Leviathan:Volume 5 Chapter 1
Chapter 1 - Inheritance Game
It was the latter part of July with summer holidays having just started.
Haruga Haruomi and several witches had visited Izu together on an impromptu expedition.
However, travels in July did not end there. A few days after returning to Tokyo New Town, the team was off on another journey. Not only that, the destination this time was not even within the country—
"...I've been seeing the sea a lot lately."
With a clear blue sky overhead, visibility seemed to stretch far above as though one could see all the way into space.
Naturally, they were surrounded by sea in all directions, because Hal and company were traveling on a JMSDF escort vessel, observing a military exercise from the deck.
Although Japan's climate was quite hot, this place was on a different level.
The sunlight shining from above was so bright that it was almost like violence. The temperature on the deck also kept rising. Hal's hair was hot from the sun. Parts of skin not covered by his t-shirt also felt scorched like being burned by fire.
After all, these territorial waters of the Solomon Islands were near the equator in the southern hemisphere.
"By the way, Luna, to what kind of TPO (time, place, occasion) do you owe your current attire?"
"What a way to put things, Harry. Kettle, please meet pot."
Faced with Hal, who was wearing a t-shirt, half pants and sandals, Luna replied with an unimpressed expression. As for the blonde witch herself, she was wearing a new swimsuit that she had bought prior to setting off from Japan.
"Don't worry. I am pairing it properly with military style."
On the previous expedition, Luna Francois had dressed in black as her usual motif.
But this time, her choice was camo print paired with a khaki pareo around her waist. That said, this was an escort vessel's deck yet unbelievably, she even had a flower wreath on her head.
Staring at Luna Francois' gorgeous appearance, Hal could not help but retort, "But I think you have to pick navy style instead of army style in this situation. Like a sailor uniform or something."
"Despite saying that, Harry, you're showing quite a burning gaze."
This could not be helped.
After all, she was bending forward while dressed in a bikini, approaching him as though to display her chest to him, emphasizing her upper body in a seductive cougar pose...
Despite his closeted traits, Haruga Haruomi was still a gentleman. Hence, he took exceptional care to avoid speaking his mind.
Nervously, he ordered himself to hurry and shift his gaze away. However, Luna Francois smiled blissfully while watching Hal's behavior.
"Fufufufu. I never knew it would feel this enjoyable to be subjected to the burning gaze from the boy I like. Hey Harry, could you look at me more, pretty please? Stare intently at me like this and don't look away, as though you're trying to drill a hole into me."
"Please. I'll throw a tantrum if you look away, Harry, okay?"
"E-Even if you say that, it's still our job to observe the military exercise over there, right?"
"Don't worry. Nothing should go wrong as long as Asya is present in matters of this sort."
Making eye contact with Luna's upward gaze, Hal felt even more unsettled.
On this day in late July, the Japanese military ship carrying Hal and company was not the only one to travel to the Solomon Islands. There were two other escort vessels and a submarine accompanying them.
—And now, even more ships had gathered in these waters.
From the American navy was a cruiser, four destroyers, and a nuclear submarine.
The Australian navy had three light destroyers. Apart from that, one could see ships from various countries including Canada, Russia, Singapore, Indonesia, Korea, New Zealand, Chile...
This was a joint military exercise gathering all the member nations of the Trans-Pacific Defense Organization.
As a side note, the Americans had even dispatched an aircraft carrier whose homeport was Naval Station Pearl Harbor.
The military exercise was to last two weeks. Although it was not a live fire exercise, the participating countries had to follow the prescribed scenario and cooperate with allied ships in joint tactical maneuvers.
Hal and company were participating in the second day's schedule.
Normally in this type of exercise, the imaginary enemy—in other words, the dragons—would be played by fighter jets or unmanned drones. However, the "serpents" from various countries were taking part in the exercise today as the enemy role.
Swimming leisurely in the ocean was a gigantic sea serpent leviathan.
Other types included a white whale that one could call Moby Dick, a shark with wing-like pectoral and ventral fins, an ancient fish whose entire body was protected by armor-like scales, etc.
Furthermore, in the air—
There was a Garuda with golden feathers, a phoenix flying while enveloped in conflagration and other leviathans—
A blue wyvern's gigantic body was also flying in the air.
Naturally, that was Rushalka. In addition, she was in Queen Form, equipped with chest armor and arms of ruby, her entire body giving off magic more powerful than any other "serpent."
Suddenly, Rushalka began to ascend rapidly.
Not only was she increasing her altitude but also her speed gradually.
Rising from dozens of kilometers per hour to hundreds, then subsonic speeds, she soon broke the sound barrier, ascending rapidly with explosive noise and sonic booms, penetrating the clouds within the blink of an eye, disappearing from the view of Hal and the others.
At the same time as this sudden and rapid ascent—
The jet fighter squadron and many "serpents" also withdrew from the sky above Hal and company.
They must have received orders to retreat through communication devices. Apart from that, the "serpents" and their partners had keenly sensed it. Terrifying magical power of great density pervaded the area and the source was above.
This was the magical power radiating from Rushalka, who had disappeared to a super high altitude.
A minute or two after all irrelevant personnel in the way had gone off...
Rushalka began to descend rapidly. However, because she was in supersonic flight, it was impossible to capture her majestic flying form with the naked eye. The blue gigantic figure fell rapidly through the clouds to the tropical sea surface in a straight line, accompanied by sonic booms, making an emergency stop just before crashing into the sea—Everyone witnessed this astounding aerial mobility.
The blue wyvern's performance was not over yet.
Rushalka invoked Water pseudo-divinity while hovering at a height close to the sea surface. In the next second, the sea around Rushalka rose up in succession. Breaking established rules of physics, the huge amount of seawater towered into the air.
Literally pillars of seawater, there were unbelievably eight of them.
With Rushalka in the center, the water pillars had rose up in the eight directions of north, northeast, east, southeast, south, southwest, west and northwest respectively, reaching heights of almost three hundred meters.
—In a realistic sense, this performance was completely pointless.
It was like wasting a fighter jet's mobility on fancy acrobatics.
This was pointlessly wasting Asya and Rushalka's magic power, the Queen Form's energy and pseudo-divinity.
But at the same time, this was also a fantastic feat that no other witch in the world could imitate.
Even though Luna Francois and Glinda possessed the same level of ability, what they held was the attribute of Gravity, so logically speaking, they could not exhibit the same technique. One could safely say that the image of "the spectacular revival of Europe's former Shootdown Ace" had been carved into the minds of every country's military participating in the exercise.
Furthermore, the same went for "the potency possessed by the mysterious power known as dragonbane."
"Impressive as always, that's Asya. Don't you think so too, Harry?"
"Yeah. This was the aim in coming here, after all. This performance definitely did not betray expectations. Give her my share of navy curry later—Okay!?"
In the middle of responding, Hal jumped in surprise.
