Leviathan:Volume 5 Chapter 5
Chapter 5 - Pain and Gain
Old Manhattan Island was the concession territory ruled by dragon king Hannibal.
Despite the name of "island," strictly speaking, Old Manhattan Island was a vast sandbank on the mouth of the Hudson River. Following the river downstream, one would pass Old Manhattan Island before reaching the Atlantic Ocean.
Further downstream of Manhattan Island was Liberty Island whose biggest and only selling point was the Statue of Liberty.
The giant statue of a goddess bearing a torch was the symbol of the United States of America. Including the pedestal, the Statue of Liberty reached almost a height of 100m.
Hal and his team were on standby, watched over by the Statue of Liberty, a world heritage site.
Governors Island was also located on the Hudson River. With an area more than ten times of Liberty Island, it was easily large enough to contain a large theme park. In actual fact, the island had facilities including grassland, parks and merry-go-rounds for citizens to use for recreation.
Hal's team was on a grassland in the center of Governors Island.
"Hmm. Simply waiting is making me impatient."
"In terms of common sense from the human world, you need to sound even more impatient when saying that," replied Hal to the muttering of Hannibal who was in human form.
The red dragon king was reclining openly in a chair prepared by the humans, delivering his comment with eyes partially closed in a seemingly good mood. He looked a little restless and quite jubilant. The impression Hal gathered was like that of a child who could not wait for an amusement park to open.
The two of them were seated with a conference room table between them.
Five meters behind Hal, three other humans were present. Important people in New York State—the governor, his aide and Christine, respectively. Same people as last time.
It was currently August 16th, just past 11pm.
Together with Hannibal, they were waiting for the outcome of the referendum.
Seeing as they were in a dragon king's company, having armed units on standby to protect the governor would be pointless. On the human side, the only other people present were two pilots in charge of operating the transport helicopter.
—The referendum had lasted from 8am to 5pm.
—Residents could cast their ballot at temporary voting stations all over New York State. More than five hours had passed since the end of the referendum.
At this moment, the governor's cellphone began to ring.
A call. The handsome governor took out his cellphone from the pocket of his expensive summer suit and lowered his voice to take the call. After roughly thirty seconds, he ended the call, wrote a note on a piece of paper and handed it to his aide.
The aide walked over to Hal uncomfortably and handed him the note in question.
His expression was stiff, his fingers were trembling, presumably unable to conceal his nervousness towards the imminent major event. Feeling deeply sympathetic, Hal accepted the note, took a glance then said, "Do you approve of the dragon king, a certain Mr. Hannibal, to run for governor? The outcome of this referendum is as follows: 12% support, 84% against, 4% invalid... Looks like the motion has been rejected by the majority."
"How regrettable. Sure enough, I failed to win the people's trust within a short time," said Hannibal quietly with a nod.
This referendum had been managed and counted by the New York State government completely. Hannibal had not verified the ballots himself, which meant that the government had the chance to tamper with vote counts arbitrarily. That being said, everyone probably believed there was no need to do that.
Hannibal simply grinned and said, "The first chapter of my attempt to seize power has concluded with failure. Now that the situation has unfolded to this point, I have no choice left but to take a massive gamble in the second chapter to mount a comeback. Look forward to my immediate rebound."
"I have many ripostes for you, such as you are taking this far too well," Hal retorted rather tactfully.
"But let's put them aside for now. I've got a question. What will your aforementioned comeback be like?"
"Hmm. I suppose I have to rule all of New York State before holding an election. Neglecting this step resulted in such pain. I have learned not to hold back."
"I believe that forcing people to vote at gunpoint wouldn't be a democratic election. Absolutely not."
"Really? Do you humans not engage frequently in the same kind of election tactics too?"
"That's quite a painful jab, but at a time like this, you should keep quiet and let me apply the principles of democracy. I hereby represent all residents of New York State to express absolute disapproval of using physical force to interfere in politics."
"Then no helping it. I will thn rely on this to proceed."
Hannibal patted his right arm and smiled. Hal looked up at the blue sky.
"Don't you start getting violent straight away. At least enjoy the election game for a bit."
"No rush for that. There is the presidential election later on. At the present moment, I will focus on consolidating my foundation before transforming myself into a politician who values democracy above all else."
Going with the flow was precisely Hannibal's life philosophy.
But no matter how laid back he seemed, in truth, he was always subconsciously pondering the question of "what should I do to win?" before putting ideas into practice without reservation. Judging from this aspect, he truly lived up to his name as one who had ascended to become a dragon king.
Despite his exasperation, Hal still felt impressed and said, "What civilized people like us lack must be that kind of unfounded valor and confidence like yours, definitely... In a contest of the wildness index, I think you have even Asya beaten."
"I do not understand what you are talking about. However, I do not mind if you loudly proclaim my greatness."
After making jokes, both sides began to take action on their own.
Reclining in the chair, Hannibal extended his open right hand towards Hal. Hal summoned his gun of a magic wand to his right hand and aimed the steel-colored muzzle at Hannibal.
A pictograph of Ruruk Soun appeared on the red dragon king's palm.
A symbol consisting of a sharp rhombus connected to the end of a straight line, this was the Rune of the Spear. Hannibal was planning to use his dragonslaying rune!
"O northern star of the shining spear, grant me the dragonslaying spear!"
"That seal whose name I've forgotten, the second part of whatever he said!"
Just as Hannibal got up and recited an incantation, Hal stood up as well.
In the next instant, a two-meter-long black spear with a metallic shaft appeared in the red dragon king's right hand. The spear tip was the dull color of steel.
When the black spear appeared, the table between the two of them collapsed like a sand sculpture, pulverized. Clearly, Hannibal had yet to grip the spear properly. All he had done was a light swing with his right hand to the side.
Hal activated magical sight.
High-density magical power surrounded Hannibal's humanoid body and the dragonslaying spear.
"Firing a gun at someone who looks human really isn't my cup of tea...!"
Muttering to himself, Hal still pulled the magic gun's trigger.
The fired bullets of red light struck the high-density magical power surrounding Hannibal—They disappeared, meeting the same fate as the table, collapsing like sand.
"Come on, aren't my bullets dragonslaying weapons at least?"
"Hohohoho. My spear is impregnable... and incomparably powerful too!"
Hannibal cackled at the sight of Hal's expression of surprise.
His smile was filled with childishness, making him seem more like a mischievous child than a dragon king.
Meanwhile, the helicopter pilots on standby had started up the propellers. The governor, his aide and Christine, the three of them had boarded. Hal took a glance at them and nodded. The close-range exchange just now was meant to buy time for them to escape.
Thus the helicopter took off, returning to Brooklyn.
Hannibal did not even bother to look, apparently uninterested in the governor and the others.
The governor and company had left but a great army arrived instead. A meteor shower was falling from the distant sky—Several hundred trails of light were descending upon New York City.
Needless to say, the truth of this sudden meteorological show was the red dragon king's summoning of minions.
Each falling meteor was a lesser dragon—the dragon king's small fry.
"Well, they are still useful in large numbers despite their incompetence. O human, fight me this evening!"
Keeping the gun aimed at the dragon king, Hal slowly backed away.
The dragonslaying spear was full of mysteries. Staying vigilant, Hal decided to get himself as far away from the spear tip as possible.
By the time Hal backed away, the meteor shower had already ceased.
The meteor shower had lasted less than a minute. During this brief duration, almost a thousand Raptors had already blotted out the sky over their location, the Hudson River, flying in all directions.
—Naturally, other interception units were on standby apart from Hal.
Surface-to-air missiles were fired successively from Brooklyn in New York City.
Ground forces were stationed all over town, prepared to resist the army of Raptors. Their weapons included self-propelled howitzers and rack-mounted halftrack Stinger missile launchers.
The thickness of Raptor skin was enough to withstand machine gunfire.
Although Raptors were referred to as "lizards" by elites, they were still members of dragonkind after all.
Even so, they inevitably collapsed after taking damage from a few consecutive missile hits. Furthermore, dozens of armed helicopters were flying in to support the ground forces.
On the other hand, New York City's population was roughly a couple million.
80% of them had taken the previous few days of preparation time before the referendum to evacuate out of the city temporarily. No voting stations had been set up in New York City today. All venues were outside New York City.
New York City had turned into a rather empty wasteland.
Apart from the National Guard, the American army, air force and navy were also deployed at various locations.
However, helicopters and ground forces alone were not enough to fight dragons flying in the air. The important responsibility of ensuring air superiority fell upon the leviathans—the witches.
At present, a blue figure was gliding in New York airspace to accomplish this mission.
It was Rushalka in crimson armor. Dragon-like in her Queen Form, the wyvern also had bodyguard knights accompanying her.
These were the four fierce feline leviathans—The "serpents" of the WotC.
The US military transport helicopter had taken off from an airbase in the Boston countryside and was circling in Brooklyn's airspace near the Hudson River and Manhattan Bridge. Asya was in the helicopter, controlling Rushalka in Queen Form.
"Witches of the Coast, please focus on controlling your partners in flight. Do not leave Rushalka's side under any circumstances. I will take full command from here."
"Understood. We will focus on backing you up, Asya."
Asya issued clear orders and the familiar Christine obeyed.
Apart from this lively and outgoing blonde witch, the other members were also listening to the orders of Asya the master-class witch. This included the youngest witch in the WotC, the twelve-year-old Marie, the dignified and well-bred Maneesha of Indian descent, as well as the African-American witch Kate whose slender figure was like a model's.
Living up to their name as members selected with an emphasis on personality, all of them were very loyal.
Had they been assembled from master-class witches, an impromptu team would definitely have people breaking step. But right now, there was no need to worry about that and Asya could gaze upon their partners with reassurance.
A helicopter was mobilized so that they could supervise this aerial battle from a suitable distance.
In the airspace around Old Manhattan, roughly a thousand Raptors were flying randomly unchecked.
Queen Form Rushalka charged straight into the ranks of the Raptors. The four leviathans of the WotC stood on guard, above, below and flanking the blue wyvern respectively. The silver lynx leviathan Tom Cat, the fierce albino tiger leviathan Tiger Cat, the blank panther leviathan Wild Cat surrounded by electrical sparks, and Bear Cat whose figure was round like a bear despite being a cat—
"Rushalka, expand the range of imperishable protection and enhance defense!"
Asya used Vision Amplification to enhance her sight. Staring intently at her partner with both eyes, she called out from inside the helicopter.
Flying several kilometers ahead, Rushalka heard clearly. Pearly light radiated out from her Queen Form body.
