Leviathan:Volume 6 Chapter 2
Chapter 2 - The King of Magi Returns
The bold and unfettered personality of Hannibal the red dragon king was publicly recognized without contention.
One could call him sloppy or doing things with no planning at all. At this very moment, the strongest king of dragonkind was following his whims, taking a break.
"Well, I guess I've got to get properly rested no matter what."
Lying on the ground uncouthly, he released a great yawn.
This was Hannibal's human form, a well-built red-headed man. He finally took off the red coat that never left his side, casually rolling it up to use as a pillow.
Hannibal's current environment was extremely peculiar.
It was a gray space extending to the horizon. Hannibal was trapped in a bounded field where there was nothing apart from himself.
"Hmm... My last time as captive was four thousand years ago, maybe? Or was it five thousand?"
He tried to recall his vague memories but immediately gave up.
There was no need to remember the exact time. The key point was that "it was very long ago." This kind of adventure surely felt nostalgic.
Hannibal noticed that he was actually quite excited.
"This really takes me back. I used to go around looking for this kind of fun once in a while."
Captured and imprisoned in the enemy commander's castle.
However, he would make full use of his wits and martial prowess, setting himself free and proceeding to exterminate the enemy army for a bit of payback.
During captivity, the spices of boredom, hunger and torture would be added too.
Now that Hannibal thought back, every memory was so wonderful.
Currently, Hannibal had reached the pinnacle of strength and would occasionally reminisce about the fear and nervousness he had felt back then.
"Hmm. I might as well give up a dragon king's power and 'start over.' That'll be pretty amusing."
Grinning, he suddenly began to fantasize.
In addition, the prime culprit imprisoning him was the ghost that the successor of the Bow had summoned from the sea of stars recently. He was haunting the weird ark.
It looked like he was the Tyrannos possessing the Rune of the Ring...
"What a rude and careless guy, he didn't even drop by to say hi."
After locking Hannibal into the gray prison, the other party had not shown up at all.
However, dragon kings possessed extreme senses like beasts. He knew that the enemy or the enemy's lackey was monitoring him from outside the prison at all times.
Hannibal could faintly sense the other party's gaze and wariness.
"Waste of effort."
The red dragon king grinned slightly in mockery.
They should know just by focusing their mind a little.
During the showdown against the Bow user, the red dragon king's heartmetal had suffered serious damage, causing his healing speed and magic recovery to slow down.
It was not time to make a move yet. He could wait longer for more power to return.
That was precisely why Hannibal was yawning in leisure, lounging away to kill time in lethargy. In his current state, he must focus on recuperating.
Hence, the person outside need not be so nervous.
At least for the time being—
"Someone who doesn't get that must be human... Or rather, a human who has never turned into a dragon before?"
He muttered to himself while thinking back.
Princess Yukikaze had inherited the arrow's dragonslaying rune. The adorable white dragon king.
Only capable of an incomplete transformation, that little lass would be considered a half-human, half-dragon existence. However, she understood this principle well.
In that case, should this be relegated as a question of aptitude?
Ultimately, members of the human race were still living creatures, companions of beasts.
Most humans refused to acknowledge and accept this fact, unwilling to take a further step towards becoming "beasts."
On further thought, they were such a weird bunch.
"Well then, what about this kid?"
The young man and Tyrannos who was controlling an "imitation dragon king," a most extraordinary tool.
Hannibal recalled the Bow's successor. What might that guy be doing right now?
"Come, come, Lord Haruga. A drink for you."
"Oh my oh my, ahaha."
"Wow, what a bold drinker you are. Come, another cup."
"Oh my oh my, ahaha... Uh, Shamiram-san, it's a bit much when you're using distilled water to pretend to serve wine."
"Despite saying that, you seem to be quite enjoying yourself."
"Oh my oh my, ahaha."
The dead beautiful witch, Shamiram, was holding a narrow flask in her hand.
From the flask, she poured drinking water into the wine cup in Hal's hand, encouraging him to have a drink.
Looked after by the "pretty older lady" with immaculate care, Hal was feeling a little lustful.
Furthermore, this handcrafted flask looked as though an amateur had sculpted it sloppily.
Bluntly stated, its shape was very ugly. The color was also a dull reddish brown. However, according to Shamiram, the distilled water in the flask never ran out no matter how much you poured.
It was an excellent magic treasure in contrast to its humble appearance.
'Anyway, I'd like to secure food and water first... Do you have any ideas?'
Just earlier, Shamiram had made a request to Hal.
After some contemplation, Hal finally used Dispel magic.
Then after breaking King Solomon's curse, it was Hal's turn to ask for a favor to sate his hunger and thirst. Thus Shamiram led the two of them to a certain sky island.
She said that the temple on that island had treasures capable of creating water and food.
What transported them from one island to the next was the giant pteranodon.
Named Ashkelon, she was the "serpent" under Shamiram's control. With her master, Hal, and Hazumi riding on her back, this ancient leviathan flew lightly to their destination.
Thus, Hal and Hazumi finally tasted food for the first time in a while.
However, it was definitely not a sumptuous meal. The only drink was the distilled water poured out from the magic flask. On the other hand, the only food was—
"Senpai, here you go."
Hazumi handed over an big earthen plate.
This plate was also handcrafted and covered with irregularities. One could tell that its creator had very poor craftsmanship. However, this plate was also a magic treasure.
Just by praying to it, white bread would appear on the plate.
Thus, the plate was currently carrying white bread, summoned by Hazumi's prayer. While thanking his diligent protege, Hal tore off a piece of bread.
...Munch. What terrible taste.
If he concentrated hard, he could sense a bit of sweetness from that starch.
But that was all. Judging from the Japanese standard of putting large amounts of cream and butter into their bread, this was practicably on the level of "tasteless."
This was still very nutritious—Shamiram had told them.
"The manna mentioned in the Bible could very well taste like this," muttered Hal while chewing the almost tasteless bread.
As the creator of the bread, Hazumi smiled with purity and responded to Hal.
"I've heard of that. I remember it was God's food, wasn't it? When Jesus and Moses prayed to God, something that fell from the sky and resembled frost."
"Yes, you're right, that's the one."