Dressed in a swimsuit, Luna Francois suddenly pressed against him, Her massive bust was weighing on Hal's back. If he had to express the impression in words, it would probably include "s-so soft" and "big and round like rubber balls with plenty of elasticity."
However, Hal stood his ground and spoke as a gentleman in a trembling voice, "A-Aren't we a bit too close...?"
"Being closer is only natural, isn't it? Because you keep looking at Asya, I'm jealous. It won't do if you won't look at me more."
"B-But Luna, you're behind me, right!? I can't see you like this at all!"
"Then hurry and turn around. Just embrace me from the front, Harry."
If he turned around right now, the situation would turn into a passionate embrace with Luna.
Sweet temptation, like pouring honey and gomme syrup over candy, was making Hal's heart pound intensely. Just as he was about to turn around reflexively—At that very moment...
"What the hell is going on, you two!?"
An unexpected guest arrived suddenly.
Still with Luna hugging him, Hal forced his head to turn around.
Behind him, a silver-haired witch was standing sternly, glaring at the two of them sharply. Of course, her name was Anastasya Rubashvili—the girl nicknamed Asya.
"Good grief. I can't believe you were cavorting around in this kind of place while I was on the bridge to direct Rushalka... You two are outrageous!"
"Asya, 'cavorting' would be a little crude to be coming from a lady's lips."
"The one who was pressing her boobs against a boy has no right to say that to me."
Hal looked alternately between the angry Asya and the indifferent Luna while using his soup spoon.
Inside the mess hall at the escort vessel, the three of them were having a late lunch.
It was after 2pm at local time. The place was packed with people in SDF uniforms sitting around them. With the conclusion of the morning events for the second day of the joint military exercise, the crowd naturally gathered here for lunch.
Dressed in the same uniform, eating the same food.
It was like a scene from a school lunch. Being a high school student as well, Hal felt almost like he was sitting in a student cafeteria.
The main course was navy curry, a traditional menu offering passed down from the days of the Imperial Japanese Navy, plus a deep-fried chicken cutlet. Well, except that Hal's chicken cutlet had been forcibly confiscated by Asya as "an apology for all sorts of offense taken from his inappropriate behavior"...
As a side note, Luna Francois had changed back into her usual black dress.
"But even if you say my behavior was inappropriate—" Hal spoke between spoonfuls of curry.
"If I think about it more carefully, Asya, I don't think I've caused you any trouble, have I?"
"Of course you have! Witnessing you and Luna's indecent behavior, Haruomi, causes mental shock against my pure and innocent soul, which progresses to produce emotional turmoil. If that kind of scene was shown on television or in a movie, the sponsors would have protested long ago!"
"In that case, you didn't have to come along..." said Luna quietly, unfazed by Asya's angry complaints. A smile was hanging on the corners of her lips of her refreshingly beautiful face.
"According to the original plan, only Harry and I were supposed to come, you know?"
"A-Allowing you two to go out to sea alone is the kind of atrocious act that I forbid even more!"
Luna Francois was born in Oregon of the United States of America.
As a witch, whose activities were centered around the American West Coast and Hawaii, she was also the Trans-Pacific Shootdown Ace. With such accomplishments under her belt, she had built up an intimate relationship with the TPDO.
She had never missed the biennial joint military exercise held at the Solomon Islands, not even once.
On this occasion, she had invited Hal to take part together. Naturally, the purpose was not "to go out to sea alone."
By exhibiting the power of dragonbane on this kind of stage, their plans would surely reap profits in the future—
Hal agreed with Luna's view.
"Tokyo New Town would be left to Hazumi-san, Orihime-san and Asya to protect, while Harry and I use this military exercise as a public relations event with the future in mind. The distribution of roles was clearly assigned this way..."
"Personally, I'd prefer if at least one of you, Asya or Luna, could stay in New Town."
"Don't worry. If an emergency comes up, I'll tie you onto Rushalka, Haruomi, and deliver you back to Japan with priority supersonic flight."
The Solomon Islands were roughly five thousand kilometers away from Tokyo New Town.
To carry out such a long-distance voyage at supersonic speed would be an amazing feat rivaling the now discontinued supersonic passenger jet. However, it was definitely possible using Asya's magical power and Rushalka's Queen Form.
Even so, Hal could not help but mutter, "Then I'll have to endure the g-forces of supersonic flight the whole time? With a body of flesh and blood?"
"Don't worry. Given how you are now, Haruomi, you'll definitely withstand it!"
"Although that's probably true, I have to say no thanks!"
Haruga Haruomi possessed resilience allowing him to remain unscathed even when trampled by a gigantic dragon. Apart from that, he was also capable of guarding his physical body with imperishable protection, hence Asya's idea was quite feasible.
Nevertheless, as long as he still regarded himself as human, Hal would resist to the very end.
Moreover, the crew of the escort vessel was having lunch in the surroundings.
These SDF officers had generously accepted the three high school students who were dressed in casual clothing.
It was commonplace for those involved with witches to be exceptionally young. Furthermore, after the frequent commotions caused by dragons in Japan recently, Hal's group had become widely known among the police and the SDF as the frontline combatant witches and the "mysterious consultant" who had stepped up to resolve matters.
Perhaps due to this reason, they were received by the escort vessel's crew with much cordiality.
Today's lunch was no exception. Although Asya had not made any demands regarding her navy curry, they still treated her to a small mountain of curry and rice on a plate twice as large as normal with three times as many cutlets layered on top.
While savoring the crew's hospitality, Asya remarked with emotion, "Although I've spent time with various national militaries all over the world, the SDF's thoughtfulness in 'providing service without the other party asking' truly takes the cake."
"Just the fact that it doesn't feel stifling here actually makes it more comfortable than classrooms at school."
Compared to the space called the school, this place was closer to the world of Hal's childhood life.
Hence, that was why he found it more comfortable. That being said, they were going to return to Japan in a few hours.
Having made a striking impression on all the nations participating in the joint military exercise, the purpose of their journey would be considered accomplished. It would be best to hurry back home so as to reassure Orihime and Hazumi who were in charge of holding the fort.
"I wonder if there are any good souvenirs to buy around the Solomon Sea?"
After muttering to himself, Hal suddenly felt a bit perplexed.
There was a something unusual about his comment that prompted him to recall a forgotten memory—
Speaking of which, the name "Solomon" had been brought up last month.
King Solomon—The ancient king of Israel.
His reign was said to have taken place around 1000 BCE. As the enlightened monarch who established Israel's prosperity, his name also appeared in the Old Testament of the Bible. There is one rather famous legend about him: Solomon was not only an ordinary king but also a great mage. In addition to subjugating seventy-two demons to do his bidding, he was even able to talk to animals and plants—
As a side note, the Solomon Islands did not have much of a connection to this king of Israel.
The name naturally stuck only because people discovered signs of gold there and called it King Solomon's treasure.
Currently, it was the next day, back in Japan after returning from the Solomon Islands.
Under the scorching summer heat, Hal was walking in a Japanese residential district.
