Leviathan:Volume 5 Chapter 2
Chapter 2 - Road of Salem
Going to the American East Coast required a long-haul flight over twelve hours long.
The time of arrival was around 9am on the morning of August 5. Hal looked up at the North American sky that he had not seen for quite some time. It was so blue that it compelled the viewer to relax in leisure.
Were this the West Coast, perhaps he would be able to use the description of "sunny and refreshing."
However, as soon as he stepped out of the airport into the outdoors, he was instantly greeted by the humid and stuffy atmosphere. Unlike the West Coast's dry climate, the East Coast was quite wet.
Hal and his group had landed at Logan Airport in Boston.
Immediately, they suffered from a hot and stuffy environment similar to Japan's.
"Hazumi!? You are looking very pale. Are you alright!?"
"Y-Yes, I feel very uncomfortable, but if I rest somewhere cool and shaded, I probably..."
Orihime hurried over to look after Hazumi who had suddenly crouched down.
One could hardly blame her. After being locked in an airplane for more than half a day then encountering this sort of summer heat immediately after disembarking. Not only that, but there was also a thirteen-hour time difference between Boston and Tokyo New Town.
"This humidity and heat, combined with the mental strain caused by jet lag..."
"Even for me and Haruomi, this is tough..."
Hal grumbled and Asya murmured irritably too.
This was an air journey from the islands of Japan to the United States. Compared to flying west to places such as Europe or the Middle East, eastbound flights produced more severe symptoms of jet lag, since it involved moving opposite to the Earth's rotation, after all.
If even Hal and Asya, who were used to traveling, were suffering, it went without saying for Hazumi with her weaker constitution.
As a side note, the junior witch, who was susceptible to feeling unwell from overexposure to both direct sunlight and air-conditioning, was dressed in a summer dress with floral markings with a cardigan on top as well as sunglasses and a straw hat.
"That being said, Orihime-san seems to be doing well..."
"Me? I guess it's because I slept well on the plane?"
With Asya staring at her, Orihime answered matter-of-factly.
Dressed in a tank top and an open-shoulder cutsew paired with a white miniskirt, she was the only one lively and energetic, despite claiming beforehand that her overseas traveling experience only consisted of Hawaii, Tahiti and Korea. Hal felt drained yet impressed.
"It's probably due to a fundamental difference in physical endurance too..."
In terms of vitality in a broad sense, Asya should be unparalleled.
But in the case of pure physical endurance, there was probably no one who could surpass the athletic girl whose past feats included national kendo champion... However, it was at this moment that Hal realized.
He was supposed to hold a clear advantage in the form of the suspicious power of dragonbane.
In spite of that, he was still suffering from jet lag. This was most likely proof that he was "still human." If there ever came a day when not only time zones but even the presence of air no longer mattered to him—
Ending this unpleasant thought, Hal spoke up.
"I'm going to rent a car. You girls take care of Shirasaka."
Leaving on his own, he walked towards a bus parked in front of the airport.
The bus was imprinted with a rental company's logo. Since the actual parking lot of the rental cars was some distance away, one had to go there via the free shuttle service.
Hal and ten-odd other travelers boarded the bus.
Thirty minutes after making his way to the rental company he had booked ahead of time, Hal drove a Japanese-made light sedan back to the airport to meet up with his friends.
After occupying the front passenger seat, Asya said, "A corrected routine will help eliminate the fatigue from jet lag! Anyway, Haruomi, let's go for breakfast first!"
"Come on, weren't you eating donuts at the airport just now?"
That being said, it would be a good idea to take a break before embarking on a long-distance drive.
Hal drove the car and stopped in front of a nearby burger shop. Since Boston was a city he had visited a number of times before, he knew his way around somewhat.
"Isn't Manhattan our destination? That would be in New York, right?"
They were at a hamburger chain quite famous domestically in America.
After finding seats inside the shop, Orihime asked in puzzlement.
"But isn't Boston in the state of Massachusetts?"
"Yes. The institute of technology bearing the state's name is also very famous. This is the state's capital."
"It sort of counts as being to the right of New York State, right? But the two states are really big, so Boston and Old Manhattan have no connection at all."
After listening to Hal and Asya's explanations, Orihime tilted her head.
"In that case, why did we come to Boston?"
"I wanted to make a detour—to visit Salem."
Hearing the name of the place Hal had spoken quietly, Hazumi reacted.
Although she had collapsed for a while, it looked like her condition improved with the help of cold orange juice and air-conditioning indoors and within the car. Timidly, she said, "I've heard of it before. I remember it was during a periodic training session on witch knowledge."