"Let me make you something delicious after we escape this place. Although my cooking is nowhere as good as Nee-sama or Asya-san... Will you be willing to try it?"
"That goes without saying!"
"Fufufufu. Thank you."
Hal nodded vigorously in response to Hazumi's suggestion.
This was a heart-to-heart moment between an upstanding senior and his junior. However, Hazumi immediately came back to her senses and looked away stiffly.
It was as though she could not bear to watch the senior's foolishness any longer.
Ahem. Hal cleared his throat and said to Shamiram in a serious tone of voice, "Excuse me, can I ask you to stop messing around?"
The beautiful witch, Shamiram, used her index finger to lightly caress Hal's inner thigh and said mischievously, "And what do you mean by that?"
"L-Like this kind of inappropriate conduct! Also, there's no need for you to sit next to me and show off your probably H-cup bust and cleavage to me—"
"I can't (stroke-stroke)?"
"O-Of course not."
"But Lord Haruga, I feel as though your face is saying 'more, more'..."
"Unfounded speculation, I can assure you."
Hal protested while feeling surprised and alarmed inside.
Of course, his expression was very serious. However, Shamiram was calmly and confidently using her body to launch a "smiling and stroking" offensive to strike back.
"Is that truly so?"
"A-As the one in question here, my words absolutely cannot be wrong."
"Fufufufu. There is also the possibility you are lying, Lord Haruga. I wish to investigate thoroughly."
Shamiram's commitment to service was very strong.
Apart from letting Hal grope her breast in the beginning, she would touch Hal's body like this from then on, pouring water for him, teasing him in every way possible.
To be honest, the thought of "if only she wasn't dead" had crossed Hal's mind as well as "isn't being alive or dead just a minor detail?", possibly as part of the closet pervert in every man.
Crap, crap. Form is no different from emptiness, and emptiness is no different from form.
When Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara practised the deep Prajnaparamita, he saw that the five skandhas were empty; thus he overcame all ills and suffering...
Hal recited the Buddhist scripture that was about "things with form ultimately end up no different from that which is formless—" in an attempt to coldly push away the beautiful witch from an ancient kingdom.
However, the pair of ostensibly H-cup breasts was making his mind spin, preventing Hal from taking action in a timely manner.
At that moment, Hazumi suddenly shouted.
"Excuse me, but Senpai already asked you to stop. Shamiram-san, it's time for you to come over and begin your meal too!"
"No no. I have no need to eat. After all, I am already dead."
"!? Sorry, I forgot..."
Hazumi was at a loss when the plate of bread she presented was refused. In contrast, the beautiful witch Shamiram continued nonchalantly.
"Furthermore, Lady Hazumi, this is ultimately only part of my gratitude in return."
"Indeed. To forget favors and to repay kindness with betrayal would be morally bankrupt and unfit to be called a human being. I wish to be of service to my savior Lord Haruga as much as possible."
"And judging from Lord Haruga's facial expression, he doesn't seem to be an unwilling participant, does he?"
"That is not true! Senpai isn't supposed to be like that!"
Hazumi yelled at the ancient witch. It was rare to see her so worked up.
It almost seemed like she was jealous of Shamiram. Hal widened his eyes in surprise. On the other hand, Shamiram spoke with a laid back face, "On the contrary. Men at this age are undoubtedly like this. Despite being dead, when a peerless beauty like me takes initiative in approaching him... Lord Haruga's lust will assuredly be stimulated. The evidence is how he furtively glances at my chest."
"I-Is that true, Senpai!?"
Seeing Shamiram explain convincingly, Hazumi wavered and asked with uncertainty.
Naturally, Hal would not be careless enough to show his true colors at such a time. Making full use of his acting skills, he strained to feign composure.
"S-Silly child, how could I possibly do such a thing?"
"Fufufufu. Lord Haruga, you are not very honest, I see," said the deceased, beautiful witch happily.
She even puffed out her chest to show off her pair of breasts that seemed to symbolize the fruits of the land.
Form is no different from emptiness, and emptiness is no different from form. Okay, no problem, sage mode activated successfully.
Shamiram stared at Hal suggestively and said softly, "Well, let us assume that he truly does not have that intention."
She winked. Clearly she was already dead, but why was she still so sexy?
Hal found the witch's mysterious allure unbelievable. In front of him, Shamiram continued to make problematic statements.
"Having caressed my breast with such passion previously, Lord Haruga and I have clearly crossed the line in our relationship."
"Th-That's because you pulled my hand to touch yourself, Shamiram-san."
"Yet you were fondling rather thoroughly..."
In his shock, Hal had accidentally persisted in fondling her. That was the truth and he had nothing to say in defense of that.
However, it was not lust. At least not on the surface. Just as he intended to launch a rebuttal, Hazumi spoke before him.
"Th-Then in that case, it's the same for me!"
"Oh? It is the same for you too, Lady Hazumi?"
"Yes! Senpai has groped me in the chest too! Forcefully, squeezing hard! Shamiram-san, you are not the only special one!"
The adorable junior's sudden confession caught Hal unprepared. Shamiram crossed her arms.
"Lord Haruga... So you are the same as Master Solomon, I see?"
"Eh? What do you mean by that?"
The ancient witch answered Hal's question decisively, "Putting his paws on the maidens in his service, philandering outside, wooing them with deception to marry them as concubines—That is what I mean. In the past, I too, was one of Master's beloved concubines, serving at his side."
The unexpected situation left Hazumi speechless.
Hal was the same, but he managed to gather his thoughts together, just barely. It would be bad if he continued to remain in this position of disadvantage. It was time to seize initiative back from the deceased witch whose speech and behavior were all so shocking.
"Uh, I'm very interested in Solomon-senpai's exploits alright," said Hal in a serious tone to change the subject. "But let's first discuss our next move. I believe we have two options. One is to have Shamiram-san take us to the exit so that all of us can leave the ark together."
"That probably will not work," the beautiful witch replied apologetically. "There is only one person able to open the ark's entrance arbitrarily, namely, its owner. Naturally, under the current circumstances, it means Master Solomon."
"Then our only choice is the second option."
Hal shrugged and deliberately tried to sound nonchalant.
