Leviathan:Volume 8 Chapter 2
Chapter 2 - The Rune of the Mother Dragon
The temporary lodgings for Hal and company—A historical site on the Moon.
The "front side" from the Earth's perspective.
The Moon's rotational period and orbital period were both roughly twenty-seven days. As a result, the Moon always presented the same face to the Earth.
The back side, normally unseen, was pockmarked and very ugly.
The front side, always facing the Earth, glowed white with a tranquil sense of beauty.
A rotational period of roughly twenty-seven days meant that daytime persisted for fourteen days on the. Similarly, nighttime also lasted fourteen days.
Roughly twelve hours had passed since Hal was taken to the lunar historical site.
It was daytime throughout this duration.
Hal and his companions spent the night at the tower they had chosen randomly. Hal was to alone on the top floor while the two other girls used the area downstairs.
At the moment, Hal was taking a stroll alone in the historical site.
He was walking like normal, unaffected by the weightlessness in space or the Moon's gravity that was one-sixth of the Earth's. What a place far removed from common sense.
"A rune that gives birth to all pure-blooded dragons, huh..." Hal muttered to himself.
The dragon birth ritual conducted in the Plato crater on the Moon. Seeing it in progress with an eye of magic, Hal had also sent Akuro-Ou to investigate.
From what was reported back, it was a magic symbol in the form of an infinity sign that gave birth to countless Raptors.
"Right, I had asked Hinokagutsuchi before how dragons were born. Back then, she cackled at me and avoided giving a straight answer."
Did they lay eggs or give birth to live young? Speaking of which, was there a distinction between male and female?
Hal had asked what would be fundamental for any species, but Hinokagutsuchi glossed over the issue, deeming it "too complicated" and that he would understand eventually, so the matter unded up dangling unresolved all this time.
Back then, he had just gotten to know the self-styled devil.
But this time, Hinokagutsuchi mentioned a term.
The Rune of the Mother Dragon—
"She's finally doing things different from her usual style."
The former dragon queen was providing information, a rare act indeed.
Hal was quite intrigued by her intentions. Furthermore, he also wanted to investigate that "Rune of the Mother Dragon"...
He was suddenly jolted out of this thoughts.
The Rune of the Bow in the center of his right palm was telling him that his complementary rune was approaching.
"Haruomi, lend me a moment of your time!"
"You! I knew it."
Princess Yukikaze had flown in from the sky above.
Riding her magic wand, the surfboard, she arrived like the wind.
By the time Hal noticed, she had already caught him by the back of the collar, forcibly dragging him onto her surfboard.
Princess Yukikaze, dressed in a one-piece dress, was right beside him. In other words, they would be considered riding together.
Hal immediately fell flat on his bottom against the surfboard.
He did not think his sense of balance was good enough to stand properly on this unstable means of locomotion.
"Hahahaha, how unsightly!"
"What choice do I have!? This obviously isn't meant for two riders!"
The princess' laughter was so lively that Hal could not sense any intention of mockery from her. Hal grumbled in response.
The magic surfboard swiftly ascended vertically, easily overcoming the Moon's gravity—exceeding Mach 8 in speed.
Underfoot, the white moon gradually receded.
Kept out of harm's way by imperishable protection, the princess and Hal did not feel any burden, but...
"Where the heck are you taking me!?"
"I have something to discuss, so accompany me for a while. I shall show you my residence!"
Their altitude was probably over a hundred kilometers.
Hal and the princess were headed towards an asteroid. Orbiting the Moon, it resembled an oval disc, large enough to place the entire Old Tokyo Dome.
Princess Yukikaze seemed to be his fated rival.
Including today, only two days remained for his recuperation before his duel with this girl—
Once he could catch his breath, Hal's first words were a complaint.
"There's no need to go all the way to this kind of place, if all you want is to talk to me."
"It is quieter here and the view more beautiful than below. I like it here."
There were ruins on this asteroid too, filled with plain stone towers.
But different from the Moon, there was also an elegant building here.
It was a castle built with a transparent material with a faint blue tint—ice. Its roof was sharp like an ice pillar, tapering off like a cone.
The silhouette of the "ice tower" was reminiscent of a delicate ice sculpture.
The castle featured a great hall that seemed to be for receiving audiences. In this place where the floor, the walls and pillars were all transparent as ice, Hal faced Princess Yukikaze.
"Then why not bring us here from the beginning?"
"Ridiculous. As the saying goes, boys and girls must not sit together after the age of seven. Even if it is you, Haruomi, since you are a man, how could you possibly live under the same roof as me?"
