game company."
"Rather than overwork or life habits, would obtaining the 'queen's power' be the biggest factor contributing to your state of fatigue?"
"The start of your tardiness at school also coincided with the conclusion of the battle against Princess Yukikaze."
Luna jokingly directed the conversation in another direction then cut straight to the chase.
Hal himself had suspected the same possibility too. However, he felt very hesitant about discussing the matter with his comrades, which was why he could not make up his mind to bring it up.
Hal fell silent and placed his hand on his chest.
The heartmetal that used to reside within the Crimson Queen was now located here.
"More verification is required for that issue, so let us talk about something else first. However, Harry, when the time is ripe, you must confront this problem properly, okay? I will do everything I can to assist you when the time comes."
"In any case, it would be best to avoid using the queen's power indiscriminately. Keep it in reserve as a trump card for critical moments, do you understand?"
The witch who was supposed to be crafty and calculating was being considerate in a very humane manner. Perhaps feeling embarrassed about that herself, Luna Francois sounded slightly displeased in her tone.
Hal found this a little strange. At the same time, he could not help but grin.
More clever than anyone, Luna only showed awkwardness in times like these—
"By the way, Harry, were you looking at my legs just now?"
Luna suddenly tossed out a bomb, putting Hal in a state of confusion.
The two of them were seated side by side on a temple's stone steps to chat.
Hal was sitting cross-legged while Luna had her legs outstretched. During this time, Hal always faced forward with a serious look on his face except that his gaze would unintentionally drift to the side.
Because the blonde beauty next to him kept entering his field of vision.
Luna Francois was wearing her trademark outfit—a black one-piece dress with short sleeves.
Beneath the dress was a purple camisole. The bold low-cut neckline was very seductive indeed, but the high-slit skirt was also very important.
Exposed from the high slit were her pale and voluptuous thighs as well as her striking and slender bare feet.
Furthermore, Luna was wearing cool sandals appropriate for summer instead of shoes. As a result, Hal could also see Luna's toenails, painted beautifully pink and perfectly pedicured...
"Th-This is a man's nature, to be attracted like bees to honey!"
Hal reflexively explained to Luna who was showing an aghast look.
"But didn't you mention before? You said that enjoying skinship was also part of the lovers game. Since that's the case, my behavior just now shouldn't be any problem at all—"
"That was just business talk, merely one of hundred lies I told to deceive you, Harry."
Luna's beautiful face scowled in displeasure, causing Hal to stare dumbfounded.
"You admitted it so readily!? Oh well, I did expect that to be most likely the case."
"Even so, Harry, you still leered at my beautiful legs. Not only that, you even committed the atrocious act of violating my precious naked body with your lewd stares like a beast at the open-air hot spring. Given such truly deplorable behavior, you ought to be called an utter scumbag."
"You don't have to reject my character that much..."
"Let alone reject, I can even assassinate your character without the slightest weight on my conscience, you know?"
Despite the smile hanging on the corners of her lips, Luna's eyes were filled with disdain and silent fury.
"Only if I encounter a man of astronomically unlikely perfection and I happen to be in the mood, would I permit a man to admire my artistic masterpiece of a body... And to think you dared to steal a glimpse under those circumstances, you are truly a thief, Harry. I should simply call my lawyers to sue you."
"It's not like I stole something from you..."
Hal muttered poignantly and asked Luna, "By the way, what kind of man would be okay in your view?"
"I am not picky on appearances. Conversely, a man must not be deficient in any of the following areas: age, talent, quick wits, status, wealth, open-mindedness. Furthermore, I would not even consider anyone who won't allow me to live freely as I please."
"Do men like that actually exist on Earth!?"
"I don't care. Even if I have to spend my life single, I am totally fine with it."
Confronted with the girl and her free-flowing opinions, Hal spontaneously found himself smiling wryly.
The witch's speech was obnoxious and her personality could hardly be described as gentle. Luna Francois had finally abandoned her deliberate facade of friendliness to offer harsh words to Hal.
But incredibly, Hal found it easier to get along with her this way than when her attempts at "seduction."
Probably because this could be considered a state of honesty in a certain sense.
Indeed, whether Hal or Luna, they were mutually—At that very instant, Hal was suddenly certain. It might be possible now.
He extended his right hand at the girl sitting beside him.
The Rune of the Bow appeared in his palm. Looking at Hal's palm, Luna Francois made a look of comprehension. Then after slight hesitation, she silently reached out with her left hand—
Their hands joined together.
Immediately, the Rune of the Bow surfaced on the back of Luna's left hand. The covenant was established.
"Somehow, it feels so easy to the point of anti-climactic..."
"But the process was very convoluted."
The witch whispered weakly whereas Hal shrugged his shoulders. However, his thoughts accelerated all at once now that he had acquired new combat potential.
In the next instant, the two of them got up almost simultaneously and spoke swiftly.
"Luna, perfect timing. Let's reward him with a spectacular attack."
"Harry, let us pressure the enemy by employing an attack with maximum firepower. Even though we don't know the Gray Aristocrat and Orihime-san's location, all we need to do is draw him out."
It was a rare opportunity for them to have been invited to the enemy camp.
In that case, they ought to use this situation to raise hell in the enemy's home ground. Fortunately, they already possessed the necessary firepower for that—The plans that the two of them hatched independently were apparently the same.
Sure enough, Haruga Haruomi and Luna Francois were very alike.
Reminded of this fact again, the two of them smiled simultaneously.
"Looks like there is no need for a prior discussion. Let's do it, Harry!"
Having finally obtained the dragonslaying rune, Luna Francois raised her left hand high.
"O stars! Retrieve my magic from beyond the end of the rainbow! While materializing, Glinda, raise your pseudo-divinity to critical point and prepare to activate a technique of assured annihilation!"
A pentagram appeared overhead, turning into an infinity sigh before transforming into a magic beast.
An orange lion with three heads—Glinda the "Good Witch of the South." On Glinda's right shoulder was a dragon head while the left shoulder had a black goat head. A platinum rune suddenly manifested on each of the foreheads of the three heads.
A line running through a tilted half moon—The Rune of the Bow.
Hovering in midair, Glinda unleashed her magical power completely to enter a combat ready stance. Caught in the wake, the stealth magic that Hal and Luna had carefully cast was dispelled.
But that was fine because they no longer intended to hide their tracks.
Glinda flew lightly and moved to the sky over the center of the turtle's carapace.
Directly below was a particularly magnificent palace.
Using the Forbidden City at Beijing for a comparison, it would probably be analogous to the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the center of the imperial court where numerous rituals had been held in the name of generations of Chinese emperors throughout the Ming and Qing dynasties.
"The target is the heartmetal of Dragon Palace Court—inside this overly huge turtle."
"However, the Dragon Palace Court is a creature belonging to the same lineage as Genbu-Ou but ten times bigger... Since the same ratio might apply to its durability too, we must use the strongest trump card after all. Harry, let me use that."
"Don't tell me you want to use the 'sun-shooting divine bow'? But that'll consume a ton of your magical power too, you know?"
Among all the techniques of assured annihilation available to them, the sun-shooting divine bow was undoubtedly the strongest single attack.
"Even by ordering Rushalka to Double Cast pseudo-divinity, Asya barely squeezes out enough magical power required to meet the minimum requirements. Luna, I think it'll render you unable to fight afterwards."
"But this is essential. Besides, I believe you have an ace up your sleeve, Harry, don't you?"
"What are you referring to?"
"Orihime-san is a Level 3 witch. Unlike Asya and I, who are Level 5, she shouldn't be able to Double Cast freely. By my reasoning, there is some kind of secret skill to allow her to use the sun-shooting divine bow—Am I wrong?"
Hal did not expect Luna to have noticed a secret privy only to Hal and Orihime.
Nothing less should be expected from the brilliant Luna Francois. Hal was very impressed.
"I must not exhaust my power at a time like this. Please, Harry!"
Faced with Luna's repeated requests, Hal hesitated.
Her point was very right and logical. Hal had no reason to object at all. However, to put that method into action on Luna's body...
Doubt and reluctance shook Hal in the inside intensely.
However, Luna still continued to prepare for the attack during this time.
"Glinda! On my mark, fire a magical shot with maximum firepower!"
Glinda growled from overhead to respond to her partner.
Despite being her low voice, there was unshakable willpower conveyed. The three-headed lion seemed very happy for the chance to strike back at last. In that case—There was no choice but to do it.
Making his decision, Hal positioned himself behind Luna.
He slowly reached out with his right hand, circling his arm around to Luna's front side.
Then he grabbed the bust that the American-born witch frequently showed off—its left side—using his right hand with the Rune of the Bow appearing on his palm.