"We must work together and hijack this ship—in other words, take control by brute force so that we can control it freely."
After chatting, refreshments and a meeting...
Hal and Hazumi parted ways with the beautiful witch from an ancient kingdom and were back being alone together.
Riding the miniaturized Minadzuki, they took flight into the sky inside the ark, filled with sky islands. As before, Hazumi rode in front with Hal behind her.
Unlike earlier, they now had a clear target.
Solomon's ark apparently had a control room like in human ships.
Shamiram entered its coordinates into Hal's "magic wand," the magic gun. Truly impressive, an ancient witch. She performed such a high-level technique effortlessly.
"But are you sure we should be splitting up from Shamiram-san?"
"Just as she said, she would have greater freedom to act alone compared to staying with us, who are so conspicuous. She'll extend a helping hand in secret when we're in danger."
After Hal replied to alleviate Hazumi's worries, he lowered his voice.
"Also... In the event that she's lying, it'd be dangerous to be around her too."
"Lying about what?"
"Lying about hating Solomon-senpai and betraying him when she actually intends to conspire against us. Moving around as a group with a traitor in our midst would be quite a hassle since you never know when you'll get stabbed in the back."
Rather than working together while worrying, it would be better to go separate ways—
That was what Hal thought. He wanted to believe in human benevolence as much as possible but they had yet to establish any trust. Trust was not something to offer to others unconditionally.
In contrast, it seemed like Hazumi had not considered that possibility at all.
Stunned over there, she looked like she wanted to argue, but she paused to think before speaking. Finally, she said, "You are right... After all, we just met her."
"Yeah. It's unfortunate, but for us, sometimes it's definitely necessary to be more vigilant."
Hal gradually felt his soul soothed by his junior.
Because Hazumi's pure heart, refusing to suspect others unreasonably, moved him a bit.
"B-By the way..."
Hazumi started up another topic of conversation, probably to change the gloomy atmosphere.
"I feel that Solomon-san was not a very decent person."
"Definitely. Forcing a woman who had an intimate relationship with him to follow him to the grave and even using a curse to force her to be his gravekeeper for all eternity, that's definitely beyond fiendish."
"Can't you use your magic to help her, Senpai?"
"I doubt it. I don't think I have any spell that'll come in handy. By this point, even if I release her from her undead state, there's no way for her to reincarnate as a human. There's no spell to help her pass on to nirvana either."
"What a... pity."
Hazumi suddenly stammered then said stiffly, "B-By the way, Senpai, I am so sorry for earlier. I can't believe I said something like 'Shamiram-san, you are not the only special one!'"
"Oh, sure. You surprised me there."
"Umm... I don't quite understand it myself, but at the time, I felt compelled to speak at all costs. I couldn't hold it in no matter what. I felt that had the situation continued, Senpai would've become Shamiram-san's—"
Hazumi was jealous after all?
Jealous of the beautiful ancient witch who seemed like she was about to monopolize Haruga Haruomi with her bold behavior. The instant he realized this, Hal breathed a sigh of relief.
(Has my "big brother" flag finally been raised...!?)
It was just yesterday when he had told Hazumi that "You're feeling jealousy when girls approach me. In other words, this is the sense of loss stemming from your perception of me as something beyond a senior—an older guy akin to an big brother!"
At that instant, Hal felt an indescribable surge of emotions in his heart.
"I am truly sorry. Also, I just realized.""
"O-Oh? What did you realize?"
He feigned calmness but could not stop his feelings inside from getting stirred up.
Hal could not help but start to fantasize. He imagined Hazumi confessing to him, "Senpai, you are already 'Onii-chan' to me!" in a shocking development.
What a conundrum. Am I finally going to gain a little sister of no blood relation?
However, what Hazumi said was completely outside his predictions.
"Senpai... Do you do the same thing with others as what you did when you touched my breast? Umm, like with Nee-sama or Asya-san..."
"Ah, uh—I won't do that kind of stuff to Asya. Absolutely not."
Strictly speaking, he had done something similar during Rushalka's rebirth.
Even so, Hal still thought of it as a one-time exception that probably would not happen ever again. In fact, his childhood friend was able to use the sun-shooting divine bow successfully without Hal's help. However—
"Th-Then Senpai, sure enough, towards Nee-sama and Luna-san, you will..."
Hal realized his mistake. To think he had acknowledged the truth with his own mouth!
"I-In order to win against those dragons, there was really a necessity."
All he could do was relate "the truth itself."
Hal did everything he could to tense up his expression and speak in an extremely serious tone. At this rate, he was going to lose his dignity as the "senior."
To break out of this crisis, he spoke from the heart, "In truth, I've never had the luxury of sparing thoughts on other matters during battle."
...This was the truth close to the deepest part of his psyche.
He also knew that "other matters" actually surfaced in his mind during the instants when he had touched Orihime and Luna.
That being said, Hazumi still nodded and agreed with his slightly exaggerated admission.
"I-I get it! Last time, I was facing a great showdown against Hannibal-san too. B-But it's definitely as you say, Senpai... Huh?"
The two of them were riding on Minadzuki, who had shrunk down to five meters or so.
Sitting in front of Hal, Hazumi suddenly held her sides and bent over forward.
"Ah... Ooooooh. M-My stomach hurts..."
Hal wrapped his arms around Hazumi's shoulders from behind and examined her face.
The pain lasted roughly three or four minutes before Hazumi finally recovered. With a haggard look, she said softly, "Sorry... I suddenly acted weird when it crossed my mind that Senpai has done the same thing with Nee-sama and Luna-san, which means they also experienced that kind of feeling."
It was most likely a stomach cramp caused by severe stress.
Health problems were common for the delicate Hazumi.
Did this mean that the mere thought of a certain guy getting intimate with other girls apart from her would cause stress, then wasn't this the same as an unrequited love...?
No no no. No way that could be possible.
Hal rejected his thought halfway through.
No matter what, this delusion was too self-centered and narcissistic.
Suppose Hazumi "felt that way" towards him, of course, he would almost die from overjoy, but Hal believed this was definitely impossible.
He should first distract Hazumi's focus from the mysterious source of stress.
Hal changed the subject.