"But you clearly left me together with Juujouji and Asya..."
Princess Yukikaze blinked.
She apparently could not comprehend the meaning of Hal's words.
Princess Yukikaze looked like she regarded the Japanese girl and the master-class witch, who was also a Tyrannos like him, as "cats kept by Haruga Haruomi." She probably did not see those two as individual persons.
Just as Hal felt stunned, thinking "nothing less expected from a dragon king"—
"Allow me to have a look at your face."
The princess suddenly closed in face to face.
Hal's height was almost 170 cm, definitely not considered tall. Even so, he was still taller than the princess, who stood roughly 150 cm tall. The white dragon king even stood on tiptoe.
"The color in your complexion has improved. It appears that you have listened to me and rested obediently indeed."
"All thanks to you."
"Praiseworthy, Haruomi. Keep this up in preparation for the day of the duel."
Princess Yukikaze nodded happily.
The princess' face was right before his eyes. Though her age was estimated to have surpassed a thousand, her facial features remained child-like.
Hal felt a vigorous beat of his heart.
So near. Their noses were almost about to touch. This distance was like that time with Juujouji Orihime.
Badump badump. His heart raced faster. By the way, Princess Yukikaze was truly adorable.
(Just like her name, she's really like a snow fairy.)
An uncharacteristically romantic comment rose up in Hal's mind.
He did not harbor the slightest impure thought towards the beautiful maiden of a dragon king. However, this excessively cute member of the opposite sex had suddenly drew so near to him, despite being a member of dragonkind.
This was the reason why his heart raced.
(Crap. How should I put this...? I already have Juujouji, I can't feel something for another person—)
Hal tensed his face and deliberately feigned an unfazed attitude.
"Nothing. Haruomi, I did not know you could make such a manly expression."
"Of course, I am a man after all."
"Well said. Fufufufu. To think an anomalous Tyrannos like you would possess manly mettle, I am quite surprised—and pleased."
"Wondeful. In fact, a gentleman's pride is one of the things I brag about."
Juujouji Orihime had seen through it in an instant.
The fact that Haruga Haruomi's facial expression would tense up particularly whenever he entertained lecherous thoughts.
However, in certain ways, Princess Yukikaze was even more innocent than the Japanese witch.
Hearing Hal's answer, the princess partially closed her eyes with satisfaction.
"Is that so? Then keep up your efforts, because it is your duty to maintain the image that I prefer."
"Eh? Why is that?"
"Did you forget the promise!?"
Hal widened his eyes. Princess Yukikaze pouted.
Even though she was pouting childishly, it only felt like another charming side to her. Beautiful maidens were truly in a class of their own.
"Did I make some kind of promise to obey you?"
"Indeed. It was that night when we first clashed as the successors to the Bow and the Arrow, I must have told you—"
"Oh that time before the summer vacation. Genbu-Ou was part of it too."
His first battle against Princess Yukikaze was almost three months ago.
That time, Hal had defeated Genbu-Ou, a gigantic minion with a length exceeding a hundred meters. True Genbu-Ou, wielding a goddess' power, had emerged from the gigantic turtle, plunging Hal into a difficult fight...
Hal suddenly remembered.
That night, Princess Yukikaze had rushed over to tell him:
'Haruomi, ours is a relationship where a decisive duel between us is inevitable. If I defeat you and you're fortunate enough to survive—'
'You can become my minion.'
'If you turn out to be a warrior capable of surviving an encounter against me on the battlefield... A reward of this level would be richly deserved. Do your best, Haruomi!'
Indeed. Like a demon king who would tell the protagonist to "join my side" before the final battle, Princess Yukikaze had issued a one-sided declaration to him.
"Do you remember now?"
Princess Yukikaze grinned.
"Naturally, the necessary condition is that you survive instead of dying after the duel... You are the man who bears the fate of becoming my servant. In that case, becoming the type the master prefers—"
"Is my obligation—So that's what you mean?"
"That doesn't really count as a promise to me."
"What did you say!?"
"Because you left without waiting for my answer."
"Well, it's true that it's a pretty good deal, offering me my life in exchange for my allegiance, but I've got my pride too. Wagging my tail and agreeing to someone's one-sided offer, that'd wrong for a man, right?"
As for his honest thoughts...
Of course, becoming the beautiful dragon king's slave would be a thousand times better than getting killed. He definitely hoped the princess would hire him. Hal valued his own life more than dying for pride, but if he were to confess truthfully—
Princess Yukikaze would probably scold him "No manliness at all!"