Luna Francois reacted very uncharacteristically—she mumbled in shock.
Meanwhile, Hal squeezed harder with his right hand.
The soft sensation and the volume tightly pressed against his palm. The size was unbelievable. Not only that, it was pushing Hal's palm and fingers back with its wonderful elasticity.
Most likely, it had reached a realm that required the English letter "G" to describe...
Hal analyzed with heartfelt emotion while transferring massive magical power through his right palm.
Naturally, the destination was Luna Francois' heart in her left chest.
The ear-splitting scream emitted from Luna's lips became the signal.
Hal's magical power was transmitted to Glinda through the witch's heart. Including the black goat head and the dragon head, the lion leviathan's heads roared in unison.
In the next second, the gigantic lion's entire body became enveloped in burning flames.
Two black arrowheads, almost the same size as Glinda, manifested on her left and right. Also wrapped in crimson flames, the arrowheads turned into gigantic arrows of fire.
Next, the blazing Glinda and the arrowheads flanking her charged forward like three arrows.
Towards the ground where Hal and Luna were standing—the super gigantic turtle monster, Dragon Palace Court. To penetrate the incredibly hard carapace, Glinda burrowed deeply into the humongous body's interior.
As though digging a tunnel to reach the Dragon Palace Court's heart, to pierce the heartmetal—
That was the job required of Glinda and company.
"Hmm. One set of preparations is completed."
The Draconian user of the dragonslaying chain, the Gray Aristocrat, muttered to himself.
He was still at the plaza where Orihime and Akuro-Ou were imprisoned. However, something that previously did not exist on this plaza had been born.
A transparent triangular prism, roughly thirty meters tall.
After meditating for a long time, the Gray Aristocrat had slowly used high-level magic of Ruruk Soun. The triangular prism suddenly grew out of the plaza's stone-paved floor.
Orihime had seen a structure in a triangular prism like this before.
It was a magical pillar that had captured Shirasaka Hazumi's "serpent"—Minadzuki.
By absorbing the serpentine leviathan's blood, the transparent triangular prism, which could be considered a mini-Monolith, took on a deep red color to become a mystical elixir for healing the elite dragon Soth—
"Y-You're planning to use that thing to suck Akuro-Ou's blood after all!?"
"You know of it, Priestess? Indeed you are correct. I shall use this to store female dragon blood, which will undoubtedly prove useful when I resurrect my past body..."
Her suspicions confirmed, Orihime was greatly shaken.
However, a minute or two after the mini-Monolith appeared, she noticed a familiar magical beast in the air.
It was Glinda. Furthermore, she was equipped with black arrowheads—weapons formed by manifesting the Rune of the Bow's power—and enveloped in flames completely!
Of course, the Gray Aristocrat also noticed Glinda's flaming lion form.
"Tyrannos of the Bow, you came as expected."
Glinda and the two arrowheads were hovering two hundred meters over Orihime's location.
Directly underneath her was a magnificent palace, ostensibly the Dragon Palace Court's cardiac chamber. Thus, Glinda and the two arrowheads suddenly rushed downwards like arrows.
Wrapped in flames, the lion first collided with the palace below.
The ancient Chinese-style building exploded, blown away by Glinda. Without losing speed or momentum at all, Glinda continued onward underground—or rather, the interior of the Dragon Palace Court's carapace.
"In that case, I must intercept in full force..."
The Gray Aristocrat muttered gloomily to himself before his entire body crumbled into dust.
In the next instant, the ground began to shake intensely. Standing there, Orihime went "kyahh!?", lost her balance and fell on her bottom.
Judging from the intensity of the tremor, it was probably 5 or 6 on the Richter scale.
However, the earthquake only lasted for ten-odd seconds.
"Owwwwww... Haruga-kun and Luna-san have come to rescue me."
Enduring the pain from her bottom, Orihime felt greatly relieved.
Also, she noticed that the chain binding her ankle had disappeared. It had apparently vanished at the same time as when the Draconian Gray Aristocrat collapsed his form.
Taking a closer look, she noticed that the chain restraining Akuro-Ou had suddenly disappeared too.
"Is that gray dragon no longer nearby? What do you think, Akuro-Ou?"
The white fox-wolf shook her nine tails, stood up and went "kuoooooo!" As her partner, Orihime understood that Akuro-Ou was responding in affirmation.
"Then with that, there is only one thing to be done..."
Orihime nodded at Akuro-Ou.
Although she had no idea what exactly had happened, in any case, she was free. More importantly, her friends had come to this Dragon Palace Court to pick her up. She must find a way to meet up with them!
"Akuro-Ou, try firing a beam into the air! Also howl at the sky like a dog to tell them we're here. Thanks!"
Hal and Luna Francois finally fired the sun-shooting divine bow.
Before shooting the divine bow, twenty-one runes of Ruruk Soun had appeared behind Glinda's back, signifying "I will fire the sun-shooting divine bow at the sky, to exterminate the sun."
This was ultra advanced scripture that served as a mantra for recording this technique of assured annihilation.
In this manner, Glinda and the two arrowheads shot through the Dragon Palace Court's sturdy carpace while enveloped in scorching flames, drilling deep into the Dragon Palace Court's depths like digging a tunnel.
Meanwhile, Hal was standing on the ground—more precisely, on the turtle carapace.
However, even though the scorching arrows were out of sight, Hal still knew that it was hurtling towards the Dragon Palace Court's heartmetal as though he were seeing it with his own eyes. This was also a privilege enjoyed by the marksman of the divine bow.
Glinda and the two arrowheads reached the Dragon Palace Court's cardiac chamber.
Matching the size of a kilometer-long super creature, it was as big as the Tokyo Dome in the human world. At the very center was a sphere roughly ten-odd meters in diameter.
The sphere was dark green. This was the Dragon Palace Court's heartmetal.
Thus, using Glinda and the two arrowheads as arrows, the sun-shooting divine bow fired at the heartmetal.
However, a counterweighted chain suddenly appeared in front of the heartmetal. Naturally, this was the dragonslaying chain of the Gray Aristocrat. The chain traced out a evil-vanquishing symbol of the pentagram. The pentagram turned into a barrier, blocking Glinda and the two arrowheads to withstand the divine bow's power.
Raging wind and blazing fire scattered. Despite Glinda's best efforts, trying to break through the pentagram chain—
She still could not prevail.
The pentagram chain was probably imbued with a technique of assured annihilation that particularly strengthened magical defense.
Eighteen runes of Ruruk Soun also appeared nearby as though surrounding the pentagram.
The arrangement signified "O guardian stars, grant me protection swiftly." Even the divine bow could not possibly obliterate the chain's magical barrier after piercing the Dragon Palace Court's carapace.
Unable to destroy the target despite being fired as an arrow, Glinda growled in frustration.
Then Glinda vanished immediately. Dispelling her materialized form, she returned to her covanantee's side.
"Either way, I expected it to be blocked with 80% certainty."
Hal opened his eyes and shrugged.
In order to visually keep track of the siege battle inside the Dragon Palace Court, Hal had closed his eyes on purpose. Haruga Haruomi's body was currently still outside the Dragon Palace Court, at the palace on top of the shell.
However, his hand was holding the method to attack the interior of the Dragon Palace Court.
He casually pointed the magic gun in his right hand at the sky to use Enemy Search and Aim magic.
Hal pulled the trigger, firing in triple burst mode. Three bullets of light flew out swiftly from the muzzle, entering the Dragon Palace Court's cardiac chamber through the hole opened by Glinda.
Only a magical gun could carry out such a ridiculous long-distance shot.
Instead of the Dragon Palace Court's heartmetal, the three bullets of light were targeting the spiritual body hanging around next to it—invisible to the naked eye, a spirit entity that could only be seen using magical sight.
It was the soul of the Gray Aristocrat, a ghost of a former dragon king like Hinokagutsuchi.
Hal closed his eyes again to confirm the bullets' whereabouts. The three bullets of light had been struck down by the iron chain just before piercing the former dragon king.
Naturally, it was the Rune of the Chain. The enemy's defense was ironclad.
"Looks like the Gray Aristocrat intends to hold position for now, standing guard by the heartmetal..."
A tactic abandoning mobility to focus on defense.
Perhaps because the enemy had retreated to the final defense line and gathering all magical power there, it now became possible to use investigative magic inside the Dragon Palace Court. Precisely because of that, Hal could use Enemy Detection to sense his opponent underground.
"Harry, could you lend me that gun?"
"Oh sure. But putting that aside, Luna, now we should be able to find Juujouji—"
As soon as Hal agreed to Luna's request on reflex, Luna Francois snatched the magic gun from Hal's. Raising the gun with both hands, she aimed the 9mm muzzle right at Hal's heart.
