Leviathan:Volume 5 Chapter 4
Chapter 4 - August Rhapsody
Hal was sitting cross-legged in a corner with a laptop on his lap. He began a video chat with Luna Francois who was in Japan.
Although this was inside a concession territory, there was reception from the Brooklyn signals, allowing for communications
'...That's the gist of the contract with New York State. I'll send the details to you by email to have a look.'
"Understood. So we ended up working as bodyguards, huh?"
'Indeed. Until the Hannibal issue is resolved, you will advise the Governor of New York as necessary in your capacity as a consultant while providing combat assistance on occasion as well. Well, that pretty much sums it up.'
Yesterday, Hal and his team had received a request from the Governor of New York.
Hal's group was invited to join the Hannibal Countermeasures Committee to handle incidents caused by the red dragon king as well as his declaration. Hal and his witch companions accepted the job and left the negotiation of contract terms to Luna Francois' full discretion—more precisely, the team of lawyers serving as her think tank.
Reporting the results to Hal, Luna smiled cheerfully from the screen and said, 'After all, no other suitable candidate could be found when the enemy is a dragon king. Even if you had stayed in Japan, Harry, we would most likely receive the same request. As for compensation and other terms, they have been handled according to our demands almost verbatim.'
"The financial side needs to be well taken care of too."
'No worries there. I have the connections to bring tax accountants and bankers to the table.'
Luna Francois remained all smiles.
However, her gaze suddenly turned sharp.
'During this period, if you were to do anything "naughty" with Orihime-san, I will say to you "I won't make anymore sacrifices for you unless you lavish upon me triple the love you gave her" in order to force your hand.'
'If you were to choose Orihime-san instead of me, Harry... I'll simply send you all to the grave by my own hand and destroy everything—That thought has crossed my mind, fufufu.'
"Please don't make that kind of joke with such a radiant smile!"
'Don't be silly, Harry, like anyone would joke around with you. I am 60% serious.'
"60% feels oddly real... Anyway, let's put that aside."
Hal changed the subject slightly forcibly.
"I'm still a bit worried about Asya."
Luna Francois' reaction was quite unusual. She was stunned.
'Why this sudden concern? Isn't it your policy to let Asya roam the savanna, living according to her wild instincts, while you watch her uninhibited lifestyle with lukewarm eyes!?'
"No, we're just a pair of ordinary childhood friends, neither excessively nor insufficiently familiar."
'Then aren't I right? Neither acquainted to the point of excessive intimacy nor unfamiliar to the point of indifference. Instead, 'lukewarm' in the middle.'
'Oh dear, it is undoubtedly unusual for Asya to lose her appetite. Unbelievable. In any case, Harry, please observe calmly and report to me as soon as you discover anything out of place. I will try my best to find the reason.'
Speaking like a researcher conducting a biological experiment, Luna ended the video chat.
Taking the laptop he had been using for communications, Hal returned it to his bag then looked up into the sky.
"He's here huh..."
The red dragon's majestic form was flying in from the northern sky.
—Two days earlier, Hal had met Hannibal in the Old Manhattan Concession.
Before parting ways, the dragon king had made a request to Hal. He wanted a dialogue in person with the incumbent governor soon, preferably the morning two days later. Hal was permitted to bring the governor to the entrance to New York City.
'You mean Manhattan Bridge?'
'Yes. That was definitely the name of this island's bridge.'
Amazingly, Hannibal had remembered a location name from before Manhattan became a concession territory.
Through SAURU, Hal had conveyed the dragon king's request to the governor, who then agreed without hesitation. Hal thought it was only natural. How could anyone refuse a demand coming from the strongest dragon on earth?
However, what Hal did not expect was the other party's wish for a witness. Hence, Hal had to come along too.
"Now that I think about it more carefully, I have lived in coexistence with all of you in New York for quite some time—"
Having transformed to a human, Hannibal spoke sonorously to begin.
"However, talking like this face to face happens to be the first time. Hohohoho."
The smiling muscular man, standing 190cm tall, seemed to be in a good mood. He was dressed in a red jacket and acted no different from a human.
With a natural expression, Hannibal's attitude could even be described as friendly.
However, the humans opposite from him were extremely nervous with Hal as the sole exception. All the others were looking at the red dragon king silently with stiff expressions.
This could not be helped either. After all, they had just witnessed a particular scene.
The red dragon king had landed on Manhattan Bridge. His gigantic body suddenly shrank and took on human form—The entire process had been shown to their eyes.
Leading the humans participating in this meeting was the incumbent Governor of New York.
In addition, there was the Mayor of New York, the WotC leader—Christine—representing the military, as well as the governor's aide serving as the witches' commander.
Except for Christine, they were all late middle-aged men in their forties or fifties.
All of them had accomplishments, experience and strong personalities appropriate for such a lineup.
That being said, those people were still stunned and intimidated by Hannibal. Personally witnessing the dragon king's transformation had shocked them with fear and astonishment. Currently, they were cowering, feeling as though they could see the red dragon's shadow behind this well-built man...
To rate the governor and his entourage as "lacking resolve" would be too harsh.
Although Hal was now able to confront dragon kings while maintaining composure, he used to be intimidated even by elites such as Soth, unable to converse with them properly. A dragon king's awe-inspiring presence was incomparable.
Hal decided to take the lead.
"Anyway, let's sit down first. We have prepared seating."
Hannibal nodded in assent and Hal brought him to his seat.
They had moved some classy furniture, a long table and chairs, from a New York City Hall conference room to set up in near the middle of Manhattan Bridge. Due to taking into account the possibility of Hannibal showing up in human form, a seat had been prepared for him too.
Guided by Hal, Hannibal calmly took the seat for the dragon king.
Seats for the governor, the major and his aide were prepared ahead of time. They sat on the opposite side of the table across from Hannibal. Hal originally planned to standby with Christine behind these three VIPs, but—
Someone placed his hand on Hal's shoulder. Surprisingly, it was the governor.
(...May I ask what is the matter?)
