Leviathan:Volume 5 Chapter 3
Chapter 3 - New York, New York
Dragons had flown in from the moon surface and satellite orbits to ravage the world.
Air defense systems capable of swiftly detecting them were basically humanity's life line and more important than witches and leviathans, in fact. Consequently, the sky was filled with spy satellites, radar networks and reconnaissance jets from various countries at every altitude.
Detected aerial threats were shared globally through an information network. An attack warning would be immediately issued locally while forces were dispatched to intercept.
"It's such a great help that Raptors fly so slowly. They apparently need time to get used to the Earth's atmosphere," explained Christine Hulk to her protege in front of her.
Cheerful in tone. Native to New York State, she was eighteen years old this year. A witch. Although she talked like a boy, she was undoubtedly a girl.
Her long blonde hair was tied in a refreshing ponytail.
The captain of the cheerleading team in a high school, she also had an excellent figure.
As a side note, her protege was sitting in the pilot seat of a flight simulator while Christine stood behind her.
"They fly sluggishly like migratory birds for about an hour or two, then their attack impulse erupts all at once and they make a move on the nearest city."
The junior witch—Marie Thesz—raised a question.
Eleven years old, hailing from Wisconsin, she was still studying in elementary school. Marie was a novice witch who had just formed a covenant with her partner a month earlier.
Compared to the talkative Christine, she said few words without much facial expression.
"Although it's not exclusive to cities, the tendency to target areas with high population and building density is quite high."
"While the Raptors are flying in leisure, they can be taken care of in the majority of cases as long as nearby military airbases can dispatch emergency squadrons to intercept them. Although this base is only equipped with older F-16s, they're more than enough to shoot down Raptors."
"...So this is an old model after all."
In the modern era where LCD touch panels were ubiquitous, the old-style control panel in front of her was composed of thirty-something instruments with "numbers, needles and dials."
This flight simulator reproduced the cockpit of the F-16, an older manned fighter jet.
"Don't worry. Even though it's an old model, it's still in service all over the world. In terms of production, the manufacturing cost of an old model that's like an antique is far cheaper than for new models."
"Yeah. Instead of making the latest models which cost upwards of tens of thousands of dollars to fly a single sortie, it's better to mass produce low-cost older models. In recent years, the military has apparently valued cost-effectiveness more because of the great number of sorties."
The Air National Guard's base at East Farm was where Christine and Marie were right now.
It was located roughly fifteen kilometers southwest of the New York state capital of Albany.
The National Guard was America's military reserve force. Its members normally lived as ordinary civilians. During emergencies, they joined in disaster relief and security operations under the direction of state governors and might even carry out combat missions.
The two girls were currently at a training center inside the base.
"Although dragons can breathe fire, their attack range is practically zero in comparison to air-to-air missiles. It's as simple as hitting targets at a shooting range as long as you aim and fire from ten-odd kilometers away."
It was midnight, an hour quite incongruent with Marie's lifestyle as an elementary schooler.
However, this was official training for a new recruit. Hence, Christine continued unperturbed.
The surround screen inside the simulator displayed the air battle situation. Although Marie was sitting in the cockpit, she was not operating the controls. The screen was only replaying the simulated battle against twenty Raptors from just now.
Short-range homing missiles, Sidewinders, took down the lesser dragons one after another.
Christine shrugged. By the time they noticed, the Raptors on the screen had closed in to engage within visual range—in other words, close-range combat.
Swarming the fighter jet, there were roughly ten Raptors attacking.
At first, it was still possible to evade the Raptors attacking from unexpected angles by repeated usage of advanced maneuvers such as quick turns, mid-air stops and rapid acceleration. But soon enough, the fuselage was knocked away by a Raptor then torn apart instantly by its swarming companions—
Christine spoke quietly, "The difficulty increases dramatically if they get into dogfighting range. These guys are fierce beasts, after all. Humans cannot surpass them in agility or reaction speed. Forget about remote controlled attack drones, even manned fighter jets are unable to surmount that tall barrier."
"Next—Raptors all target the land, right? Hence, the air squadron's mission is essentially over once the Raptors reach settlements. After all, fighter jets are not suited to low-altitude combat. Well, that being said, it is possible to fire air-to-surface missiles at Raptors that are rampaging in town."