"Please finish within thirty seconds should you have any last words. I will abide by your wishes as much as possible. That is, after I shoot and kill you."
"U-Uh, w-why are you doing this!?"
"Do you really need to ask? You have done the unforgivable. You have rudely groped, violated and defiled my chest—my bust—the sacred territory that I have never allowed anyone to touch! To atone for this grave sin, die obediently by my hand!"
"Now that you mention it, I did actually do that..."
Breathing heavily, Luna's wrath was clear to see.
Although not as severe as Double Casting, the method used just now would still have consumed plenty of magical power. She should be resting instead. Be that as it may, Luna still used her exhausted body to take the gun and aim at Hal.
On the other hand, Hal was not as tired probably because he was used to it. He instantly explained, "I'd be truly grateful if I could earn your forgiveness by groveling and prostrating myself on the ground while you hit and kick me as much as you like. If possible, let's rule out shoot and kill..."
"After all, Harry, your body won't die from getting shot a few times, right!?"
"You're right... Oh, then please don't at vitals at least..."
Groping so suddenly was overdoing it, as one might expect.
Seeing Luna Francois' eyes flashing with anger, Hal replied subconsciously.
Regret and guilt surged in his heart. Furthermore, he definitely had a ridiculous body such that even falling from hundreds of meters high would only get an "owww..." reaction from him.
Perhaps it did not count as atonement unless he suffered stabs or gunshots.
"Excellent resolve. Then I shall not hold back—!"
"Y-You're acting just like how I predicted, no hesitation at all!"
Luna immediately switched her target to Hal's ear and pulled the trigger.
However, the magic gun's trigger did not budge the slightest. Speaking of which, this handgun was a weapon that only Haruga Haruomi could use.
Holding the useless magic gun, Luna Francois was taken aback in surprise, then—
"Good grief... I can't believe I still cannot take revenge after being subjected to that..."
The blonde witch collapsed helplessly on the ground and began to cry!
"I was molested... Not only that, but groped this way and that so forcefully, a-a-a-a-a-and in the end, there was even a strange feeling—"
Luna Francois hung her head and silently wept.
Speaking of which, after using the technique of assured annihilation and Hal's hand had released Luna's heavy bust...
She had gone limp as though intoxicated with alcohol and sat down on the floor. The pale complexion of her beautiful face was faintly blushing while she panted and stared blankly at Hal for quite a while with moistened eyes—
From Luna's expression at the time, Hal could read several kinds of emotions.
Confusion, discomposure as well as something akin to ecstasy. Regardless, Hal decided to apologize to her first.
"Umm... Anyway, I'm sorry. Because I needed to transfer magical power from my rune to Glinda through your heart, it couldn't be helped—"
"You touched my chest for a reason of 'couldn't be helped'!?"
"T-To be honest, I can't deny that I also felt it was a 'rare chance'... But no matter what, you're very pretty and attractive, also—"
"What 'also'!? Regardless, it's a perverted and closeted motive, isn't it!?"
"Oh no. Actually, I really like your personality and true nature. Your ways of thinking are similar to mine, so I feel like we're kindred spirits. And even though you're clearly the same type as me (yet different from Asya), you're a reliable girl and elegant young lady. That's something I find very interesting and refreshing."
As a side note, the bracketed words were only said in Hal's thoughts without being sounded aloud, because he felt that it would be inappropriate to bring up other girls in this kind of situation, even if it was Asya.
Hearing Hal's confession, Luna sighed deeply.
"...You are truly a weirdo after all, Harry. Most boys would say 'I was deceived!' as soon as they discover my true nature then flee or lose their temper and cry themselves to sleep."
"It's not like I can't sympathize with them..." said Hal to Luna Francois, whose tears seemed to have ceased.
He glanced at the neckline of Luna's dress—the boldly low-cut part—then said, "Besides, you're probably creating problems by toying with the hearts of those kinds of boys and deliberately wearing revealing outfits to provoke them."
"I don't care! It's fun to toy with those kinds of boys, to have them in the palm of my hand!"
"Just as I thought, your personality is lovely."
"Hmph. And yet you said earlier that you really like me this way."
"I do like you. I consider this aspect part of your charm."
Luna widened her reddened eyes and stared at Hal.
However, what her gaze conveyed was not anger but the light of sensitivity, intellect and passion.
"Age and talent, no problem. Quick wits yet to be confirmed but promising. Status and wealth would surely grow dramatically henceforth. Unexpectedly open-minded, perhaps. As someone who likes freedom himself, Harry's' chances of excessive interference in my life are quite low..."
"L-Luna, what's with you?"
"I am appraising you."
"Didn't you tell me you 'like' me? I am assessing whether I ought to respond to your proposal and build a stable relationship with you."
"Ehhhhhh!? Y-You misunderstood me, I meant I 'like' you as a friend!"
When Hal explained himself after the fact, Luna Francois responded coldly, "You dare say that despite ogling me with lustful eyes?"
"Despite groping my chest and making me feel that way?"
"F-Feel what way exactly!?"
Turning her face away with a blush like a child, Luna Francois was adorable to the point of cheating. Hal could not help but stare mesmerized.
"Probably due to the shocking experience that came without warning, I was struck by an illusion as though our distance had shrunk all at once. I must have mistaken it for fluttering in my heart. Combined with the 'like' word taking advantage of the opening in my mind, it caused me to start having weird thoughts..."
"I-If you've already analyzed yourself to that extent, let's just drop the matter, okay?"
"But I have a feeling that it might not be bad to try allowing myself to take action and go along with this mistaken feeling... Also because of that, I'm starting to feel that it might not be so unthinkable to seriously consider going out with you, Harry."
"On further thought, I am someone with a twisted personality apart from my scheming ways. Don't you think that we would get along very smoothly if I go out with a unique boy like you?"
Luna Francois was apparently the very decisive type when confronted with issues on this front.
Leaving Hal speechless, she looked at him skeptically.
"However, Harry, you subjected Orihime-san to the same action."
"Oh, how should I put it—Yeah. Pressed by the battle situation, we reached a consensus on many different areas... By the way, isn't it time for you to return my gun?"
Despite her inability to depress the magic gun's trigger, Luna still pointed the muzzle at Hal's heart again. Her gaze was unfocused, which implied that this was more driven by the subconscious than intent to kill.
"No. Lend it to me a while longer. So Harry, I shall tell you this from the start."
"I am probably richer than you imagine, Harry, so if you need to pay her alimony, I will fund all of it for you. But suppose you intend to maintain this relationship, then I would request that you and Orihime-san refrain from entering the stage of official marriage. If the two of you were to produce children, I could adopt them into the Haruga-Gregory household."
"I am a realist. I also know what perverted creatures men are. Forbidding two-timing could end up causing affairs behind my back, which would be infuriating too."
Luna Francois stared intently at Hal and said, "Consequently, I won't force you to break up with her. Conversely, please draw the line properly between you and everyone else. Otherwise, I may very well shoot and kill women who rub me the wrong way. In the event that I fail to control myself, I may even kill you as well, Harry."
Luna made her declaration while aiming the gun at Haruga Haruomi's heart. On the other hand, Hal simply stood there stunned. At that moment, a beast's call was suddenly heard from afar.
A canid beast was howling from several hundred meters away. They had heard this sound before.
The instant Hal shouted, a beam of red light shot from a corner of a palace to the sky.
It was like a flare. The light looked as though it was shooting out from near the neck of the giant turtle that was the Dragon Palace Court. A breath beam released from a leviathan's mouth.
"Juujouji must have ordered Akuro-Ou to do that to tell us their location."
"As expected of my rival, I suppose I should say? Hey Harry, I don't want to unnecessarily lose someone like her whose bright future knows no bounds. Please think over what I just said very carefully, okay?"
The headstrong and unreasonable Luna Francois was displaying a refreshingly prim expression.
Hal and Luna Francois first made their way towards the beam's source.
There were many palace buildings, but it was not difficult to reach the plaza where Akuro-Ou and Orihime were located by following the continual howling.
"You two came to save me! Thanks!"
"I'm glad we met up successfully... Say, Juujouji, what's with your getup?"
At their reunion, Orihime thanked the two of them, but Hal raised a question.
When abducted by the Gray Aristocrat, all she had was a bath towel wrapped around herself.
Currently, Orihime was dressed in a red garment somewhat like a belly dancer. That being said, it was not proper clothing. She had probably found some silk cloth nearby and wrapped strips of it around her bust then tied a larger piece of fabric around her waist to serve as a skirt.
By tying the fabric tightly to prevent it from sliding off, an impromptu garment was finished.