(...Your seat is here. Sit next to me♪)
After whispering in his ear, the governor winked extremely intimately at Hal.
The governor was a handsome man in his early fifties and looked great in a suit. He also had a slim physique, probably because his hobby was playing tennis during weekends. Hal had heard that his father had been Governor of New York too.
A son from an Anglo-Saxon, protestant, political family.
The governor, hailing from a prestigious background as though in a picture book, was making an endearing smile at Hal.
(My job during this meeting should be something like a guard, right?)
(I would like to trouble you with the additional roles of translator and diplomat. You seem to be the most suitable.)
(Governor, demonstrating great leadership at a time like this would be what the populace loves to see...)
Hal responded quietly.
(Like negotiating directly with the leader of the dragons to resolve this situation.)
(Don't worry, there won't be a problem. We did not disclose this meeting to the media. Neither is it television. The original plan was to leave the actual negotiations to my aide, but I have changed our approach.)
The Republican governor spoke lightheartedly
There had been rumors that he might run for the next presidential election. He was apparently the type who left practical business for subordinates and experts to handle with a "I'm counting on you all."
The ability to suddenly change his attitude in the face of a dragon king could be considered leadership aptitude in a certain way.
...At last, flanked by Hal and his aide, the governor faced off against Hannibal.
Watching from the side, Christine smiled with a "heh" look.
Also, this meeting venue was located on Manhattan Bridge spanning across the Hudson River. The National Guard's ground forces and witches were standing by on the Brooklyn shore.
They included the trio of Asya, Orihime and Hazumi as well as the remaining three members of the WotC.
Should an emergency arise, they were probably going to rush over immediately to help.
"Then let us begin."
The job of facilitator naturally fell upon Hal.
"So what do you wish to talk to the governor about?"
"Nothing much. I simply wish to ask him whether he has any intention of yielding his position through chanrang."
(...Tell him on my behalf, of course not.)
"Of coure not. By the way, there is no system of chanrang in democracy."
After listening to Hannibal, Hal exchanged whispers with the governor before conveying the message.
So-called chanrang referred to an ancient Chinese practice where the incumbent ruler would abdicate in favor of a successor of no blood relation. Hal spoke while feeling impressed that Hannibal knew this term, but—
"Indeed, there is no such system."
Hannibal responded candidly.
"However, it would be advantageous for the election if the reputable incumbent governor were to endorse the recommended successor—This tendency definitely exists."
"You sure know some weird things for a dragon..."
"Besides, there are numerous exceptions violating the system in your democracy."
"Choosing a ruler based on popular opinion rather than royal blood or military force, isn't that the basis of democracy? Even so, from what I have heard, the custom of retaining political offices within the family is widespread across the world. It might be quite strange for an outsider like me to say this, but I do believe that would be undemocratic."
Of all critics, for a king of dragonkind to make an accusation of "undemocratic."
Hal looked to the side. The governor blinked in surprise, pretending he did not hear that. On both sides of his family, whether paternal or maternal, members had apparently served as Members of Congress, mayors, governors, ambassadors, etc.
Unfazed by Hal and the others' shock, Hannibal continued, "I heard that in every generation, the citizens of this country all desire powerful rulers. In that case, I don't believe there is any better candidate than me on earth. I intend to become Governor of New York first before running for president."
"Could you stop stepping up like a human politician?"
Entering the White House via New York was an ideal route to becoming president.
Seeing Hannibal so well-versed in human culture, Hal retorted, feeling utterly drained.
On further thought, Hinokagutsuchi had also mastered handheld games and chess through self-study, making them her hobbies. With her as an example, there was nothing unbelievable about Hannibal.
"Besides, what kind of policy do you intend to push once you're governor or president?"
"Good question. Actually, this is one of the reasons why I have summoned you all here. Please convey to the media the platform I am about to announce. Also, this is not a request."
Not a request—In other words, an order. Hannibal smiled proudly.
Spontaneously, his expression had turned from that of a friendly muscular guy to that of a ferocious conqueror.
"I... intend to lead the United States of America to war. I will cross the ocean to attack the land of Europe, winning victory and conquest as I please."
"I will then proceed to take the opportunity to defeat my ally and longtime rival who resides over there—the Black Lightning Emperor."
The Black Lightning Emperor. A dragon king living reclusively in the Old Warsaw Concession.
Unlike Red Hannibal, the Black Lightning Emperor rarely showed himself. Roughly twenty years ago, he only appeared on three occasions in the Mediterranean, central Europe and the coast of the Black Sea respectively.
In Europe, he was the king of dragons extolling destruction, their leader.
"Of course, I could simply lead the Jabones—the winged lizards you know—and my minions to battle, but that would be too boring."
Everyone present looked at Hannibal blankly.
But being the spokesman, it was not acceptable for Hal to remain silent, so he conversed with the dragon king on his own.
"What do you mean by that?"
"Nothing special. I simply wish for a more challenging fight."
Hannibal boasted proudly.
"I will lead a weak army from a weak country to declare war on a powerful empire of dragons and conquer it. That would entail a battlefield where victory is not guaranteed in spite of my mighty strength and military leadership. However, that is precisely what I desire. Compared to easy victories, I look more forward to arduous defeats!"
"A-Are you trying to play SLGs using the real world...?"
SLG was the abbreviation for simulation games where players employed strategy to build up their countries while annexing territory from enemy nations.
One could enjoy a relatively easy game by choosing a stronger nation in the beginning stage. However, it was possible to indulge in the joys of a challenging game by intentionally choosing the weakest nation to lead soldiers of poor morale—
In fact, Hal did not dislike methods of gameplay with additional constraints imposed.
He liked SLGs quite a bit. However, he felt compelled to refute the dragon king this time.
"I doubt anyone would cast their vote for a dragon that jumps out suddenly with this kind of platform."
"I have already considered that. In fact, I intend to destroy all weapons and military hardware on America's eastern coast during the election."