"Then we become the ones to destroy the town..."
"Yes, with that, the cart is placed before the horse. By this point, it's hard to take down Raptors even if tanks or grenade launchers are mobilized. So that's when it's time for our 'serpents' enter the stage."
"In other words, to help the air force clean up dragons that get past..."
"Exactly. Oh my, frankly speaking, it's almost impossible to lose against Raptors whether in the air or on land. Except if you're unlucky enough to meet an elite."
"Oh, I remember that from training..."
"In addition, elites are able to use summoning magic to gather a flock of Raptors. Protected by magic on these occasions, they don't suffer from the 'hazy state prior to getting used to the atmosphere' mentioned earlier. These Raptors will attack our 'serpents' with lightning speed!"
"...No Summoning Sickness despite being Creatures. So unfair."
Confronted with Marie's gamer-like response, Christine smiled wryly.
"If an elite shows up, they have only two choices. Either grovel and beg for support from a master-class witch or form a united team like ours to mobilize. Precisely because of that, we really look forward to the performance of new members~"
Suitable witch candidates were selected from the National Guard of the various East Coast states to form a team.
This was the concept behind the unit named the WotC. Including the newest addition of Marie, they currently had four witches. Christine was their team leader.
"There was apparently a plan to gather up master-class witches, but it never went anywhere because they're all a bit abnormal in the head. In the end, the current model resulted by prioritizing team efficiency."
"...Aren't you a Master Jedi, Christine?"
"Nope. I am the type with common sense and teamwork. Oh, but I heard earlier during the evening meeting. Recently, a team of witches was formed over in Japan. Reportedly, they have two master magi who are Shootdown Ace class."
Christine took out her smartphone and opened up the information she had received during the day.
A team that had North America's strongest vile witch—Luna Francois Gregory—as well as Europe's "Big Eater" Anastasya Rubashvili.
In addition, there was the Japanese boy who commanded these two top-class witches by virtue of his strength.
Christine clicked up Haruga Haruomi's profile on her phone. Apparently while traveling across the world as a treasure hunter, he had chanced upon Dragonslayer magic.
It was rumored that he had defeated a number of elites and even had combat experience against dragon king-class opponents.
In the photo, this legendary figure—Haruga Haruomi—was staring at the camera with sleepy eyes.
"This guy is the mastermind behind the Japan team."
"...Kind of cute looking. Like a goblin or a golem."
"Aren't those monsters? By the way, I'm not too familiar with RPGs."
"...Slightly different. Probably in between elves and monsters."
"I see. Oh, whatever. Anyway, he looks poorly motivated and lacking in communication skills. However, I think I'm a bit curious about him...?"
For Christine, this was a type she had never met in high school or the National Guard. Curious about something new, she felt a vague sense of affection towards this Japanese boy she had never met before. Currently, his group should be on their way to the East Coast. It would be nice if there was a chance to speak with him. Just as Christine was thinking that to herself—
An alarm blared from the speakers installed all over the base.
"...It's our turn to sortie?"
"Dunno yet. But we must get ready straight away. Follow me!"
While issuing orders to Marie, Christine started moving too.
Then she took out her cellphone to call her direct superior, the military consultant assigned by the US Air Force to the Governor of New York.
An air defense system had been built to detect the arrival of dragons as early as possible.
Unfortunately, it was still possible for it to fail in its purpose.
And one actual case occurred this very night in New York. The dragon king ruling over the Old Manhattan Concession suddenly started flying at high speed.
Red Hannibal's destination was the sky over the capital of New York State—Albany.
It was merely a distance of two hundred kilometers or so from Old Manhattan to here.
Traveling time was less than twenty minutes. Decelerating after reaching Albany's airspace, he started a slow descent.
Despite being a state capital, Albany was just a small city.
It was surrounded mostly by natural scenery such as mountains and forests, excellent for enjoying the pleasures of hiking or canoeing. The local population was less than a hundred thousand. Moreover, it was currently late at night.
Hence, very few people witnessed the dragon king's arrival.
However, every one of these people shook to their bones in fear without exception.
At the same time, the military airbases across the East Coast finally issued a "Red Hannibal alert" one after another.