The boundless view of the Southern Seas was long gone. Currently, he was at Monzennaka area in the Kōtō ward.
"In other words, that questionable legend about King Solomon as 'a great mage with numerous demons under his command' was actually based on a real person. Later on, the exploits of this person somehow became mixed up with King Solomon's, thus giving rise to the legend of 'Solomon the great sorcerer.' Am I right?"
What answered Hal's whispers was Hinokagutsuchi's voice.
She had not materialized. THe former dragon king's ghost simply spoke in Hal's ear to carry out the conversation. Fortunately, there were few people nearby, but from a bystander's point of view, it would have been rather disturbing.
"Also, I remember you mentioning last month about wanting 'to have the man named "Solomon" resurrected in the modern era.' What did you mean by that?"
The trip to the Solomon Islands had prompted Hal to remember what the former dragon king had said. Ever since, he would seek out Hinokagutsuchi to talk on every occasion, trying to get information about "Solomon."
"Well, that goal can be considered half complete already."
"Mm-hmm. The man facing similar circumstances as the ancient Solomon has already been born."
There was laughter mixed in Hinokagutsuchi's voice.
However, it was the tasteless laughter of someone whose irresponsible joy was founded upon another's misfortune.
"He was a Tyrannos too. Obtaining the power of dragonbane as a mere human and even gradually mastering its use—Going as far as to make dozens of 'imitation' dragons his minions."
"...In other words, my predecessor."
"Rejoice. Know that you are the human who has attained heights closest to Solomon for the past millennia. The vast majority of the Tyrannoi end up dying out on the field or turning into a dragon before that."
If Hal were to continue using the power of dragonslaying, he would transform into a dragon one day—
Recalling this, Hal sighed lightly. Although this was not a problem that could be solved by agonizing over it, if possible, he did wish to avoid such a fate.
"Judging from your case, it could be said that Solomon's legacy has benefitted you substantially."
"King Solomon's legacy? I have something like that in my possession?"
"What are you talking about? The 'imitations' used by contemporary humans—The methods to bring about their birth are precisely the mystic rites compiled by Solomon, thousands of years ago, by imitating dragonkind's arcane techniques."
"...The ritual for leviathan synthesis, huh!?"
At the Izu shore, they had encountered a dragon subspecies.
It was supposedly created by elite dragons using magic. So the two systems of synthesis came from the same origin.
And the one linking the two together was Solomon the great mage—
"Those who know of Solomon's exploits are few in number nowadays. Back when I was still a dragon king, many magi and priestesses idolized him."
"Well, excessive fame would make it seem shady instead."
Hal remarked with poignancy.
Ever since the time of ancient Greece, many "grimoires of King Solomon" had circulated, such as The Greater Key of Solomon, The Lesser Key of Solomon, The Testament of Solomon, The Key of True Solomon, Armandal, etc...
Anyone with some interest in the occult would have heard of these titles, to greater or lesser extents, even if they were not experts on the subject of magic.
However, the contents of these books were absurd for the most part and ridiculed as the likes of idle gossip.
In fact, if experts like Hal were to see advertising along the lines of "the super grimoire of the great mage King Solomon!", they would likely laugh or grimace.
"Actually, a thousand years ago, I listened to a certain female mage's lifelong wish at the Dragon Palace Court—'O great Crimson Queen, I implore you to lend your divine assistance to resurrect Solomon the progenitor' or some such."
Before she could answer yes or no, the petitioner died first. It turned out that she had been tirelessly searching for King Solomon's magical secrets, dedicating her body and soul to reviving the path of unorthodoxy, despite being afflicted with a fatal disease.
"You're still remembering this? After all this time?"
Hinokagutsuchi's calm tone of voice naturally drew Hal into this topic.
"Mm-hmm. Perhaps her endearing face and seductive waist had something to do with it—Possibly."
"You're talking like one of those despicable pervert fathers, you know!?"
"Well, during this time, I have become old, experiencing a thousand years as a spirit. By the time I realized, the dragons that were supposed to be sleeping had already danced merrily back to earth, to extol springtime to their hearts' content. As for humans, I am afraid they will gradually decline and eventually exit the stage at this rate."
"That being said, it would be far too boring without the soothing sight of voluptuous maidens. Hence, an idea came to me. Suppose an opportunity were to present itself one day, I would bestow the Rune of the Bow upon a suitable human. It would be interesting if a lifelong wish requested of me in the past were to be accomplished now, a thousand years later."
To think there was such dramatic significance behind the dragonslaying rune he had inherited.
Hal could not help but feel overwhelmed with emotion. The greatest reason why he had survived till now was unbelievably due to a former dragon's king's momentary lustful whim.
"By the way, I can't believe it's Solomon. It's too ridiculous as magic-related information. Even professional treasure hunters like me have never investigated it seriously..."
Rather, amateur occult enthusiasts would be the ones to swarm all over it.
For an insider like Hal, it was too lowbrow a topic. Taking it seriously would feel embarrassing, which was why no one took the first step.
"Now for a change of pace, I'll muster up some of my true skills to check it out."
"Speaking of clues regarding Solomon, perhaps there is one that might be unexpectedly close by in your surroundings."
"What do you mean by that?"
While Hal was reeling from surprise at the sudden hint, Hinokagutsuchi said, "The flint in your possession was hidden by your father, wasn't it? Nevertheless, it is extremely rare for people to understand the value of that stone, even among those pursuing the path of unorthodoxy. The rare exceptions are limited to magi related to Solomon's lineage."
In other words—Hal suddenly realized what the self-styled devil was implying.
"Y-You mean that Pops was related to King Solomon?"
"Mm-hmm. Although it was a thousand years ago, back then, there was a mage cult that had inherited Solomon's magic and knowledge. Within their ranks were a few outstanding magi who regarded Solomon with adoring devotion."
"Perhaps your father was someone like that."
"Although Pops definitely knew how to use magic, he was at most the same level as me before I received the rune."
Indeed. Hal's father, Haruga Takafumi, was not a practitioner despite being a researcher of magic.
Apart from that, he was also a treasure hunter well-versed in history, archaeology, comparative cultural studies and mythology.
Well, despite all these shady titles, he was probably not a "mage who venerated King Solomon as his spiritual mentor," otherwise Hal would have known something about it no matter what as his son.
Hal thought deeply for a moment before taking out his cellphone.
While walking, he slid his thumb across the screen to type out a message. After selecting a few recipients, he sent out the email—He had nothing to lose even in the event of failure, after all. This bit of spent effort did not count as a waste of time even if it proved fruitless.
While thinking over these matters, Hal also reached his destination.
A place he had visited three months ago. He was standing in front of a samurai residence he had come to pay a visit with Asya before—The entrance of the Juujouji home.
Hal pressed the doorbell and waited for a while.
After a brief wait at the samurai residence's entrance, his friends, two young maidens, came out to greet him.
"Welcome back, Senpai!"