Due to the bond of magic connecting them to each other, Asya's voice could reach Rushalka.
The four leviathans of the WotC were also within the expanded range of Rushalka's protection.
Next, five Raptors flew in with bared fangs, trying to rip Tiger Cat and Wild Cat to shreds.
However, Rushalka's deployed protection bounced the five Raptors far away.
Indeed. The four leviathans of the WotC were actually sent to the field and tasked with other purposes instead of serving as bodyguards.
Then the leader of the fireteam, Asya, looked towards the sixth member—The last witch inside the helicopter.
"E-Excuse me, is it still not yet time for Minadzuki to be summoned...?"
"Don't worry. You just have to summon Minadzuki to assist in defense when we're in trouble. Think of Minadzuki as a bodyguard and a reserve force."
Asya nodded at the worried Hazumi.
Truth be told, one would not place too much faith in the helicopter's armor even when armed with rotary cannons and missiles. Hence, a bodyguard was essential.
With that, everything was ready—
Recently, Asya had been focusing her attention on conquering her childhood friend. Having Rushalka charge into enemy ranks, surrounded by foes, made her feel quite nostalgic.
Doing unfamiliar things for an extended duration was quite mentally draining after all.
She must go on a rampage to reaffirm her original self. Fortunately, she had plenty of additional weapons on her side.
"Rushalka will maintain the deployment of imperishable protection. Christine, Kate, Maneesha and Marie, you will each activate your partner's pseudo-divinity to launch magical attacks. Since we're surrounded by enemies entirely, there's no need to aim in particular. Just defeat the enemies with all your strength!"
The four witches of the WotC immediately followed Asya's orders.
Christine's partner, the flying silver lynx, Tom Cat, possessed the attribute of Water.
She summoned a tsunami in the sky—the raging waves rushed at dozens of Raptors at once, crushing them with water pressure.
The African-American witch Kate's black panther, Wild Cat, was of the Lightning attribute. Lightning strikes fell madly like rain, incinerating ten-odd Raptors nearby.
The witch of Indian descent, Maneesha, was controlling the white tiger, Tiger Cat, whose attribute was Wind. Tiger Cat shot out a wild flurry of wind blades like a machine gun, also slaying ten-odd Raptors as well.
Then there was the youngest newcomer witch, Marie. Her partner was the ursine feline, Bear Cat. Although her attribute was Gravity, the potency was far less than Luna Francois', of course. Nevertheless, she still tried her best to manipulate gravity, sending flying Raptors crashing into the ground, killing them directly.
—With that, they succeeded in wiping out seventy to eighty Raptors.
Asya nodded approvingly. The WotC's "serpents" were simply considered fire support, but they had proved surprisingly effective in restraining the enemy. After all, the enemies were all minions of Hannibal, hence even the small fry Raptors were empowered by the might of dragonbane.
Given such circumstances, even Luna would have been unable to oppose them prior to establishing her covenant with Hal.
Tactically speaking, treating the WotC as flying artillery was the best division of roles.
"Except for Marie, the three of you please attack using pseudo-divinity again."
The newcomer witch, Marie, was still Level 1, only capable of using pseudo-divinity once a day.
The other members immediately obeyed Asya's command. A tsunami, lightning strikes and wind blades raged across the sky again, instantly killing dozens of Raptors.
However, Kate and Maneesha were only Level 2 witches and this meant the end of their offensive.
Level 3 witch Christine continued and summoned a third tsunami, thus depleting the final usage of pseudo-divinity by the leviathans of the WotC.
They ended up destroying almost 30% of the enemy forces in total, leaving roughly seven hundred of them.
"I'll handle the rest. Please call back your 'serpents' from Rushalka's side!"
Basking in the protective radiance deployed by the blue wyvern in Queen Form, the WotC's four leviathans suddenly vanished. The witches had followed Asya's request to withdraw their leviathans. Now, Asya had free rein to employ tactical mobility.
Asya instantly commanded, "Rushalka, equip the Rune of the Bow."
A pair of arms made of ruby were equipped on Rushalka.
A crimson longbow manifested on the left arm while eight arrows, made of ice from arrowhead to the fletchings, beautifully sculpted like artwork, appeared over her head.
The arrows, like exquisite ice sculptures, were products of Water pseudo-divinity.
Rushalka's right hand grabbed an arrow, nocked it and extended the bow.
The arrow was shot on Asya's command.
After being fired, the ice arrow shattered into over three hundred fragments, turning into small and sharp arrowheads to attack the Raptors.
This hail of projectiles was more akin to the output of dozens of rotary cannons than a shotgun shell.
The Raptors caught in this storm of ice were instantly destroyed—They vanished in the blink of an eye.
This was thanks to the dragonslaying power residing within the shards of ice. This one attack was enough to wipe out roughly a hundred Raptors, but Rushalka was not done firing.
"Second shot, fire!"
Rushalka fired the second arrow out of the eight arrows she had just summoned.
The second shotgun blast of ice took down another hundred Raptors or so.
In the end, Asya and Rushalka repeated this for a total of seven times, completely annihilating the Raptors summoned to the New York sky.
Furthermore, her ammunition was not completely consumed.
Eight arrows had been created just now. Rushalka nocked the final arrow on the bow.
"Target enemy reinforcements. Rushalka!"
Asya's blue partner fired the eighth arrow on her command.
There was not a single Raptor remaining in Rushalka's vicinity but other reinforcements were showing up in the distance. Salamander-shaped flames were appearing in the sky over the Old Manhattan Concession—
The minions known as Hannibal's personal guard—The Army of Fire.
Numbering roughly three hundred. The salamanders descended upon the darkness that was New York City, lighting up the entire metropolis.
The shotgun blast of ice arrived after the reinforcements arrived.
However, it failed to work. The ice shards were all destroyed before they could reach the Army of Fire.
"As expected of his personal guard..."
Unlike Hannibal, Asya was not the type to take delight in fighting a powerful foe.
With the arrival of enemies that could not be defeated by the same tactics, Asya frowned inside the helicopter.
"So you were hiding such a powerful trump card. Well played, Tyrannos of the Bow."
Not too long ago, the Raptor army in the air had been wiped out by Rushalka in Queen Form.
However, this scene was nothing more than an exotic side show performance for Hannibal. He spoke quietly in a calm tone while using his right hand to slowly thrust his spear in front of him.
This was not done to pierce Hal but to aim the spear tip at Hal's heart.
"I never expected a counterfeit dragon king... O Queen, so it turns out that you offered ideas to help him?"
"Ludicrous. Do you believe that I am a woman who would be so considerate as to look after this guy?"
"Fair enough point. It is truly wonderful to see that death has not changed you at all."
Hal's magic gun was replying using Hinokagutsuchi's voice. Hannibal snickered.
Meanwhile, listening to the conversation between a former dragon king and a current dragon king, Hal was in no mood for chatting. He aimed his magic gun at Hannibal while Hannibal in human form had the spear pointed at him.
There was a gap of five meters between them.
Even so, Hal still could not move. The dragonslaying spear—its tip—was giving off magical power that enveloped Hal entirely, turning him frozen.
Twelve runes of Ruruk Soun had appeared on the spear tip.
Under this arrangement, the runes signified "O spear of mine, gather the northern star's power to advance with ferocity."
"A technique of assured annihilation...!"
Hal deployed imperishable protection. The pearly light enveloped his entire body.
However, his body still remained stiff. This was probably a special attack that he could not defend completely against using protection alone. Hal realized he was exceedingly afraid of the dragonslaying spear. His entire body was withered and frozen as though he were encountering sleep paralysis.
Due to the fear and pressure, his throat was parched.
...By the time Hal came to his senses, he noticed Hannibal approaching him and making a thrust with his spear.
Rather than a stab from a spear, this strike felt like being violently bashed by a giant battering ram.
Such was the power behind Hannibal's one strike.
Since the location was a wide open grassland without any obstructions, Hal was blown away entirely, falling forty or fifty meters away. The only reason he survived was due to deploying imperishable protection in advance.
However, Hal still experienced an impact that felt as though all the bones in his body shattered.
He still showed confusion on his face after getting up. Hal's lifeline—the pearly defensive barrier—had rapidly disappeared as a result of one attack from Hannibal in human form.
Even Pavel Galad's technique of assured annihilation was nowhere this potent!
"Were you a true dragon king, I would expect far more trouble... In the case of a counterfeit, breaking such protection is effortless for me."
The strongest dragon king-class enemy spoke casually with a smile.
Furthermore, he was walking slowly to Hal. I must hurry and escape. However, Hal's body turned paralyzed again. At this rate, death was all but assured.
"In that case!"
Hal focused all his strength in his right index finger. Controlling the physical body with single-minded focus was the only way to forget the fear and pressure. Hal concentrated his mind completely on pulling the magic gun's trigger.
A red bullet of light shot out. Hal was firing straight at Hannibal in front of him, but the twelve Ruruk Soun runes of "O spear of mine, gather the northern star's power to advance with ferocity" continued to glow, displayed in front of the dragon king.
Hal's bullet of light vanished the moment it struck this arrangement of runes.
The magic gun told Hal that this was the dragonslaying spear's technique of assured annihilation, Thrusting Skyrocket.
"So it's not a special move that's only for offense..."
"Didn't I tell you? My spear is impregnable."
Hannibal smiled proudly and approached, aiming the spear tip at Hal.
In no rush to run forward, he strode step by step to approach Hal, unhurried in his pace. Rather than charging at high speed, this exemplified a dragon king's dignity and majesty instead. Such was a king's march forward.
Hal trembled. Unless he found some kind of solution, his body was going to freeze up again.
Hannibal was roughly ten meters away from Hal. The fear of death drove Hal to activate full-auto mode and fire all the bullets in the magic gun. This was his technique of assured annihilation.
"Wow, what potent firepower, Tyrannos!"
The runes of Ruruk Soun saved Hannibal the effort of defending again.
Even shooting all remaining ammunition in full-auto mode could not breach the twelve-rune arrangement of "O spear of mine, gather the northern star's power to advance with ferocity."
All the bullets vanished in midair. However, Hannibal halted too.
It was this instant. The firepower of twenty-eight consecutive shots finally managed to block the dragon king's continued advance.
Although the achievement was meager, in such circumstances, some achievement was better than none!
"Counting on you, Juujouji!"
"Very well! Akuro-Ou, please!"
Hal suddenly shouted. The hidden girl responded to Hal's call.