Furthermore, the Governor of New York was heading to the capitol building after receiving an emergency crisis report.
Naturally, Hannibal did not care about the late night hour or the humans of the lower realm. Landing leisurely in front of the New York State Capitol, he roared loudly.
A roar matching the red dragon king's bestial nature.
The majestic roar resounded across every corner in the city of Albany.
People who had gone to bed were roused by this noise. Those who had yet to sleep were frozen with horror and terror occupying their minds and bodies. Unable to withstand such a shock, those afflicted with heart disease clutched their chests, panting. Some people even fainted directly out of fear.
What followed immediately after the roar ended was a fully rational voice.
Using his astounding baritone voice, Hannibal spoke sonorously, "Now then, residents of this city, as well as those of this state, I would like to make a proposal here."
All residents in the city heard the dragon king's voice, just like the roar earlier.
Infused with the dragon king's magical power, the speech was definitely reaching the ears of the people.
"Everyone of the media, I grant you special permission to come closer. But in return, I confer a mission upon you. Every word I say next must be recorded accurately and completely to be disseminated across the people."
Hannibal had even taken into account the reporters who happened to be present. To report on the story, news agencies and television station staff had already driven several vans to rush to the scene from nearby.
They were a group motivated by a mercantile interest in obtaining exclusive scoop about the great event of the dragon king's arrival.
Facing the cameras and microphones extended from these people, Hannibal spoke, "It has been twenty years since I made my residence in the land known as Manhattan. From what I have heard, this number of years is enough for humans like you to reach the legal age of majority. Furthermore, after reaching adulthood and acquiring the requisite wisdom, they are bestowed the right to stand as a candidate for election—This principle stands as the essence of the 'democracy' you humans invented."
An awe-inspiring speech delivered with clear enunciation.
Compared to the average human, he was more talkative. His English was also very fluent.
The ruler of Old Manhattan—Hannibal. He was not only the dragon king closest to humans but also the spokesman worthy of representing dragonkind.
"And the election for deciding this state's ruler through democratic means will be coming up soon. Thus, I present my request to you all—Allow me to participate in that battle."
Out from Hannibal's mouth came several terms that did not match the image of dragons.
Immediately, the contents of this speech pushed the audience's emotions from astonishment up to greater heights.
"I wish to become this country's... no, the most powerful statesman on earth. I would like to demonstrate to all residents of this state how fortunate they are to live under my protection. I repeat once again, please acknowledge me as a candidate for the election."
Fortunately, those listening to the dragon king's decree included people involved with the military.
The Air National Guard had mobilized fighter jets from the East Farm base fifteen kilometers from Albany and sent three rescue helicopters. One of them was transporting two witches.
Christine Hulk and Marie Thesz.
However, the two of them were coming face to face with the dragon king's majestic visage before they could contact the WotC's other two members.
The ultimate adversary towering over all elites—Red Hannibal.
The dragon king's body was exuding overwhelming magical power and presence, immobilizing Christine and Marie. In fact, these two's 'serpents' could not even accomplish the meager act of stalling for time.
"Let this be all for tonight. I shall reappear before you all in the near future. Save your answer until then. Humans, I look forward to your democratic choice!"
This was the last message left behind by the dragon king.
Having finished speaking, Hannibal spread his wide wings and flew.
Towards the sky—Towards his base of operations, the Old Manhattan Concession. No one dared to get in the way of his flying route.
The story above was the incident of "Hannibal Comes!" that had transpired during midnight on August 7th.
Prior to the return of dragons, New York City was divided into five boroughs.
Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx, Staten Island and Manhattan.
But twenty years ago, the borough of Manhattan was chosen by dragonkind as a concession territory.
As the "face" symbolizing New York City, the area included Wall Street, Central Park, the Rockefeller Center, Times Square... Manhattan and its numerous landmarks fell under the rule of dragonkind, becoming the castle town of the dragon king Hannibal.
But apart from Old Manhattan, the other four boroughs still remained intact in the present day as "New York City."
2pm on August 7th. Hal and his friends were currently at the Bedford neighborhood in Brooklyn. More precisely, it was the parking lot of SAURU's New York branch.
"This year happens to be midterm election year in America."
"What are 'midterm elections'?"