"I figured. This city of Salem was the stage for witch hunts during the seventeenth century, you know?"
" "Witch hunts!?" "
"I decided after discussing with Asya. It would be good experience if you two could visit that place once, Juujouji and Shirasaka."
"We have a tea party scheduled with the 'Grandmas' this afternoon."
Hearing the unsettling subject of witch hunts, the two Japanese witches were rendered speechless.
A meeting with their "seniors" had been arranged for Orihime and Hazumi without giving them advance notice or time for mental preparation. Hal and Asya had intentionally not told them.
"It's not like they'll eat you alive. Relax."
Saying that, Asya immediately reached for the paper box before her.
What she picked up was a king-size bacon burger. After ripping open the aluminum foil for keeping it warm, she took a great bite. The 100% beef patties were stacked in three layers and topped with thick grilled bacon. It looked plenty impressive.
As a side note, this burger chain's selling point was that it did not use any frozen meat whatsoever.
In addition, there was a king-size cheeseburger and fries (extra large) in front of Asya.
"S-Such impressive quantities."
Hazumi's eyes were round while she stared at the outrageous amount of fries.
Carrying a small mountain of french fries, the container should be called a "paper bucket." The amount was so great that it would be more than enough to feed a Japanese family of four.
"This is a chain whose expansion is centered around the East Coast. In addition to abundant quantities, they also offer great flavor."
"Well, I can't believe you're free to choose this kind of size at a shop that doesn't cater to big eaters in particular. Land of the free indeed."
"So this amount isn't a meal combo meant for a whole family to share?" Orihime asked the emphatically muttering Hal in a whisper while Asya was heartily enjoying the fulfilling nature of American portion sizes.
"No no no, their main target demographic should be active guys in high school and college. I happened to see someone order this meal earlier, but gave up on finishing it in the end. Powerful contenders capable of finishing it only show up once in a while, apparently... like Asya."
Apart from Asya, the remaining three had ordered a regular-size fries to share, paired with cold drinks to soothe their parched throats, thus enjoying a short break.
After spending forty minutes in the burger shop's cool environment, Hal's group got in their car and drove to Salem.
The drive from Boston took less than an hour.
With only a population of forty thousand, Salem was a quiet port city. Brick buildings could be seen everywhere. Overall, the streets seemed quite old. Compared to Boston with its abundant skyscrapers, the contrast was striking.
"There are quite a lot of cute buildings with nice atmospheres."
"It feels a bit like a drama set."
"This area consists of relatively old buildings or houses. They were mostly built during the seventeenth century."
While Orihime and Hazumi were looking out the car window happily, Hal nodded and explained.
"I don't know if he used the scenery here for inspiration, but during the 1920s, a guy called Lovecraft wrote a horror novel featuring a city very similar to Salem. For fans of that genre, this place is like a pilgrimage site."
"Haruomi and I used to play 'The window! The window!' and 'Sneaking into Innsmouth' at an old mansion in this city. We had so much fun."
"? Was there something at the window?"
"Although I have no idea how it was played, I can imagine it being mischief without a fear of God..."
Next to the puzzled Hazumi, Orihime smiled wryly in exasperation.
But she immediately changed the subject.
"By the way, Haruga-kun, you mentioned witch hunts earlier..."
"Simply put, they happened back when America was still a British colony. At the time, girls living in Salem would play a game imitating a seance."
"I presume it was something quite similar to divination games in Japan like Kokkuri-san or Angel-san," Asya added from the front passenger seat.
"Girls in puberty trying out occult games with a playful mindset."
"However, preachers and officials raised an uproar when they found out and arrested all the girls, locking them in prison to carry out witch trials, finally executing them."
" "......" "
"From there, things unfolded like medieval witch hunts. Only five or six people were arrested in the beginning but suspicions of women being witches kept spreading throughout the city. In the end, the number of people arrested reached as high as three digits. Only after dozens of people had lost their lives did the government finally step in to bring the whole incident under control."
Facing the speechless Orihime and Hazumi, Asya shrugged and said, "This incident stands as an important historical lesson about the cruelties of mass hysteria, passed down to the current day. However, I believe that the current Salem is just a simple and friendly town."
With casual conversation going on during the drive, they soon reached the destination.
It was a house located in the countryside of Salem. Within the premises enclosed by a perimeter of high walls was a beautiful, carefully maintained garden. After going through the gate, they had to proceed—another twenty minutes. Of course, it was by car.
At the entrance to the house was an oval plaza resembling a bus terminal.
Hal parked the car on the side. There were several vehicles apart from theirs, including luxury German cars, old American cars and even a half truck.