As a side note, Orihime also had a rectangular piece of silk cloth draped over her shoulder to serve as a shawl.
"B-Because I had no clothing to wear, I went into a nearby building to search. All I could find was this cloth, so I tried to make the best of it..."
Orihime huddled herself in embarrassment and explained to Hal.
The fabric of her new garment was very thin while her belly and navel were totally exposed. This ended up emphasizing her wonderful figure even more. Orihime was probably embarrassed because of that.
However, Hal was very touched. Magnificent.
"Oh no, I think this is well-made. Yes, it's awesome."
"H-Hearing that from a closet pervert like you, Haruga-kun, makes me even more embarrassed!"
"But good stuff is good stuff. Besides, it's not that different from a swimsuit in how much skin is bared..."
"You're right, but this outfit is like cosplay, I find it very embarrassing! I forbid you to check me out!"
While Hal and Orihime were arguing...
Luna Francois suddenly removed her clothing—the black one-piece dress—leaving just the purple camisole underneath. For a girl, this would be quite improper.
Naturally, Hal did not know where to look. Despite the turmoil in his heart, he still found his gaze involuntarily drawn to her.
Luna Francois' figure boasted voluptuousness surpassing Orihime.
"L-Luna-san, what are you doing!?"
"I was thinking I should change to match you, Orihime-san."
In front of the surprised junior witch, the blonde witch in the camisole smiled seductively. Then she winked at Hal and said casually, "How is this, Harry? With this, I don't lose to her at all, do I?"
"Oh no. That goes without saying."
Completely altering her image simply by shedding one article of clothing, Luna's skill was setting Hal's heart pounding.
"B-But this isn't the bedroom, it feels a bit too uninhibited..."
"However, you are the only boy present, Harry. It's not like you're the type to be troubled by the sight of this."
Luna smiled and continued, "Fufu. In order to oppose Orihime-san, who is already a formidable foe simply by acting her usual self, even someone like me cannot be complacent at all. Sure enough, it's essential to maintain a battlefield mindset at all times."
"Formidable foe... Aren't we on the same side?"
Confronted by the rapidly changing human relationships, Hal was at a loss, Luna remained elegant and marching at the beat of her own drum, while Orihime had her head tilted in puzzlement with a wry smile, unable to make heads or tails of the issue.
In a tone of voice too elegant for a declaration of war, Luna Francois continued, "On a professional level, of course. But in private—as one of the ladies hanging around Harry, Orihime-sam, you will surely become the most powerful enemy. Let us both do our best, okay?"
"...H-Haruga-kun. Was Luna-san speaking in English just now?"
A rival's sudden declaration apparently made Orihime very flustered. She turned to converse with Hal.
"I-I don't really understand her. Please help me to translate!"
"Don't worry, she was speaking Japanese the whole time. Uh, well, how should I put it...?"
"It is exceedingly simple. Forget about calculations and ploys, I have fallen in love with Harry. Consequently, Orihime-san, you are the boss character, being the girl currently closest to Harry."
Hal empathized completely with Orihime's shock.
To think that such a surreal development could happend suddenly in his life. In a certain sense, it was a surprise no less than the occasion when he obtained his dragonslaying rune.
Meanwhile, Luna Francois continued on her own, calmly.
"By the way, Orihime-san, weren't you restrained?"
"Y-Yes. Until just now, I was still bound by that unbelievable chain. However, it vanished together with the gray Draconian so I signaled to you two."
"That was probably when we were targeting the Dragon Palace Court's heart with the Rune of the Bow."
Hal agreed with Luna's guess.
At the time, the Gray Aristocrat had probably gathered all his magical power to block the sun-shooting divine bow. Due to insufficient magical power, he probably became unable to sustain his Draconian body and the chain, which was also why the interference with investigative magic also ended temporarily.
"In that case, the interloper has gone out of sight—"
After a while, they went back to discussing their original purpose for coming here.
Hal looked at the magic gun that Luna had just returned to him and asked "Are you awake?"
"Now I am. Quit asking me to sleep and wake up. It is very bothersome."
Hinokagutsuchi's voice from the magic gun sounded like a murmur, both displeased and drowsy.
However, she still responded to Hal's demand and told them the required direction, location and target.
Thus, the trio walked for ten-odd minutes—
Hal and company arrived at a beautiful garden. Although there was probably no one in charge of looking after the place, the garden was blooming with a large number of colorful flowers. In a corner of the garden, there was a piece of black stone dropped on the ground.
An uneven stone with almost no curves.
It was very similar to quartz but Hal knew that it was not quartz.
"A flint huh...? A fragment of the flint star to pour power into the conqueror's rune—"
A mystical rock and absolute treasure that all sapient dragons sought after.
The starting point where the dragonslaying adventure revolved around. Haruga Haruomi's father had for some reason hidden this mysterious stone.
Leaving it lying in a corner of a garden like this instead of keeping it in a treasure chest ostentatiously—Should one say that this was very much in Hinokagutsuchi's eccentric style?
In fact, it probably would not have occurred to them to hunt for treasure here had they not been informed by Hinokagutsuchi in advance.
"This is quite suitable for hiding things as long as you've got the guts to leave it unattended..."
Hal tried to observe the flint using magical sight but could not see anything.
This stone's magical properties could not be detected using such means? Nothing less expected from a secret treasure that proved challenging for dragonkind to find despite their best efforts.
Hal moved the flint and nodded to his companions.
"Akuro-Ou, dig open the ground here. I'm counting on you, make it quick!"
"Glinda, you help out too!"
The white fox-wolf and the three-headed lion materialized in response to the witches' voices.
They were at their smallest size, around three meters in length. Even so, their size and power still far surpassed any domesticated animal in the human world. The quadrupedal beasts, Akuro-Ou and Glinda, used their forelimbs competently, digging up the garden's surface with astounding speed.
Several minutes later, a sarcophagus was unearthed.
The stone lid covering the sarcophagus was very heavy so they had Akuro-Ou use one of her nine tails to move it aside. Inside the sarcophagus was a dried up mummy, except it was not human.
Half human half dragon. It was the mummified appearance of an elite dragon in Draconian form.
"This guy was probably a Tyrannos that had died in battle somewhere in the past. Hinokagutsuchi took his corpse and rune to preserve. This was to have a backup weapon to use in case anything unexpected befell the Rune of the Bow."
Hal looked at the mummy's right hand. On the palm was a cross-shaped emblem.
After the Bow, the Sword, the Arrow and the Chain, this was the fifth dragonslaying rune that Hal and company had found.
"When robbing a dragonslaying rune from someone by force—even if the target is a corpse—the success probability is only 40%. But for many long years, magic for improving the odds of a transplant has been cast on him..."
"Haruga-kun, then what does that make the probability of success...?"
"Roughly 60 or 70%."
"Judging from the odds, this is not a bad gamble."
Luna Francois heard Hal and Orihime's conversation and nodded. Hal continued, "Yeah. With the goddess of fortune, Juujouji, here this time, I'm very looking forward to it."
"Huh? I am the goddess of fortune? Why?"
"Think about it, during the battle against Galad, it was thanks to seeing that part of yours that many things happened smoothly. Coincidentally, yesterday at the open-air hot spring too—"
"Haruga-kun! I will be mad if you say weird things even when Luna-san is present!"
"...I am impressed, Orihime-san. How terrifying of you to gradually increase Harry's affection for you unbeknownst to the rest of us."
"Y-You have it wrong! Hazumi was present at the time too~!"
Listening to the two girls' heated discussion, Hal picked up the flint.
He pressed the flint into the palm of the mummified Draconian's right hand. Whether he could acquire the cross-shaped emblem here would depend on luck and magical power—
Hal needed to pour magical power into the flint in his hand. He took a breath.
"So Harry, what kind of weapon does this rune represent?"
"It's the katana. According to Hinokagutsuchi, this rune is apparently quite hard to use."
"A katana rune... Doesn't that feel like a relative of the Rune of the Sword?"
Luna's interest was piqued while Orihime stared at the cross-shaped symbol uneasily.
This precise instant was the decisive moment.
As soon as Hal poured in magical power and exerted pressure on the new rune, the flint crumbled into dust while flames enveloped Hal's right arm up to his elbow area...
Then dozens of minutes went by.
Hal and company had reached the deepest level by traveling down the massive tunnel created by the sun-shooting divine bow's shot. Sitting on the miniaturized Glinda's back, he was accompanied by Orihime and Luna Francois.
The mobile fortress, Dragon Palace Court, was a gigantic turtle creature whose size far surpassed normal parameters.
Just as Hal, the shooter of the divine bow, had sensed earlier, the cardiac chamber was as big as the Tokyo Dome.