It would be scary too if Princess Yukikaze said "I changed my mind" when he actually lost, hence Hal intentionally went contrarian. By creating the best impression possible for the princess in preparation for his moment of defeat—That was the gist of his calculations.
(Well, I don't think she's the type to get angry just because I talk back to her.)
Since he understood the princess' personality, he boldly said, "Besides, it's a bit much to make a promise before he duel with the assumption that I'd lose. What if you happen to lose... What do I get from you?"
"I, Princess Yukikaze, would lose to you, a mere Tyrannos?"
Princess Yukikaze glared at him, causing Hal to secretly break out in cold sweat.
She was not genuinely angry. The princess' slightly displeased eyes made Hal a bit scared, but he decided to feign courage as much as possible and chose his words carefullly.
"Because it's a match, right? An unexpected situation might arise, no—"
Hal declared assertively.
"I will definitely make it happen."
The usual Haruga Haruomi would not have been able to speak like this.
Perhaps it was because these lines were completely contrary to his usual self. The assertive words easily rolled off his tongue. Since he was merely taking his usual self and acting in an opposite manner, he was able to instantly come up with he needed to say.
(I guess this is what actors feel when they ad-lib on stage.)
What a frivolous self production.
As for the response from Princess Yukikaze, who belonged to a race of natural born warriors—
"Well then, Haruomi, the day that I, Yukikaze, loses to you shall be the day when I become your minion!"
Like a noble warrior, she declared gallantly.
Sure enough, the princess was still too young. Her naivete was a bit adorable.
"Got it. But personally, I'm a bit put off by the idea of taking in minions, so I won't collect on the deal if I win."
Hal had no wish to force a small girl to become his servant or slave.
Spurred by morals and a conscience, Hal offered the princess a slightly hypocritical answer... Although the main reason was because he could not imagine the situation after the duel with the princess at all.
However, the seasoned warrior who had lived over a thousand years did not seem quite impressed with Hal's conservative response.
"What lax conditions. Are you trying to offer charity to me, Yukikaze?"
Hal hastily explained himself to Princess Yukikaze, who had stiffened her expression.
"Th-That's not what I mean."
"Hmph. Accepting generosity from a mere Tyrannos would only humiliate me. In the event that I, Yukikaze, were to lose—Go ahead and treat me as your possession, do not hold back!"
"Naturally, there is no reason for me to lose to a brat like you!"
The angry dragon king maiden asserted sternly.
Hal anxiously wondered "did I go too far?" but immediately changed his mind.
Whether or not this conversation had taken place, Princess Yukikaze was not going to go easy on him. Doing this was not going to make things any worse for Hal.
Princess Yukikaze's personality was straight as an arrow.
Rather, the problem was—
(Although I made a cool speech just now, my chances of winning are minuscule no matter how I think about them.)
That being said, that was no excuse for sloppy battle preparations. It was time to discuss that with her—Hal changed the subject.
"Say... Isn't there a certain crater on the Moon with a huge rune of Ruruk Soun is carved on it?"
Princess Yukikaze, who looked like an angry sulking child just a moment ago, changed her expression instantly.
With a profound and knowing smile, she gazed upon Hal.
"What sharp eyes you have, to think you noticed that already."
"I'm not that amazing. That thing gives off a pretty weird presence and occasionally creates a great many Raptors."
"Fufufufu. That symbol is apparently named the Rune of the Mother Dragon."
Princess Yukikaze replied matter-of-factly.
"The polar opposite to the dragonslaying runes we use, it is a seal for giving birth to dragons."
"How surprising. You seem uninterested in that. Seeing as it's so close to this palace, I would've thought it was yours for sure."
"If one had to attribute ownership, it would belong to all of dragonkind."
The princess spoke in a tone of solemnity, fitting for a dragon king.
"I simply wanted to establish a base near the Moon. Only after settling in this castle did I learn that the Rune of the Mother Dragon had manifested in that location."
After learning the term "Rune of the Mother Dragon," Hal was now able to find information about the birth of dragonkind from his magic wand, the magic gun. In the universe, there was apparently a number of celestial bodies like the Moon, carved with runes for giving birth to dragons.
After operating for several centuries, Runes of the Mother Dragon would exhaust their energy and enter dormancy for tens or hundreds of thousands of years.