Thanks to that, Hal's Japanese car was not particularly conspicuous.
Also, the solemn and majestic mansion in front of them was built in a oblong shape with three floors.
This was the "country house" style that English nobles liked to use for their rural palatial residences. The "old mansion" setting used in novels and movies mostly followed this type too.
"Umm... Senpai." Perhaps due to her piqued curiosity, Hazumi asked from the back seat.
"What kind of place is this? A museum... of sorts?"
"No, it's just a personal residence. A certain old lady's estate."
"Really? It took a long time getting here from the main gate, you know?"
Adjacent to Hazumi, Orihime was also staring wide-eyed. As a side note, this garden was four times as big as the Tokyo Dome in area.
Asya shrugged and said, "Rich people in America often build houses on unnecessarily big plots of land. Not only swimming pools, but they even put golf courses into their gardens too. Well, this place is actually pretty low-key for a wealthy family in that range."
"If I remember correctly, Miss Erick's family made their fortune through the futures market, right?"
"Yes. She secretly used her powers as a witch to predict wheat and soy production the following year, thereby profiting in the process."
Orihime asked Asya and Hal about the word that had appeared in the conversation.
"Yeah. Rather than the magi known as witches nowadays, a real witch."
"Today, we are going to meet the matriarch of this household and her friends, a couple of old ladies. They are all witches—they use traditional spells and concoct potions, etc... In other words, they are a group of old ladies who use magic."
"They were the benefactors back when SAURU first started as a research organization, providing magical knowledge as the brains and funding operations as sponsors."
"All of us, members of SAURU, call them the 'Grandmas.'"
It was the second day of the America expedition.
Yesterday, Hal and his friends had left the grand mansion in the Salem countryside around evening time then drove to their hotel in Boston City, thus giving themselves a good rest after the lengthy traveling.
Deciding it would be a good idea to go sightseeing in leisure the next day, the group made their way to the seaside early in the day.
Boston was the state capital of Massachusetts, a port city with a long history dating back to the British colonial era.
Hal and friends embarked on a staple of sightseeing in this ancient city, a whale watching cruise. It was a gigantic tourist ship with a capacity of over two hundred passengers.
"But yesterday, I was honestly surprised."
Drinking iced coffee from a paper cup, Orihime grumbled.
She had just bought it from a vendor on the ship. The group had out to the deck. Although there was no air-conditioning, the sea breeze's refreshing coolness served as a substitute. The sight of splashing waves was dazzling.
"Although they were a group of friendly old ladies, the atmosphere there was too unique... Don't tell me you took us there without telling us because you wanted to surprise us?"
"Hahahahaha, don't be upset."
"We believed that things would go well even without explaining beforehand, given your communication skills, Orihime-san and Hazumi-san. As expected of you two, you were able to play along with us flawlessly."
Seeing Hal dismiss his friends' misgivings with a laugh, Asya provided additional explanation.
Hal thought back to the "tea party" the day before.
Led by a middle-aged butler, the group arrived at the tearoom in the house.
There were seven or eight old ladies chatting happily away while savoring black tea or coffee in leisure. The refreshments on the table included muffins, scones, kidney pie, raspberry pie, etc. As a side note, all of them were hand made.
"Dear Grandmas, allow me to introduce these two magi from Tokyo New Town."
Asya extended her hand towards Orihime and Hazumi to introduce them first.
"Oh my, is that so?" "Visitors from such a faraway land." "Wow, you are still so young." "Would you like some delicious snacks? Please help yourselves."
Smiling cordially, they greeted the guests from Tokyo and even called the youngest, Hazumi, over to their side and handed muffins and scones to her one after another.
Meanwhile, Hal the interpreter was completely ignored.
As a dragonslaying rune holder, Haruga Haruomi's fame had risen like a helicopter within SAURU.
However, the Grandmas were completely uninterested in news of that sort. Without showing any surprise or reaction at the sight of Hal, they probably pegged him as merely "the one looking after the girls from Tokyo."
The Grandmas enjoyed their tea and conversed as they pleased.
Soon, they started sharing their "insight as witches" with the girls from Tokyo New Town.
"We witches" "must conceal our true identities." "As serpent users, you must take particular care." "Enough people have suffered at the hands of trumped up charges." "Yes, the populace can sometimes turn into demons even more terrifying than dragons."
In a laid back tone paired with the style of gentle old ladies, they murmured about the distrust of mankind.
Hal and Asya translated every sentence while Orihime and Hazumi listened quietly with slightly troubled smiles.