"To the populace that fears the winged lizards, I will tell them 'Gather under my banner, that of the strongest conqueror, and become my people.' If I enter a democratic election under such conditions, I believe there will surely be voters turning out in admiration of me, right?"
Sharing his idea that was too crude to be called a plan, Hannibal grinned.
"Nothing serious. Even if there is a temporary loss of property and weaponry, they can be robbed from elsewhere. All the people need to do is invade neighboring states or countries and plunder what they need."
"Sure enough, you hail from a warring tribe huh... This idea is quite barbaric."
The Huns, the Turks, the Scythians, the Mongols, Germanic tribes, the Vikings, etc.
Hal recalled many famous militant tribes in history. In fact, Hannibal's idea was a warfare model familiar to mankind since antiquity. These particular groups were especially talented at it. Even at the dawn of modern society, many armies would still rely on "local sources" to replenish supplies.
However, Hal reached a poignant conclusion.
Ultimately, Red Hannibal was a "noble savage."
He possessed outstanding intellect and perceptiveness. Despite being a dragon, he also commanded human charisma. He understood civilization and potentially enjoyed it.
However, he was a savage driven by primal senses through and through. This would never change.
Despite following the customs of civilized society, Hannibal still remained an unaffected noble savage—
"The people would probably ridicule and ignore this idea if it weren't suggested by a great dragon king..."
What a savage idea, simple to the point of being ludicrous.
However, there was a certain level of logic to it. Precisely because of this plan's simplicity, so long as one set it into motion and possessed power beyond the parameters of common sense, it felt like it might go surprisingly smoothly...
In front of the sighing Hal, Hannibal smiled mischievously.
"To be frank, I do not know if things will proceed according to my wishes. I will not know unless I try. No time to lose, let us start tomorrow. Send my regards to the residents of the state too."
(...Hey you! Negotiate more with him! At least buy us some time!)
The dragon king spoke casually as though he were simply pressing the start button on a game console. Hearing that, the governor panicked.
One could hardly blame him. If Hannibal were to put his plan into motion, it would imply attacking military facilities across the eastern seaboard. It was only natural for the governor to hope for a few day's delay. Stuck in the middle, Hal scratched his head.
"Before that, why don't we hold a referendum?"
"Oh? A referendum?"
"Yeah. Let's ask if the residents approve of a great dragon king running in the election without US citizenship, let alone membership in the human race. Let's collect the opinions from the true stars of democracy—the people themselves."
"That's amazing... All the television channels are reporting about Hannibal-san."
"It seems like half the pages on newspapers are covering the story. It's really turned into a huge commotion..."
Hazumi and Orihime widened their eyes, thoroughly amazed.
At SAURU's New York branch, located in the neighborhood of Bedford at Brooklyn, Hal and his friends were having coffee in a lounge.
The room was furnished to resemble the style of an ordinary family's living room with sofas and a low table.
In front of them was a forty-two-inch flatscreen television, currently showing the evening news.
There was detailed coverage of Hannibal's "attack" over the past few days as well as a special program about his "aspirations and policy plan as a governor candidate" which he wanted conveyed to the residents of New York State.
Two days had passed since the meeting on Manhattan Bridge.
"B-But is it really okay to release such important news?"
"Had this happened in Japan, I don't think they would publicize this sort of information."
"If confidentiality were possible, of course nondisclosure would attract less trouble."
Hal was sitting in the sofa opposite to the two baffled witches.
Incidentally, they were casting questioning gazes at the person sitting next to Hal.
But although Hazumi was smiling like an angel as usual, Orihime seemed a bit unsettled with her entire body having trouble sitting still. Sensing awkwardness in the air, Hal continued, "There wasn't a choice this time. After all, the dragon king who provided the information is a loyal reader of various news publications. He's going to check whether the human side had released the news for real."
On the table were seven different newspapers from today.
Both national and regional newspapers had uniformly used "Hannibal News" as their headline matter-of-factly. Apart from that, the referendum to be held four days later also took up a lot of coverage.
Do you approve of Hannibal's candidacy in the election as a dragon?
A referendum was to be held to pose this question to the residents of New York State.
"However, the conversation leading to the suggestion of a referendum was very interesting."
The one who brought this up sonorously was Christine Hulk.
She had arrived at the branch twenty minutes earlier to see Haruga Haruomi and as soon as she stepped into this lounge, she planted herself onto the sofa where Hal was sitting, instantly staking out her territory.
With only ten centimeters between the two of them, it was far too close.
Staring at those two, Orihime's gaze looked very sad—Hal felt as though he were sitting on a bed of pins.
On the other hand, Christine spoke innocently without any regard for Hal's feelings, "When Hal calmly pointed out that a dragon without American citizenship won't be recognized as having the right to stand in elections, Hannibal snickered and replied that even immigrants should have a way to obtain permanent residency and citizenship rights. Hence, the two of them came to mutual agreement to hold a referendum to clear up the issue beyond a doubt."
"Rather than mutual agreement, it was more like playing a game."
Christine giggled and next to her, Hal shrugged.
"Whether saying he was going to run for president or lead America to war, Hannbial was totally like playing a game. His mindset is pretty much like playing an SLG with Earth as the stage. That's why I played along and suggested a 'voting game,' that's all."
It was purely good fortune that Hannibal was interested. Regardless, the two sides had reached consensus to hold an impromptu referendum in a few days' time, thus the objective of buying time at the current stage succeeded.
At this moment, they were making all sorts of preparations for what would come after the referendum.
As a side note, running for the American presidency not only required citizenship but the condition of being born on American soil. Naturally, Hannibal could not possibly fulfill this.
But in Hannibal's case, he was not even human. Hal had generously overlooked this detail.
"Well, you should be thanking Hannibal's playfulness rather than me."
"What are you talking about? We—including the governor—were only sitting there watching like scarecrows. This is really your accomplishment, Hal. Nothing less expected from you, Hal!"
"!? Y-You're too close, Chris!"
Christine suddenly hugged Hal, wrapping her arms around his neck.