"Although you probably know this already, Japan has been very peaceful while you were gone."
Walking over to him with a radiant smile was Shirasaka Hazumi. The other girl—Juujouji Orihime—was also smiling cheerfully as usual.
This combination consisted of the two most heartwarming witches Hal knew.
"You came too, Shirasaka."
"Yes. Because I heard you were coming to Nee-sama's house... I ran over."
Hazumi replied with a bright smile, slightly mischievously.
Hal nodded. This was a very welcome surprise. After all, Shirasaka Hazumi was the one and only "adorable junior of Haruga Haruomi."
"Great, I happened to have brought souvenirs for you too, Shirasaka."
"Really!? Thank you, Senpai!"
"In other words, Haruga-kun, about the task mentioned earlier—"
"Yeah, it's done. I definitely bought stuff at local shops."
Facing Orihime who was looking at him mischievously, Hal replied.
This was something he had promised her before setting off to the Solomon Islands.
'Time permitting, I hope you could bring back some local specialties, since Hazumi especially likes receiving souvenirs from abroad and things of that sort.'
As a witch, Shirasaka Hazumi had been shouldering the responsibility of protecting Tokyo New Town ever since childhood.
Due to a chronic lack of people capable of taking her place, she had to live a life of restricted travel. Naturally, she had no experience traveling abroad either.
After hearing about that, Hal decided he had to bring back souvenirs no matter what hurdles he must overcome.
Right before making the journey back to Japan, the military had transported Hal and company via helicopter to the Port Moresby airport on the island of New Guinea. Using the three hour layover before their civilian flight was going to takeoff, Hal had gone shopping at a local open-air market.
There, he had bought strange masks carved from wood, bags woven from wooden fibers, etc.
Orihime winked cheerfully in response.
"Wonderful. Given that it's you, Haruga-kun, I was originally worried whether you would forgot to buy gifts and end up with no choice but to pick up cookies at Haneda or Narita airport to complete the task."
"D-Don't look down on me. This sort of favor is just a piece of cake," Hal replied with a slightly guilty conscience.
In fact, he remembered past instances when he had done exactly what Orihime had speculated. Rather, it would be better say that the action of "buying gifts" itself was something that he frequently forgot completely during his travels.
Simply poor at social skills and being used to his life of flying all over the world without a fixed residence were presumably the reasons for this.
It was probably with this personality of Hal's in mind that Orihime had tactfully reminded him before the he departed. Her thoughtfulness was meticulous as always.
Even so—Hal suddenly found it incredible.
It was something that happened the day before his expedition when he had met up with Orihime alone and the topic of souvenirs came up.
Hal had told her: Due to work reasons, I have to stay at the Solomon Islands for five days with Luna starting tomorrow. Back then, Orihime had froze for a moment in surprise before—
'J-Just you and Luna-san, the two of you, alone...?'
She had asked timidly in a feeble voice.
Her seemingly fearful appearance did not resemble her usual self, which was cheerful and outgoing. Until he answered that Asya was going too, only then did she finally seem reassured...
Despite having acted that way, Orihime had greeted Hal with cheerfulness rivaling the summer sun just now.
"By the way, I did as you asked earlier and informed my grandfather of your arrival. However, his reaction was somewhat strange."
"Ah yes. When Nee-sama passed on the message that you had something important to discuss with him, Senpai, Grandfather Juujouji immediately entered a bad mood."
Orihime and Hazumi had reported an important finding. Hal could not help but tilted his head after listening.
Could he have done something wrong and angered him? Yet today's main purpose was to have a meeting with Juujouji's grandfather. In any case, he had no way of figuring out anything without meeting in person.
Hal then asked the two girls to lead him into the house.
Prior to Orihime becoming a witch, Hal had visited this Japanese-style room as a member of SAURU staff.
The master of the Juujouji household was waiting inside. Last time, he had worn a solemn and dignified kimono and this occasion was no exception. The only difference was the fabric, which had changed to linen for greater breathability in summer.
Hal, Orihime and Hazumi sat formally in seiza opposite him across the table.
Orihime's grandfather spoke with severe displeasure right from the start.
"Let me make myself clear first. I shall not hand my granddaughter over to you."
Cough cough. Hal cleared his throat.
"Excuse me, is there some kind of misunderstanding here?"
"You said you had 'an important matter' to discuss today, didn't you? To announce this before hand then pay a visit to my home alone... In that case, there can be only one possibility."
This was his reason for getting angry?
Hal subconsciously looked at Orihime, who responded with her eyes.
(My apologies, my grandfather keeps saying strange things...)
(He's an old man who's overprotective of his granddaughter as always. Sigh, anyway, I guess I'll just have to try to start the conversation.)
(Yes, let's do that. I will assist you as much as possible.)
Simply by observing each other's eyes and facial expression, it felt as though they could communicate telepathically.
Was this a reward earned through surviving many life and death situations together, or had some kind of bond formed between him and Orihime? Even without words, it felt like they could convey their thoughts to each other.
Discovering this fact, Hal smiled wryly while Orihime beamed.
"Please listen to me, Grandfather. You've made a mistake. Haruga-kun is simply here to talk business."
"Y-You are telling me that now, after exchanging flirtatious gazes with him in front of me!?"
"No, Juujouji is telling the truth. Actually, I will be quitting SAURU officially in the future to start a new company in partnership with my friends."
Hal put away his business smile and spoke sincerely.
"I will be offering a proposal to the various businesses and authorities that have been longtime sponsors of the Tokyo New Town witches—Juujouji Orihime and Shirasaka Hazumi. In the future, they could choose to hire us to carry out part of the witch support business currently undertaken through SAURU... Or rather, all of it."
Orihime's grandfather was not simply "an old man who was overprotective of his granddaughter."
Having held important posts at many publicly traded corporations in the past, he still kept his status as a part-time consultant. Not only was he a local celebrity but also a member of the committee sponsoring Orihime and Hazumi.
As expected, he immediately sat up straight after hearing Hal's proposal.
"Why this sudden decision?"
"Have you glanced over the report that Asya and I wrote? It's the result of our discussion about how to make better and more meaningful use of the currently discovered dragonslaying magic that still falls under personal property. If it's a good time for you, I actually plan on explaining it to you."
Orihime's grandfather thought deeply for a while then spoke slowly, "Tell me in detail. The various disturbances happening around New Town recently have already become a problem for us."
It was afternoon on August 1, considered the official start of the summer vacation.
Mixed among the students who were attending club activities diligently in the middle of holidays, Hal made his way to Kogetsu Academy.
He was visiting the Witch Mansion's temporary underground location beneath the library. As soon as he entered the spacious room that was being used as a conference room, he noticed that all of his companions had already assembled.
"Now that Haruga-kun has arrived, I think it's time we got started, right? Everyone, let's begin the fourth meeting regarding the GUILD project's operation."
The female student serving as the facilitator, Mutou-san, announced in a relaxed tone of voice.