Regarding the fearsome ferocity of dragonkind, what the Grandmas had to say was—
"Although the serpents and the little magi girls are working very hard—" "they are still no match" "against the dragons." "We witches of old" "are able to read the flow of the future." "Darkness lies ahead."
Despite a tone that was not somber, they spoke after one another to predict a bleak future.
The conversation kept continuing with such topics to accompany the tea. Orihime and Hazumi maintained their lovely smiles while concurring repeatedly as many as a hundred times.
In the end, the tea party dragged on from noon all the way until 4pm.
It was all because the Grandmas talked nonstop.
As a side note, while Hal was calmly focused on interpreting, Asya spent the whole time quietly munching on pie and muffins except when helping Hal out every now and then...
"If the girls contracted with leviathans are magi, then those old ladies would be sorceresses."
The whale watching cruise sailed smoothly.
After Asya spoke on the deck, enjoying the sea breeze, Hal added an explanation.
"If you trace back the foundation SAURU's magical knowledge back to the source, most of it was provided by the Grandmas. Due to this, their word is quite influential."
"Although only about twenty of them are still alive, the Grandmas live quietly, gathered together in places like Salem and Budapest. It is also their wish that information about witches and leviathans be kept out of public knowledge."
As a side note, for unknown reasons, the Grandmas chose to live secluded in cities with a history of witch persecution.
It was probably meant as a lesson to junior witches to never forget the mistakes of the past, but—
Asya sighed lightly.
"Those with special powers should keep the truth hidden. This is to prevent the tragedies and persecutions of the past from repeating... Sigh, I understand there are advantages to doing things this way, but it's too conservative. There are many aspects that make it unsuitable for the twenty-first century..."
"Partly because of the presence of dragonkind, definitely, but it's also because they're not part of the gaming generation."
Seeing Hal remark poignantly, Orihime asked, "Is there a relationship between gaming and witches?"
"Well, I believe that the popularization of home consoles and the resulting spread of RPG knowledge has made the concept of 'magic' permeate greatly through ordinary society."
"In recent years, the term MP has entered common usage in many countries."
"When explaining the usage restriction on pseudo-divinity, people get it straight away when you say 'out of magic points.'"
"Nowadays, even if a young thirteen-year-old witch were to start a home delivery service, people will only watch over her with gentle eyes."
Hal and Asya explained in alternation to the baffled Orihime. Hearing this, the well-bred Japanese young lady could not help but smile wryly. Then she suddenly asked, "Speaking of which, where did Hazumi run off to?"
At that moment, Hal noticed it too. There were no signs of Hazumi on the deck.
The youngest of the group, the middle school student, not only had a reliable personality but was also resourceful. However, this was still her first time traveling abroad, no matter what. Worried, Hal, Asya and Orihime looked inside the ship.
Then they immediately found Hazumi.
Since this was a large ship, the interior was very spacious, even enough to hold a basketball match.
There were sofas placed next to the windows on the left and right so that tourists could enjoy the sea view in leisure. Hazumi was standing before one of these sofas.
However, a haughty prepubescent girl, dressed in a scarlet kimono, was sitting in the sofa.
Hinokagutsuchi indeed. She had apparently materialized without them noticing. Facing the proud former dragon queen, Hazumi handed over a paper cup filled with some kind of beverage.
"...I-I bought you the orange juice you wanted!"
"Mm-hmm, thank you. As a reward, I permit you to sit next to me."
"Y-Yes. Uh... Umm, excuse me."
Hazumi sat down on the sofa rather apprehensively.
Since a young girl in a kimono was too conspicuous a sight, the surrounding passengers' gazes gathered upon them. However, Hinokagutsuchi sipped her juice through a straw, completely unfazed by those gazes. She must have ordered Hazumi to buy it for her as an errand.
Hal and company walked over to the girl and the ghost in their party.
"You sure know how to enjoy yourself..."
"Nonsense. I am simply taking a break. Besides, ultimately—"
Hinokagutsuchi replied instantly to Hal's opening line with a tone of derision.
"This is a journey specifically by ship to watch whales, isn't it? Be that as it may, aren't the little serpents summoned frequently by you even more exotic creatures?"
"Summoning magically crafted creatures and observing wildlife have completely different meanings."
"Is that so? True, ancient humans would regard gigantic beasts as 'substitutes for gods' and decide on their own to establish worship."
"That's right. Besides, speaking of whales, they were considered 'sea gods' in standing by Japanese people in the past."
Hal nodded in agreement with what Hinokagutsuchi said.
Ever since antiquity, humans had treated animals as divine messengers or even worshiped them as deities themselves.