"Speaking of which, can you be more specific on what 'that kind of feeling' is like? It's when I was sending magical power into your heart, wasn't it?"
Strictly speaking, it was a ritual to transfer magical power by touching a witch's breast with his palm.
Even now, Orihime and Luna still refused to tell Hal what they had felt. The third test subject, Hazumi, thought in silence for a moment before speaking softly, "It is very hard to describe, but... It felt very pleasurable..."
"Oh? Pleasurable huh."
"Yes. Like being in paradise, every inch of my body was very warm. But as soon as that moment passed, it felt extremely tiring."
Some kind of blissful feeling? Hal hoped it was not addictive like drugs.
Thinking "I see" to himself, Hal nodded.
Hazumi then asked, "Umm... What about you, Senpai?"
"What about me?"
"This body part of mine isn't as big as Nee-sama's or Luna-san's... or Shamiram-san's."
She pressed her right hand on her chest lightly.
Then speaking softly with uncertainty and worry, she said, "I feel very sad... as soon as I wonder if you might dislike this kind of size, Senpai. Sorry, if only I were bigger."
"W-W-W-What are you talking about, Shirasaka!?"
Hal shouted in shock.
"Although I'd definitely say 'the bigger the better' if forced to pick, that doesn't mean I reject the value of flat chests! I really like ones on the small side like yours too!"
Only after saying that did Hal realize he had misspoken.
He thought "what the heck did I say in desperation—" to himself but the weird thing was that Hazumi listened to his problematic statement to the very end and nodded.
And she even smiled with happiness.
"Really? Fufufufu, I am so glad."
Seeing his junior react with unexpected cuteness, Hal felt his heart skip a beat with a forceful "badump", then immediately—
Minadzuki called out softly.
Minadzuki was the "serpent" with whom Hal had established a covenant through Hazumi. Hence, he could immediately sense her intent. This was a warning.
Through her superlative senses of a leviathan's, she had detected the approach of a dangerous enemy.
"Shirasaka, land at the nearest island."
"U-Understood. Is it Solomon-san?"
"Very likely. Be careful."
Hazumi also understood her partner's warning.
She immediately followed orders with a "Yes!", gently stroking Minadzuki's back.
As a a result, the emerald serpentine dragon flew to the sky island three or four kilometers ahead, landing on it and taking a prone position.
Hal and Hazumi instantly leaped to the ground.
Then they turned their heads to search the sky. A crimson elite dragon was slowly flying over from a certain direction. The two of them spotted the beautiful figure surrounded by flames.
Unmistakable. It was the Crimson Queen.
It was the body of the dragon king that King Solomon had stolen from Haruga Haruomi.
"A direct showdown against Senpai at last huh..."
Muttering to himself, he summoned his magic gun.
Hal and Hazumi arrived at a new sky island and prepared for battle.
As the only leviathan available, of course Minadzuki was expected to play a pivotal role. Shrunk down in size previously, Minadzuki now returned to her original size at Hazumi's orders.
The emerald serpentine dragon craned her neck over Hal and Hazumi, staying vigilant.
The Crimson Queen was up ahead within view.
Originally used by Hal as a trump card, the dragon king body had now fallen under King Solomon's control. She flew slowly to approach the sky island where Hal and Hazumi were.
Following the queen were seventy-two blue-white ghostlights.
The flickering ghostlights in the air all had the same shape—Dragonoid forms.
"They are all 'serpents' that have lost their physical bodies... Aren't they?"
"Yeah. The spirits of leviathans—serpent souls."
Hazumi asked uneasily and Hal replied calmly.
"Speaking of which, Shirasaka, I suppose you didn't get to see it? Before Akuro-Ou received her physical body, she was also hanging around in shadow form like that."
"The story of the seventy-two demons serving King Solomon probably came from them. That being said, I totally can't tell which one is Baal and which one is Asmodeus."
Baal, Dantalion, Marchosias, Asmodeus, etc.
These were all the names of demons that had served Solomon. Many of them originally came from "pagan gods outside of the Jewish faith."
Demoting the gods of foreign peoples and countries to evil deities and monsters was an act of narrow-mindedness and intolerance.
In any case, the elite dragon clad in crimson flames was flying over, leading an army of what looked like blue-white fireballs—
Hal's lineup consisted only of himself, Hazumi and Minadzuki. It was worrying.
In addition, several hours earlier, Minadzuki had fought Shamiram and her "serpent" Ashkelon, using up one invocation of pseudo-divinity in the process.
Minadzuki's partner, Hazumi, was a Level 2 witch.
She could only order Minadzuki to use pseudo-divinity one more time today...
"Shirasaka, take care to choose your timing for using pseudo-divinity."
"By the way, during the fight against Hannibal, Minadzuki used healing magic at the end—Is there any way of having her use it again?"
"Sorry, I... do not know how."
She probably felt very guilty for giving a negative response.
Hazumi looked at Hal sadly with a layer of gloom on her adorable face. Her gaze seemed almost magical. Hal felt as though he was going to be sucked into that pair of large eyes.
"Since it was magic that Minadzuki used without my awareness... Also, even if I asked her to do the same thing again, the request probably won't reach her. That was what Hinokagutsuchi-san said before."
"Come to think of it—"
Hal recalled the conversation on the whale watching cruise.
Trying to exert wanton control over creatures connected to the lineage of the gods would be an act of disrespect.
Mankind's only method of approaching the gods was to offer sincere prayers.
Well, it's probably because of that, thought Hal. Precisely because of that, Hazumi, who was purer and more innocent than any other modern witch, was the only one who drew out "goddess power" from her partner—A very likely possibility.
"I understand. I'll just think of it as a stroke of luck if it works out smoothly. Anyway, let's focus on defense first."
"Follow the enemy's movements and the rest is just improvising."
They did not have enough combat power to strike preemptively... Hal deliberately withheld this.
The crimson dragon king leading blue-white ghostlights versus the emerald serpentine dragon leviathan.
King Solomon's vassals were going to clash violently with Haruga Haruomi's vassal.
First, the serpent souls started to sing.
Hal realized suddenly in alarm. He had heard this song not too long ago.