Applause—The girl with the twintails, Funaki-san, clapped her hands in response. Sitting next to her, Orihime and Hazumi also applauded. As for the professionals, Hal, Asya and Luna Francois, they went through the motions of clapping at least.
Although the members of the group were not in sync at all, it should be fine.
After all, the purpose of their gathering was not to go for karaoke after school.
"Anyway, let me start."
While saying that, Mutou-san opened up her personal laptop.
"This is the project plan I sent to all of you through email this morning. It's pretty much 'preparations for the imminent day of information disclosure.' Has anyone read it yet?"
"I've glanced through it."
It was Asya who raised her hand.
"I think the plan itself is quite good. And making effective use of the social connections cultivated through the UFO Research Club's activities is also an interesting idea. However, I was hoping for something packing more of a punch..."
"Actually, I agree with Asya. I believe that we need more eye-catching content, or an idol character to focus everyone's attention."
While Mutou-san was taken aback, Luna Francois shared her opinion.
"Think about it. Not long after the return of dragons, all humans of the world were shocked by the televised video of 'the speech delivered by Hannibal, the representative of dragonkind,' weren't they?"
"Oh, that's the dragon that descended on the Rockefeller Center, right!?"
"Thanks to that, information about dragonkind was spread rapidly throughout the world."
"I see—Now that you mention it, that video's view count has accumulated to unbelievable levels now..."
Mutou-san crossed her arms and began to contemplate.
Next to speak after her was Hal. He asked Funaki-san, "About Pavel Galad—the dragon that transformed into a handsome guy—that you witnessed at Kanegafuchi last month, did you ever see him again?"
"Nope, never again. However, it seems like he's made several appearances in that area since then."
"Really!? How do you know?"
Hal leaned forward due to this unexpected news. Funaki-san laughed "fufu."
"I tried asking around near Kanegafuchi Station. After all, he's a conspicuous silver-haired foreigner. I went around and inquired 'Have you seen a hottie like him~?' and ended up with quite a lot of eyewitness accounts, mostly provided by women. I'll show you the results of the investigation in my notebook later."
"That's amazing. You're such a great help."
Funaki-san was a lively girl who loved gossip and juicy news.
Evidently, she possessed initiative and investigative ability beyond Hal's expectations. Although his original intention was merely to hire her to handle administrative matters, Hal had unintentionally secured a talented individual.
"Why not have her go with the UFO Research Club's Sakuraba-senpai to search for Galad together? I think if we just obtain some slightly more precise intel, we can leave the rest to the police..." Hal muttered.
Gathering information about dragonkind, to disclose to the general public—
This was the UFO Research Club's primary activity. And the member who stood as the club's information gathering expert was someone known as Sakuraba-senpai. He was apparently carrying out his "activities" diligently outside of school every day, which was why it was hard to find him on campus. Even Hal had never met him before.
However, Hal was finally able to obtain his contact details through Mutou-san and President M.
Someone capable of obtaining undisclosed images of leviathans through specific channels would definitely be quite reliable if he could recruit such a person to their cause.
Hal expected an audio recording of this meeting to be passed along to Sakuraba-senpai afterwards.
"By the way, about the audio records of this meeting—"
"I am in charge of that, Senpai!"
Hal allowed his sudden thought to slip out of his mouth and Hazumi immediately responded with a smile.
She had her notebook open and was writing down all kinds of things in an organized manner. A portable audio recorder was next to her hand. As Hal's assistant, she had everything meticulously prepared.
"Oh right, I have a message to pass to you, Haruga-kun."
This time, it was Orihime's turn to speak.
"A message from President M: 'Going all the way down to the basement is too much work. Just send the minutes over!' That's what she said. 'I will watch over you no matter what needs to be done, so go ahead and do it with no regrets!' She also said that."
"...Feels like a guardian angel and protective spirit combined, how reliable... I guess?"
He had tried approaching President M without expecting much, but the president ended up promising support.
Even without being present, her(?) suspicious repertoire of skills, open-mindedness and competence were still quite reliable. Hal's team lineup was gradually filling out.
At that moment, the conference room's door opened with a click.
"—Hello everyone, I've brought refreshments for you."
A rare visitor entered, carrying a convenience store bag.
It was a beautiful woman whose glasses matched her intellectual appearance very well. Having been promoted to the post of SAURU's Kantou branch chief, Hiiragi Yukari had gone out of her way to make a visit from the Yokohama branch between tasks.
Hiiragi-san put down the convenience store bag on the table where Hal's group was gathered around.
Inside was a two liter bottle of oolong tea, paper cups, several cans of coffee, snacks, etc. Then on the table, she placed a paper bag she had been carrying in her other hand.
This bag contained roasted rice crackers and had the words "roasted by hand on a coal flame" written on it.
"This is from Kenjou. I made a detour to the Mirokudou New Town branch just now and he specifically asked me to bring these along as an apology since he could not attend this meeting. He also asked me to send his regards to all of you."
Indeed, their lineup was gradually filling up.
When Hal shared his ideas with acquaintances inside SAURU, many of them ended up voicing their support. Furthermore, Hiiragi-san and Kenjou-san had promised to maintain confidentially until the time was ripe. After swearing an oath using the magic of Contract in God's Presence, they agreed to join as well.
Hal and company's plan was advancing surely and steadily.
That being said, the end goal was still very distant and there was no guarantee at all that he could follow it all the way to completion. Besides, there was still a rather challenging problem at hand.
The white dragon king—Princess Yukikaze. She was definitely not going to remain aboveboard indefinitely as now—
"...Looks like there's no need to collect more weapons for the time being. I have to catch up on other aspects first..."
Instead of speaking out loudly, Hal was muttering to himself.
Last time, he had obtained the Rune of the Twin Katana in the Izu waters. Having retrieved the aforementioned rune in secret, his dragonslaying runes were probably of sufficient quantity.
What he needed to accomplish now was a new mission whose importance was only secondary to the search for weapons.
After the meeting ended, Asya made her way to the Literature Club's room.
Her purpose was to meet President M. She was going unaccompanied. The other members had already departed.
The group had decided to get together for dinner. With Orihime and Hazumi present too, there was no need to worry about Luna taking Hal away...
"President, I've brought the minutes and the audio record of the meeting."
"Put it over there first. It's been a while. How have things been lately?"
The setting sun's rays were streaming in through the window, turning the Literature Club's room into a shade of orange.
President M was standing by the window. Her massive body, 140kg by visual estimates, was clad in what resembled a crimson maternity dress.
"A few days ago, you said on the phone that the girl called Luna has started charging around in a reckless manner recently, right?"
"Exactly! I really don't get how the gears of destiny turn. Luna suddenly said she l-l-l-likes Haruomi. It's terrible!"
Seizing the opportunity, Asya began to gripe all at once.
"Dragging Haruomi out on any pretext, she's thoroughly pursuing the tactic of spending time alone together!"