In the present day, the precepts of Hinduism still promote cattle as sacred beasts and extend preferential treatment to them. Totem worship where wild animals were worshiped as tribal ancestors or guardian deities existed all over the world. Even in Japan, there were shrines that regarded animals—birds, monkeys, boards, wolves, snakes, etc—as divine messengers.
In Japan, the whale was not only a hunted prey but also a sacred beast at the same time.
"Speaking of which, this has bothered me for a while now."
"The True Genbu-Ou that showed up at Tokyo New Town a little while ago... I remember it being mentioned as a composite creature similar to leviathans, right? In other words, are our 'serpents' able to acquire 'goddess power' like True Genbu-Ou?"
"It is not impossible—Or rather, I should say it is 'theoretically possible.'"
Hinokagutsuchi kept the straw in her mouth while answering.
After moistening her throat with the juice, she tossed the empty cup to one side. Hazumi hastily reached out to catch it.
"Having become a great expert on the path of unorthodoxy, Solomon took the creatures originally regarded as 'substitutes for gods,' processed them using synthesis magic, enlarged their bodies, and modified their savage nature, thus making them reborn as 'imitation dragons.' Hence, that was how your serpents arose."
With the obedient Hazumi waiting on her like a maidservant, Hinokagutsuchi seemed to be in a good mood.
Hal did not know if that was the reason, but she was now talking freely about topics she used to refrain from giving details.
"Consequently, what you lot need to do is reawaken the sacred visage that dwells in the depths of serpent souls to begin with—"
"Specifically, how do we do that?"
Hinokagutsuchi scoffed "hmph" at Asya's question.
"Do not bother asking clever little questions of that sort. There is no such technique."
"No such technique!?"
"I have mentioned this before. Despite being fakes, they are ultimately connected to the lineage of the gods. Trying to exert wanton control over them would be an act of disrespect. The likes of you ought to respect human bounds and go no further than to offer sincere prayers. Should your prayer reach the goddess within the serpent, naturally, she would grant you an act of charity or two."
"Well, out of you lot, the one who is capable of accomplishing this—"
Having said that, Hinokagutsuchi suddenly vanished.
An instant before disappearing, she had glanced at the girl beside her. This was probably not coincidence. After all, Hazumi always listened to Hinokagutsuchi's every word attentively with a serious expression.
—At that moment, an announcement was broadcast in English.
"Oh, I think it's saying that whales can be seen port side."
Hazumi's eyes glowed after she heard Hal's report. The sofa they were at right now happened to be port side. The group all focused their attention and looked out the window.
Stretching endlessly outside the sightseeing ship was the view of Massachusetts Bay's blue waves.
Soon after, Hal and the girls witnessed a gigantic black body surrounded by flowing seawater. It was probably fourteen or fifteen meters high, reaching the same standards as leviathans.
"Hazumi! Go outside and look through a telescope!"
Orihime suggested in excitement and her younger cousin replied immediately.
Returning to port after the whale watching tour, it happened to be noon.
Hal silently gestured with his eyes and the group set off with Asya in the lead. Their destination was a restaurant specializing in seafood cuisine. After having lunch there with lobster as the main course, they continued their sightseeing in the afternoon.
As a side note, Hal and Asya had a little discussion after the meal.
"Since we're in Boston already, how about another visit to Salem? A pilgrimage tour to relive the Prohibition Era of Lovecraft's time and step foot upon the various lands of the Great Old Ones."
"Denied. Given that we're in Boston..."
Asya decisively rejected Hal's suggestion.
"How about visiting the museum of John Manjiro, the great explorer who was born in Japan during the Bakumatsu era when the nation was still closed off? It's only a short drive away."
"Ahem. Excuse me, you two, please arrange an itinerary that's more considerate towards people who are visiting America for the first time♪"
Finally, to fulfill Orihime's request, the group started urban sightseeing within Boston.
—As a side note, John Manjiro, also known as Nakahama Manjirou, was shipwrecked in the Pacific Ocean when he was fourteen years old.
It was during the Bakumatsu era when Japan pursued an isolationist policy. John had to survive as a cast away for as long as a month.
However, he was miraculously rescued by an American whaleboat, thus bringing him to America. Thereafter, he became a first-rate navigator and explorer before returning to his home country of Japan in the end. Although Asya felt deeply empathetic to his plight, at this moment, she had completely forgotten him and was enjoying the urban sightseeing.
From the waterfront by the sea to the prosperous downtown.
Following such a route, they could experience the street scenery woven together from modern skyscrapers and brick buildings whose style dated back to the earlier half of the nineteenth century. This commercial district was a must-see attraction for tourists to Boston.