During the intense battle against Hannibal in the New York wasteland, when Hal was facing off against the injured dragon king, the serpent souls had been singing in unison as they were doing now. After hearing that song, Hal and the others had lost consciousness...
Definitely beyond a doubt. It was a kind of psychological attack.
Its purpose then was to capture Hal, Hazumi and Hannibal in one fell swoop while they were unprepared—
"Come closer, Shirasaka!"
This time, Hal must protect the bodies and minds of himself and his protege.
He waved and Hazumi rushed to his side with a "Yes!" Hal jumped in surprise next because Hazumi hugged him tightly as though throwing herself into his embrace.
"N-No need to be that close, you know!?"
"S-Sorry! I got too excited, also—"
Holding Hal tightly, she replied, slightly troubled.
"Senpai, Nee-sama and you were doing this before... So I was wondering whether it was necessary when receiving magical power."
After replying, the fourteen-year-old Hazumi cringed in embarrassment.
She was probably embarrassed now that she became aware of her and Hal "hugging together." As a result, she was about to move away when Hal said hastily, "S-Staying in this posture is fine too. It's pretty convenient as well!"
After saying that, Hal deployed imperishable protection.
The pearly light first enveloped the hugging senior and junior then expanded to cover the entire body of Minadzuki who was in the air preparing for the incoming attack.
Last time, Hal and Hannibal had exhausted themselves to the point of being unable to deploy imperishable protection.
Whether or not his defenses hold this time—
The instant the choir of the seventy-two serpent souls reached the climax, the Crimson Queen opened its jaws wide and expelled a gray shadow.
Carrying evil magical power, the "grayness" gradually swallowed Hal's group.
It swallowed Minadzuki's giant body that was facing off against the queen in the air as well as Hal and Hazumi, hugging on the ground—
But this time, imperishable protection's vaunted absolute defense blocked the attack for them. The gray shadow was rendered powerless. They neither fell asleep nor entered a dream.
However, Hal's heart had to suffer through twenty seconds worth of intense pain.
No helping it. This was the price for maintaining imperishable protection.
"So this is Solomon-senpai's killer move huh..." Hal muttered to himself.
Sacred words were glowing over the head of the stolen Crimson Queen.
Seventeen runes of Ruruk Soun were arranged to signify "You will be enthralled by the land of dreams to wander in the lost garden for eternity."
In addition, by the time Hal noticed, the golden ring had also manifested in front of the queen.
A diameter of seven meters. This was the appearance taken by the Rune of the Ring after manifesting as an instrument of magic control.
"This is a trump card that was able to take out a dragon king and us together in a one-hit knockdown. It'd be too much of a cheat unless it only worked when the opponents left themselves wide open."
In boxing terms, it would be a hard punch achieving a one-hit knockout.
However, it would be the type that was effortless to defend against because the motion was so telegraphed that one could tell from a single glance.
They would never fear that type of attack again—As much as Hal wanted to say that, he frowned. If he and Minadzuki were to collapse from exhaustion, they would not be able to defend against this trump card.
In that case, he must avoid fighting a protracted battle of attrition...
Unconcerned with Hal's worries, the Crimson Queen and Solomon's ring started to move again.
First, the seventy-two serpent souls behind the queen flew up one after another, circling around in flocks. This action did not seem very meaningful.
However, the serpent souls offered magical power to Solomon while they flew, supporting him.
Their presence alone was already helping him. With their support, the Crimson Queen reached out with her right hand to grab the golden ring.
It was the manifested Rune of the Ring. As though throwing a frisbee, the queen launched it out.
The target was Minadzuki, the emerald serpentine dragon.
Hazumi shouted from the ground.
The serpentine dragon, twenty meters in length, responded to her plea and squirmed with agility, dodging the ring the enemy had thrown.
That lightning-like speed was like a snake on a hunt.
Furthermore, Minadzuki attacked the Crimson Queen while evading. She tried to bite the red dragon king's throat.
However, her teeth were blocked by imperishable protection.
The Crimson Queen had immediately deployed the pearly barrier.
If Hal was a Tyrannos, so was King Solomon. As fellow holders of dragonslaying runes, in addition to magical power, their defensive ability was virtually equal too—
Thus, Minadzuki and the queen fought in the air.
The queen extended her crimson right arm, attacking Minadzuki's head with her five sharp claws.
Minadzuki's slender body of a serpentine dragon twisted like a whip and struck the queen's body.
However, both sides were defended by imperishable protection, thus both attacks failed to inflict damage.
Even so, they still did not give up, engaging in an intense melee battle.
For instance, the queen opened her jaws to bite Minadazuki and she bit back.
Minadzuki wrapped herself around the queen's gigantic body, constricting her. Using her dragonoid limbs as human arms and legs, the queen punched and kicked Minadzuki—
Pointblank range, completely merciless, a violent back and forth.
However, every attack proved ineffective against imperishable protection no matter what. Both sides remained unscathed. Even so, this battle was not perfectly balanced.
"Senpai! Your chest—Is your heart hurting!?"
Hal and Hazumi had been hugging the whole time.
However, Hal suddenly fell to his knees. Hazumi frantically tried to catch and support him.
Earlier, the Crimson Queen had thrown the golden ring—
Like a fierce bird of prey with its own consciousness, it kept flying in the air, inflicting damage by crashing hard into Minadzuki while she was wrestling against the queen.
In other words, Minadzuki was facing two enemies alone.
Even with the defense from imperishable protection, attacks imbued with dragonslaying power would still transmit to Hal's heart.
Whenever the golden ring flew into Minadzuki's back, body, or back of the head, Hal would feel an impact against his heart.
He and Minadzuki had been roped into an unavoidable battle of attrition.
"It looks pretty bad..."
"Oh! Please look into the sky, can you see it!?"
Hazumi suddenly said to the groaning Hal.
He looked at the sky where she was pointing.
A winged dragon was flying at high speed. The altitude was much higher than where the queen and Minadzuki were fighting. Flying to approach them, it seemed as though she were about to traverse the battlefield—It was Ashkelon.
The pteranodon leviathan was the partner of the Shamiram the beautiful witch.
"Shamiram-san has come to aid us!"
"Looks like it, but... she's probably having a tough time, unable to get close to us."