Driving a rented minivan, Hal was just about to enter a perpendicular parking space when Hazumi posed a question to him from the back seat. Sitting next to her, Orihime quietly answered, "I recall that the results of such elections... can be taken as something like an approval rating for the US president?"
"Yes, that's the idea."
Presidents of the United States served terms of four years.
General elections held two years after a presidential election were named midterms.
Offices up for election were spread across all kinds of civil servants, including the entire House of Representatives, a portion of the senators, as well as governors and mayors whose terms were up. These cases were all classified as midterm elections.
The two major parties in America were the Democrats and the Republicans.
And the number of elected Members of Congress and governors in the incumbent president's party was regarded as a major indicator. If numbers decreased, that meant the president's influence was waning.
This included New York State where an election for the governor was scheduled around November.
"Is it possible that Hannibal regularly reads newspapers?"
In half-joking, half-serious tone of voice, Hal remarked while getting off the car.
—This morning, his group had taken a plane here from Boston.
The flight to the entrance of the international metropolis of New York—John F. Kennedy airport—took roughly an hour. Then the trio had split up from Asya to buy supplies and equipment. Their goal was to get ready to infiltrate Hannibal's abode—Old Manhattan.
Hal opened the trunk and unloaded the stuff they had just bought.
Due to the relatively large quantities, the stuff was contained in three separate cardboard boxes. Seeing Orihime and Hazumi approaching to help out, Hal said, "Actually, Hannibal often leaves his concession territory every now and then."
" "Ehhh!?" "
"It's not just when he's attacking . It's usual for him to fly all over the place randomly, wandering New York State where Old Manhattan is located as well as neighboring states and counties, as though as though he's checking out his territory."
Facing two wide-eyed girls, Hal continued.
"The surrounding residents call his wandering behavior 'Hannibal Comes!' and treat it as a special event, with many department stores and shopping malls holding sales and promotions to commemorate the day too."
"P-People aren't afraid?"
"Isn't he clearly a king of dragonkind like Princess Yukikaze..."
Moving cardboard boxes together with Hal, Hazumi and Orihime expressed their surprise.
They next went to SAURU's New York branch. This was a five-story building whose entire interior was a facility belonging to the organization. The trio stepped into the building from the back door.
Since it was quite old, built in the 1980s, it was not very clean or tidy.
However, this messy place, all covered n dust, was like a homeland to Hal.
"They're afraid but there's nothing they can do. Since they're helpless, they might as well dilute the fear in this kind of joking manner. Furthermore, people have gotten used to it over time since Hannibal has not attacked human cities for a very long time now. It's inevitable for people to think that next time and the time after that probably won't be attacks either."
Why dragon kings did not attack human society aggressively—
By this point, Hal already knew the reason. Because they were not too interested in mere humans, they did not actively harm humans. But if some sort of cause were to arise, they would most likely slaughter and massacre mankind as though eradicating pests without a thought.
But this time, Hannibal had suddenly brought up the word "democracy"...
"By the way, Juujouji, what's your take on how Asya's been acting?"
"You mean her lack of appetite?"
Hal nodded affirmatively in response to Orihime's question.
After flying from Boston to New York, Hal and his group had eaten lunch at a cafe in JFK airport.
Having only eaten a light breakfast, Asya unbelievably ate only a bagel!
Hazumi tilted her head and said, "She must have be feeling unwell or caught a flu, right?"
"If it's Asya, even in those situations, she'd still say 'let's ate something easy to digest' before gulping down a large pot of porridge. I think there has to be some other reason."
While chatting, the trio went down the stairs to the basement.
They were making their way to the supplies storeroom to put down their cardboard boxes. In addition, Asya had already arrived at this building in advance. Due to a need for a master-class witch's counsel regarding the Hannibal incident, she was currently attending a meeting in the New York branch.
Someone was already in the storeroom before them.
"Yo Hal. It's been a year, hasn't it?"
"Yeah, pretty much."
A middle-aged Caucasian man spoke to him. He was a member of administrative staff who had served at this branch for around three years. Featuring a physique rivaling President M's, he was a thoroughly obese guy.
Since neither Hal nor Asya were visiting this branch for the first time, they were both acquainted with him.
"By the way, there are a few things that I want."
"I heard from Asya. Preparations are already underway."