This intimate act was going a bit overboard. Christine's abrupt body language rendered Hazumi speechless. Then Hal suddenly heard a "klonk."
Orihime accidentally dropped her coffee cup just as she was about to take a sip.
Fortunately, the cup did not break and there was only a little bit of the black liquid remaining.
"M-My apologies! My hand slipped!"
"Nee-sama, are you okay!?"
Orihime knelt down to wipe the spilt coffee on the ground.
Hazumi and Hal also took out tissues to help. While the three of them were bent over to clean up the spill, Hal happened to meet Orihime's gaze.
Always lively and cheerful, she was displaying an expression that Hal had never seen before.
Orihime was looking at Haruga Haruomi worriedly. Then suddenly regaining her senses, she looked down sadly. Hal could not help but feel an urge to escape out of this place.
Just as he was about to follow his impulse to take Orihime outside to talk, just the two of them...
Christine, witnessing the whole scene in a laid back manner—
"...Don't tell me you're actually very popular, Hal?"
Another bomb exploded.
"All the girls in the same team are intimate with you, living a fulfilling love life and working life every day—Something along those lines? It turns out you're actually unexpectedly capable. The first time I saw your photo, Hal, I thought you were an eccentric boy who likes to be alone... Fufu, I've discovered a surprising side to you, Hal."
"D-Don't just fabricate my personality on your own."
"R-Right! Haruga-kun isn't the kind of character that would appear in American dramas. He and I have yet to—"
Hal instantly retorted and Orihime shouted immediately—
Indeed. Juujouji Orihime suddenly came to a realization when she said the words "yet to" and hastily covered her mouth with her hands. Seeing this scene, Christine grinned like the Cheshire Cat and said, "'Yet to'? So you haven't started going out offically... Is my understanding correct?"
"So there's no problem even if I express my affection for Hal, right? Then let me ask him out to dinner for tonight."
With every sentence Christine spoke, Orihime widened her eyes.
Not only that, but she also showed a panicking and extremely confused look, her mouth opening and closing alternately. Hazumi hastily came to her side and tried to calm her cousin.
Speaking of which, Hal's classmate was not only a school idol but quite a jumpy person too.
Hal was just about to speak on Orihime's behalf when—
"H-Hold on. I—"
"Unfortunately, Haruomi already has plans. Tonight, he is coming with me to decipher the ancient text we retrieved a few days ago."
The one who interrupted was Hal's childhood friend.
Asya happened to open the door and enter the lounge. She was holding just a cup of coffee that was ostensibly brewed in the pantry without bringing any donuts or cake as a snack.
"This job requires Level 4 magical power at least. If you happen to meet this requirement, Miss Christine, I would implore you to lend your assistance... What do you say?"
"Sorry, but I'm only Level 3."
Christine extended her right hand to Asya who had suddenly interrupted.
"This is actually our first time talking face to face. You are the master-class witch, Miss Anastasya Rubashvili, aren't you? Just call me Chris."
"Nice to meet you too. It's also fine for you to call me Asya."
Asya shook her hand and Christine smiled cheerfully.
"You seem completely different from the rumors."
"Me? What kind of rumors are circulating about me?"
"They're quite mean, saying you're a beast and living proof of wildness, completely unable to settle down outside of battlefields. It looks like they're totally off base."
"Seriously, they keep making these weird jokes, it's quite troubling."
Smiling calmly, Asya conversed amicably with the witch from the East Coast.
Thus, she managed to sweep the earlier commotion under the rug. Seeing his childhood friend like this, Hal was struck deeply again—Sure enough, Asya was behaving different from usual.
She was even calmer than usual and very adept at handling people.
What on earth had happened to her?
"So, I'd like you to come clean with the truth quickly."
"You're suddenly talking nonsense, Haruomi..."
Two hours later, Hal and Asya were alone in a hotel room.
On the table in Hal's room was The Posthumous Writings of Progenitor Solomon.
A heavy grimoire two sizes larger than A3. A steel-colored weapon—Hal's magic gun—had been placed on top of this mysterious book.
What Hal was making effective use of right now was his gun's power as a "magic wand" rather than its functionality as a firearm.
"Before accusing me of alleged crimes in my innocence, please report what transpired first."
"Well, sure... This gun is simultaneously my personal 'magic wand.' I'm currently asking it and Hinokagutsuchi to decipher the book," Hal explained to Asya who was showing a cold expression.
"Even if SAURU's research team tried to decipher it using conventional methods, they'd still get deceived by the obfuscation magic on this book. It could take them a decade to dig out the true content. Then it might take them another twenty years to decipher the text they finally obtained after so much trouble."
"How many years will it take Hinokagutsuchi-san to decipher it?"
"She said no more than five days."
"Meaning there's a pretty good chance we might make it before the referendum is held? Nothing less expected from a former dragon king and a magic item of Ruruk Soun. It's like cheating."
The deciphering had started the previous night.
As the guardian residing in the magic gun, Hinokagutsuchi had not appeared since then. Hal wanted her to focus all her spiritual energy towards the task and did not take the magic gun out of the hotel room.
A situation requiring a weapon probably should not arise in the short run for now—
Hal had taken action precisely to take advantage of this. Starting since the previous night, he had strictly forbidden hotel staff from entering this room. Consequently, the room was a mess inside.
"That's pretty much the idea, so you don't really need to go out of your way to help, Asya."
"Of course I know that. It was simply an improvised plan to get Chris to leave."
"Jeez, it is quite regrettable that an unmotivated guy like you, Haruomi, the type that goes 'sigh, no helping it,' has suddenly turned into a hot stock. A phase of sudden popularity should descend on more carnivorous guys who work hard at attracting girls."
Asya shrugged and offered a highly critical opinion.
"Looks like this world is lacking in fairness and justice."
"I-I think all Chris wanted to do was casually tease me a bit. Think about it, it's quite a rare occasion since it's the first time for someone like me to appear in the modern era."
"I recall Hinokagutsuchi-san saying before that you're a second Solomon, reborn in modern times."