While Orihime and Hazumi were strolling leisurely, a general store caught their eye.
Fashionable and adorable trinkets were displayed on the tasteful shelves. The two Japanese witches looked at these goods together while chatting with smiles on their faces.
"...We definitely wouldn't come across this kind of store if it was just the two of us."
"...On the other hand, we do frequently visit dusty shops that carry unearthed objects that appear to be related to our work."
Withdrawing to a corner inside the store, Asya and Hal conversed in whispers.
"Time for the social studies tour to end. Old Manhattan is up next."
"Sneaking into the lair of dragonkind's great king in search of treasure so as to find a way to oppose the dragon princess—Isn't this kind of putting the cart before the horse?"
"Let's pray that the great king won't jump out himself and say 'A monster has appeared!'..."
The two of them were planning to infiltrate the Old Manhattan Concession, the territory of Red Hannibal.
Even so, Asya was still quite relaxed in mood.
After all, Luna was not around. Without that vixen trying to bewitch Hal using underhanded means, she was able to calmly take on the challenge to build a new relationship with her childhood friend.
First of all, she had to obtain at least one accomplishment during this America expedition.
For example... Yes. Before the conclusion of the trip, she must make Hal say this:
'Although I failed to notice until now, Asya, you're really... very pretty.' Something like that.
For this purpose, it might be a good idea for her to put on her victory outfit and dress up properly.
Right now, she was still dressed in a short-sleeve blouse paired with a miniskirt, but had removed the flight jacket she was always wearing. Simulating a fashion show in her mind, Asya began to review her options.
Plan 1: How about a frilly one-piece dress to emphasize her cuteness and femininity? Then pair that with a black officer coat (styled like the German panzer division during Second World War).
Plan 2: A refreshing white blouse with apair of green shorts. Then add a military hat that symbolized the Green Berets (obviously, the beret) and special forces epaulets.
Plan 3: Straight balls should be used for decisive showdowns. Using that amazing masterpiece of a military rifle, the AK-47—
"Huh? Wait, something feels weird..."
Asya sudden tilted her head.
Even though she was clearly pondering fashion considerations to demonstrate cuteness, beauty and femininity, why did she keep thinking of accessories associated with violence?
"...I-It must be because of Mom's influence. The fault lies in my childhood immersion environment!"
She accidentally spoke out the answer to her own question.
Perhaps startled, Hal asked, "What's wrong, Asya?"
"Oh nothing. I just realized that my tastes in fashion have been influenced a lot by Mom... Whether now or in the past, she's always incorporated military issued items into her oufit, like coats, jackets, boots or watches."
"Now that you mention it, I think that really is true."
"And she totally isn't aware of it herself. She simply chooses them because they're handy and available. That's why, since I've been dressing in hand-me-downs since childhood as her daughter, the result is—"
"She passed on that habit to you?"
"Exactly. Sheesh... I can't believe that someone so careless could have a fan club. There are so many inexplicable things in this world."
"After all, Auntie is—well, not only pretty but sexy too."
"Yeah. Her disposition is the type to instantly captivate the hearts of men. Despite her coolness and not primping herself at all, she's got a kind of womanly charm that's hard to describe, it's very sexy."
Hal spoke with his gaze cast out into the distance. Inexplicably, he seemed a bit happy.
"Don't tell me you're thinking about Mom right now?"
Hal tried to cover up with laughter. Asya concluded her guess was correct.
Gah—Asya felt frustrated to an unprecedented degree. Their facial appearances could be considered identical but in spite of that, her mother was always the one popular with men!
Whatever. The task at hand was to develop further relations with her childhood friend.
Asya pretended to cough. Just as she was about to speak to Hal—
"Excuse me, Senpai! Could you help translate a bit?"
"Sure. I'll be right there."
Answering the sudden request, Hal walked over towards the source of the voice.
Naturally, the one who called him was Hazumi. Asya took a closer look, only to see Hazumi with Orihime, staring at a palm-sized music box. The salesman, a black man standing next to them, was speaking rapidly in English.
"What is he saying?"
"It's too fast for me to catch, so I had no choice but to give up."
Hazumi was tilting her head. Next to her, Orihime shrugged too.
If it were a conversation on the level of buying drinks from a vendor, there would be no need to bother too much with grammar. Simply stringing a few suitable words together would be enough to express one's meaning.
However, that approach did not work with an English speaker whose rapid words were delivered with a Puerto Rican accent.
Hal explained briefly to the two Japanese girls.
"What he's saying is the usual 'I'll give you a discount if you buy it, okay?' that's common in tourist shops. Right now, it's 10% off. Do you want to try haggling, Shirasaka? You can probably bring it even lower."