Hazumi was very surprised. Hal sighed and said, "By the way, Ashkelon is also one of Solomon-senpai's vassals. Even if she wants to fly over here and help, she can't oppose her original master."
"That's why the most she could do was watch from afar."
Hazumi looked at Hal in worry while he explained.
Then she looked up with determination and stood up. Showing strong resolve in her eyes, she looked into the air, staring intently at the Crimson Queen and the golden ring.
Their combined offensive struck Minadzuki again and again.
"If even Shamiram-san can't help you, Senpai... Then I will be the one to try!"
Hazumi declared loudly but Hal shook his head.
"Hold on, Shirasaka. By trying, what kind of method are you going to use...!?"
"I will make a request of Minadzuki to attack the queen with the most powerful magic."
"I-It'd be good if it worked, but you probably won't be able to do it alone. If only one of either Asya or Juujouji were here, perhaps it'd be worth a try—"
In that instant, Minadzuki called out in a clear voice.
The emerald serpentine dragon leviathan's right forelimb was holding a jewel. The jewel was glowing white with dazzling brilliance. At the same time, Hal sensed it.
Something resembling a sacred presence was currently descending from the sky.
This presence was absorbed into Hazumi beside Hal.
Having remained silent all this time, Hinokagutsuchi mused from within the magic gun.
For a self-styled devil, it was definitely a rare expression of praise. Next, Hazumi herself shook as though shocked by electricity and her eyes went blank.
But she immediately regained her senses and moved in close to Hal who was kneeling on the ground.
"Senpai, please stop releasing power here."
Her tone was solemn while she stroked Hal's chest with her right hand.
It was right above the heart. The sudden instruction made Hal go "huh?" blankly.
"This little lady has received an oracle. If you do as she says, something good may happen."
Speaking from within the magic gun, Hinokagutsuchi's low voice seemed like she was snickering.
Hazumi was gazing at Haruga Haruomi with eyes of serious sincerity.
This was a suggestion she had offered without going through a normal sequence of explanations. However, Hal nodded subconsciously and followed her directions.
Oh well, either way, it's a hopeless crisis in front of us.
He focused his consciousness on his heart, the heartmetal that he had inherited from Hinokagutsuchi—
It was the most important organ of dragonkind. Hal ceased its functions completely. Next, the magical power provided by Hal was cut off abruptly, causing the light of protection surrounding Minadzuki to disappear without a trace.
However, the pearly glow around the Crimson Queen also vanished immediately.
Hal was greatly shocked. Before his eyes, the Crimson Queen even froze.
It remained motionless, unable to even hover in the air. The Crimson Queen began to fall. At that very instant—
The giant pteranodon, Ashkelon the ancient "serpent" howled loudly.
It was the partner of the witch Shamiram who had been observing the battle from afar the whole time. Ashkelon's entire body gradually became enveloped in orange flames.
Like Akuro-Ou, Ashkelon possessed the pseudo-divinity of Fire.
Rather than a fiery bird, she had turned into a flaming pteranodon, flying at the Crimson Queen at high speed. Then with her body in such a state, she collided, sending the Crimson Queen flying.
This attack caused the Crimson Queen to start crumbling.
The dragon's giant body turned into particulate matter, gradually collapsing.
In addition, the seventy-two serpent souls circling in the air also scattered and fled.
"That was so easy..."
The unexpected victory left Hal stunned on the spot, muttering to himself. Then he noticed.
The Crimson Queen belonged to Haruga Haruomi to begin with. The heartmetal it used as a source of magical power had also merged with Hal's heart.
In that case, if he were to stop providing magical power, of course the queen would be affected—
It was a very simple principle.
But in the midst of battle, it was not that easy to realize this principle. The one who had informed him of this, Hazumi, was currently watching Hal with a gentle smile.
The gentleness, innocence and adorability in her expression was making Hal's heart pound.
At that moment, he jumped in surprise.
The golden ring had suddenly appeared over Hazumi's head.
With a diameter of seven meters or so, it was the manifestation of the Rune of the Ring—Solomon's instrument of magic control. The instant the ring released magical power, Hal also pulled the magic gun's trigger.
Full auto fire.
This was his last resort of self-defense held in reserve until now as a precaution.
Fired upon by thirty bullets of red light, the golden ring vanished.
Unfortunately, rather than being destroyed by the attack, it had escaped. After suffering a certain degree of damage, Solomon's ring made the call to escape and vanished as a result.
However, this was after casting a curse that fell under the category of psychological attacks.
Invading Hal's brain through his ears, the curse began to rampage madly.
Hazumi cried out in panic.
Hal wanted to tell his adorable protege "don't worry" but was unable to voice these words. His consciousness gradually faded. His thoughts lost clarity.
Hazily, he thought to himself.
Looks like the second round ended in a double knockout... I've got to put an end to this next time.
Then his vision turned into total blackness.
"...So, Haruga-kun, I would like you to show some serious contrition," said Juuouji suddenly to Hal.
Hal went "huh?" and tilted his head, then asked, "Contrition for what?"
"Despite knowing my feelings, you still did that with Luna-san and even subjected Hazumi to it too. You must repent for your grave sins."
Very recently, Haruga Haruomi and Juujouji Orihime's relationship had advanced further.
'Am I allowed... to love you, Haruga-kun? Or is romance within the team forbidden?'
'O-Of course, you're allowed, Juujouji!'
The above exchange even took place between them.
Hence, Orihime had the right to admonish Hal.
Hence, there should be nothing wrong about her scolding Hal like this.
"Haruga-kun, you are a boy, so I cannot blame you for being a 'closet pervert'... However, when you keep making perverted moves on other girls when you already have me, there is a huge problem! Because as a man—no, as a person—two-timing is the worst!"
"Uh, I-I guess it's bad?"
Orihime was condemning him for his perversion and being the worst.
Rather than indignation spurring him towards denial, what Hal experienced first was he felt intensely shaken inside.
In truth, he felt quite guilty too. Although there was a kind of legitimacy, engaging in that behavior was ultimately not too good.
Only roughly a month had passed since the summer vacation began.
During this short period, he had already touched Orihime, Luna and Hazumi's breasts...