The childhood friend spoke in a sarcastic tone, "Why don't you try to imitate him and marry seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines?"
"Isn't that a story made up in the Old Testament of the Bible? Like hell anyone's gonna believe that! Besides, it's impossible for me to resemble King Solomon in any way."
"Even when you snagged two American girls, Luna and Chris, in such short time?"
"P-Perhaps I just happen to get along well with American girls, hahaha..."
"Please quit saying this sort of nonsense. Isn't there a suspicious atmosphere hanging over you and Orihime-san too?"
Hal was shocked by Asya's accurate comment.
It was possible that he felt something for the girl known as Juujouji Orihime—But he never expected Asya to be the one to point this out.
In matters on this front, his childhood friend was supposed to be even denser than Hal.
Then why was it Asya's turn to talk about him? Just as Hal panicked, Asya continued with her attack.
"Haruomi, you're really a troubling guy with no fidelity. And Luna even caught you unprepared and kissed you on the lips... Isn't that why you became overly conscious of Luna, preventing you from taking a decisive stand against her?"
"How could I possibly take a decisive stand against her? Luna is one of my comrades, also—"
"Also, you're wavering because of her aggressive courtship, aren't you?"
Asya swiftly came to Hal's side. Not knowing his childhood friend's intent, Hal tilted his head with a "?" In the next instant, Asya brought her lips near Hal's face in an extremely natural manner—
Then she kissed him. She kissed Hal right on the lips.
"This is why Luna and Chris have you eating out of their palm. You need to reflect properly."
"Well then, goodnight, Haruomi. Even if you dream of me and revel in shameless and immoral delusions... I will permit it this once as a special exception for tonight."
"Despite how I may look, I am your magnanimous and open-minded childhood friend. So see you tomorrow."
Leaving these words behind, Asya left the room.
Hal remained stunned for quite a while after that. His thoughts halted for ten minutes or so. Then finally returning to normal, his myriad thoughts began to spin furiously in his mind.
Why on earth did that Asya ki... do that to me?
In addition, his heart had been pounding the whole time, beating like mad nonstop. How odd.
"W-What am I supposed to do now!?"
In a certain way, this was a challenge of a lifetime, even trickier than fighting against dragon kings.
Forced to confront this all at once, Hal was plunged into extreme trepidation.
"How's this, President!? I can do it too when I put my mind to it!"
Just as how Haruomi would chat with Luna Francois once a day, Asya also reported the situation daily to a certain person—President M in Tokyo New Town.
Back to her hotel room, Asya was chatting with the president through her laptop.
"I delivered the critical strike tonight. Haruomi must be in a state of 'nonstop pounding in his heart☆' with his thoughts all occupied with me, I'm certain of it!"
'I-I can't believe a loser like you were able to get this far...'
President M looked shocked on the laptop's LCD screen.
'I never expected you could bring about such a dramatic change through autosuggestion. This world is unbelievable.'
"Although I call it autosuggestion, it is systematic hypnosis magic after all. The unprecedented effect was produced by combining my magical power with my serious determination to apply hypnosis at full strength."
That night while they were touring Boston—
Asya had cast the magic of Hypnotic Suggestion on herself. She had told herself "to take care of the prey calmly and assuredly by any means necessary."
Asya went "ehem" proudly and puffed out her flat chest.
"I was inspired by my mother. Back when I was in elementary school, my mother taught me the ways of hunting and how to use air guns, but I failed to catch any prey no matter how I tried."
'So in your family, even your mother is a military nut...'
"Back then, my mother told me 'the key is to stay calm until the moment when the prey's throat is severed.'"
Asya recalled her mother's teachings.
"Be cool. You will regret impatience in front of prey. Pull the trigger twice. Recalling many iron-clad rules, I came to understand that they can be applied effectively in love, so I enacted this comeback performance!"
'Well, the romance methods of popular carnivorous girls definitely bear a resemblance to hunting, but—'
President M sighed.
'I am at a loss, overcome with emotion, to think that you managed to do the same.'
"It's all thaks to your teachings, President. All this time, I've been tormented by my inability to put into practice the content from your special training... But even so, it seems like the content was etched subconsciously into my mind, becoming a part of my flesh and blood."
Asya grinned nihilistically.
"While my autosuggestion was active, I was able to employ the various popularity techniques I learned as naturally as breathing. I could even go beyond what was taught every now and then."
'That has already surpassed technique to reach the realm of wild hunting instincts...'
Sensing instinctively the presence of a girl approaching Haruomi then naturally hindering her.
Clever image manipulation to make him suddenly think of Asya.
Then there was the surprise attack launched with precision tonight to catch Haruomi unprepared. These setups were essential for transforming herself from an ordinary childhood friend to a prospective romantic partner.
...All of them were beyond Asya's ability in the past.
"I'll concede that Luna and Orihime-san are ahead of me currently, but the situation is still salvageable. That being said, it would too rash to expect a reversal from a single strike..."
Asya calmly explained the approach she should take.
"Right now, I need to humbly admit my position as a minor player then make careful preparations repeatedly for battle. I have to be ready at all times to launch a blitzkrieg the instant a good opportunity presents itself."
'You are now capable of formulating strategies to make yourself popular!?'
"To be honest, the way I am now, I don't think that any boy will remain safe if I were to set my eyes on him."
Neither conceited nor bragging, Asya simply stated indifferently.
Asya was currently like a master general who remained calm at all times, concealing the battle spirit within. A sniper capable of enduring all manner of hardship until the target was struck.
However, President M said to this kind of student, 'Your dramatic level up is truly a joy to behold, but... How is that going?'
"Huh? What do you mean by that?"
'Loss of appetite. After applying the hypnosis, you totally stopped eating, right?'
"Oh, nothing's changed, but I don't think there's anything to worry about. I don't feel unwell and I'm still in good health."
Impressive as always, President M, the self-proclaimed "mother of all club members," was extremely observant.
Asya tried to respond in as cheerful a voice as possible, but the president spoke faster than her.