The man took down a Kevlar rope from a shelf.
Impressive as always, Hal's childhood friend. Knowing clearly what this mission required, she had asked SAURU to obtain supplies as quickly as possible. It looked like Asya had communicated to them in advance.
"Add in the latest map of the Old Manhattan ruins, preferably no older than a month, if possible."
"Leave it to me. It'll be prepared along with everything else that's needed."
Until the end of the twentieth century, SAURU's New York branch had been situated in Manhattan.
Hal's aim was to infiltrate the place and obtain ancient texts related to King Solomon. Both this man here and Asya understood clearly what support the mission required. Despite being of different professions, they were working in the same field after all. This ease of communication was very helpful.
While Hal was filled with gratitude, the Caucasian man laughed and said, "You really have it tough. There are many rumors about you. No need to be shy, just let me know if you need help with small stuff like this."
After glancing at Orihime and Hazumi who were following Hal closely, he made a thumbs-up.
Apparently, news of Haruga Haruomi's acquisition of a dragonslaying rune had already spread within SAURU. Hal smiled wryly in response. Auntie Yulia's reason for making a personal visit to Tokyo was probably the same as his.
"You're helping me out a lot. Thanks."
"Oh? You can pay me back with interest when you make it big. By the way, Asya—"
The man suddenly frowned in puzzlement.
"What happened to her? I was enjoying a whole dozen of donuts when talking to her just now. I can't believe that Asya didn't say 'gimme some'!"
" " "......" " "
Hal frowned. Beside him, Orihime and Hazumi also showed worry on their faces.
The two girls were not very good at listening to English but still could get a rough idea that the man was noting that something was strange about Asya. Putting that aside, Hal wondered what was up with his childhood friend.
"Let's have a look to see how she's doing."
After setting down their belongings, Hal and company took the elevator to the fifth floor.
They entered the meeting room on the far end after knocking lightly at the door. Sitting at an oval desk were three members of the New York branch. Asya was with them but—
"Listen, Asya. Indeed, we issued a harsh protest last year because you consumed all of the branch's on-hand supplies of canned food and instant noodles..."
"But no matter what, we never forbade you from eating the snacks laid out here."
"In any case, we are very worried about the state of your health. Please, pick something you like to eat. If there isn't enough, we'll send someone out to buy more. No need to hold back!"
Three male members of staff at the branch were talking to the silver-haired girl.
In the center of the table were three bags of chips, including the most basic salted flavor, salsa flavor, an American classic as well as a trendy teriyaki flavor. In addition, there were sausages, onion rings and cheddar cheese snacks on the table.
All junk food with excessive oil and salt content.
And these were all Asya's favorites—At least, they were supposed to be.
"Fufufu. Thank you for the kind offer, everyone, but don't worry, I'm not hungry at the moment. Please save it for next time."
Smiling demurely, Asya refused food!
Hal could not help but feel shocked. His childhood friend had definitely said the words "I'm not hungry at the moment." It was reality, not a hallucination—How could this be possible!?
Hal stared at Asya without thinking.
This might be the first time in his life for him to stare at her so seriously.
To think that there was a side to Anastasya Rubashvili unknown to Hal when he believed that he had already understood her thoroughly inside out—?
Next, Asya noticed Hal's gaze and slowly turned her head to show a faint smile towards him.
In that instant, Hal unbelievably found that smile incredibly gorgeous. His heart skipped a beat. This was no joke. What was with Asya?
"That Asya is worrying us when we're clearly about to sneak into Manhattan tomorrow..."
"But Haruga-kun, I definitely don't think there's anything wrong with her health. Perhaps we are the ones who are worrying too much? Rather, it seems that Asya-san is even livelier than usual."
That night after reaching New York, Hal did something he normally would never do. He called a girl to his hotel room to begin a discussion.
The one he was confiding in was Orihime, smiling optimistically.
"Think about it. Always whining about being hungry and quickly complaining about running out of energy, she's like a male lion lazing around on a savanna. But today, it's like she became a different person."
"Although everyone has been saying how weird it is, the amount of food Asya-san ate today would actually be just right for such a slender girl."
"Hmm—But I totally don't get why she'd suddenly become like this."
"Haruga-kun, do you truly not understand?"