"I-I have to defend myself a little," Hal stammered.
"Unless I did that, I wouldn't be able to send magical power to you or the others. On those occasions, I only did it because you were not by my side. I tried my best to stay away from perverted thoughts... I think... I have evidence to prove my innocence..."
Under Orihime's angry gaze, his speech grew more and more incoherent.
In the end, in addition to Orihime's accusations, Hal was burdened by a guilty conscience inside as well, thus preventing him from denying allegations assertively.
Hal was painfully aware of this fact.
...Oddly enough, now that he thought about it, things had been different prior to summer.
Previously, Orihime was the only one whose breast he had pressed his palm firmly against in order to contact the heart. Back then, the girl named Juujouji Orihime already held a special place in Haruga Haruomi's heart.
Indeed. In fact, he had never met a girl like her.
Very feminine yet lively and outgoing. Lacking neither kindness nor courage...
When they first met, Hal even wanted to keep his distance from Orihime—No, that was because he found Orihime's special traits too dazzling to behold.
He could not help but feel gradually attracted to a type of person he had never interacted with before.
The reason why Hal had deliberately stayed away from Orihime was very likely because he had some vague self-awareness...
Hal suddenly felt doubt when his thoughts reached this point.
How could Orihime know that he did that to Hazumi?
Hazumi had personally told her—Impossible, because they had parted ways during the Hannibal battle and never had a chance to meet up again so far.
Hence, Hal decided to stop thinking about his relationship with Orihime for now.
He should have spent the past half a day or so with Hazumi, planning how to escape the ark—
These words came from a new arrival.
"You are not the only one who loves Harry!"
"Luna-san, when did you arrive!?"
Luna Francois was standing between the dumbfounded Orihime and Hal.
"Fufufufu. Orihime-san, you may have been the first to win Harry's affections... However, I would advise you not to forget this."
The lips of the blonde beauty in the black formal dress curled to reveal an alluring and bewitching smile.
"I was the first to confess. I was also the first to share a passionate kiss with Harry. Not only that, but I never faltered at the prospects of marrying Harry and starting a new life. Bluntly stated, in terms of resolve, you are no match for me, Orihime-san, not even you..."
"Th-This isn't a matter of doing things earlier or later!"
Orihime complained defiantly. However, Luna remained calm and composed.
"You are correct. However, Orihime-san, my love is more 'substantial' than yours in various ways, isn't it?"
More aggressive than anyone, the American girl spoke softly.
She leaned herself against Hal all at once, even whispering in his ear. The pair of G-cups were pressing against Hal's chest.
Volume and softness that could not be ignored, yet that was not all.
The sensation also felt unbelievably elastic.
"If you were to choose me, Luna Francois Gregory, as your partner... I am confident that I will make sure you never regret it. You know that, don't you?"
Luna Francois was brilliant, calculative and deeply in love.
She was definitely capable of turning this declaration into reality. More importantly, the thought of "the calculative Luna willing to sacrifice so much for me" was quite a clinching factor for Hal—
Hal knew it himself.
Rather, he was deeply moved by what would be a bad girl's depth of affection.
In addition, he felt free and unfettered when working with Luna, unlike the sheltered young lady who had no exposure to shady underground work. There was a "sense of liberation" as though returning to one's homeland.
Luna Francois and Juujouji Orihime.
Facing these two, Hal felt extremely shaken.
How should he decide and act? His mind was filled by this question.
However, Hal noticed something else that was odd. Why was Luna here as well? He had clearly asked her stay in Tokyo New Town—
At this moment, he heard faint crying from somewhere—
"I get it now."
Hal figured it all out. So that was what was going on.
"This kind of psychological attack is Solomon-senpai... or rather, the ring's specialty."
He closed his eyes and focused his consciousness on his heart.
Producing magical power from his heart, he used it to activate the power of dragonbane in his right palm.
What Hal selected was not the Bow but the Rune of the Twin Katana. Although he could not confirm due to his tightly shut eyes, he felt the cross-shaped rune surfacing on the center of his palm.
"Excuse me but I've had enough of the ring's psychological attacks."
Hal poured magical power into the rune on his right hand and slowly opened his eyes.
Instantly, Orihime and Luna Francois disappeared from his side. More precisely, they were Haruga Haruomi's indecision and distress that had manifested through the Ring's psychological attack.
Magic for severing and erasing malicious spells, evil energies and wicked spirits—
This was precisely the domain of the Rune of the Twin Katana. It succeeded again.
His vision turned dim again.
In the next instant, Hal returned to the sky island.
Lying on the ground, he had apparently slept for several minutes.
Hal immediately got up. However, since he did not want to stand yet, he sat cross-legged.
...Hazumi was staying by his side.
There were traces of tears on her face, presumably due to extreme worry for the unconscious Hal.
"Senpai, you came back!"
"Sorry, it looks like I worried you. But I'm already ok—"
He jumped in surprise because Hazumi suddenly hugged him. As though trying to topple him over while he was sitting cross-legged, she pounced on him.
"Sorry! It was all because I asked you to stop your magical power...!"
"D-Don't say that."
At a loss what to do, Hal comforted Hazumi gently.
"It's all thanks to your suggestion that we were able to fight off Solomon-senpai swiftly. My injuries are nothing."
Also, the distant crying he had heard during the psychological attack—
At the time, Hal was convinced that it was definitely Hazumi's voice. She must have been crying, feeling responsibile for the situation.
Precisely because of that, he had come to his senses at that instant and counterattacked.
"I'm doing great, so you don't have to cry so much."
He patted Hazumi's back while she sobbed quietly, asking her not to cry.
Even if he really had a little sister, Hal doubted whether he would comfort her like this. Ever since he was young, Haruga Haruomi had been a cold egoist. Acting like a reliable older man as he was doing now did not match his style and was making him feel a little embarrassed.
However, if this was enough to stop the tears falling from his junior's eyes, it would be a trivial burden to bear.
"Sorry, I panicked a lot when I thought you would never open your eyes again, Senpai..."
The kindhearted girl immediately stopped crying.
Hazumi's eyes were red from crying, but she still smiled demurely at Hal and quickly separated herself from him.