"Endlessly spamming the special attack that you want but isn't available to you, I see."
"I originally thought that the romantic comedy situation surrounding Haruga would be stuck in a stalemate with Princess Orihime in the lead, but never did I expect a black ship to arrive. At this rate, that Haruga's going to be snatched away."
"W-What makes you say that!?"
"A power play from seductive flesh imported directly from America, plus the fact that he's a lecher."
"The only hope is for the hitherto laid back princess to awaken because an unexpected rival had shown up. As for the little angel, she is at a bodily disadvantage no matter what."
"P-President, what if I could rise to the forefront now as the childhood friend—"
"Isn't that impossible? Completely hopeless. Look, here's the principle. No matter what you multiply zero by, the result is always zero. This is the law of multiplication."
"No way! Then what's the point of all the special training I've been doing till now!?"
"But you have truly made no progress... I am astounded by your incompetence."
President M's accusation was quite harsh. Asya had some self-awareness too.
"However, your tireless perseverance is one of your strong points. Even now, you are carrying out some type of plan to oppose that American girl, aren't you?"
"Y-Yes. Actually, it's to prevent Luna from monopolizing an unchallenged position."
Only now did Asya puff out her chest in pride.
"Luna has been using a hotel suite as her residence all this time, so I barged in to make my home there! This way, I can stop Luna from doing sneaky things at night!"
"You fool. If you're going to stay at someone's place, why not move into the Haruga home directly?"
"Isn't that a staple in juvenile novels aimed at inexperienced teenage boys? A cute girl invades the male character's home, thus imposing cohabitation by force. You could do the same thing and be done with it."
Listening, Asya felt that things were precisely how President M described them.
However, Asya still argued back as a maiden with a bottom line that must not be crossed no matter what.
"Th-That approach—feels repulsive after all. Invading a boy's home to live there tyrannically, that kind of thing..."
Saying that, Asya began to feel embarrassed, meanwhile feeling her cheeks turn red.
"I still think this is something that's only allowed after engagement or marriage!"
"I can't believe you're speaking like a pure and innocent main heroine when you're clearly in no position that could afford the luxury of making such statements..."
"B-But I am undoubtedly the pure and innocent main heroine, you know!?"
"Wrong. Wrong. Currently, you are undoubtedly a clownish variety idol."
"I-I can't believe you're using the twentieth-century term 'variety idol' to describe a maiden in the flower of youth!?"
"In your case, you might be better off with a case of amnesia."
"Think about it. The situation started to shift dramatically in Madan no Ou ever since T●gre lost his memory and went missing. Despite being in a completely reset state, T●gre was able to cultivate a relationship with Elizaveta at his usual pace, even conquering ×× on the side (note: Volume 9 events)."
"I-I somehow get the feeling you're alluding to a different dimension!?"
"Anyway, that's that. The situation will only grow worse if you lack the resolve necessary to turn the current situation completely upside down. Without the slightest doubt, I dare assert that."
Completely reset—Just as Asya was feeling shocked by these words...
The cellphone in her pocket suddenly sounded with a message alert. Feeling completely exhausted by the continually shocking conversation, she took out her phone almost unconsciously.
Asya checked the email and reacted with surprise.
"Mom is coming to Tokyo?"
"It's been a while, Haruomi-san. I'm glad to see Asya in such good health too."
These were Auntie Yulia's first words upon meeting Hal again after many years.
Prior to the reunion, all she had sent was a brief message stating "Heading to Tokyo tomorrow, scheduled to arrive at 11:17 at Haneda."
This message had been received on Hal and Asya's cellphones merely eighteen hours prior. As a side note, almost all of what used to be the heart of former Tokyo had been taken as territory for the Old Tokyo Concession, although the airport-less Ōta ward was excluded.
Currently, Hal and his childhood friend were sitting in a cafe inside Haneda airport.
Seated across the table and the three cups of coffee was a silver-haired woman.
Her name was Yulia Rubashvili.
In other words, Asya's mother. On top of her t-shirt, she was wearing a khaki short sleeve military shirt. On the bottom, she had a pair of black jeans. Draped over her shoulders, the light shawl accentuated her womanly charm.
"Please don't suddenly announce you're visiting the next day just like that. It's not like we're free every day either."
"Sorry, Asya. It's because the idea of making a visit only occurred to me suddenly yesterday morning."
Yulia replied calmly to her grumbling daughter.
Her voice and tone were so calm that some people might actually believe it if one were to describe her as a combat android from the future. Then there was her exquisite face. Sitting opposite this "auntie" who was present with her daughter, Hal kept thinking to himself what a beauty she was.
Not only were Asya and Auntie Yulia daughter and mother, but they also bore a strong resemblance.
Their faces could even be described as identical. Both of them possessed beautiful faces reminiscent of fairies, dreamy and delicate, combined with petite and slender figures, as well as gorgeous silver hair rich with vibes of fantasy—
However, there was a decisive difference between the two of them.
This was the fact that Auntie Yulia was a genuine cool beauty through and through.
Precisely at that moment, a middle-aged waiter brought their orders.
Pancakes, a hamburger, a club sandwich, a mille crepe, and a hot dog. Incidentally, only the hot dog at the end was what Hal had ordered to serve as a late breakfast. The rest were all Asya's orders.
After lowering her gaze to glance over this food, Auntie Yulia immediately said, "Asya, your appetite is hearty as ever."
"Don't worry. After all, a witch's job is very calorie intensive."
"Indeed, what you say is correct. Then keep eating at this rate, since all of it is for the sake of surviving the present, in order to pluck the fruit of victory in the future."
Auntie Yulia was a researcher at SAURU's headquarters in Istanbul.
Hal had heard that she used to belong to the air force of Europe's defense organization before giving birth to Asya, reaching the rank of major prior to her retirement.
As a result, she would sometimes speak with inexplicable strictness.
Encouraged by such a mother, Asya's eyes instantly lit up.
"As expected of you, Mom, you understand me best!"
"As for the price to be paid, perhaps you will have to bear the risk of ending up with your grandmother's obese figure. Well, this is theoretically unavoidable. I also believe that there is no need to sacrifice combat potential for the sake of dieting. Oh, but Asya, you must take precautions against diabetes—"
"D-Don't list out these potential risks if you're going to encourage me to eat more!"
Hal observed the mother and daughter's conversation while eating his hot dog.
He had set off from his home at Narihira Bridge without eating breakfast this morning, hence this was his first meal of the day. Come to think of it, Auntie Yulia's age was still impossible to guess from appearance.
With her fifteen-year-old daughter by her side, they looked like sisters.
To be honest, she was a woman who surpassed Asya in terms of the "Fairy Index."
"By the way, Auntie Yulia, you were on a business trip in Indonesia until yesterday, right? Is that why you took the chance to visit Tokyo New Town while you were at it?"
"Indeed. You are very up-to-date, Haruomi-san."
"Even as her daughter, I haven't heard about this."