'Well, a secret technique to turn an unwanted loser girl into a warrior of love in a single night can't possibly not have risks. You must have noticed something no matter how faint, haven't you?'
"T-To be honest, I don't have a clue..."
'Then you are fortunate. Regardless, you have succeeded in evading a 'Game Over' crisis, so why don't you take this chance to dispel this boosted state? Do not be too greedy.'
'Then it's settled. If anything comes up, don't be shy, just call me. However, do not call when it's late at night in Japan. Staying up is bad for skin health.'
"Y-You're actually concerned about beauty care!?"
After revealing a shocking truth, President M hung up.
Asya switched off her laptop as well. This Japanese-made B5 notebook was a mass production model sold on the market but had amazing durability and battery life. It never had any data loss and remained virtually undamaged despite minor falls to the ground.
Military personnel often used this laptop on the battlefield due to these characteristics.
Switched off and displaying nothing, this approximately two-year-old laptop's shiny black LCD screen reflected Asya's face.
Seeing her own familiar face, Asya began to think back.
During that battle in the Old Manhattan Concession, Asya had promised to get rid of the enemy within twenty seconds but ended up going slightly over time. This inaccuracy had never happened to her before.
Asya did not think that it would pose an immediate problem today or tomorrow.
However, were it several weeks or even months later instead, perhaps—
The referendum was to be held on August 16th.
Hal expected to remain in New York until after this event and the Hannibal problem had settled to a certain extent. If the situation were to show signs of becoming long-term, he would have Orihime and Hazumi, the two Tokyo New Town witches, return to Japan first...
A number of days had passed since he decided that.
The date on the calendar showed August 15th. The referendum was going to be tomorrow. That evening, Hal and Hazumi went out on a drive to go shopping.
"Excuse me, Senpai. May I ask you to explain something to me?"
They were on their way back after buying a large amount of daily necessities and snacks.
The car was driving along a street in Brooklyn. Sitting in the front passenger seat, Hazumi had her head tilted. She happened to be watching the evening news on the car navigator screen.
"This current story is reporting about the results from the street survey asking if people approve of Hannibal-san's candidacy where they answer YES or NO, isn't it?"
"Yeah, that's right."
Since Hazumi had said she wanted to practice her English listening skills, Hal turned on the news for her to watch in the car.
When Hal nodded, the serious learner and junior student said in puzzlement, "The result was that 78% of New York City residents answered NO, 6% answered YES and 16% had no comment... Did I get that right?"
"Don't worry, you didn't make any mistakes."
"In other words, more than 20% did not answer NO... I am a bit surprised. There is a chance that Hannibal-san might become governor as a dragon."
"This kind of result is possible when you go around asking an indeterminate number of people."
With one hand on the steering wheel, Hal replied to Hazumi.
The sun was setting upon the streets of Brooklyn. Although not to the point of congestion, traffic volume was still quite high. Normally, residents would slowly move out of a major metropolis if it became as close to a dragon concession territory as New York City, resulting in a problem of underpopulation.
Tokyo New Town was a very good example, but New York City was one of the rare exceptions.
Perhaps it was due to the presence of dragon king Hannibal ended up deterring Raptor attacks—along with the vibrancy of the inhabitants and the city itself.
"In fact, there's a new religion in America that worships Hannibal as a New Age god."
"The rest is just as Hannibal said himself. He's undoubtedly the most powerful leader in the twenty-first century... I guess? He's able to attract people who are outcasts in the economy or society."
"I-Is that how it works!?"
"No, I just made up the last part. Many social psychologists with famous TV personas on news programs will be analyzing this issue. I'm expecting something will be out tonight."
"Oh, then I will watch from my hotel room."
Hazumi seemed to be seriously trying to improve her English level. Seeing the junior student raise her clasped hands slightly while saying "I will try my hardest," Hal felt a gradual soothing of his soul.
Incidentally, one of the special powers of witches was aptitude for language learning.
They were capable of familiarizing with foreign languages with exceptional speed, reaching mother tongue proficiency within a month or two. After arriving in America, Hazumi and Orihime's English had been improving day by day.
However, the junior suddenly began to hesitate and spoke shyly, "B-By the way, Senpai... I'd like to ask a question but it's difficult to bring up."
"What is it? If it's you, Shirasaka, I can make a special exception and disclose my three sizes."
"Th-Then I shall proceed. A-After that time, what did it feel like when you went on a date with Chris-san!?"
Hal jumped in surprise and said hastily, "No no no, we're not dating at all!"
"S-Sorry for asking so suddenly. It's been bothering me ever since that day, but I couldn't bring myself to ask..."
Three days ago, Christine had come to ask Hal out and hugged him.
After that, Hazumi and Orihime had acted as usual in Hal's presence. However, Hal realized there was something unnatural in their attitude if he thought about it carefully. This seemed to be the reason.
"H-However, I am relieved. I will let Nee-sama know when I get back."
Hazumi smiled, looking like a 100% pure angel.
She never considered the possibility of an unscrupulous senior lying to her. Soothed by Hazumi's purity once again, Hal asked apprehensively, "Could it be that Juujouji is also bothered by this?"
"Nee-sama didn't say explicitly, but I'm guessing yes. For the past few days, she has seemed distracted... But I understand, because it was the same for me."
Sitting in the front passenger seat next to Hal, Hazumi bowed her head sadly.
"Senpai might be dating a certain girl... It feels very painful here whenever this thought crosses my mind, although I have no idea why."
With a soul purer than anyone's, she held her hand on her chest lightly.
Pain in the heart. Meaning—Jealousy? Hal could not help but feel moved while accidentally entertaining delusions about this sort of thing.
"You're feeling jealousy when girls approach me. In other words, this is the sense of loss stemming from your perception of me as something beyond a senior—an older guy akin to a big brother!"
"I-I am treating you as my brother, Senpai!?"
"In other words, Shirasaka, you have a brother complex!"
"I see now!"