Since the cardiac chamber's walls and ceiling were glowing faintly, the interior was surprisingly bright. Near the center of the cardiac chamber was a spherical object ten-odd meters in diameter. Its color was deep green. The Dragon Palace Court's heartmetal.
Roughly twenty or thirty narrow tubes were sprouting from the cardiac chamber's floor, entangling and connecting to the heartmetal.
That could very well be the analog to a human's blood vessels.
Hal, Luna and Orihime activated magical sight and looked at the heartmetal's vicinity.
The ghost of the former dragon king, the Gray Aristocrat. His spiritual body was there.
"Just to err on the side of caution, I'll ask this first. Have you ever thought about having a ceasefire now and co-exist with us?"
"Truly a foolish question, Tyrannos of the Bow. Such as gesture would hardly befit the ways of dragonkind."
The gray Draconian materialized and answered Hal.
It was probably a state similar to Hinokagutsuchi's young girl form. Using the precious magical power lingering in his spiritual body, the Gray Aristocrat had restored his living appearance temporarily. Hence, back when he was using all his magical power to defend against the sun-shooting divine bow, this figure had vanished...
"Our fight has begun long ago. So long as you and I are in sound health, do not make any proposal as foolish as a ceasefire."
"I figured. That being said, it's quite bizarre to call a ghost like you sound in health."
"Fufufu. Thank you, Tyrannos. Revived as a spirit, I drifted to this castle, making it my residence, yet several centuries passed during my slumber...It was only due to you and your entourage's calls that I finally awoke..."
"Meaning that you were still dormant until a few days ago?"
Hal really wanted to sigh.
He never expected it was because of their visit that a dragon king was awakened...
"Let me proceed by taking your female dragon minions for myself, to use their blood to synthesize a resurrection elixir. Fufu, this will be the revival of my path of conquest."
"To revive your dragon body? I think that's kind of pointless."
Hal dismissed the former dragon king's declaration and muttered.
"Although I don't know how many portions of elixir you can make from a single leviathan, but no matter what, it'll simply be a resurrection with a time limit, right? If you're going to fight a real dragon king, just surviving one round will take everything you've got."
This was what his magic wand—the magic gun—had told him.
Resurrection elixir. This possessed mystical potency that was even able to resurrect a dragon king's corpse temporarily. However, its effect was simply on the same level as the magic Hal and Hinokagutsuchi used to revive the queen...
However, the Gray Aristocrat laughed upon hearing him.
"No matter! To lose my life in another battle is my longtime wish!"
"As expected of a dragon king-class enemy. A battle maniac that cannot be measured with common sense."
"It will be dangerous if he targets witches and 'serpents' apart from us, so we must fight here..."
Standing by behind Hal, Luna and Orihime whispered in commentary.
Upon rescuing Orihime successfully, Hal and company could have chosen to retreat. However, the Gray Aristocrat could very likely turn into a source of future calamity. Also, there was the risk that the Gray Aristocrat would launch surprise attacks every night to target "serpents."
Hence, Hal and company had gone out of their way to enter the enemy camp.
"In that case, a fight can't be avoided huh... Juujouji, take a bit of a break first."
"Harry! I am ready to begin any time. Let us proceed!"
Orihime nodded stiffly whereas Luna Francois spoke valorously.
Then the three-headed lion that had materialized at minimum size, Glinda, suddenly expanded, gradually returning to her original size.
Hal shouted loudly, "Crimson Queen! Grant your power to Glinda!"
The giant red dragon, the Crimson Queen, instantly materialized before Hal.
The queen's body merged with the ten-odd-meter-long Glinda, conferring a new form upon the orange-furred three-headed lion.
Ruby armor appeared on Glinda's back and abdomen to solidify her defense.
Next, her left and right flanks were each equipped with a pitch-black cannon.
This was the Queen Form of Glinda, the "Good Witch of the South." From the two cannons on her flanks, projectiles of red light were suddenly shot, a total of two. Naturally, the Gray Aristocrat was the target.
"Oh!? The queen's power has merged with your minion!?"
Pearly light enveloped the Gray Aristocrat's Draconian body.
This was the imperishable protection that only Tyrannos and dragon kings could use. Glinda's two cannon shots were blocked by this protection.
The Gray Aristocrat laughed fearlessly.
"Hahahaha. In that case, I have no choice but to recover my former visage."
Standing at two meters tall or so, the Draconian's body began to expand.
Within the blink of an eye, the Gray Aristocrat turned into a gigantic gray dragon, ten-odd meters in body length. His upright bipedal standing posture was unexpectedly similar to humans.
He spread the gigantic wings on his back to intimidate Glinda.
However, the enemy's weak point was right before their eyes. Hal motioned to Luna beside him.
"Use that move again from just now. Ignore his actual body."
"Yes. After all, the enemy's lifeline is the Dragon Palace Court's heartmetal. Glinda!"
The Gray Aristocrat was absorbing the magical power produced by the Dragon Palace Court's heartmetal to use as an energy source.
Conversely, it meant that all they needed to do was destroy that energy source. Glinda responded to Luna Francois' command and fired two cannon blasts again.
Naturally, the target was the Dragon Palace Court's heartmetal. The dragonslaying shots hurtled at the gigantic dark-green sphere.
In the next second, the Gray Aristocrat stood sternly in front of the heartmetal, using himself as a shield to withstand the two cannon blasts.
Surrounded by pearly light, the Gray Aristocrat grunted in pain. Imperishable protection.
Thanks to that protection, the gray dragon's body remained unharmed. However, Hal and company knew that imperishable protection was not a defensive tool that could be used continuously.
Just as they decided to continue the offensive, to force the Gray Aristocrat into staying on the defensive the whole time—
"O runes of Ruruk Soun. Merge this heartmetal with my body!"
The Gray Aristocrat extended his right forelimb and touched the Dragon Palace Court's heartmetal that was within arm's reach.
Twelve runes of Ruruk Soun appeared at the point of contact between his dragon palm and the heartmetal.
This composite arrangement signified triple meanings of "shrink, chew and assimilate."
Hal was very shocked because he saw the ten-odd-meter-diameter heartmetal of the Dragon Palace Court shrink, turning into a size that could fit on the Gray Aristocrat's palm.
Taking the magically shrunken heartmetal, the Gray Aristocrat swallowed it in one gulp.
To completely claim all the magical power produced by the Dragon Palace Court's heartmetal, to hide his weak point within his body, that was why he had swallowed it whole.
"So the same tactic no longer works huh..."
"Harry, then let us settle the battle with him directly!"
The instant Luna cried out, the Gray Aristocrat used new magic.
Eight runes of Ruruk Soun appeared over his sharp-cornered dragon head. The former dragon king said quietly, "The Crimson Queen was known for divine marksmanship. The Red Flame Emperor, his ferocious form in combat. The Black Lightning Emperor, his nefarious machinations and brilliant ploys in the use of magic. All of them are considered the strongest of the strong..."
While listening to the Gray Aristocrat's sudden reminiscing, Hal noticed.
He noticed what the latest arrangement of runes represented. "Fist Mantra Divine Power."
"A mantra of the fist? Meaning that—"
"I am the embodiment of strength, ferocity and intensity... Savor this mighty power carefully!"
The gray dragon jumped high the instant he boasted.
Instead of spreading his wings to fly, he made good use of his leg strength and the entire body's tension to leap. The movement was not only elegant and agile but also faster than the naked eye could capture.
Like a gust of wind, the Gray Aristocrat took a leap, cleverly jumping over Glinda.
Then in this manner, he landed behind the three-headed lion without making a sound.
"Glinda, deploy protection too—"
Impressive as always, Luna issued orders the instant the enemy jumped.
But before she finished her instructions, the Gray Aristocrat had already finished his jumping and landing movement and even attacked.
What followed the sudden jump was a move that did not seem very dragon-like—A roundhouse kick.
The Gray Aristocrat's kicking leg was wrapped in a chain as well. The Rune of the Chain.
Glinda's imperishable protection made it in the nick of time.
Her whole body enveloped in pearly light, Glinda deflected the dragonslaying kick.
Hal felt a sharp pain in his heart at the same time. The damage taken by imperishable protection would sting the user's heartmetal. Furthermore, the Gray Aristocrat did not stop attacking.
In addition to his legs, the Gray Aristocrat started using both hands, wrapped in chains, by the time Hal noticed.
Hence, the second strike was a mid-level punch from his right fist.
The dragonslaying punch attempted to smash through one of Glinda's three heads—the black goat's snout. Next came a second roundhouse kick aimed at Glinda's right shoulder.
Due to imperishable protection, the lion leviathan remained unharmed, of course.
However, Hal's heart was continually attacked by waves of pain.