"It's nothing really, because it was written in the fan club's newsletter. Auntie Yulia had already arrived at the Jakarta branch last week."
"E-Even you, Haruomi, have joined that suspicious club!?"
"How troubling. To think that I'm being treated as a celebrity when I am nothing more than an ordinary SAURU researcher. Frankly speaking, this is quite problematic for me."
"After all, Auntie Yulia, you're not only pretty but also a wonderful person too."
Seventy-eight SAURU members across the world had joined the "Club of Unlimited Support for the Exquisitely Beautiful Ms. Yulia." In fact, Hal had already joined as a member five years ago.
Hal put on a serious expression then said, "There are quite a lot of people who want Auntie to step on them or give them cold stares."
"How very troubling..."
"Gah. I-In that case, why don't they praise the daughter who is younger and more tender, or treat me like an idol? The men of SAURU are seriously blind!"
"Well then, I think it's time for me to get going."
There should be plenty of catching up between mother and daughter. Hal tried to show his considerate side, but Auntie Yulia shook her head and suddenly said, "Haruomi-san, this visit of mine to Tokyo actually includes business with you."
"Didn't you send me an email a while ago? 'I hope you could provide details if you happen to know about the King Solomon case my father handled in the past.'"
" "——!" "
Hal and Asya gasped in unison.
After all, their families had been acquainted for generations. Asya's grandmother and her deceased father both knew Hal and his father.
To think that a source of information would immediately fly to him from nearby like the proverbial blue bird of fortune—
Auntie Yulia began to explain patiently...
"The problem with Asya is that even if you try to knock her out with a sedative, she'd detect it through taste and scent. She's almost like a wild beast."
The location was the luxury hotel where Luna Francois made her residence.
Hal was seated facing her in a lounge at this hotel. Hal had ordered a coffee while Luna had grapefruit juice. The two of them had picked table seating. It was after 7pm and if Hal and Luna were adults, they would probably be sitting side by side next to the window, drinking alcoholic beverages at this hour.
Unfortunately, both of them were still minors.
"There has been more than one occasion when I wanted to mix sleep medication into Asya's food so that I could invite you out for an evening spin while she was sleeping. However, I always dismissed the notion due to the high probability of futility. Whatever, there is no shortage of measures as long as I get serious, after all."
Hal laughed dryly. If chances of success were fifty-fifty, Luna Francois would definitely drug Asya without any hesitation.
"However, you are at fault too, Harry."
"Yes. I've clearly confessed my feelings to you, haven't I? Besides, we can immediately become a couple as soon as you consent. With that, a mere childhood friend like Asya will have neither right nor reason to interfere."
"It's all because you're imitating the romantic comedy staple of withholding your answer indecisively. That's why Asya could seize the opportunity to start interfering."
"Speaking of which, she's been staying at your place for now, right?"
"Although I could refuse and ask her to leave, the most that would accomplish is drive her over to the suite adjacent to mine. Since it's too much trouble, I tolerated her."
Just like Luna Francois, Asya was also a master-class witch.
Due to the financial compensation for their battle accomplishments so far, they had accumulated massive funds (Luna's level could even be called "an estate"). Even willfully splurging on expensive suites at luxury hotels would not cause much of a burden.
Hal could not help but tilt his head.
"Why is that girl Asya so intent on hindering you, Luna? Even when I asked her, all I got for an answer was that she had to keep the reason a secret from me."
"Ah wonduh whahy? How baffling, ah dudn geddit either."
"Hmm? Were you speaking a bit strangely just now?"
"Nope. You imagined it, Harry♪"
After chuckling with an impish smile, Luna Francois leaned forward.
"So, what did you figure out after talking to Asya's mother? You met up this morning, didn't you?"
"Nothing much, I tried asking about the whole story of how Pops got his hands on the flint... Turns out it wasn't a spectacular adventure story like Indiana Jones at all."
Shrugging, Hal began to recount.
—It happened to have taken place during the year 2000 CE exactly.
That was when dragonkind had recently returned to earth. Hal's father and Auntie Yulia were working at SAURU's New York branch. One day, the branch staff discovered a set of ancient artifacts named the "the posthumous writings of the great mage, King Solomon, and the cursed stone."
The one who deciphered Solomon's posthumous writings would be able to inherit the king's fortune.
The stone was a key leading to great power. Dragons would tear the holder apart. Hence, confidentiality was paramount.
...It sounded like a very fake advertisement.
No magical power could be detected from either the document regarded as Solomon's posthumous writings or the accompanying stone. Even so, Hal's father and Auntie Yulia still went through with the appraisal process just in case.
On that day, New York proceeded to be assaulted by numerous dragons.
"The Great Attack in the Year 2000... refers to that?"
"Yeah, that's the one. Leading his Army of Fire composed of a thousand Raptors, Hannibal arrived at New York by air, delivering a devastating blow to the US military in that attack."
Hal nodded in confirmation to Luna Francois' question.
"Incinerated by the flames of war, Manhattan Island was directly annexed by Hannibal to become his territory, thus giving rise to the Old Manhattan Concession."
"The so-called 'Great Attack' was quite a dramatic situation in and of itself."
"Yeah. After that, Pops and Auntie Yulia fled in desperation with only their personal belongings to evacuate from the streets that were under attack from Raptors. Back then, Pops happened to take that Solomon's stone by chance, which is also the flint I came across twenty years later."
Indeed. This was the secret stone hidden inside the Clockwork Mage.
"During their escape, Pops and Auntie Yulia were pursued relentlessly by a Raptor, unable to shake it off despite using stealth magic many times. Only after making their getaway successfully at last did they begin to suspect—Perhaps this was due to that 'dragons would tear the holder apart' curse."
As the story went, the stone was handed over to Hal's father in the end, who promised to contact Auntie Yulia immediately if he discovered anything.
"However, many years passed after that but Pops never initiated contact about the matter. Auntie Yulia completely forgot about it too."
Hal had previously tried to gather information about the flint—He wrote emails to those acquainted with his father.
But in the end, no one responded, not even Auntie Yulia. Simply mentioning "his father had hidden a stone belonging to the dragons" as a clue was not enough to jog Auntie Yulia's memory.
However, thanks to the "Solomon" keyword this time, his investigation did not run into the same problem...
"What follows is just my speculation. I think Pops probably kept that stone by his side to observe—And ended up with no results, which is why he didn't leave behind any information about the flint."
"Then why did he hide the stone in his pocket watch?"
"Because Pops has a finicky tendency just like me. He tried to obey the legend and hide the stone, so on a playful whim, he chose to hide it in his pocket watch, then he probably forgot all about it."
Hal brought up his unfounded speculation.
But considering his father's personality, his hunch was very likely to be correct.
"If he was seriously trying to hide it, he would've picked a safer and more secure hiding place. If he seriously considered it worthy of research, he would've left complete records behind at least."
"Speaking of which, Harry, there's one detail that I find concerning."
Luna Francois interjected at that moment.