The white fox-wolf, Akuro-Ou, also raced forward like cavalry. Akuro-Ou had shrunk down to her smallest size of roughly three meters, allowing her partner to ride on her back.
Juujouji Orihime had not gone off with Asya and the other witches, instead staying here on standby to support Hal in case of emergencies.
The dashing Akuro-Ou used one of her tails to pick up Hal nimbly, allowing him to mount her snow-white back. Thus, Hal was seated right behind Orihime.
Akuro-Ou then used her momentum to take a leap. Orihime immediately issued orders, "Use the Rune of the Bow and fire magic... Punish him!"
Pseudo-divinity was activated simultaneously as Akuro-Ou took flight.
Akuro-Ou's nine tails each fired a shot, a total of nine black arrowheads. The arrowheads all exploded just before striking Hannibal, turning into crimson flames to attack the dragon king.
"Hahahahaha! What a grand welcoming party. Looks like I must get serious too!"
Despite the blazing flames scorching him, Hannibal laughed heartily.
However, Hannibal's figure, engulfed in flames, disappeared from Hal's sight—For only several seconds.
The blazing conflagration swirled into a vortex. A red elite dragon suddenly appeared inside it. His body length was roughly twenty meters. The exoskeleton around the chest resembled armor. Holding a long black spear in his right hand, he was standing upright sternly...
Needless to say, this was precisely the dragon form of Red Hannibal.
The most powerful dragon king-class opponent was finally fighting in his true form.
The red dragon king opened his gigantic jaws and kept roaring fiercely. Hearing these roars while in the air, Hal and Orihime gulped at the same time.
"Hinokagutsuchi... That thing I told you about, can't you pick up the pace?"
"Then give me slightly more power. Fortunately, it is quite close now, so I should not require too much."
Hal touched the magic gun and asked, prompting Hinokagutsuchi to answer immediately.
Power—Naturally, that meant magical power. Starting the previous night, Hal and the dragon queen had been secretly using a certain magic continuously. It looked like their efforts had been rewarded.
In order to output a new pulse of magical power, Hal focused his awareness on his heart.
The Army of Fire had appeared over the Old Manhattan Concession.
A great army consisting of roughly three hundred salamander-shaped flames, they were all minions under Hannibal's command.
Unlike Raptors, the Army of Fire did not fly all over the place. Instead, they hovered neatly in the air like soldiers awaiting the commander's orders.
"If we rush into that army, it'll be checkmate for us like how they took care of the Raptors last time. That being said, we have no choice but to attack. What troublesome enemies... Hazumi-san."
The obedient junior witch instantly responded in a stiff voice as soon as Asya spoke to her.
Shirasaka Hazumi was like an angel and did not like conflict. However, she must have felt how terrifying dragon king Hannibal was, thus making her more nervous than during the usual battles.
Currently, Asya and Hazumi were the only witches remaining on the transport helicopter.
After the salamanders showed up, Asya immediately instructed the members of the WotC to meet up with ground forces. Even without the ability to use pseudo-divinity for now, four "serpents" still stood as valuable combat potential.
"First Rushalka and I will test out the enemy. Minadzuki is important backup, so please don't carelessly enter the combat zone."
No good would come out of throwing all their available forces into the front lines.
Looking back at history, many battles were won through the efforts of reserve forces. After predicting possible mistakes that the still inexperienced Hazumi might make and warning her about them—
Asya looked at the aerial battlefield again from her vantage point in the helicopter.
Rushalka was in the sky over Chinatown in the southern part of Old Manhattan. The Army of Fire were in a formation at the center of this wasteland—above Central Park.
They were separated by roughly ten kilometers.
The Army of Fire moved in unison and flew towards Rushalka. In addition, the hands of the three hundred salamanders had gained weapons without anyone noticing earlier. Using the four fingers on their right forelimb, they were wielding black spears dexterously!
Runes of Ruruk Soun were arranged in front of all the salamanders.
The runes were all the same, reading "O spear of mine, gather the northern star's power to advance with ferocity" in every case.
"—!? Rushalka, evasive maneuvers. Hurry and circle to the back of the enemy!"
Asya issued emergency orders but a surprising result awaited her.
Despite always following orders faithfully, Rushalka did not respond this time. She did turn herself to dodge at least, but that was as far as she could go. As her partner, Asya instinctively guessed the reason.
"Overwhelmed by the enemy's pressure?"
In that case—Asya yelled.
"Retreat, Rushalka! Leave the city and withdraw to the riverside!"
If attack orders could not be executed due to pressure, perhaps a retreat command was possible?
Asya was correct. Continuing to face the Army of Fire, Rushalka started flying backwards.
Ruahalka flew from Chinatown in the south of Old Manhattan to the city's entrance, Manhattan Bridge.
Directly below her was the great river flowing north-south in New York State—The Hudson River's mouth. Rushalka continued to back away, retreating to the sky over Liberty Island, the Statue of Liberty, Governors Island, etc.
Ruashalka's retreat speed was faster than the Army of Fire's advance. Hence, their separation had lengthened, reducing the pressure on Rushalka somewhat. Asya immediately commanded, "Invoke pseudo-divinity. Wall of Water!"
Pseudo-divinity activated together with the roar. In the next second, the surface of the torrential Hudson River rose up, forming a gigantic towering pillar of water—
The great volume of river water was enough to form a sphere surrounding Rushalka in all directions.
The sphere's diameter was roughly sixty meters, resulting in a protective layer sufficient to cover the gigantic body of the "serpent" with no blindspots.
"Add the enchantment of imperishable protection!"
The shield of water guarding Rushalka began to glow with pearly radiance.
This was the strongest defensive formation, a combination of pseudo-divinity and a Tyrannos' power. So long as she persisted in sniping the enemy forces while under protection—
"Rushalka, although I'm not Orihime-san, we'll have to fight a Battle of Nagashino here!"
The partner in Queen Form readied an arrow of light on the crimson bow and shot swiftly.
This arrow pierced a salamander squarely—That was supposed to happen but the arrow of light disappeared as soon as it struck the arrangement of Ruruk Soun runes reading "O spear of mine, gather the northern star's power to advance with ferocity."
The second and third arrows met the same fate.
"The enemy side has iron-clad defense too... It's like a phalanx of spearmen."
The Army of Fire arrived while Asya clicked her tongue.
The three hundred salamanders scattered in front of Rushalka all at once, closing in from all angles, using the spears in their hands to stab the water sphere. No matter which direction, there were salamanders everywhere.
The blue wyvern roared again, but this time was due to pain.
Rather than pulling out their spears, the three hundred salamanders pushed their spears deeper into the shield of water. Tormented by pain, Rushalka screamed even more acutely.
Hannibal's technique of assured annihilation was capable of inflicting physical damage even with imperishable protection in the way!
Her partner was enduring the pain of being stabbed by three hundred drills.
Realizing this, Asya looked grim. Considering Rushalka's current condition, she should be able to completely block even Pavel Galad's technique of assured annihilation.
However, this solid defense was being tragically obliterated by Hannibal's minions.
"If the general shows up now...!"
"Asya-san! P-Please look at that!"
Inside a helicopter circling over the Hudson river, the two witches watched the battle situation.
Asya looked in the direction indicated by Hazumi and gasped. What she feared had come true.
On Governors Island where Hal and others had met the red dragon king—
The island's ground was ablaze from a magical conflagration. Amid the sea of flames, a gigantic elite dragon—no, Manhattan's king—was getting ready to rise.
Dragon king Hannibal opened his great jaws and roared repeatedly.
One could call it a great noise that shook heaven and earth.
This howling further granted the Army of Fire more power. The salamanders stabbed deeper with their spears, immediately breaking the protective shield.
The sixty-meter-diameter water sphere barrier guarding Rushalka—
It began to collapse with water splashing.
The sphere shrank progressively. In merely a minute or two, its volume had been reduced to half of its original. Hannibal came forward personally, flying slowly to approach Rushalka and deliver the final blow.
Naturally, the dragon king himself was wielding a spear too. All was lost—Just as everyone thought that...
'Please... Hang on a bit longer!'
Asya seemed to hear the voice of her childhood friend. Rather than her ear, it was the Rune of the Bow surfacing on the back of her left hand that had transmitted the message to her.
"Rushalka, use the Water Cannon and the Rune of the Bow simultaneously!"
This was her third time invoking pseudo-divinity today.
The Hudson River's water surface bulged up violently again, spewing a water pillar upwards.
This is a technique using the river below as artillery to fire several hundred tons of water as ammunition. Together with the Rune of the Bow's firepower, it was upgraded into a dragonslaying attack.
This attack was evidently effective.
Water extinguished fire. This time, a natural law of the universe took effect.
Swallowed by the great flood of water from the Hudson River, the three hundred salamanders disappeared with a sizzle.
"Unable to withstand attacks from below—or rather, flanking attacks. Sure enough, their strengths and weaknesses are the same as a phalanx..." said Asya quietly after realizing the properties of the Rune of the Spear.
The water cannon earlier had also allowed Rushalka to bolster her defenses.
Having shrunk to less than half its size, the defensive water sphere replenished its moisture, returning to its original diameter of sixty meters.
Used as a cannon, the river water gushed up to a height of seven or eight hundred meters.
The water pillar then fell swiftly into the Hudson River like a gust of violent wind—In the next second, Red Hannibal charged in just as this momentary downpour ended!
"Although I have forgotten how many millennia I have fought with the dragonslaying spear by my side..."
Hannibal made a straight forward thrust with the dragonslaying spear, flying to make a beeline towards Rushalka in the air over Governors Island.
"This is my first time fighting an imitation dragon king!"
The dragon king tried to pierce the defensive water sphere with the tip of his spear.
The sphere guarding Rushalka barely managed to block Hannibal's thrust.
As a result, the sphere vanished in that instant. Hundreds of tons of river water spilled into the Hudson River.
"How about that? Your petty tricks end here, right!?"
Hannibal resumed flying towards Rushalka. The red dragon king extended his spear. Now, the imitation queen no longer had any defensive shield. Asya roared, "Rushalka, retreat first!"
The partner obeyed Asya's command and backed away swiftly.
Hannibal gave chase. Fortunately, their initial speeds were different. The blue wyvern had an overwhelming advantage in speed.
The time needed for Rushalka to start accelerating from rest was extremely short.
Within only ten-odd seconds, Rushalka was able to reach maximum speed, displaying her agile and nimble flying form. In contrast, Hannibal glided slowly first before speeding up gradually.
In a certain way, Hannibal's leisurely appearance was more fitting of a king's style.