"Yeah, no clue at all."
The instant he replied, Orihime sighed deeply then stared sharply at him.
"Jeez... It's very obvious that she's on a diet!"
"Di—Don't be ridiculous. It's Asya we're talking about here, you know!?"
"You are the one being ridiculous, Haruga-kun! For a girl's weight, even a kilogram... no, even a 500g or 50g difference would be huge. If you need an analogy, there exist girls who might agree to a contract with the devil just to become five kilograms lighter."
"E-Even you, Juujouji?"
Orihime glared intently at Hal.
Hal deeply regretted asking that. For the first time, he felt fear and pressure because of Orihime.
"Ahem. This isn't about me but my friend. She's the type... whose various sizes are relatively big, so it's only natural for her weight to be proportionally higher. That's why, if the devil came knocking at her door with that kind of deal, perhaps she might really waver a little..."
"For sure, your various parts are amazing, Juujouji."
"Don't get the wrong idea! This is about my friend, not me!"
Scolded harshly, Hal immediately straightened his back.
Apparently satisfied with his reaction, Orihime stared at Hal and suddenly changed the subject.
"Putting that aside, Haruga-kun, I believe there are more pressing matters to worry about tonight than dieting."
"Of course. For tomorrow's infiltration operation into the Manhattan Concession, I expect you and Asya-san will be carrying it out alone, right? Aren't you being slightly too cautious about this? Wasn't it much more relaxed when we went to the Old Tokyo Concession?"
Setting off to Old Tokyo in the afternoon after having just made the decision in the morning. This was a set pattern when operating in Tokyo New Town previously.
However, a lot of time and energy had been spent on equipment and information gathering in preparation for this operation.
"This time's target is a place that's several times more troublesome than Old Tokyo, after all. The one in Tokyo is just a wasteland where getting around is inconvenient but Old Manhattan is inhabited by all kinds of dangerous monsters."
"That being said, there shouldn't be a huge problem. As I am now, I own a magic wand—that gun—while Asya's Rushalka is also in peak form. It'll actually be easier if it's just us two."
"...I guess you are right."
Orihime sighed and smiled—That smile was probably made on purpose.
"Originally, I really wanted to come along because I was worried about you two. But now that I feel like I might get in the way instead, never mind. If you and Asya-san truly needed assistance from me and Hazumi, you would have counted us in when deciding teams from the start."
"It's fine. I can understand your considerations."
Usage of leviathan powers had to be minimized as much as possible during this infiltration operation.
In that case, a two-man team consisting of only Hal and Asya would be the best choice. As expected of Juujouji Orihime, who was great at reading between the lines, she understood on her own without needing Hal to explain explicitly.
Ever since he met her this spring, Hal had found her observant personality to be very helpful at all times.
Realizing this fact again, Hal was suddenly struck by a thought.
"Speaking of which, it's been quite a while since we last chatted alone together."
"After all, Haruga-kun, you went to Papua New Guinea earlier and after coming to America, we've been going around as a group most of the time...... Oh."
Seeing Orihime suddenly fall silent, Hal asked, "What's the matter?"
"Oh, nothing... It's nothing. I simply remembered something because you mentioned about being alone together. Pay it no heed. I also feel it's also a bit too impolite for me to suddenly ask such a personal question..."
"Anyway, let me hear it first. I'll answer as long as it's within my knowledge."
"R-Really? Well... Do you and Luna-san frequently spend time alone together?"
"B-Because, didn't Luna-san confess to you last time? Also, the two of you traveled abroad and e-even did that..."
Hal shook. By that, she was presumably referring to kissing Luna.
It happened once during the Izu expedition. Prior to coming to America, there was another one, kept secret from the others. Although it was not Hal's intention, the second time had even taken place under the public eye.
Seeing Hal's panicked look, Orihime silently bowed her head.
"So you do intend to go out with Luna-san...?"
"O-Of course not. Although I'm very grateful for her suggestion, we haven't progressed to that stage yet. Besides, won't having a romantic relationship within the team be a hindrance to work? Personally, I find that social relationships become troublesome when they become too close, so it's best to avoid that like the plague after all!"
For example, suppose Chief A and Subordinate B became a couple.