"Eh? Y-You want me to do it!?"
"Relax. If it's just haggling over the price, you'll definitely find a way."
Hal took out his phone and started up a calculator app.
Next, he entered the price of the music box Hazumi had selected—and discounted it by 20%. After seeing that, the face of the excellent learner who was both his assistant and his junior in school instantly lit up.
Hazumi immediately took out her cellphone.
She opened up the calculator, typed in 50% of the listed price then showed the salesman. The man shook his head and changed the value to 20% off. Unfazed, Hazumi changed it to 40% off—
Seeing Hazumi working as hard as she could, Hal retreated to the back.
Orihime smiled and stood by Hazumi's side. This price battle became a solo showdown between Hazumi and the salesman.
(Haruga-kun, you taught Hazumi something unusual again.)
(Not at all, this kind of economic warfare happens frequently all over the world. Well, I have to say that the people who made Arabic numerals spread across the entire world were truly great.)
Hearing Orihime's whispers, Hal answered quietly in return.
Since they were talking very quietly and whispering in each other's ear, their distance was extremely intimate, almost touching face to face. Asya panicked as a result.
This was almost like seeing a loving couple together!
Besides, Hal and Orihime seemed to realize this too. Suddenly flustered, the two of them sneaked a glance at each other's face frantically and shyly.
One could feel a bittersweetness just by observing from the side, it felt extremely embarrassing—
Asya was shocked.
"I-Is this the romantic comedy state of 'more than friends but less than lovers' that people talk about? Hazumi also seems quite close to Haruomi and he dotes on her a lot...!"
Trapped in her mouth, her mutterings were unintelligible.
Could it be that at this rate, even in Luna's absence, the relationships on this side were going to progress too...?
I have to hurry and do something—Asya vowed in her heart.
"Like I said, is there any solution!?"
'There is not much help I can provide when you call me out of the blue to discuss this sort of matter. It's not like I am Dora●mon.'
That night, Asya made a international long-distance call to President M.
However, although her figure featured elements from a certain country's cat robot, the club president with a body weight of 140kg by visual estimates replied mercilessly, 'The time of "Game Over" draws near.'
Incidentally, Asya was currently in a single room at a certain hotel in Boston City.
She had spent the previous night in the same room, but the plan was to check out early tomorrow morning. It was time to travel to the part of New York City at the peninsula of Long Island in preparation for infiltrating Old Manhattan.
'Didn't I tell you last time? There is no hope unless you press the reset button. Your score has been the repeated accumulation of zero the whole time.'
"That's why I called you for advice, hoping that one of your magic-like skills could instantly help—"
'Totally impossible, useless girl.'
"Sob sob sob."
'Besides, isn't magic your specialty? Don't you guys wield kinds of extremely suspicious powers?'
"I-I don't want to be called suspicious by someone who has a mysterious superpower."
'There there. Why don't you simply concoct a witch's love potion and have Haruga drink it?'
"Love potion... Of course there isn't such a convenient spell. If anything, out of all the techniques I know of, what would be effective—"
Asya began to space out with several ideas spinning in her mind.
Objectively speaking, she and her mother were quite similar in terms of basic elements. Equals in face. Their military mindset and spartan behavior patterns made them akin to sister models.
Yet in spite of that, her mother was the only one who was popular with men.
In other words, all she needed to do was add what her mother had but she did not—!
'It appears that you have grasped some kind of key point...'
"Yes. From this point on, I will fight with everything I've got or die trying!"
After hanging up, Asya walked over to the bathroom sink.
The key was self-hypnosis and changing herself physically, mentally and spiritually. Looking at her reflection in the mirror, she released magical power—
'Tokyo is currently very peaceful, Harry.'
"That's good to know."
'So peaceful that those hectic days prior to summer seem like a lie now.'
With his laptop open in his hotel room, Hal was conversing over video chat.
The other person was Luna Francois who had stayed back to defend Tokyo New Town. With him and the witches away from home recently, it was fortunate that nothing problematic had happened in the mean time.
"I won't have any complaints even if Princess Yukikaze decides to live a secluded life in Old Tokyo from now on."
However, this possibility definitely did not exist. Hal shrugged.
The white dragon king whose personality was as straight as an arrow—Princess Yukikaze.
One might presume her to be like a male lion currently lazing around. However, if she were to suddenly get up one day, one would expect her to resume her interrupted conquest and run over to seek out Haruga Haruomi for some fun.
"It's very possible she might attack us and Tokyo out of the blue."