Consequently, this battle of pursuit was initially in Rushalka's favor—
"Rushalka, please keep your distance and continue to escape. Don't fight Hannibal head on. You must flank him!"
Asya kept issuing detailed orders.
Despite the slow start, Hannibal's flying speed was quite high once given enough time to accelerate.
Furthermore, he continued to exude pressure that stiffened Rushalka's movements. He was not an opponent easy to escape from.
Rushalka fled to the sky over Liberty Island where the Statue of Liberty was located with Hannibal in pursuit.
However, after two or three minutes of chasing the blue wyvern, the red dragon king suddenly halted in the air and started to laugh.
"Hahahahaha! I will need helpers to catch a swift swallow. Then I shall summon some shrikes!"
Flames—Salamander-shaped flames appeared one after another in Hannibal's surroundings.
Roughly three hundred salamanders. With that, Asya understood. Rushalka's earlier attack had simply extinguished the flames. The Army of Fire was not vanquished. After a while, they would revive like this...
As expected of a dragon king, the gap in power was too great. The worst-case scenario appeared in Asya's mind.
Would she be able to continue? Most likely, she was going to run out of options—
"Asya-san, please look at this!"
At that moment, Hazumi, who had been on standby the whole time, handed her a memo.
Due to focusing on the battle, Asya had not noticed that Hazumi had been in wireless communications with someone. Written on the memo was an instruction from the other person.
"Rushalka, retreat to the bridge quickly!"
Rushalka started flying according to Asya's demand.
With her back to Hannibal and his great army, she flew north swiftly, in other words, towards Old Manhattan.
There were only two kilometers to Manhattan Bridge and it would not take the wyvern's wings very long to get there.
Hannibal's army was out in full force, chasing after the fleeing Rushalka.
The dragon king took the lead with the three hundred salamanders behind him. The king and his pawns each wielded a spear, giving off vibes of determined slaughter.
Hannibal's flying in the lead was still sluggish.
Hence, Rushalka was not going to be caught straight away. But once Hannibal got up to speed—and this time, with a great number of salamanders as hunting hounds—any slight mistake and all would be lost.
Meanwhile, the transport helicopter carrying Asya and Hazumi was also flying towards Manhattan Bridge.
This was due to Hazumi asking the pilot to do so.
Seeing Rushalka only seconds away from arriving over the bridge, Asya said, "Release Queen Form. Next user up!"
Rushalka flew over Manhattan Bridge.
The ruby armor and arms vanished. This time, the one who obtained armor and entered Queen Form was Akuro-Ou, on standby at the bridge since a while ago—
The white nine-tailed fox-wolf was equipped with Queen Form's armor.
There was a golden cannon on her back as well.
Akuro-Ou barked sonorously and fired the golden cannon on her back continuously. Shooting out of the barrel were flashes of red light, targeting the Army of Fire pursuing Rushalka.
However, with Hannibal as the vanguard, the spearmen used that power again.
Once again, the runic arrangement of "O spear of mine, gather the northern star's power to advance with ferocity" appeared in front of the dragon king and his soldiers.
The cannon shots disappeared upon striking the runes.
Hence, what took credit for halting the army's advance was not Akuro-Ou but a gigantic "box" descending from the sky.
Moving towards the ground from the starry sky—
As a rough description, it was rectangular in shape but enormous enough to serve as a coffin for a thirty to forty-meter tall giant.
The box was colored white, making it especially conspicuous against the darkness of night.
It seemed to be made of wood. Indeed, it was a gigantic wooden ship.
At first glance, it seemed to be descending slowly, but the white ark was actually moving at the river at over fifty kilometers per hour. However, the water surface remained calm without any ripples.
It looked like the ark's descent was guided by gravity control magic.
The landing was quite similar to Genbu-Ou's arrival in Tokyo New Town two months prior. Perhaps this level of similarity was only natural. After all, the giant turtle Genbu-Ou and the white ark were both created for the same purpose.
Minions for serving a dragon king or Tyrannos. A mode of transportation to take their masters to the sea of stars—
"So that's Solomon's ark..."
Asya murmured while looking out of the helicopter at the white ark below.
The landing site was not far from Manhattan Bridge. This was no accident, because Akuro-Ou was not the only one on the bridge. Hal, the one who had summoned the ark, was there too with Orihime.
Meanwhile, Hannibal muttered while leading his flying army of salamanders.
"Handiwork related to Ruruk Soun huh? Hohoho, Tyrannos, what exactly are your intentions...?"
Despite expecting a trap, Hannibal continued to march his army forward.
The fearless dragon king wished to crush Hal's group, trap and ark included.
This ship's hiding place was not on Earth but in the domain called the sea of stars by dragonkind—A corner of the universe. More concretely, its precise location was the asteroid belt lying between Jupiter and Saturn. Since it was within the confines of the solar system just like the Earth, it would be considered relatively near for astronomical distances.
The effect of the Legacy Inheritance spell that Hal had been casting continuously since the previous day was to summon this treasure chest, containing Solomon's legacy, from across the unimaginably vast distance of its hiding place.
This ark took all night to traverse the sea of stars and was now floating on the Hudson River.
The ship had not been moored with an anchor, yet it was floating motionlessly on the river surface. As expected of a great sorcerer's ship. Despite being a wooden ship, it possessed the inexplicable ability to break through the atmosphere like the dragons.
Hal looked at the ark from Manhattan Bridge and spoke over a military transceiver.
"I'll open the treasure immediately to take out the items. Asya and Rushalka, continue attacking."
'Understood. I hope you'll power up as soon as possible.'
Hal and Asya were conversing.
His childhood friend and Hazumi had also confirmed the battle situation from the helicopter in the air.
'I've also figured out the characteristics of the enemy's Rune of the Spear, more or less. I was looking for a chance to make full use of my discoveries.'
"You're talking about that, right? Rather than a spear, it's more like a phalanx rune."
'Yes. Since a head on clash won't work, I'm thinking of inflicting flanking attacks as much as possible. That being said, Hannibal's version of the phalanx is pretty mobile.'
Phalanx. This was an infantry tactic dating back to ancient Greece.
A row consisted of foot soldiers, each equipped with a long spear and a large shield, standing side by side. Then these rows were repeated in a rectangular formation. During combat, the soldiers would march forward while keeping the rectangular formation and attack with their spears. When the front row of infantry was defeated, the next row would step up, thus maintaining offensive strength.
Due to amassed numbers, the row of large shields could also form a fortress. Defensive strength was obvious. The hedge of spears from the upward pointing spears of the soldiers in the latter rows was also able to block projectile weapons from the enemy.
This was an ancient Greek military tactic that combined offense with defense.
However, mobility was relatively low due to how closely packed the soldiers were. This was the weakness of the tactic...
Asya verified the combat situation after ending her call. Not only was Hal on Manhattan Bridge but Juujouji and Akuro-Ou too. The white fox-wolf had exited Queen Form. Rushalka was not nearby because she had gone off to carry out the next step in the plan.
Hannibal's army was currently aimed at the ark, marching forward without impediment.
Neither the commander-in-chief in the lead nor the salamanders had reached top speed, hence the situation was not too urgent yet...
"Juujouji, I'm relying on you to stop the lizard army after I open the treasure chest."
"Very well... Please be careful, Haruga-kun!"
Hal nodded in response to the worried girl and focused on his task of "opening the box".
Open sesame. Hal took a shortcut and omitted most of the incantation. From the white ark—seventy-two blue-white ghostlights flew out!
They were ghostlights shaped like dragons, similar to leviathans in size.
The catalog of treasures automatically entered Hal's mind while Legacy Inheritance was in progress.
As a result, Hal knew everything. The true identities of the serpent ectoplasm were the souls of ancient leviathans that had lost physical form. Despite losing their flesh, they had not lost their magical power—
The seventy-two dragonoid ghostlights spread their wings like birds and flew all over the sky.
The ghostlights flew freely with agility, like seabirds flocking by the ocean. Then something tiny and sparkling from the flying serpent ectoplasm fell towards Manhattan Bridge.
Hal reached out to the sky and opened his right palm.
The object dropped by the serpent ectoplasm was falling as though in slow motion. Finally, it fell into the hand of Hal the successor.
It was a gold ring, the instrument of magic control left behind by the great sorcerer of antiquity. Hal placed the ring onto his right index finger and muttered the ring's other name.
"The Rune of the Ring...!"
A new magic symbol appeared on Hal's right palm.
An extremely simple seal of "◎," it was the Rune of the Ring, neither a bow nor twin katana. When that rune surfaced, the flock of flying serpent ectoplasm displayed new movement. One after another, they flew towards Hal who was on the ground.
More precisely, their target was not Hal but the ring worn by Hal. One by one, King Solomon's legacy absorbed the servants that were flying overhead.
With seventy-two serpent souls inside, the ring surged with massive magical power.
And the ring's successor was able to control this power arbitrarily.
Apart from magical power, there was another dramatic change.
From the moment he put on the ring, Hal could feel the presence of hearts.
First, there were the hearts of the serpent souls gathered inside the ring—They were overjoyed to return to the earth after thousands of years, liberated from the ark that served as gigantic shackles.
"So it's a ring that can listen to the voices of 'serpents' and sense their thoughts and feelings..." Hal muttered after actually experiencing one of the functions listed in the catalog.
There was a rumor regarding King Solomon and a magic ring. Legend had it that the archangel Michael had bestowed this ring upon him, granting him the power to make angels and demons do his bidding as well as the ability to listen to the voices of all plants and animals. This was a story recorded in multiple grimoires and the Old Testament of the Bible.
Hal was using the ring's power to expand the range of his extrasensory perception.
Akuro_ou and Rushalka were quite fired up to fight the army of salamanders.
In addition, the WotC's "serpents" in Brooklyn were tense due to sensing the dragon king's presence.
Like machinery, the salamanders only obeyed the dragon king's orders.
"Come to think of it, all of our 'serpents' are female..."
Hal was reminded. Due to their appearance as ferocious beasts, without communicating heart to heart in this manner, it would be all too easy to forget that all leviathans, the allies of mankind, were female.
Akuro-Ou and Rushalka were genuine ladies, the same gender as Orihime and Asya.
While feeling slightly apologetic, Hal established a psychic connection to their souls. This was to output magical power directly, several times stronger than before, without needing to go through the witches' hearts. This was also an ability granted to Hal by the ring.
"All ready. Juujouji...!"