"Glinda, strike back!"
Under Luna Francois' orders, the two cannons on Glinda's flanks fired in triple succession.
However, the Gray Aristocrat landed behind Glinda again with an agile maneuver then raised his right fist high. Releasing the chain wrapped around his fist, he swung it down like a whip.
When the chain struck Glinda's protection, Hal's heart was attacked with pain again.
"O Tyrannos of the Bow, this is my style as the Gray Aristocrat. Indulge me a little longer."
Despite being a dragon, he was using moves like unarmed martial arts with free-flowing motions.
Luna Francois murmured partially in surprise, partially impressed, "I am afraid he is using magic for physical enhancement. I never thought there would be martial artists in the world of dragons..."
"The changes are not limited to the runes..."
Orihime leaned closer to Hal's side and whispers.
The repeated pain was making Hal clutch his chest. As soon as he did that, Orihime came to his side. Hal nodded at Orihime, whose worry was shown on her face, then took a deep breath.
The enemy was apparently trickier to handle than expected. However, the match was only just beginning.
Asya went up to the deck after she woke up.
She was on the JMSDF's multi-purpose support vessel. It was yesterday at noon when the trio of Haruga Haruomi, Juujouji Orihime and Luna Francois Gregory had disappeared.
After that, over sixteen hours had gone by. Dawn was gradually approaching.
However, the missing trio's whereabouts were still uncertain.
"I believe they shouldn't be in life-threatening danger..." Asya murmured to herself.
The worst-case scenario did not surface in her mind because of her inborn nature of optimism—That was not the entire reason.
At least, between her and Haruomi, there was the magical link called the vassal covenant.
Perhaps in the form of "intuition," that link was telling Asya he was still alive.
That being said, she did not have any clue to find the missing trio. Currently, the ship was moored at one of the Izu Islands—on the coastal waters of Miyake-jima.
Asya had asked the JMSDF to help search for Haruomi and company who had gone missing during the daytime.
However, it did not yield any results. Asya paced back and forth on the deck, frowning. Would a second day's searching turn up any clues?
Soon, 5am would arrive.
The sky was starting to glow. The rising sun gradually peeked out from the eastern horizon.
An emerald serpentine dragon leviathan hovered into the air with a pair of wings shining with golden radiance. It was Minadzuki.
Minadzuki was concentrating, trying to see if magical presences could be detected in nearby waters.
"Hazumi-san, time to switch."
"Oh sure. But Asya-san, may I continue a while longer...?"
The one conversing with Asya was Shirasaka Hazumi, standing in a corner on the deck.
As Minadzuki's partner, the kindhearted girl gazed at the ocean uneasily. Under the morning rays, the Pacific Ocean gained a rosy color.
Hazumi was worried about the missing trio. She would not be able to sleep even if she went to lie down.
Asya nodded silently. Standing side by side with Hazumi, she looked out at the ocean.
"Hazumi-san, please return to Tokyo New Town by the end of today, because the situation has changed. I think at least one witch needs to go back. After all, emergencies could happen over at New Town."
Hazumi nodded in response to Asya's concise notice with a serious expression.
"I'll stay here for a week first to search for them and the octopus-headed monster. No matter what the outcome, I plan on returning to New Town by the eighth day."
"J-Just a week!?"
"Yes. If no clues turn up despite such a long search, I think it'll be time to regroup a bit."
Asya shrugged and tried to explain in as business-like a tone as possible.
"So that's that. Orihime-san seems very resilient while Luna is a talented individual who is destined to live a long time, just like unwanted weeds that just won't die. Haruomi has also turned into someone who can shrug off an elephant's trampling. The situation probably won't get too complicated."
Asya was saying this partially to dispel some of the junior witch's unease.
"Compared to those three, we should worry more about the state of affairs at New Town."
"Y-Yes. Maybe... you are right."
"Besides, with a bit more searching, it's possible we might easily discover that those three had drifted to some uninhibited island."
"L-Like Robinson Crusoe."
"All three of them can use magic and Haruomi is very used to surviving in situations like that. I'd say they've got better odds of survival than the partnership of that guy and Friday."
At that moment, Mindzuki called out "rahhhhhhhhhhh—" as though singing in the air.
Hazumi instantly widened her eyes and looked up at her partner.
"Are you sure, Minadzuki!?"
"Minadzuki seems to have detected a magical presence! And it's Senpai's—The Rune of the Bow!"
"—! Does Minadzuki have any way of sensing their approximate location!?"
"U-Uh, it seems like the Rune of the Bow is being used some distance away, but the precise position is unclear... But the direction is fine. Minadzuki says it's that way."
Asya looked at the direction indicated by Hazumi and nodded.
It happened to be dawn. The morning sun was rising in the east. Hazumi's index finger was pointed to the south.
Hal and company were currently in a showdown against a martial artist(!) dragon.
The battle had gone one-sided. Glinda kept firing shots at point-blank range but the enemy dodged them one after another. The Gray Aristocrat's punches and kicks were striking the lion leviathan's body accurately—
This battle had already persisted for more than five minutes.
Wrapped around the gray dragon's hands, the dragon slaying chains were like gauntlets while the chains on his legs served as greaves.
The Gray Aristocrat would unravel the chains around himself from time to time, swinging them as whips.
Every time the Gray Aristocrat landed a blow on Glinda, the imperishable protection would defend her with a pearly glow, preventing the power of dragonbane from harming the three-headed lion.
However, Hal's heart, i.e. his heartmetal, was accumulating damage.
The pain attacking his heart never stopped, greatly disrupting his heartbeat. Were he to look at a mirror, Hal would probably see the reflection of his pallid face. He was also panting out of breath.
In contrast, the Gray Aristocrat remained calm and confident, using his martial arts effortlessly.
He had only used imperishable protection back when protecting the Dragon Palace Court's heartmetal.
"At this rate, Haruga-kun won't last much longer!"
"He's doing quite a number on us, even though I didn't lower my guard just because he looks so drab..."
Hal whispered to Orihime who was watching with bated breath.
Compared to the two ladies, Princess Yukikaze and Hinokagutsuchi, the former dragon king, the Gray Aristocrat, definitely was not the memorable type in first impressions. Rather, he seemed quite drab.
Judging from the fact that his special skill was martial arts, perhaps one could still call him drab.
"Well, if he were cast in a battle manga as one of the enemy bosses like the four heavenly kings, I think he'd be the middle-aged martial artist as the only unassuming and unpopular character."
In contrast to her frivolous tone of voice, Luna Francois was staring at the Gray Aristocrat with eyes like burning torches.
However, this difficult battle was within calculations too. When fighting against an opponent who used to be as strong as Princess Yukikaze, it was only natural to be pressed into desperation—
The plan to reverse the unfavorable situation had already been put into motion.
Hal, Orihime and Luna exchanged looks with one another, biding their time for that instant.
Then the Gray Aristocrat finally announced.
"O chain of dragonbane, accomplish my dragonslaying quest through a technique of assured annihilation!"
To deliver a finishing blow against the losing Glinda, he released his magical power completely.
The Gray Aristocrat opened his gray dragon jaws wide to release almost thirty chains as though breathing fire.
These chains entangled the imperishable protection defending Glinda.
Sixteen runes of Ruruk Soun also appeared over the Gray Aristocrat's head, signifying "O jailer of heavenly imprisonment and chain of the executioner, accomplish your second mission."
The almost thirty metal chains tightened around Glinda and the imperishable protection together. Hal noticed instinctively.
This was a barbaric move to bind a target's entire body with chains, thereby twisting off the head and limbs.
Hal felt a sharp pain in his heart. The dull pain so far was nothing compared to it. As though dozens of thread-like blades were wrapped around the heart, constricting it tightly, trying to chop it into pieces—
He spat out blood, but this was precisely the moment that Hal and his friends were waiting for.
"I'm counting on you two...!"
"Yes! Hold out a while longer, Haruga-kun, I will ease your burden straight away!"
"Glinda, stop using pseudo-divinity! Apply all magical power to strengthen the protection!"
Orihime promised in a firm tone of voice while Luna Francois swiftly issued orders.
The pearl radiance enveloping Glinda—imperishable protection—brightened somewhat. The intense pain attacking Hal's heart also eased a little.
Next, as for the Gray Aristocrat who was binding Glinda with the metal chains—
A nine-tailed wolf-fox suddenly appeared behind his back! Using Glinda's pseudo-divinity of Illusion to make her invisible until now, she had been waiting at the back on standby.
An invisibility spell capable of deceiving even Princess Yukikaze for a moment, they had used the same tactic again.
This was to target the instant when the Gray Aristocrat's defenses were the least secure—when he was using a technique of assured annihilation.