"According to the current theory, the other artifact left behind at the SAURU branch in Old Manhattan... is very likely to be King Solomon's posthumous writings, is that right?"
"Yeah, I'd bet on it."
In fact, he had been reviewing satellite images with Asya this afternoon.
This was the latest photographic data of the Old Manhattan Concession taken by spy satellite. Standing tall silently in the Upper East Side area, it had escaped destruction from dragonkind's fires...
Luna's eyes instantly lit up after hearing about it.
"Then we must set off on an expedition to Old Manhattan. Obtaining King Solomon's fortune, which stood equal to the flint, should bring benefits without drawbacks."
"Yeah, you're right."
"For the past few months, our combat potential has increased dramatically... But still, it is not enough to take dragon king-class opponents head on. It is necessary to keep gaining experience to strengthen our combat power."
"Perhaps you're right."
Hal agreed with Luna from the bottom of his heart.
Truth be told, he had no confidence in securing a draw if he were to face Princess Yukikaze in a rematch. He barely survived the June battle only thanks to deploying the Crimson Queen as a surprise factor.
"Since weapon quantity has progressed swimmingly, it's time to trigger events like spectacular attack spells or ultimate summoned contracted beasts, etc."
"Yes, in order to pursue such possibilities, King Solomon's fortune is ultimately—"
"I'd really like to get my hands on it before the others. But the fact that the treasure is located at the Old Manhattan Concession would be a risk factor."
Hal muttered and Luna Francois responded with a smile.
"Nothing ventured, nothing gained, Harry. Commit your determination and let us head out on an expedition to America? How about stopping by the West Coast along the way and make an appearance at my house?"
"Oh... Actually, about that..."
Hal found himself at a loss for words momentarily, unable to bring up his core purpose in visiting Luna tonight.
"I hope you could stay in Tokyo New Town, Luna."
"Eh!? What do you mean by that, Harry!?"
"Old Manhattan is considered the most dangerous zone even among concession territories. Old Tokyo can't compare to it at all. If we're going to infiltrate it, Asya and I should be the ones to do it, just the two of us. In addition, there's no telling how long we have to be away from Tokyo... It wouldn't be good idea if both you and Asya were out of the country."
Through the Izu expedition earlier, Hal understood that Luna Francois was not the physical type.
In a situation where demands on stealth movement, survival skills, mobility and magic must all be met, the Asya-Hal combination would be the ideal choice. Conversely, if one of the two had to stay behind to defend Tokyo, Luna was also more suitable than the Georgian girl.
Not only did she wield a witch's power but also influence as a SAURU cadre.
Apart from that, she was a strong negotiator stemming from her ability to make judgment calls accounting for the big picture. Perhaps realizing it herself, Luna murmured glumly, "Well, since one of us must remain behind, I am confident that I could do a better job than Asya... However, Harry, this is a rare chance to go traveling!"
"A-Although it's traveling, it's also a business trip at the same time."
"Hmph. In any case, you're asking me to hold the fort with Orihime-san and Hazumi-san, aren't you?"
"As for that... Since it's a rare chance to visit the East Coast, I plan on bringing Juujouji and Shirasaka along. Making a trip to Salem should be a good experience for them."
A vortex of anger suddenly swirled in Luna's blue eyes—but it lasted only an instant before returning to the shine of rationality. Looking at Hal with a challenging gaze, she said in a sulk, "Then in that case, Harry, I will obey you if you give me a present right now."
"Huh, a present?"
"Yes, an advance reward for me, who will be holding the fort alone."
"Even if you tell me that suddenly... I don't know what to give you."
"It's very simple—If I do this, you ought to understand, right?"
Currently, the two of them were conversing with a low table between them.
Luna Francois suddenly drew her face up close to Hal's face. Then she closed her eyes, presenting her adorable and beautiful face in a seductive and vulnerable display!
"Hurry up, Harry. Give me my reward kiss."
"Yes. Haven't the two of us done something similar not too long ago? Don't worry."
"B-But there are people around. And besides, we're not dating."
"It is a reward precisely because there are people watching. Besides, this has nothing to do with dating or not. I have already gone as far as to grant you permission."
Hal still faltered. Although guests at a hotel lounge at 7pm were not numerous, they were not absent either. In addition, there were three or four members staff on standby...
However, a voice surfaced in his heart.
—Unless Luna is satisfied, she won't agree to staying behind on defense duty. She might even take a flight to the East Coast in pursuit...
Armed with this theoretical backing, Hal was coerced into complying.
Timidly, he approached Luna's beautiful face and planted a kiss gently on her lips.
At that very moment, it became Luna Francois' turn to attack. She sucked and pecked Hal's lips lightly, savoring him tenderly.
Covering Hal's lips with her own, Luna sucked with audible smooching.
Finally, she even inserted her tongue to entangle Hal's, thoroughly enjoying the taste of a passionate kiss.
During this time, Hal could neither resist nor think, simply frozen on the spot.
This kiss persisted for roughly two or three minutes. Luna Francois slowly relaxed her lips and looked at Hal's face with rapture and desire.
"It is a request from my beloved Harry after all. I shall be an obedient girl this time."
"However, don't forget to reward me next time you need a favor, okay? Otherwise, I might shoot you in the back, Harry. With a large-caliber rifle meant for hunting elephants!"
Ten minutes after parting ways from Luna Francois at the lounge...
The pounding in Hal's heart still had not subsided while he walked to the hotel lobby with unsteady footsteps. This was already his second time sharing a kiss with Luna Francois. Every time was such an intense shock—
Just as he was walking in a daze, someone suddenly spoke to him.
"Haruomi, how did it go on handling Luna's side of things?"
He jumped in fright, only to see that the speaker was Asya.
"You just went to see her to ask her to stay back, right? What's the result?"
"I-It went very well, yes! After I told her the reason, she definitely understood!"
"Really? Looks like it was right to have you tell her directly, Haruomi."
Had Asya been present, negotiations might have broken down.
Hal had gone to meet Luna alone precisely because he was worried about that.
However, the scheming American girl could also kidnap Hal and take him out to the streets at night. Asya was probably waiting in the lobby for him to prevent that possibility.
After hearing about the outcome, Asya nodded with apparent satisfaction.
"Although I felt uneasy letting you go alone, Haruomi, dear me, with so many eyes in the hotel after all, even someone as audacious as Luna would have no choice but to behave!"
"Roight. Yeah, no problemo, totally no problemo!"
"? Haruomi, why are suddenly speaking in a funny way?"
"N-No, I didn't. Let's go home sooner to make preparations before the trip."
They had informed Orihime and Hazumi beforehand and he two girls had agreed to go to America together.
Although there was the uncertain factor of Princess Yukikaze using Old Tokyo as her base, the prey that might be found in Old Manhattan was too attractive.
After the Solomon Islands, another departure from Japan to overseas—
Hal and Asya exchanged nods and walked to the hotel's entrance together.
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