"Roger that! Akuro-Ou, use a killer move to stop those dragons from advancing. Don't hold back and use fire magic to bombard them!"
Orihime responded to Hal's request firmly and powerfully.
While the "serpents" were receiving substantial magical power from Hal...
Hannibal and his three hundred salamanders continued to march on, merely four or five hundred meters away from Manhattan Bridge.
Their goal was to crush Tyrannos Haruga Haruomi and his followers.
Having obtained sufficient speed, Hannibal's army was going to reach Manhattan Bridge in ten-odd seconds. At that moment, Akuro-Ou attacked first from the bridge.
Nine black arrowheads had manifested over the white fox-wolf's head.
These mysterious arrowheads resembled primitive stone tools crafted from obsidian. They were manifestations of the Rune of the Bow as weapons.
The nine black arrowheads turned into hovering artillery, lined up in a row in front of Manhattan Bridge.
Aimed at Hannibal's army, the arrowheads all fired at the same time. Flame projectiles were shot out from their tips at a rate exceeding a hundred times per second.
Fully automatic fire. This was the technique of assured annihilation that Hal had innovated when forging his magic gun.
Naturally, the hail of bullets was directed at the red dragon king's army.
However, neither Hannibal nor the salamanders following his lead faltered.
The Ruruk Soun incantation of "O spear of mine, gather the northern star's power to advance with ferocity" continued to withstand the rain of bullets brought by a technique of assured annihilation. The great army persisted in pushing forward.
Even so, Akuro-Ou's technique of assured annihilation succeeded in slowing down Hannibal's army.
This was thanks to the unmitigated and overwhelming firepower of full auto.
"Akuro-Ou... Your pseudo-divinity's power has increased as expected."
From inside the helicopter flying above the Hudson River, Asya watched the battle situation around Manhattan Bridge and nodded.
The potency of the magical power that Akuro-Ou used was even stronger than that of leviathans partnered with Level 5 witches.
This blessing was not limited to Akuro-Ou alone.
"If we can benefit from the Rune of the Ring too—Rushalka!"
Seeing that the time was ripe, Asya called out to the blue wyvern that had left the battlefield on her own, flying to the altitude of seven kilometers over New York City, waiting for the opportunity for a surprise attack.
"Activate technique of assured annihilation while descending. Full burst!"
This was her fourth time invoking pseudo-divinity today.
This left only one remaining invocation, meaning that the trump card of Double Casting was no longer available—
With the situation critical, Rushalka rushed down at Hannibal's army.
She returned to Queen Form again. The two arms of ruby reappeared with a crimson bow held in her left and an ice arrow in her right.
Furthermore, Rushalka was not the only archer.
After she began her rapid descent, support archers appeared behind the blue wyvern.
They looked identical to Rushalka in Queen Form—clones, numbering close to a hundred. The clones were all wielding crimson bows and ice arrows.
The Rushalka army fired arrows while charging at the Hannibal army from above.
With every shot, a new arrow would be created in the right hand. Rushalka and her clones were all able to fire arrows continuously without pause.
—The Rune of the Spear was impregnable when facing frontal assaults, but was powerless against flanking attacks.
In order to strike at this weakness, Rushalka had personally gone up into the sky to launch a surprise attack. However, Hannibal's composure in handling this situation was to a maddening degree.
"O dragonslaying spear, offer imperishable protection to my great army!"
The dragon king ordered the spear in his hand, instantly deploying faint pearly radiance.
The red dragon king's protection range was not only large enough to cover his own massive body but also the three hundred salamanders under his command.
Defended by both the runes of Ruruk Soun and imperishable protection, the Hannibal army had no blind spots.
Akuro-Ou and Rushalka persisted in unleashing techniques of assured annihilation for almost a minute, but not even a single salamander pawn was defeated, much less a dragon king.
Rushalka's hundred clones also vanished completely.
However, Aysa had saved a secret move for last.
In addition to Akuro-Ou, Rushalka had also obtained extraordinary magical power thanks to the Rune of the Ring's blessing. Specifically, her total magical power rivaled that of Hannibal, who was dragon king-class.
A Level 3 witch like Orihime might have been unable to control it completely.
But in the case of Asya the master-class witch and Europe's strongest ace—
"Rushalka, now is the time. Technique of assured annihilation, sun-shooting divine bow!"
Rushalka lowered her altitude to almost ground level.
She circled around to the side of the Hannibal army that was advancing towards Manhattan Bridge and used the Rune of the Bow's ultimate mystic technique.
Shining with golden splendor, the arrow of light shot out from the crimson bow.
In her current state, Rushalka was capable of firing the sun-shooting divine bow without Double Casting pseudo-divinity.
Furthermore, this trump card was made even more effective by the previous barrage of fully automatic fire to weaken imperishable protection—Gambling everything on this arrow, Asya watched it fly.
Roughly fifty meters in length, the arrow of light turned into a great serpent of flame.
The serpent devoured salamanders one after another, wiping out forty or fifty of them within the blink of an eye. The serpent even entangled Hannibal and tried to swallow him, who tried to stab using his dragonslaying spear, but just as the dragon king raised his spear for a swing—the great serpent of flame exploded.
The giant explosion in the air over the Hudson River had enough range to cover the entire Hannibal army.
Flashing of light, flickering of flames, massive rumbling, and wind from the blast persisted for a minute or two.
When everything settled, the enemy army was cleanly eliminated. Not a single salamander remained at the scene. Even the gigantic Red Hannibal was nowhere to be seen.
The only magic beast still in the air was Rushalka in Queen Form.
"A-Asya-san, you did it!"
Hazumi immediately cried out in joy and hugged Asya tightly. Inside the same helicopter, she had been watching Asya's valiant battle with bated breath.
However, while watching her angelic junior rejoicing, Asya—
"Rushalka, emergency de-materialization! Hurry... Run away fast!" Asya immediately commanded without having even the time to cast Enemy Detection.
There was no rational basis. If anything, Asya's reaction probably stemmed from a rigid belief that a dragon king could not possibly have perished just like that. More importantly, she had sensed an incoming crisis, enough to chill her to the bone.
Just as Asya issued her command, the dragonslaying spear immediately flew out from the Hudson River.
The spear flew, targeting Rushalka in the air, piercing the ruby chest armor.
Fortunately, Asya had commanded a retreat ahead of time. Just before the spear tip skewered the heartmetal inside Rushalka, she vanished instantly.
In the nick of time. But not unscathed.
The pain from a dragonslaying weapon was not only experienced by the "serpent" but also the covenantee as well.
Holding her hand to her chest, Asya collapsed forward. She felt as though a massive hole had been gouged out of her heart and had difficulty breathing properly.
Hazumi hastily supported Asya who was unable to stand on her own.
Meanwhile, the spear that had forced Rushalka's exit remained motionless in the air.
It was faithfully waiting for its master to leave the river and retrieve it.
"The sudden amplification in power truly surprised me... However, there are limits to a 'mock dragon king' after all. That being said—"
Hannibal gripped the dragonslaying spear again and muttered quietly.
"It might be a different matter if I could fight the queen of the past directly. O Tyrannos of the Bow, you have many toys hidden up your sleeve."
Dragon king Hannibal gazed upon Manhattan Bridge.
In the air over the bridge was no longer Akuro-Ou but the Crimson Queen, in other words, Hinokagutsuchi's physical body when she was alive as a dragon king. One could think of it as Haruga Haruomi's avatar currently.
However, Asya felt very uneasy inside.
Between her and her childhood friend Haruomi was a bond of the covenant and a connection of magic.
In spite of that, she currently could not sense any presence of the Rune of the Bow from the Crimson Queen. Neither was there any presence of the Rune of the Twin Katana.
Was that really the Crimson Queen?
While enduring the intense agony in her chest, Asya prayed for Hal's safety.
In fact, Hal had known since putting on Solomon's ring.
—Yeah, it's just as I suspected.
Everything had gone excessively smoothly, following the script written by the great sorcerer of antiquity. This ideal process had started from the discovery of the grimoire.
It looked like King Solomon sincerely sought a talented person to be his successor.
Everything was for the sake of entrusting the ring representing his authority and his rune to the talented person who would appear one day—then steal everything from him, body, mind, runes and all.
Was Solomon's true motive simply to "resurrect himself in the present world"?
"If possible, please surprise me with a different result... Owww."
"Haruga-kun, are you alright!?"
A sudden headache attacked Hal, bringing him to his knees.
He did not have any spare strength to respond to Orihime who had rushed to his side. His head was hurting as though it was about to split open—no, become pulverized.
Clutching his head, Hal rolled around and screamed.
He was unable to maintain a sitting posture, much less stand. Sometimes sprawling, sometimes facing up, he kept rolling, enduring the intense pain in his head.
"A-A Ruruk Soun magic circle...?"
The "◎" symbol appearing on the asphalt where Hal was rolling—It was the seal representing the Rune of the Ring. At the same time, there were twenty-four runes of Ruruk Soun surrounding the symbol to form a circle.
The arrangement signified "as Solomon's successor, you are the sacrifice."
What a terrifying curse. Of course, the mastermind that had devised this trap was Solomon's Ring currently on Hal's right index finger.
In an attempt to slice off Hal's mind completely from his body, the ring was currently attacking his mind.
If Hal were to lose, his body and runes would be stolen by Solomon's ring—
"Thinking back... there were definitely many things that were off... Back when I discovered the runes of the Bow and the Twin Katana, they were dormant... Only the ring's rune had descended from the sky in an awakened state..."
Hal was getting slightly accustomed to the headache, which allowed him to spout comments despite his unwell condition.
Gazing at Hal's right hand, Orihime shouted.
"Hold on, I will remove the ring for you now!"
"N-Not yet... Although the ring is causing me a lot of grief, I'm sure it's still useful. At least during this battle against Hannibal, let me wear—"
Hal gently rejected the kind girl's suggestion.
His head continued to hurt intensely, preventing him from getting up. However, Hal was finally able to stop rolling and he laid himself out face up with arms and legs outspread.
He turned his face to look at the battle in the sky over the Hudson River.
It happened to be the moment when Akuro-Ou was unleashing a hail of bullets in full burst mode while Rushalka made her rapid descent.
Without the ring's benefits, the operation decided during his brief call with Asya just now would have failed.
Orihime looked at Hal worriedly and immediately sat down next to him.
She went out of her way to sit in seiza posture, kneeling uncomfortably on hard asphalt, so that she could rest Hal's head on her lap. Tormented by unbearable pain, Hal's only consolation was Orihime's considerate actions.