"Draw your blade, Akuro-Ou!" Orihime instantly yelled out.
Akuro-Ou was a nine-tailed fox-wolf. The tip of her rightmost tail was equipped with the Katana—a dragonslaying blade—that had suddenly manifested.
The slightly curving blade was dignified and beautiful, closely resembling a Japanese sword.
Equipped with the Katana, Akuro-Ou's tail extended like a rubber band, swinging the new weapon like a swordsman's arm to slash the Gray Aristocrat from behind!
"You came after all, white imitation!"
However, the Gray Aristocrat used his tail to catch the blade strike coming from behind.
The elite dragon's long tail writhed like a tentacle with the dragonslaying chain wrapped around it at some point in time. Perhaps the Gray Aristocrat had foreseen that Akuro-Ou would attack.
The chained tail entangled Akuro-Ou's Katana to stop her from attacking again.
However, Orihime gave orders at this moment.
"Akuro-Ou, the second katana! Use it together with fire magic and chop down hard!"
The Gray Aristocrat went "What!?" in surprise.
This was because another Katana had sprouted from the leftmost of Akuro-Ou's nine tails.
The new katana's mildly curving blade was enveloped in crimson flames. Akuro-Ou's tail swung this blazing katana down fiercely, this time severing the wings on the Gray Aristocrat's back without fail!
Dual wielding—Orihime and Akuro-Ou were using two katana at the same time, forcing the former dragon king into desperation.
The Gray Aristocrat finally roared in pain and anger.
Seizing this opportunity, Luna Francois issued orders as well.
"Glinda! Double Cast pseudo-divinity—'sun-shooting divine bow'!"
The lion leviathan possessed the heads of both a black goat and a dragon at the same time.
Mostly on the defensive earlier, Glinda roared courageously in Queen Form, her entire body suddenly covered in blazing flames. The flaming lion turned her own body into an arrow for the burning divine and pounced at the Gray Aristocrat.
"O guardian stars, grant me protection swiftly!"
The metal chain moved rapidly in front of the Gray Aristocrat in an attempt to trace out a pentagram.
However, the sun-shooting arrow struck the Gray Aristocrat before the pentagram could be finished, thanks to Luna decided to use her strongest attack without a moment's hesitation.
Akuro-Ou also jumped to avoid getting caught in the divine bow's blast.
Thus, the blazing Glinda knocked the enemy's gray body flying straight ahead—
In the next instant, the gray dragon's gigantic body exploded. Thus, the dragon body was blown apart. Left and right forelimbs, the neck and tail all became enveloped in fire, burned completely within the blink of an eye, turned into dust.
Compared to his combat ability, the Gray Aristocrat's defense was clearly weak.
Soon after, the flames extinguished and the surroundings returned to silence.
"The result was like fighting a temporarily revived zombie..."
"Mobility and attack power the same as when he was alive, but single-digit hitpoints at most... That's how it feels..." said Luna Francois in response to Hal's mutterings.
Finally liberated from the pain in his heart, Hal breathed a sigh of relief.
In contrast, Luna's face was pale and she was standing unsteadily, looking like she would fall over any time. This was the price for ordering her "serpent" to Double Cast pseudo-divinity.
Having depleted her entire body's energy, the blonde Shootdown Ace was stuck with symptoms resembling low blood sugar.
Due to her partner's exhaustion, Glinda in Queen Form also began to disappear.
Taking the lion-like partner's place to support Luna Francois, Orihime swiftly rushed over to catch her.
"Are you alright, Luna-san? Let me treat you to some sweets later when we get back. How about the caramel frappucino strawberry daifuku that they recently started selling at the convenience store in front of the school?"
"Thank you, Orihime-san... But food of such an adventurous nature would be a bit too..."
"Fufu. Haruga-kun said something similar before."
"After all, normal people can't be like Asya..."
The relief of surviving a desperate predicament and the joy of victory seemed to have lightened the two girls' tone.
Hal also nodded vigorously while approaching them.
The dragonslaying bow, which had delivered the mortal blow, and the twin katana that had been instrumental to triggering the reversal. The emblems symbolizing these two types of weapons were now visible on Hal's right hand. First there was the Rune of the Bow on his palm and the cross-shaped Rune of the Twin Katana near his wrist—
A new dragonslaying power obtained thanks to chance and the goddess of fortune.
Dual wielding had many traits difficult to control. Quite difficult to master. Hinokagutsuchi had said so before, but for now, at least they used it effectively...
Hal called out the magic gun.
Its form had changed. Previously a 9mm semi-automatic handgun in appearance, the gun's body was now fitted with a fifteen-centimeter-long bayonet under it.
This was a temporary form for controlling the runes of the Bow and the Twin Katana simultaneously.
However, the enemy that the magic gun ought to be pointing at had already—At that moment, Hal gasped. Ten-odd meters ahead, the gray dragon's head still remained and unscathed to boot.
Opening his jaws wide, he spewed out three long and thick chains.
Two of the chains first wrapped around Akuro-Ou once, immobilizing her.
"Deploy protection!" Hal instantly ordered the magic gun.
The pearly light enveloped him and included Orihime and Luna as well.
The imperishable protection knocked away the third chain in the nick of time, but like a living serpent without a moment's pause in its movements, it wrapped itself tightly around the shield of the indestructible barrier.
The gigantic chain, big enough to ensnare even dragons, wrapped around layer after layer before finally stopping. However, Hal saw the Ruruk Soun script manifested before them.
The meaning was "O jailer of heavenly imprisonment and chain of the executioner, accomplish your first mission."
If he were to release the imperishable protection, the three of them would be crushed by the chains in the end.
"If that's the case!"
Hal pointed the bayoneted magic gun at the gigantic chain in front of him.
Then he used fully automatic fire. A technique of assured annihilation. The bullets depleted earlier had been replenished. All thirty bullets in the magazine were fired as dragonslaying shots.
However, this merely left behind scratches on the chains of punishment.
"The gray dragon is still alive!?"
"I cannot believe that he still hasn't gone to hell yet. Truly living up to the name of a ghost that has evaded death..."
"—Nay. My path of conquest has been foiled and I shall be set along the path to the underworld again. O Tyrannos of the Bow, it is a shame but you lot have won."
This was his reply to Orihime's surprise and Luna's sharp tongue.
The voice of the Gray Aristocrat came from the dragon head.
"As a gesture of respect for your prowess, I leave behind two parting gifts. The first is my final mystic technique—the dragonslaying chain that had captured a thousand dragons in the past."
The Gray Aristocrat's whispering was very quiet.
Perhaps he was already satisfied that he was able to go on a rampage as a ghost even after death. However, in addition to final words, he was also issuing them a challenge.
"The other is a grave to bury you lot. You shall die together with me in this castle."
Hal was speechless. He soon noticed.
The cardiac chamber surrounding them—the walls, ceiling and floor inside the Dragon Palace Court's body had turned white at some point and even turned to stone. The Dragon Palace Court had died too.
Because its heartmetal had been smashed together with the Gray Aristocrat's body—On further thought, this was only logical.
However, there were five large runes of Ruruk Soun carved on the ceiling that had turned into stone.
"...Symbols for Heat and Explosion? Don't tell me he's gonna blow us up together with the Dragon Palace Court!? He's using this kind of technique of assured annihilation to trap us, preventing us from escaping!"
"Yes. Tyrannos of the Bow, your wits are not bad."
"Getting this type of answer correct isn't going to make me happy!"
The cardiac chamber's floor suddenly began to shake like an earthquake.
Every now and then, there were noises like impacts were colliding upwards from below. Apart from that, low explosion sounds kept coming from afar...
The Dragon Palace Court's explosion and collapse was happening at a frightening rate, no mistake about that.
"This castle will not last much longer. If you have no wish to die together with me, try your hardest to slice through my chain. Farewell."
These were the true last words of the ghost, the Gray Aristocrat.
All of the magic that had resided in the gray dragon's head so far vanished. The former gray dragon king finally welcomed death a second time.
However, the three chains coming out of the gray dragon head were still intact.
The chains continued to bind the light of protection guarding Hal and the two girls as well as Akuro-Ou. Imprisonment from the technique of assured annihilation had not eased up at all!
"Glinda cannot fight anymore while Harry's trump card didn't work..."
Forcing her exhausted body and mind to move, Luna Francois murmured to herself. She leaned her unsteady body against Hal and said in a feeble voice, "In other words... Akuro-Ou is the only one we can rely on..."
"In a way, I think there's still a trump card that can be used in this situation..."
"In that case, there is no time to deliberate!"
Listening to Hal and Luna's murmurs, Orihime declared firmly.