This could cause Chief A to favor B excessively, causing other subordinates to feel disgruntled. Conversely, B might actively demand special treatment. Things might be fine if Chief A and B were on good terms, but if the two of them were to fight, the group dynamic would fall to rock bottom...
"To prevent that kind of predicament, the first priority is to forbid romance within the team!"
"But in America school dramas, don't couples quickly form within the group?"
"Ah, yes. Those are quite outrageous. Breaking up within a couple months then immediately hooking up with another friend—But those are merely fictional plots!"
"But if it's you and Luna-san, I get the feeling you'd say 'just keep it underground' and date secretly without telling the rest of us—"
"Yes, because Luna and I are both devious, that's very possible—"
Hal raised the volume of his voice, trying hard to dispel Orihime's doubt.
"But this kind of thing definitely won't happen. I swear to God!"
"You sound like a liar when you swear to God or heaven and earth so easily..."
"Oh, otherwise, let me lay my conscience on the line. A Christian in the same situation would say 'I swear by the Bible that the testimony I give shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth' just like in front of a judge!"
Hal spoke excitedly to the distrustful Orihime.
However, somewhere in a corner of his mind, he found this unbelievable. Why was he trying his hardest to explain? What was the big deal even if suspicions were directed at him?
After all, he and Luna were not lovers and this was the unmistakable truth (although it was also true that they had kissed).
Next, Hal figured it out roughly.
This kind of situation was not completely unrelated to why he had been able to hit the brakes in the nick of time when almost devoured by the American girl's charm on several occasions. In fact, every time when Hal's heart started pounding due to Luna's bold courtship, he would frequently think of Orihime involuntarily.
"B-By the way, Haruga-kun, if the fact that Luna-san k-kissed you is what makes you uneasy, would sharing a kiss with someone else—Make things alright?"
"B-Basically, if another girl were to kiss you, would that allow you to treat her like Luna-san... Something like that......"
"I think—probably, maybe..."
The two of them were alone in a room. Gazing into each other's eyes, in a hotel while on a trip. Hal trembled slightly from the nervous tension his body and mind had never felt before. Orihime felt very nervous too.
For some reason, Hal was quite certain. At this very moment, neither of them needed further words.
Similarly, for some reason, Orihime was also certain of the same thing—That they could reach mutual understanding just by gazing at each other.
After that, all they needed was a trigger no matter how tiny. Indeed, like what Orihime was doing right now—gazing at Hal with moist eyes—slowly drawing up closer to him at the same time.
Hal extended his right hand, intending to take Orihime's hand—At that instant...
The cellphone on the bedside suddenly rang.
The two of them suddenly came to their senses and looked at the cellphone together. Hal swiftly picked up the call.
"What's up, Asya? Is there some kind of emergency?"
"No, but it's about work. I'd like to discuss tomorrow's rundown with you, Haruomi, can I visit your room?"
"Oh...... Sure. Of course you can."
Realizing the situation, Orihime nodded at Hal, so he immediately agreed. However, although there was just a momentary pause, the caller on the other side instantly reacted.
"Is there someone there right now by any chance?"
"Really? Then I'm coming over now. See you later."
After the call ended, Orihime said "then I'll be off first" and stood up from her chair.
Seeing her off at the doorway, Hal heard an unexpected question just as they were parting.
"U-Umm. Next time... May I still come over to visit you? I... would like to have a good chat with you when we're both free, to relax or something—"
Hal originally wanted to ask "just the two of us?" but switched to a more tactful wording in the end.
As a result, Orihime looked shyly at Hal and nodded.
"Y-Yes. As long as it doesn't bother you..."
"Not at all. You're welcome any time."
Hal answered her immediately, eliciting a blushing smile from Orihime.
Ten minutes later, Hal held a brief meeting with Asya who had come to his room. The pounding in his heart from spending time with Orihime still lingered but he carefully concealed it, preventing it from showing on his face.
After Asya left, Hal went to bed at around 11pm. Lying on the bed, he began to ponder.
He expected it would not be until afternoon before departing to infiltrate the concession territory. In that case, he should sleep in till late morning, to conserve his energy fully... However, this easily ended up wishful thinking on his part.
Early next morning, the New York sky became blotted by a flock of almost a thousand Raptors.
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