While Hal was watching the battle in such a state, Rushalka finally fired the sun-shooting divine bow.
With that, the salamander army was wiped out at last. Even Hannibal disappeared. However, Rushalka then had to make an emergency retreat from the dragonslaying spear's attack. The red dragon king made a comeback from the water—
Hal screamed. This time, not only his head was hurting but also his right palm too.
This pain felt as though the skin of his right palm was being ripped off. On closer examination, he saw particles of red light leaking out of his right palm before rising slowly in the air.
The leaking particles were quite numerous. The red light gathered together into a gigantic mass almost the same size as a dragon.
In the next instant, the scene before his eyes filled Hal with disbelief.
"The Crimson Queen!?"
The red light leaking from his palm had turned into the Crimson Queen, what one could call his avatar.
Without even giving Hal a single glance, the queen casually looked around the vicinity of Manhattan Bridge.
"It's not your turn to debut... Hurry and come back!"
Hal's headache weakened slightly. Lying on the ground, he forced out a shout.
However, the Crimson Queen did not respond. Only then did Hal notice that the rune visible on his red avatar's palm was not the Rune of the Bow but the Rune of the Ring!
"The queen has been stolen..."
Orihime exclaimed in surprise after hearing Hal's whisper.
It was probably while Hal was using techniques of assured annihilation in succession, which depleted his reserves of magical power, that he presented an opening to be taken advantage of.
The Crimson Queen's majestic form hovered in the air over Manhattan Bridge.
Despite being a size smaller than the dragon king Hannibal, the red dragon lacked neither power nor elegance. A weapon took form in her right hand.
Rather than the dragonslaying bow, it was a golden ring with a diameter of seven meters or so.
This was the manifestation of the Rune of the Ring as a magic wand. Currently, Solomon's ring held control over the queen.
"Hahahaha! Let us fight again after so long, queen!"
Hannibal roared with delight and flew towards Manhattan Bridge.
His intent was to pierce the Crimson Queen with the tip of the dragonslaying spear. Hal did not know if it was because Solomon's ring wanted to avoid a direct confrontation, but the queen flew up rapidly.
The red queen of dragons instantly rose in altitude with Hannibal in close pursuit.
With Hannibal as the opponent, how much of a fight could Solomon's ring put up? At this rate, Hal might end up losing his trump card, the queen, for nothing...
Hal wanted to get up but could not muster the strength.
Perhaps because Solomon's ring had focused its attention on the Crimson Queen, his headache was much better now. However, Hal still felt exhaustion in his entire body, preventing him from even lifting a single finger.
"Haruga-kun, I'll definitely pull out the ring this time!"
Seeing that the situation was dire, Orihime grabbed Hal's right hand forcefully.
But just as she was about to pull off the ring—She was taken aback in surprise. As expected of a magic item, the ring refused to budge at all.
"No good after all... Well, I did suspect from the start whether this would happen..."
"A-Although I am very worried about that too, Haruga-kun, when on earth did your arm turn into this!?"
Hal simply went "huh?" and cocked his head when confronted by Orihime's urgent question.
Unable to comprehend, he then looked at his right arm.
Solomon's ring was still worn on his index finger. Luster entered his view—his entire arm looked as though it had been coated with a layer of glass. It happened to be nighttime and the surface of his arm was reflecting starlight.
Orihime gently stroked Hal from his right palm to his upper arm.
The texture felt very like metal, cold and hard, but the joints could still bend and move freely. Hal himself had checked many times previously.
"...What a pain. This usually doesn't happen unless I'm focusing too much. I never expected this to happen to my body while I'm contending with the ring."
Back when he first obtained the Crimson Queen, this change had been limited to his hand, from his fingers to his wrist.
After acquiring the Twin Katana recently, it had extended to his elbow. Right now, the hardening phenomenon had expanded to his right shoulder. This was presumably an effect of obtaining the Ring.
"Cold and hard like this, it resembles a dragon's body."
"Could this be what the man in black was talking about last time!? He said you might turn into a dragon one day, Haruga-kun...!"
The mysterious Sophocles had said this in front of Hal and Orihime once.
'In the past, the type of non-dragon creatures known as "hybrid" dragons—In truth, they were unexpectedly commonplace. Of course, pure dragons were very numerous too.'
But to think a human could transform into or become reborn as a dragon...
Hal did not want to look morbid, so he simply lay on the ground and shrugged. Meanwhile, Orihime seemed quite worked up.
Then her eyes glistened with tears and large teardrops fell.
"Idiot! Why didn't you confide in me!?"
"This kind of thing... would only cause the confidant to agonize and I'd be causing you trouble."
"Certainly not! We are friends and comrades and I—love you, Haruga-kun. Whatever it takes, I wish to be of help to you!"
"...Huh? W-What do you mean?"
"I... love you, Haruga-kun. Not the kind between friends, but the love for a man. I love you deeply."
Hal's reflexive question instantly elicited Orihime's confession. Furthermore, it was a confession where there was absolutely no room for misinterpretation.
Orihime gazed fervently at Hal. All the faint suspicions he had had so far were instantly verified this moment.
Hal was overcome with urgency. He had to hurry up and give Orihime a response.
Ever since a long time ago, I've felt for you—Just as Hal was about to start...
Orihime's lips suddenly drew near and kissed him lightly on the lips.
"M-My apologies. I was thinking I might lose to Luna-san if I didn't offer anything more than a confession..." said Orihime shyly.
Hal felt his brain was about to boil.
His thoughts and feelings were extremely confused.
His entire body was feeling exceptional joy. This was also the happiest moment of Hal's life. The desire to cherish Orihime's feelings was almost going to explode. However, he was currently in an urgent crisis. There was the pressing problem of Hannibal to be resolved. Now was not the time to be doing this sort of thing.
Staring at the flustered Hal, Orihime brought her lips close again.
This was the second kiss. Longer than the first one, their lips overlapped with a push from Orihime. It probably lasted over twenty seconds.
She even went as far as to extend her inexperienced tongue timidly.
Using her tongue, Orihime searched for Hal's and slowly entangled their tongues together.
Only after kissing for quite a while did they finally separate their lips and gaze upon each other passionately. They were so close together that their foreheads were almost touching and they could feel each other's breath clearly.
"I don't want to lose... I don't want to lose to Luna-san or anyone else... This is my first time feeling this way. Haruga-kun, will you forgive me for what I did...?"
"Will you agree to tell me anything and everything from now on? I wish to become part of your strength, Haruga-kun. I wish to do many things for you, Haruga-kun."
"Am I allowed... to love you, Haruga-kun? Or is romance within the team forbidden?"
"O-Of course, you're allowed, Juujouji!"
Orihime pounced on Hal, who was lying on the ground, and hugged him tightly.
Hal's entire body could feel her wondrous curves and body warmth, making him very flustered. However, times like these required composure. He must recall the sage time he had implemented in the Izu shore last time.
Meanwhile, Orihime gasped and her face went bright red.
"S-S-S-S-Sorry. I got swept up in the moment because of the slight confusion from seeing your body's unusual change... and did that. B-But please know that my feelings are absolutely not a lie, okay?"
"I-I-I-I-I know. Of course I know!"
"I honestly love you so much, Haruga-kun... I love you."
Crap. It was impossible to calm his mind. Orihime was too adorable.
However, he had other things to worry about at the moment. Indeed, he needed to rack his brain to find a solution to the great crisis of the Crimson Queen being hijacked.
—Ironically, the solution to this problem lay in Solomon's ring.
According to legend, possession of this ring allowed the user to bend angels and demons to their will and listen to the voices of animals and plants. This was how Hal had listened to the hearts of leviathans earlier.
This function still remained in effect. Even if he wanted to interrupt this function, Hal had no way of taking off the ring.
At that moment, Hal sensed it. Over on the side, watching her master and partner engaging in displays of affection, the nine-tailed fox-wolf wanted to convey a message.
"Akuro-Ou... Do you have a way to take the queen back?"
Orihime also sensed her partner's thoughts.
Earlier, the gigantic white beast had unleashed a barrage upon the Army of Fire. Her cool gaze was staring downwards at Hal and Orihime on the road surface when it suddenly shifted somewhere else—Akuro-Ou was looking at where Hal's magic gun had fallen.
Hal had accidentally tossed the gun away when rolling on the ground after putting on the ring. Orihime tilted her head and said, "Just use this handgun?"
Akuro-Ou transmitted the image of a "blade" from her mind.
The vanquishing of evil to uphold justice. This was a mystic technique of the glorious Twin Katana. Realizing the implied meaning, Hal said, "Juujouji, that's the move we used at the Dragon Palace Court last time...! It might be a bit inappropriate to call this a stroke of good luck, but with Hannibal helping out by occupying Solomon right now, it should work!"
Hugging Hal all this time, Orihime could not help but gasp in response. She immediately rose up to retrieve the magic gun and committed her resolve.
"Speaking of which, Haruga-kun, it feels like you are on the same level as Solomon. In a frontal showdown, there is definitely a chance of victory... Haruga-kun! Akuro-Ou and I will make an attempt, so please lend your power to us, Haruga-kun!"
Saying that, Orihime immediately helped Hal get up then embraced him tightly. Not only that, but Orihime's voluptuous bust was pressed against Hal's chest, a sensation that Hal had experienced a number of times now. In addition to being soft and elastic, it rivaled the size of small melons.
"J-Juujouji, even without injecting my magical power, Akuro-Ou should be able to do it in her current state..."
"Y-Yes, it might be possible, but I am not too confident in myself, which is why I'd like to follow what we did last time... No?" asked Orihime with a blush.
Just now, Asya and Rushalka had used the sun-shooting divine bow without Double Casting. However, this did not guarantee that Orihime could do the same.
Hal relented. At the same time, he felt unprecedentedly nervous.
He was so close to Orihime that their noses were about to touch and he could look clearly into her watery eyes and passionate countenance. This moment was stimulating his heart rate in a completely different manner from any previous moment.
"O-Of course you can. Yeah."
"Thank you. I will definitely... do my best. Th-Then please proceed, like last time, alright?"
This was also the first time Orihime urged Hal like this. How adorable.
Hal cried out "Juujouji!" without thinking and embraced her tightly, thus squeezing out magical power from his heart, sending it into Orihime's heart.
"Mm... Haruga-kun, I love you so much..."
Professing her love for him, the girl moaned in ecstasy, gently receiving the incoming torrent of magical power.
Orihime gently stroked Hal's back with her right hand.