'And the power accumulated during this time would serve to make the attack even more intense when the time comes.'
"Although we're just guessing randomly at the moment, it'd be a problem if that actually came true... By the way, Luna, what's with your outfit?"
'Why are you asking for such an obvious answer? Of course I'm wearing it to show you, Harry♪"
Shown on the LCD screen was Luna Francois' smile.
Soon after starting the call with Hal, she deliberately changed clothing in front of him.
What she had on now was a one-piece dress with red patterns on a white background.
The extremely form-fitting sleeveless design featured a miniskirt with an oval opening in front of the chest, providing a sexy view of her cleavage.
Furthermore, there was a company logo printed in blue letters on the fabric...
Hal recalled the American beer that was quite well-known in Japan too. That particular brand was widely known for the skimpy uniforms worn by women models to promote their beer.
'You are a boy, after all, Harry. Compared to Japanese brewers, you probably prefer American Budweiser, don't you?"
"I-I don't really know much about beers. I'm a minor, you know!?"
'Yet you stare so intently despite your words. Fufu, how delightful. I went out of my way to prepare this Bu● Girl uniform just for you!'
Luna Francois deliberately approached the camera and made a forward leaning posture.
The closeup of her cleavage gave Hal quite an intense jolt.
Although Haruga Haruomi regularly called himself a closet pervert, Luna's spirit of altruism almost made him want to withdraw the "closet" part of the title. That was how audacious and attractive she was.
'Oh right. Actually, I received notice from the New York National Guard today.'
"The National Guard?"
'Indeed. The WotC's chief wants to have a chat with you.'
"...What's that? I've never heard the term before."
'The official name is the 'Witches of the Coast.' Founded a year ago, it's an air squadron of witches belonging to various East Coast states with New York first and foremost.'
"Oh—I can't believe they established an organization like that."
'If you are free, it might be a good idea to pay their office a visit and hang out. Well, I originally intended to bring this matter up after you accomplish your first goal.'
Previously, Hal had promised Luna to contact her regularly every night (although due to the time difference, it would be morning for Luna). On this night, the video chat ended here.
They were going to set off for New York the next day. Finally, Hal's group was making their way to this expedition's main objective.
The next morning...
Hal met up with Orihime and Hazumi in the hotel lobby before heading to the breakfast buffet.
"Umm, what happened to Asya-san?"
"Seems like she overslept. That's so rare."
"Or it could be the opposite. Perhaps she woke up too early and went for breakfast first?"
Since Asya did not show up for a long time, the trio went to the restaurant on their own first.
After selecting fresh vegetable salad, ham, bacon, omelets, scrambled egg, toast and croissants on their own, they found a place to sit down.
Asya finally arrived late, five minutes after they had started eating.
"Sorry, I overslept a little."
Smiling tenderly, Hal's childhood friend sat down next to him. Hal went "hmm?" and tilted his head—Something was strange. He stared intently at Asya and immediately noticed what it was.
"...So, you're having breakfast for the second time today, aren't you?"
"No, I haven't eaten anything yet today. What's the matter?"
"Well, because there's not much on your plate."
The breakfast Asya had placed on her tray and brought to the table was...
A plate of egg sandwiches. One yogurt. A cup of cafe au lait. That was all. Normally, she would be able to finish four times as much and even head out calmly for a second round.
"What happened to you, Asya-san!?"
"A-Are you feeling unwell!? I brought stomach medication!"
Not only was Hal surprised, but even Orihime and Hazumi were worried too.
However, Asya simply gave a light smile and denied.
"Nothing's wrong, okay? I woke up this morning in perfect health, so Hazumi-san, thank you for your kind offer but I won't be needing it."
What the heck was up with Asya?
But Hal had no choice but to shelve this question for now.
Opposite to their table, a Caucasian man in a suit was reading the New York Times opened up in front of him. As a result, Hal naturally saw the contents on the back of the newspaper.
"...What is going on?"
The headline on that page drew in Hal's attention. Written on it was:
'THE RED-DRAGON HANNIBAL RUNS FOR GOVERNOR OF NEW YORK!'
Red Hannibal had become a candidate running for Governor of New York—
The most famous and powerful dragon on earth. Called "Red Hannibal"—he was the Caesar Draconis ruling the Old Manhattan Concession.
Indeed. Like Princess Yukikaze, he was a monster, a lofty dragon king.
An ominous premonition surfaced in Hal's mind. He immediately took out his cellphone to search the internet.
The news story running in the web version of the New York Times greatly shocked Hal and his friends.
|Back to Chapter 1||Return to Main Page||Forward to Chapter 3|