"Yeah, so feel free to call me 'Onii-chan'—No no. I shouldn't do this. I almost got ahead of myself."
Hal decided to behave. Although a fake brother-sister relationship had its charms, the bittersweetness of an immature senior-junior relationship was also hard to give up. He should not lose control from momentary impulse.
"Well, thinking about it carefully, perhaps it's the feeling of uncertainty from 'the possibility of someone by your side leaving you...' that's making your delicate soul stress out, Shirasaka. It must be something like that."
"Is... that really it?"
"Oh, but actually, I'm starting to accept it. If you were my older brother, Senpai, I would definitely feel overjoyed from the bottom of my heart..."
Hal cursed the fact that he was driving at the moment. Were he not driving, he could go along with this wave of emotion and perform two or three somersaults, allowing his excitement to explode.
"Perhaps it's the same for Asya-san."
"Because it feels like Asya-san and you have been quite distant from each other lately. She probably feels the same as me."
The truth was something else. It was Hal who was avoiding Asya.
Indeed. Ever since three days ago, after his childhood friend had done that to him, Hal had found it impossible to keep his emotions in check.
Whenever he saw Asya, Hal would inevitably think back to that and unable to calm his mind. Hence, Hal would naturally distance himself from his childhood friend when in the same space, to avoid speaking to her face-to-face as much as possible.
This had never happened before even though their inseparable relationship had lasted ten-odd years!
"Oh, how should I put it, that Asya—"
Just as Hal spoke up, he suddenly felt a pain on his right hand.
Using only his left hand to hold the steering wheel, Hal opened his right hand—The Rune of the Bow surfaced on the center of his palm. Next, Hal noticed.
"Hinokagutsuchi is calling me..."
Done. The deciphering of the grimoire, The Posthumous Writings of Progenitor Solomon—
Several hours passed after the drive with Hazumi.
Hal's original plan for the night was to stay cooped up in his room the whole time, but—
"Excuse me for visiting so suddenly. It's because I wanted to discuss a few things with you, Haruga-kun..."
"No problem. It just so happens that I'm reporting my findings to Luna too."
Orihime paid a sudden visit.
Hal invited the worried-looking Orihime into his room and sat down at the desk again. The open laptop's screen was displaying Luna Francois' face. Hal was using an internet connection and a webcam to contact Japan. With great interest, Luna said, 'Then Harry, what was recorded in Solomon-senpai's grimoire?'
"As it turns out, the content is quite exciting."
The magic gun and Hinokagutsuchi had been in charge of deciphering the grimoire. The instant Hal returned to the hotel room and picked up the gun, the grimoire's contents flowed into his mind.
Hal had already told Hazumi, Orihime and Asya the gist of the contents.
During that time, Asya had listened calmly to Hal, infuriating him. At the time, he was thinking "you suddenly did that last time, spinning me in circles."
In any case, Hal started to convey to Luna the key points in The Posthumous Writings of Progenitor Solomon.
"Solomon-senpai was in the same situation as me. He was also a human wielding the power of dragonbane—"
He had actualy used numerous incantations, mystic techniques and rituals.
Also, during the process of using the power of dragonbane, he had obtained dragonkind's knowledge. Knowledge regarding the runes of Ruruk Soun. In addition, there were the terms of the covenants between Solomon and the seventy-two apostles serving him...
That was the message recorded in the book's introduction.
—To my disciples or descendants living in the future world, you ought to inherit my rune and seventy-two apostles after mastering the wisdom in this book. You are Solomon's successors—
'Wow—definitely quite an exciting will.'
"'My rune' probably refers to the dragonslaying power Solomon used. The seventy-two apostles would presumably be the ancient leviathans he synthesized, I'm pretty sure."
Luna Francois smiled suggestively while Orihime looked at Hal uneasily.
In front of the two girls, Hal continued, "The final chapter, which was the hardest to decipher, left an incantation for ordering the genie of the lamp to bring the hidden treasure chest. Naturally, what lies inside the chest would be Solomon-senpai's legacy."
'How considerate. It must be fate that chose Harry as Solomon's successor.'
"I feel a little inclined to agree. So Luna, what are your honest thoughts?"
'If such a message were found written on an ancient text that took monumental effort to decipher, I might go accept the legacy with elation. However, this was translated easily just like that, which invites calm thinking. As a person who is not only calm but also very twisted, I think—'
On the thirteen-inch LCD screen, Luna winked mischievously.
'Too suspicious, forget about it this time♪ That's what I believe to be the correct answer.'
"I actually agree. 'Don't naively believe in a map that shows the shortest route to the treasure' is how treasure hunters roll."
'Traps should be placed in front of the treasure vault as well as along the return path when adventurers have lowered their guard.'
"E-Excuse me, Haruga-kun and Luna-san."
At that moment, Orihime interjected apprehensively. She was thinking for Hal's sake.
"Having lived so long ago, Solomon-san intentionally wrote in a simple and easily understood manner for the sake of imparting important information to future generations... Does this possibility not exist?"
"However, since he apparently maintained human form, his powers were even greater than mine."
Hal spoke quietly.
"Would he be that friendly? There's also Pavel Galad as a precedent. That kind of upfront personality even as a dragon, it's like playing a super high-difficulty game that delivers a sense of setback halfway through."
'King Solomon was probably the same as Harry and I. Calculative and twisted,' Luna said jokingly. However, her tone of voice then turned serious.
'However... Harry, don't tell me you intend to open the treasure chest?'
"I'm sorry to say that I'd like to give it a try. Would this timing be considered excellent or poor...? If the Hannibal problem didn't exist, I'd shelve this issue without hesitation."
'Yes... In your current condition, if by any chance a fight with Hannibal comes up—'
"Going all-out shouldn't be a problem, but I don't have a high chance of winning. Since losing is the likely outcome, I might as well take a gamble before that. Let me be the human sacrifice to challenge Solomon's treasure."
Hal did not want to talk about this sort of thing with such a sense of despair.
Shrugging, he spoke as frivolously as possible.