He had forgotten. Until just a moment ago, they had been hugging together.
Finally, Hazumi sat down politely in seiza roughly half a meter away from the cross-legged Hal, face to face.
Then she smiled again.
This time, it was an angel's smile. Her innocent smile as always.
"Fufufufu. I don't know the reason, but I currently feel the same as I did earlier. Very happy and satisfied."
"As you did earlier?"
"Yes. Umm... Like when you said that chests like mine are fine too."
The angelic smile was always supreme in soothing Hal's soul.
However, this time it made Hal's heart skip a beat. For some reason, he sensed something "womanly" about Hazumi's vibe.
Was it because he had touched her chest earlier and delivered magical power into it?
Was it because the discussion topic had been a bit perverted just now? Was it because he had felt the sensations of her delicate limbs directly after embracing Hazumi earlier?
Or was it because—some kind of change had occurred to Hazumi?
Could it be all of the above?
The pounding of his heart was disrupting Hal's thoughts more and more. At that moment—
Shamiram called out to him. Unnoticed by him, she had arrived by his side.
Truly elusive in her comings and goings. However, she was an ancient witch and no ordinary person. This was nothing to be surprised about. Hal replied calmly, "It was quite a close shave, but at least we overcame the crisis."
"I am terribly sorry for not helping much. After all, my covenant was formed with Ashkelon, who is also one of the vassals serving Master Solomon..."
"Helping to deal the final blow to the Crimson Queen was more than enough."
Hearing Hal say that, Shamiram smiled.
"Thank you, Lord Haruga. It is most fortunate that you and Lady Hazumi are unharmed and even hitting it off."
"Hitting it off?"
"Fufufufu. Excuse me but I saw everything. The moment when the two of you embraced passionately, confirming each other's safety and affections."
Shamiram smiled suggestively.
Hal wondered if he should clear up the beautiful witch's misunderstanding but chose to shut up in the end. If she viewed Hazumi as "Hal's romantic partner," she would rein in her overly passionate services.
Hazumi said happily, "Do Senpai and I seem that close?"
"Yes. Besides, Lady Hazumi, for you to do that undeterred by the fact that Ashkelon and I were watching from the side, do not claim that you two are not hitting it off."
No, but don't brothers and sisters hug each other too?
Next to Hal who was thinking silently, Hazumi smiled innocently.
"That is definitely true... I am somewhat glad. Fufufufu."
What was going on? From appearances, Hazumi seemed almost like a girl secretly in love with Hal, except that she had not discovered these feelings herself.
...Could it be that?
...No no no. Definitely not likely.
Anyway, one must not jump to conclusions. Also, if such thoughts of his were to come to light, it would undermine his dignity as the senior.
"By the way, Lord Haruga. The rune you used just now—"
While Hal was desperate, trying hard to stop the pounding in his heart from showing on his face, Shamiram said to him, "An interesting spiritual power seems to reside within it. The vanquishing of evil to uphold justice—A grand technique of exorcism, how astounding. Lord Haruga, do your powers of dragonslaying include more than just the bow?"
"It seems to be a rune of twin swords."
Hal opend his right hand to reveal the cross-shaped runic symbol.
After examining it for a while, the ancient beauty said in puzzlement, "Hmm... With just the spiritual power of this rune, it should only take you one hit to purify dead souls lingering in the living world such as myself or my master."
"You can see that? You're amazing."
Hal was very impressed by Shamiram's eyes of wisdom.
The Rune of the Twin Katana was capable of severing evil energies. In that case, one would expect it to be very effective against the likes of ghosts and the living dead.
However, an ordinary slash could not inflict a critical blow against a ghost of King Solomon's level.
Ultimately, Hal hoped to land a strike powered by a technique of assured annihilation.
"This rune is a bit hard to control. Right now, I don't think I can draw out more power than I did just now."
Hal still did not trust her completely, so he gave an ambiguous reason.
The twin katana's technique of assured annihilation was a mystic technique of extreme difficulty. Even Asya and Luna Francois were unable to use it singlehandedly.
Even if he asked Hazumi, his only companion at the moment—
Very unfortunately, given her capabilities, it most likely would not go well.
"What a shame when you have this rare sharp blade... No, hold on."
Shamiram suddenly began to ponder.
"In that case, allow me and Ashkelon to confer the spiritual power of exorcism to your Bow, Lord Haruga."
Hal was taken aback. Shamiram continued, "If you attack my master using two types of dragonslaying power simultaneously... Victory might be yours."
"Is that kind of thing possible!?"
"Leave it to me. After all, like Lady Hazumi, I possess the ability to control a goddess' spiritual power."
If the sword of exorcism alone was unable to erase the evil spirit, just add a bow of exorcism.
The beautiful witch from the ancient kingdom brought up a simple theory effortlessly. The modern and inexperienced witch asked in surprise, "E-Excuse me. May I ask what do you mean by like me?"
"Didn't you experience it just now? Minadzuki is her name, isn't it? Praying to a 'serpent' that has a goddess' divinity residing within her so that she sends down an oracle to show you the right path."
Like healing magic, it was an outcome arising from special techniques.
"I remember that move, isn't it impossible to perform using pseudo-divinity of ordinary alignments...?"
Modern leviathans basically fell under one of the four attributes of Earth, Water, Fire or Wind. At the same time, there were "serpents" with extremely special attributes, such as Rushalka's Moon or Glinda's Gravity.
However, goddess power did not belong to any attribute.
"Well, Lady Hazumi, you seem to still be unfamiliar with this path... However, a priestess capable of awakening the 'sacred goddess' aspect of a serpent' is extremely rare."
The ancient priestess stared straight at Hazumi and spoke quietly.
"I believe you are already amazing simply for achieving this. Yes."
There was nothing alike between the uninhibited Shamiram and the innocent Hazumi.
However, Hal expected Shamiram would be considered as having a special and outstanding talent among the priestesses serving King Solomon, possibly even surpassing modern master-class witches.
Sufficient to be chosen as the gravekeeper out of King Solomon's numerous retainers and favored concubines.
Apparently skilled in 'this path' since ancient times, the senior witch was showing an expression of worldly wisdom while praising the junior who had been born in the modern era.
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