Her left hand gripped the magic gun. Suddenly, the manifestation of the Rune of the Twin Katana appeared under the gun—A bayonet with a fifteen-centimeter blade.
Akuro-Ou's nine tails changed too. The rightmost tail manifested a large sword while the leftmost tail manifested a smaller sword.
The tips of the tails were curled like how human hands made fists. The fox-wolf leviathan was wielding the pair of large and small blades with dexterity.
Raising the two swords overhead, Akuro-Ou formed a cross with the blades.
Thus, preparations were complete. Orihime continued to support Hal's body with her right arm while raising the magic gun in her left, pointing it at Solomon's ring.
She was aiming at Hal's dangling right hand, the golden ring worn on his index finger—
Nineteen runes of Ruruk Soun appeared over Akuro-Ou's head, signifying "I summon the twin blades of exorcism, to deliver seraphic punishment to nefarious evil dragons."
Severing a dragonslaying rune's magical power, neutralizing it.
Such was the effect of the Holy Cross of the Twin Katana, a technique of assured annihilation. Not only did it erase magical power but it was also an exorcism technique that inflicted damage to the owner of that magical power.
The two swords raised over Akuro-Ou's head were beginning to give off a golden glow.
However, the light blinked, disappearing and reappearing.
The process was not going smoothly. Simply possessing a great quantity of magical power was not enough to use this technique. Last time, Luna Francois had said that "Holy and evil, right and wrong, yin and yang, demonic and divine... Entrust opposing elements to the twin blades so as to produce an attack embodying the rivalry of complementary opposites. Since this magic requires such complexity in execution..."
The atrocious act of wielding a sacred and blessed divine blade for slaughter.
This paradoxical ultimate technique required the coexistence of mutually incompatible elements. To be honest, this would be a challenge for either Luna or Asya to perform on their own.
Despite obtaining magical power from Hal, it was too difficult for Orihime after all.
Even so, she still tried to do her best.
"Wait, Haruga-kun. I will definitely save you...!"
Holding the magic gun in her left, supporting Hal with her right, Orihime cried out loudly. She was committing her entire body, mind and soul, desperately trying to control the magical power.
The twin swords over their heads kept blinking.
However, the golden radiance gradually weakened. Orihime's attempt was going to end in failure, her desperate efforts rendered futile. But just before that happened—
"Y-You are very close, Orihime-san. Let me help out too..."
The next thing they knew, Asya had arrived by their side.
Hal's childhood friend looked haggard with Hazumi supporting her shoulder. However, she still strained her injured body to reach out, placing her hand on the magic gun held in the junior witch's hand.
Orihime and Asya. Holding the magic gun together, the two of them controlled the technique of assured annihilation in unison.
At last, the twin swords in cross formation released a dazzling golden glow. This blinding light, like the sun's, shone upon Hal and his companions.
Using the tip of the bayonet's blade, Orihime and Asya stabbed Solomon's ring.
Separated from from Hal's finger, the ring fell and rolled on the asphalt road.
This was the moment of success for the exorcism technique executed by the twin blades and the two witches.
"That took a lot of work but it's finally settled down at last..."
Hal muttered and picked up Solomon's ring.
The headache and exhaustion had passed and he was finally able to move at will. This was thanks to the Rune of the Twin Katana dispelling the ring's power.
Hal stared at the ring for a while—Then placed it on his right index finger again.
"Haruga-kun!?" "Haruomi!" "Senpai!?"
The three witches watching from the side—Orihime, Asya and Hazumi—all jumped in fright at the same time.
One could hardly blame them. After all, this ring was the culprit of the commotion just now. However, there was no denying that it was extremely useful as a tool. Sure enough, one would not want to waste it.
...Intending to deprive Hal of his mind and runes, the ring released magical power again.
The headache returned. However, since it was the second time, Hal was almost accustomed to the pain. Compared to the first time, it was easy to endure. More importantly—
Hal focused his mind on the palm of his right hand, instantly causing a cross-shaped seal to surface.
Empowered to banish evil and uphold justice, simply stated, it was the Rune of the Twin Katana with divine powers of exorcism. Shining with splendor in Hal's hand, it suppressed Solomon's curse.
"Juujouji was right. I'm similar in level to my predecessor, so I shouldn't lose that easily. Now, I've gotten a good feel for his ability."
"Even so, that was way too reckless..." Asya murmured with an expression of exasperation.
Hal shrugged and said, "I would never act recklessly without benefits. But this time, the outcome counts as okay."
Despite having put on Solomon's ring, he could not sense the hearts of "serpents" this time.
After all, he still had not mastered the ring's usage. It would be asking for too much at the current stage. Nevertheless, there were already parts that he could control according to his wishes...
Hal closed his eyes and imagined the Crimson Queen.
The image gradually appeared under his eyelids. It was the viewpoint from the queen's current perspective.
—The sky over Central Park in Manhattan.
—The intense aerial battle in progress against Red Hannibal.
—The golden ring serving as the queen's weapon, used like a frisbee to execute thrown attacks. Hannibal swung his dragonslaying spear in response to brush it away. The ring returned to the queen's hand again.
—Soon after, the Crimson Queen raised the golden ring to the sky.
—The ring began to emit an extremely unpleasant and dissonant noise, "nyyyaaaarrrllaaaaaathooooooottt……@@×●□◎△＋＝*￥！"
—Affected by this bizarre noise, Hannibal lost substantial speed.
—This was a technique of assured annihilation intrinsic to the Rune of the Ring. Nine runes of Ruruk Soun appeared in front of the ring held by the queen, signifying "I play the sound of the star of aggravation to disorient sentient minds."
—The red dragon king roared with excitement and delight, "Petty tricks!" The enemy's ferocity and annoying obstacles only served to heighten his amusement.
"Although your fight is all heated up, it's time for me to take back the queen..."
Closing his eyes, Hal muttered.
Immediately, a new development unfolded in the battle shown under his eyelids.
—The golden ring used as a weapon by the Crimson Queen suddenly vanished.
—Replacing it was a crimson bow that appeared in the queen's left hand along with an arrow of light in her right. She drew the bowstring and shot. At the same time as the shot, a new arrow appeared. The Crimson Queen kept firing in succession.
—The arrival of the bow and arrows caused Hannibal to go "Oh?" and narrow his eyes, deploying imperishable protection. The countless incoming arrows were all blocked by the pearly barrier.
"Judging from the situation, things should be fine for now..." Hal said softly and opened his eyes. He had wrested control of the queen back again just now.
"I plan on heading over to participate in the final showdown. Asya and Juujouji, why don't you take a break here?"
The intense battle so far had depleted Asya's pseudo-divinity and injured her heart.
Likewise, Orihime was unable to use pseudo-divinity anymore. Added to that was the fact that she had been quite reckless to perform a technique of assured annihilation requiring elite skills to control, thus utterly exhausting her mind and body. She was in no state for further fighting.
After hearing Hal's request, the childhood friend sighed.
"I got it... I'll listen to you this once to avoid getting in your way. However, I have a completely unrelated question."
"What is it?"
"Why were you and Orihime-san hugging together just now, Haruomi...?"
Hal was rendered speechless by Asya's piercing question.
Speaking of which, his embrace with Orihime just now had apparently been witnessed. After unleashing the sun-shooting divine bow, Asya and Hazumi had asked the helicopter pilot to land on Manhattan Bridge, taking them to meet up with Hal directly. Thanks to them taking such action, the final scene of "Asya coming to the rescue!" was made possible.
Fortunately, the kissing scene was not witnessed—Hal panicked greatly inside.
Ahem. Orihime coughed lightly and said with a cheerful expression, "Asya-san, just now, Haruga-kun was transmitting magical power to help compensate for my inadequacies, which was why we had to press our bodies tightly together."
"Perhaps it looked like a bizarre act, but that would be a misunderstanding. We were simply carrying out an essential step for the sake of accomplishing the mission. I hope you won't misinterpret in a certain way, please."
Asya could only answer "I see" and nod after Orihime replied fluently.
Despite her doubts, she had no evidence to pursue the matter—That was the feeling. On the other hand, Hazumi was as pure as an angel and nodded honestly.
"Wow... Even that sort of thing is possible, Senpai!?"
"Yeah, I guess."
Hal refrained from speaking as much as possible and nodded.
He secretly made eye contact with Orihime. Having pulled through a crisis, the Japanese girl nodded to him with an accomplice's eyes. Without speaking, her expression and gaze seemed to read "it would be problematic if a romance within the team were to come to light, so we must maintain confidentiality..."
Finding Orihime's response reliable and feeling slightly guilty at the same time, Hal changed the subject.
"So that's that. It's time for me to—"
"Leave it to me, Senpai. Please, Minadzuki, lend your power to us!"
As soon as she finished speaking, Hazumi sang a song of summoning.
The emerald serpentine dragon leviathan—Minadzuki—materialized overhead.
This was their third attack wave they had kept in reserve until now. Although a bit uncertain on the aspect of combat strength, this was the final vassal whom Hal was able to entrust the power of dragonbane.
"Because I am your assistant, Senpai... Please allow me to follow you to the very end!"
Hazumi suppressed her unease at the impending battle against a dragon king and declared firmly.
Hinokagutsuchi's appearance as a dragon king in the past—The Crimson Queen.
By obtaining her heartmetal, Hal had taken a step further and claimed the queen's physical body. But so far, all he had been able to do was use it in a time-limited manner.
The bottleneck was the output of Hal's heart, i.e. heartmetal.
Hal's heart was unable to generate the massive magical power necessary for driving and sustaining a dragon king-class body. Reaching that level would probably be essential for conquering the Road to Kingship as Sophocles had said.
Expanding one's territory across the Earth and the universe, erecting numerous Monoliths that were akin to devices for generating magical power, extracting magical power from the ground like taxation—
If he were to follow this sequence, he would probably ascend to the dragon king throne like Princess Yukikaze or Hannibal.
But currently, the Crimson Queen under Hal's control still carried magical power rivaling Hannibal's despite her inability to match the strongest dragon king in direct combat.
All this was thanks to Solomon's ring and the Rune of the Ring.
Not too long ago, this instrument of magic control had absorbed the magical power of seventy-two serpent souls.
Together with the ring's own magical power and that produced by Hal's heart—Combining all these sources together, Hal just managed to cobble together enough power to match a dragon king-class enemy.
Hence, the Crimson Queen's physical body did not crumble like in previous battles.
"Although I'm still not sure how much this ring can do..."
While muttering, Hal silently spoke to his avatar.