He had already informed his plan to his other companions other than Luna, which was why Orihime was very worried. She was worried about the reckless Haruga Haruomi who wanted to make a move on Solomon's legacy despite knowing the risks...
"It's also possible that Solomon-senpai is a good person like Juujouji said."
'—Ahh, my goodness!'
Luna Francois suddenly yelled in chagrin.
Hal and Orihime looked at the laptop simultaneously. The blonde girl who had stayed back in Tokyo said with frustration, 'Why did I ever agree to hold the fort, Harry!? Were I by your side this moment, I would undoubtedly cross the line with you without hesitation to develop an even more intimate relationship!'
In front of the speechless Hal and Orihime, Luna continued, 'Harry might end up like a candle in the wind as a result of taking on a dangerous challenge, you know? In that case, we should finish up what needs to be done between a man and a woman! It might turn out to be a final memory!'
"Th-That's too extreme an opinion, Luna—"
'Are you saying you don't care, Harry!? You don't care about developing that sort of relationship with me even in the face of a potentially deadly climax!? This is your best chance to satisfy a boy's worldly desire, you know!?"
"Well, I'd be lying if I said I didn't want it..."
"Oh, uh, don't get the wrong idea, Juujouji. Umm... Think about it, I only answered like this because Luna isn't here in New York...!"
'This is so frustrating! If I were over there right now, I could seduce you with everything I've got and see how far I'd depending on luck and atmosphere... But Harry, we still have more chances, you know?'
'Yes. When you return to Japan safely, Harry, I will—'
"L-L-L-L-Luna-san!? I-I believe such words should not be spoken too loudly!"
'And I've discovered this. If anything, Harry likes Orihime-san slightly more than me.'
Hal and Orihime jumped in surprise at Luna's comment.
In contrast, the blonde witch who had pointed this out added nonchalantly, 'It's time for me to bring out my trump card to catch up with Orihime-san. Listen up, Harry, know that Luna Francois Gregory is a girl who can do anything for you. You must return safe and sound, got that? It's a promise, okay?'
'Yes. Even though you are a closet pervert, Harry, I will humor your every wish and desire.'
Hal's call to Japan conclude at this point.
What did that girl Luna promise me?—Despite his great shock, Hal kept his expression tense. Orihime was next to him too. Right now, he had to maintain a resolute attitude.
However, the girl with the delicate relationship with Haruga Haruomi was currently glaring at him with eyes of resentment.
"Haruga-kun... Lust is written all over your face."
"A-Absolutely not. Hmm."
Totally unconvincing, thought Hal to himself. Naturally, Orihime did not believe him.
"Good grief! When you act like this, Haruga-kun, aren't you forcing me to wonder whether I should be doing something too!?"
"Huh? You feel that way towards me too, Juujouji?"
The instant Hal muttered that, the jumpy school idol suddenly came to a realization.
"Umm, uh, I misspoke just now in a moment of panic. My apologies."
"Y-Yeah. I thought so."
"No, but, how should I put this? I do admit that thoughts along the lines of 'I don't want to lose to Luna-san' exist in a corner of my mind..."
The two of them naturally drew closer—At that very moment...
Knock knock. Someone suddenly knocked at the door. Then a voice spoke from outside.
"Haruomi. Please open up if you're there. I need to speak to you."
"The ritual for inheriting Solomon's legacy... I want to be present for it. We're carrying it out tonight, aren't we?"
Then twenty minutes passed.
Taking Asya and Orihime, Hal went to the hotel's roof.
The roof was not open to hotel guests. Hal and friends had entered through a staff access point without permission. To carry out the ritual, Hal wanted to be outdoors and somewhere out of sight.
The magic gun manifested in Hal's right hand. The two witches watched from the side. Orihime was observing Hal with concern. On the other hand, Asya had her arms crossed with a calm expression.
Damn it. Hal secretly cursed in his heart.
Asya had been like this all the time lately, acting as though that had never happened, putting Hal's mind in disarray.
What the heck is Asya thinking? How does she feel about me?
"...Thinking about it is futile."
Hal muttered in a voice too quiet for the girls to hear, then switched his focus.
For the past few days, his childhood friend had shown many puzzling behaviors. However, he would leave the mystery to be solved after handling his pile of work and requests. He needed to prioritize the matters at hand. Hal also decided to temporarily set aside his relationship with Orihime, who was becoming much more than a classmate or a friend—
He released magical power from his heart and transmitted it to the magic gun in his right hand.
Hal pointed the muzzle at the sky and focused his mind. He placed his finger on the trigger.
"I suppose the magic phrase is 'open sesame,'... right?"
A classic incantation for opening a treasure vault's door.
Hal recited the incantation associated with the story of Ali Baba and invoked Legacy Succession magic. It was a mystic technique he had learned from Solomon's posthumous writings.
Seven runes of Ruruk Soun appeared in front of the gun's muzzle that was pointing at the sky.
They signified "My disciples or my descendants, you are the successors of Solomon."
Hal pulled the trigger.
Shot out from the muzzle, the bullet of light pierced the seven runes and tore through the night sky.
"With this, the signal is sent. The genie of the lamp will then bring the treasure chest over. It might take a long time, though."
Solomon's mystic technique was left somewhere extremely far away.
In comparison, the distance between Tokyo New Town and New York would be akin to an afternoon stroll.
Hal said to the girls, "Let's retire for tonight. We'll just have to see what fortune awaits next. We should also focus on work and forget the whole mess troubling us for the time being."
"You are... right. We have to survive the referendum tomorrow first!"
Considerate as always, Orihime instantly replied with a smile.
In fact, the "whole mess troubling us" was directed at his childhood friend in addition to Orihime, but Hal did not make it explicit. Asya nodded, calm as always.
When wearing such an expression, the atmosphere she exuded was frighteningly similar to Auntie Yulia's.
In any case, it was already 11pm.
The date would soon change to welcome the arrival of August 16th. The referendum for approving Hannibal's candidacy was about to be held.
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