Despite her inexperience, Orihime was a courageous and decisive girl. She turned the cross-shaped emblem manifesting on the back of her left hand—the Rune of the Twin Katana—towards her partner.
The white fox-wolf was also bound by two chains.
She had contorted her body many times, trying to struggle out of the chains but to no avail.
"Akuro-Ou! Prepare to use the katana rune for a finishing move!"
The covenant's bond had probably informed Orihime how to use the rune.
To help his classmate, who was issuing orders decisively, Hal also entrusted the greatest power to her.
"Use the queen's power as well, go all-out!"
Akuro-Ou roared loudly in response. The ruby armor suddenly appeared, equipped on the white fox-wolf's back and flanks. The armor on her back even had metallic arms with ruby coloring.
Two arms, resembling robotic arms for industrial applications. A right arm and a left arm.
The two arms on Akuro-Ou's back each wielded a dragonslaying katana. The two blades were spread to the left and right like a pair of wings. This was Akuro-Ou's dual wielding.
However, the dragonslaying chains were still restraining the fox-wolf and the twin katana—
"First sever the chains then attack that dragon head!"
In spite of the situation, Orihime still commanded. Akuro-Ou growled ferociously.
Orihime immediately motioned to Hal with her eyes, blushing as though trying to convey something difficult to bring up. Orihime's intent was very clear.
What was needed next was a technique of assured annihilation rivaling the sun-shooting divine bow.
Orihime on her own was unable to produce the necessary magical power for a technique of assured annihilation. Hal instantly nodded. Orihime glanced at Luna and hesitated for an instant, but even so, she still committed her determination and hugged Hal—
"Counting on you, Juujouji!"
"Yes, leave it to me!"
Jumping into Hal's embrace from the front, Orihime pressed her voluptuous bust against him.
Naturally, it was pressed against Hal's chest—the heart. The Crimson Queen's heartmetal! Instantly, his heart released magical power in extraordinary quantity, delivering it into Orihime's heart.
Painful panting and what sounded like a sweet voice escaped from Orihime's lips.
In this manner, Hal's magical power was transmitted to Akuro-Ou through Orihime's heart. The white fox-wolf's savage countenance suddenly calmed down while her entire body was enveloped in golden radiance.
The two chains binding Akuro-Ou gradually disintegrated under the light. This was an exorcism technique, an evil-dispelling light of righteousness for blessing sacred beasts.
Nineteen runes of Ruruk Soun were shining over Akuro-Ou's head, signifying "I summon the twin blades of exorcism, to deliver seraphic punishment to nefarious evil dragons."
Using this arrangement of runes, Akuro-Ou regained her freedom then—
"W-Why aren't you moving, Akuro-Ou!?"
Hugging Hal, Orihime was very distraught.
All she had to do was pounce and sever the chain surrounding Hal and the two girls, but Akuro-Ou only stared calmly at the Gray Aristocrat's remaining head without budging the slightest.
"...This won't work, Orihime-san. Akuro-Ou has currently become too similar to a deity."
Luna Francois walked over to Orihime's side and whispered suddenly.
Her physical energy should have been depleted to the point that she could not stand on her own. The blonde beauty leaned herself against Hal and hugged him like the Japanese girl, pressing their bodies tightly together.
"You have to draw out more of her murderous intent. The technique of assured annihilation needed next is the atrocious act of wielding a sacred and blessed divine blade for slaughter—Contradictory magic of this sort."
The Rune of the Twin Katana also surfaced on the back of Luna's left hand.
It was presumably the rune combined with her knowledge as a master-class witch that allowed her to comprehend the key to dual wielding. Like a priestess who had received a divine oracle, the blonde American girl spoke solemnly.
"Holy and evil, right and wrong, yin and yang, demonic and divine... Entrust opposing elements to the twin blades so as to produce an attack embodying the rivalry of complementary opposites. Since this magic requires such complexity in execution, perhaps it might be too challenging for a downright honest person like Orihime-san..."
"U-U-U-Umm, umm, Luna-san. I think your lesson was very informative!"
Orihime hugged Hal tighter, pressing her ostensibly F-cup bust against him.
Always lively and cheerful, she was casting a gaze of confusion and reproach at Luna Francois who was up close. Her tone sounded quite displeased too.
"B-But why are you doing something like this to Haruga-kun!?"
Next to Orihime, Luna Francois was leaning against Hal with her bust that was even bigger than the glamorous Japanese girl's. Due to putting all her weight on Hal, the ostensibly G-cup bust was also pressed on Hal's chest...
Seeing her like that, Orihime was shocked. Luna simply said, "Simply stated, my reason is the same as yours, Orihime-san. Hey Harry, link up your heart and the rune with my heart and synchronize with my magical nature, then transmit it to Orihime-san and Akuro-Ou..."
"I get it now. That might very well work."
"Haruga-kun too, don't make weird expressions in this kind of situation!"
Two bosoms with astounding volume and elasticity were pressed against Hal—
Tightly pressed against him. Tightly pressed against him. Tightly pressed against him. Tightly pressed against him. Moved almost to tears, Hal found it difficult to calm down instead. Were he to allow his emotions to explode, he might very well faint from excessive joy.
Hence, he turned his mind into an immovable rock. It was time to be a sage who could think calmly no matter what the situation.
Perhaps this could be considered an expression of survival instinct. Meanwhile, Orihime asked in shock, "Besides, this method was supposed to be the secret belonging to us only! Why does Luna-san know about it!?"
"Sorry, many things happened when Harry and I established our covenant. However, it was thanks to Harry and I putting this method into action that I was able to reduce energy consumption. So please forgive me, okay?"
"H-Haruga-kun! Last time, you said you would exercise greater prudence with other girls—Ah...!"
"Mmm... Accept my feelings, Harry..."
"Enough! You keep glossing over the issue using this kind of method—Mmmmmm!"
Luna whispered with an expression of ecstasy while Orihime glared at Hal while blushing intensely.
The two girls were tightly pressed on Hal, squeezing themselves against him as though competing to see whose body felt more wonderful. What a surprising stroke of fortune. Who knew if something like this would happen even once in a lifetime?
In addition, Hal sensed it as the mediator between the two girls.
The heart of the brilliant strategist—Luna Francois—and Orihime's heart that was ablaze with anger and fighting spirit were swiftly synchronizing by using Haruga Haruomi as the medium—
Murderous intent and savagery returned to Akuro-Ou's face and she roared loudly.
Thus, she instantly attacked the Gray Aristocrat's head. The white fox-wolf's entire body was enveloped in golden light. Her countenance and movements were brimming with feral sharpness.
Then the twin katana on her back glowed golden as well—
Akuro-Ou used the right katana for a horizontal slash, then chopped vertically down with the left katana. The twin katana traced out a mark on the gray dragon's head in the form of a cross-shaped scar.
Thus, the Gray Aristocrat's legacy was destroyed.
The dragonslaying chain trapping Hal and the girls gradually crumbled into dust—
The Dragon Palace Court was a super creature reaching a kilometer in body length.
However, with its heartmetal already destroyed, it was reaching the end of its life.
Until earlier, despite its slow movements, the Dragon Palace Court was still swimming leisurely in the vast ocean. Now, its gigantic body had turned into a unmoving corpse. Rendered completely white in color, it had turned to stone.
The entity formerly the Dragon Palace Court slowly sank deep into the ocean.
However, one beast escaped from inside its body.
It was Akuro-Ou. The white nine-tailed fox-wolf. Akuro-Ou had deactivated Queen Form and returned to her normal appearance.
She escaped from the gradually sinking Dragon Palace Court to float up to the sea surface. The fox-wolf's snout was pushing a small pearly sphere, roughly two meters in diameter.
Akuro-Ou carefully pushed the sphere up with her snout as though handling treasure.
A minute or two later...
The gradually sinking Dragon Palace Court suddenly exploded, blown up into smithereens.
Akuro-Ou had escaped in the nick of time, pushing the pearly sphere to swim towards the sea surface.
However, when the sea surface was still some distance away, Akuro-Ou suddenly vanished. This was because her partner's energy had been depleted too fiercely, making it impossible to keep her materialized.
Now that the giant beast pushing it upwards until now had vanished, the pearly sphere began to sink.
However, something caught it.
It was the serpentine dragon leviathan, Minadzuki. She reached out with her forelimb to grab the sphere.
The wyvern leviathan, Rushalka, also appeared in the water, staring at the pearly sphere uneasily. Of course, the sphere was imperishable protection.
Even when sunk into the sea, it remained an indestructible sanctuary to protect the people inside.
This protection became Hal, Orihime and Luna Francois' lifeline. Using her forelimb to support the imperishable protection, Minadzuki began to swim to the sea surface—
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