Please. Continue to draw Hannibal's attention like this.
The Crimson Queen was currently looking down at Old Manhattan's skyscrapers from an altitude of seven hundred meters while engaging Red Hannibal in an aerial battle.
The two dragons were flying at almost the same height with roughly a kilometer separating them.
As one would expect, the one to attack first was the queen, equipped with long-range weaponry. Using the crimson bow, she fired consecutively, sending out arrows of light nonstop to produce a hail of projectiles. Even without using a technique of assured annihilation, this wave of attacks already matched the firepower of Akuro-Ou's full burst earlier.
Furthermore, this was a concentrated attack with Hannibal as the sole target.
In terms of damage potential alone, the queen's consecutive shots were probably more powerful.
"S-So amazing, Senpai!"
"I can't believe there's such a big gap between a dragon king and our leviathans huh..."
Hal observed the queen's archery skills while conversing quietly with Hazumi.
The two of them were currently at the Rockefeller Center in the heart of Old Manhattan, on the roof observation deck of the GE Building. The top floor of this seventy-story building used to be called the "Top of the Rock" due to its excellent and expansive view of New York's night scenery.
The two of them had been transported here by riding on Minadzuki's palm.
Although they were two kilometers away from the aerial battle, due to using Vision Amplification magic, they were able to clearly see the two dragons fighting intensely.
...The Crimson Queen kept using her prided archery to fire in rapid succession.
Conversely, Hannibal used a technique of assured annihilation. The runic arrangement of "O spear of mine, gather the northern star's power to advance with ferocity" appeared in front of him, blocking all of the incoming arrows.
Wielding the spear, the dragon king advanced forward slowly in this manner.
However, the queen also took countermeasures—the trajectory of the arrows curved.
All the arrows fired head on were blocked. However, the Crimson Queen proceeded to fire arrows along a curved trajectory to skillfully evade the runes of Ruruk Soun blocking in front. Arrows pierced into Hannibal's gigantic body one after another.
Like boomerangs, the numerous arrows turned back from behind despite missing the target.
These arrows attacked Hannibal's back, head and lower body.
The red dragon king defended using imperishable protection and yelled, "O shining spear of the northern star, offer to me a thousand spears!"
Then he released his weapon—the dragonslaying spear. The spear's shaft was pitch-black and was comparable in length to the dragon king's body that exceeded twenty meters.
Suddenly, a thousand spears completely identical to this weapon appeared in the surroundings.
In addition to being held in the hand for thrusting, spears could also be thrown as projectile weapons. Naturally, precise sniping like a bow and arrow was impossible, but if one were to deploy an infantry battalion to launch spears at the enemy all at once, there would be no need for aiming.
Hannibal's technique of assured annihilation replicated this type of attack.
Out of the one thousand spears in total, dozens flew at the Crimson Queen first. Naturally, the Crimson Queen deployed imperishable protection to defend but something unexpected happened.
Normally speaking, imperishable protection would be able to block enemy attacks and deflect them.
One would expect a similar result this time, but among the dozens of spears, a few pierced the protection guarding the queen!
Just as Hal was taken aback by surprise, another few dozen spears flew over.
Although the majority of this wave of spears were deflected, a few stabbed into the protection again. Then dozens of spears flew in again, leaving a few stuck in the barrier—This outcome repeated ten-odd times.
Over fifty spears were stabbed into the pearly shield defending the Crimson Queen.
Then Hal realized something. The queen's movements had turned rather sluggish, making the earlier nimble flying ability seem like a lie. Even when he silently commanded "fly" in his mind, the queen did not move.
There were dozens of dragonslaying spears stabbed into the imperishable protection.
Their combined weight was hindering the queen's flight.
"Come to think of it, the ancient Romans used a similar tactic..."
Killing was not the only purpose in the tactic of throwing spears.
Confronted with thrown spears, with sufficient luck, one could block using a shield. However, embedding a heavy spear into a shield would make it difficult to carry, rendering it unusable. Hence, the throwing of spears was also a method of weakening the enemy's combat strength.
"I remember the Chinese were the ones who listed the spear as the king of weapons... Uh—Gahhhhhh!"
The damage inflicted upon imperishable protection resulted in a backlash against Hal's heart.
Stabbed by dozens of spears, there was quite a large burden of course. Seeing Hal groan in pain, Hazumi rushed to his side.
Ignoring Hal and Hazumi, the airborne Hannibal prepared to deliver a critical blow.
With a line of spears ready around him, he summoned a new dragonslaying spear to his hand.
"Well then... Tyrannos of the Bow, although I have enjoyed myself beyond expectation, it is time to liberate you."
The spear Hannibal had summoned this time was almost twice his height.
The red dragon king lifted this extra large spear to point forward horizontally, sending it flying straight at the immobilized queen. In addition, the runes of "O spear of mine, gather the northern star's power to advance with ferocity" were deployed in front to provide maximum thrust!
"I-I guess I have to risk everything on one gamble... Shirasaka, please summon Minadzuki!"
"Yes, Senpai. I am ready any time!"
When Hal made his request while enduring his pain, Hazumi inexplicably came to his left side.
The adorable junior student was leaning her delicate body intimately against Haruga Haruomi—leaning herself against the male transfer student who was her senior.
"Sh-Shirasaka, what are you doing!?"
"? Because it was like this between you and Nee-sama just now... This will allow me to receive magical power from within you, right?"
"If there are additional essential conditions, I am willing to do it, whatever it takes. I wish wholeheartedly to assist you, Senpai. Please make your request, no matter what!"
Indeed, that was how Orihime had explained to Hazumi and Asya earlier.
On further thought, they definitely needed powerful offense for the situation at hand. Although it was perfectly logical for the responsible junior to think "I need to do that too—" but to subject an angelic girl to such treatment would be truly...
Hal was hesitating this late in the game, but there was no time left!
"Sorry, Shirasaka. I'll kneel or do anything you want afterwards, but lend me your strength!"
While saying these words, Hal reached out with his right hand—and grabbed Hazumi's breast.
The innocent junior student was rendered speechless in alarm and surprise. Doing what he did as usual, Hal poured massive magical power into her heart.
"S-Senpai... Mm, mmmmmmmmmm—Senpai!"
Inexplicably alluring moans escaped Hazumi's lips as she looked tearfully at Hal.
Her breast, tracing out beautiful curves despite not being huge, was soft and just the right size to fit in one's palm. It must have been quite a shock for the innocent junior. However, apologies would have to wait until later.
"Shirasaka—Give orders to Minadzuki. Use the sun-shooting divine bow!"
"Y-Yes. S...Senpai, I-I am feeling very strange—Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm!"
Hazumi hugged Hal tightly as though suppressing a scream.
It looked like she was enduring a violent impact that made it difficult for her to even remain standing. The obedient junior student emitted an unexpected cry, her mind seemingly at it limit.
At the same time, the crystal ball held in Minadzuki's right hand released extremely powerful white lightning.
The size of these lightning bolts rivaled Minadzuki herself, who had a body length of ten-odd meters. Furthermore, a total of eight lightning bolts were shot out at once.
The powerful lightning tore through the darkness of the night, soaring though the sky.
After blowing away Hannibal's barrier—the thousand spears—
The impact from the eight bolts of lightning finally halted Hannibal's advance. The paralysis caused by electrocution was apparently preventing him from moving his body freely.
"Nuu! Stop struggling in vain, Tyrannos!"
Once the lightning strikes were over, Hannibal sluggishly turned his body's direction.
He glared diagonally at Minadzuki below and slowly swung his right arm. It looked like he was planning to throw his dragonslaying spear at her emerald serpentine body.
The sluggishness was probably an aftereffect of the electrical attack. This was the crucial moment if one were going to decide the match.
"Queen, use the Rune of the Twin Katana!"
Responding to Hal's shout, the crimson bow and the arrow of light disappeared from the queen's arms.
Manifesting to take their place was a pair of divine swords, one large and one small. The Crimson Queen brandished the twin swords magnificently and cut down all the dozens of spears embedded on her imperishable protection like shackles.
Having regained her freedom, the queen charged at Hannibal.
Targeting the strongest dragon king who was restrained by Minadzuki's lightning strikes, if one of the two swords could take this opportunity to stab into the dragon's vital heartmetal—
However, Hannibal turned to intercept the queen boldly.
"Hahahahaha! I actually like you very much for struggling on the brink of death. Easy victories are too boring!"
The dragon king roared with laughter at this critical juncture while spewing blazing flames from his mouth.
A scorching blue-white conflagration. Even though it was neither magic nor a technique of assured annihilation, it was supernatural fire that had incinerated numerous human cities. Furthermore, these were explosive flames coming from within dragon king Hannibal's body.
Wielding the twin swords with the intent to execute slashing attacks, the Crimson Queen was engulfed by the flames completely.
For a minute or two, incinerated by blue-white flames—
"Senpai!? Please, Minadzuki, hurry and rescue Senpai and the queen!"
Due to the heat, Hal screamed as though his heart was being burned. Hazumi panicked and pleaded sorrowfully with her partner. However, it was too late.
Scorched by Hannibal's conflagration, the Crimson Queen finally crashed down.
The crimson body was scorched black all over. In human terms, it would be severe burns all over the body. No more strength remaining to continue the fight, Hal could sense that. All he could manage now was to de-materialize the queen before suffering a fatal blow.
The owner of the flames that had cremated the queen laughed proudly and casually spread his wings.
Next—In that very moment...
Supposed to have no remaining strength, the queen moved her left arm swiftly, throwing one of her twin swords.
It was the kodachi out of the pair. The sword shot out like an arrow, stabbing its blade into Hannibal's chest, right on top of the heartmetal—analogous to the location of the human heart.
Hannibal looked in shock at the kodachi buried in his chest.
He never expected the queen to have the strength to strike back on the verge of death—He seemed surprised from the bottom of his heart. As a seasoned veteran of a dragon king, he should not be this careless. In truth, even Hal, the one controlling the queen, had thought that it was over.
"Was it Minadzuki...?"
Surprised, Hal muttered.
He suddenly noticed that seven runes of Ruruk Soun had manifested behind the winged serpentine dragon leviathan. They signified "healing hand."
Hal remembered it was during the battle against Princess Yukikaze when Genbu-Ou had used this healing magic—
In front of the surprised Hal and Hazumi, Hannibal began to crash down after the Crimson Queen.
As one would expect, the heartmetal was a dragon's most important organ and greatest vulnerability. It looked like even a dragon king could not overturn this fact—
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