Once the power of conception recovered, the rune would reappear on the celestial body's surface—
The infinity sign on the Moon had gone through a long period of dormancy before reactivating in July of the year 1999 CE. Indeed, that was the year when the dragons returned to Earth. Dragon kings and elites, who had left Earth or went dormant, became active in concert with the rune's revival...
What a huge inside story. However, this was none of Hal's business right now.
He shrugged and said, "Then it's fine if I go investigate the rune, right?"
"What are you talking about?"
"Because it isn't yours, right?"
The princess glared at him, causing Hal's heart to skip a beat. There was intimidating wrath in the girl's eyes.
"Haruomi, do not forget that I, Yukikaze, ordered you to rest properly. It would not do if you delayed your recovery due to unnecessary matters. The days before our duel are running out, you know?"
"That's exactly why I need to go investigate. I might end up finding something—That could come in handy when I'm fighting you."
"Rest is the priority but I still want to make a final struggle for the duel."
For the sake of the imminent duel—Hal put these magic words to use.
Hugging her shoulders, Princess Yukikaze fell into deep thought.
"After all, the Rune of the Mother dragon is merely a symbol for creating dragons and cannot be employed in a battle between a dragon king and a Tyrannos."
The princess sounded like she was criticizing Hal, but did not persist in stopping him.
She respected Hal's opinion. Since the princess had spoken so, the rune probably could not be used as a trump card on the battlefield, but—
Hal had many of his own ideas.
(A dragon king... surely wouldn't think of this.)
He decided to try it out first. The adorable dragon king princess suddenly issued orders.
"Go if you must, but you have to return to me after you finish your business. Should I see any slowing trend in your recovery, I will force you to rest obediently even if I must tie you to a bed!"
She clearly thought of Haruga Haruomi as a pet or a plaything.
"My, aren't you enjoying your chat with Princess Yukikaze?"
"Asya, why are you suddenly saying this?"
"Haruga-kun and the princess sounded so happy when they were chatting. The tone was quite cheerful."
"You too, Juujouji!?"
"It even led to the princess declaring 'I will become yours' to Haruomi... Orihime-san, he's unforgivable, don't you agree?"
"Seriously, it gives me this vibe of 'who does Haruga-san think he is, getting so carried away?'"
"You're head over heels when talking to the princess."
"I-I was desperately handing the princess for the sake of the mission, okay!? Besides, how do you know I was head over heels if all you heard was my voice!?"
"I knew it when I heard a different tone of voice, unlike your usual pretenses."
"Asya-san is correct. Just now, you were acting different from your usual self."
"W-What choice did I have? I was trying my hardest to chat with her, trying my best to divert the princess' attention."
After chatting with the princess for a long time...
Hal bid her goodbye and returned to his companions. He took out the cellphone he had been carrying secretly and used audio recording software to replay his conversation with the princess for the two girls.
After listening, both the childhood friend and Juujouji Orihime started to reprimand him.
"I can't believe I used my precious battery power to record the conversation. There's no way to recharge cellphones here, you know..."
He had originally hoped to save time on explaining by making a recording, but it turned out to have the opposite effect.
In any case, Hal put his feelings in order and said, "No matter what, the princess agreed, so we can strut about and travel on the Moon. It'd be problem if she dragged me away in the middle of the investigation."
"Going to the princess after investigating, right...?"
"After all, the princess ordered you to return to her..."
"Conversation is over! We don't have much time left. Let's get on with our work."
Further squabbling would affect the mission coming up next.
Hal said to the two girls who had finally settled down.
"Head straight to the crater to investigate that Mother Dragon rune."
The task of climbing the Plato Crater would require Earthlings to prepare an orbiter spacecraft, but Hal was able to skip such a step. He used the Ruruk Soun rune of Teleport.
"We arrived in an instant..."
"Because it's teleportation."
"I can't believe I'd come to somewhere like this by relying on Haruomi's magic... Half a year ago, I never would've thought of this," said Asya poignantly.
Just earlier, Hal and his childhood friend were still in a room inside the stone tower.
But now, they were standing on a vast land of white. White—dry sand as far as the eye could see. They had finally arrived on the surface of the moon.
"Doraemon's Anywhere Door would definitely be convenient if it actually existed, but the joy of traveling would instantly diminish to zero. Speed and fun are mutually exclusive."
"This time, we're taking the practical route."
The two of them were wearing casual clothes from Earth.
They did not have access to channels for purchasing spacesuits worth over a billion yen apiece. Neither did they need to buy them. Using the power of Tyrannoi, they summoned imperishable protection—A colorless and transparent barrier to cover the body.
This protection normally manifested in the form of a pearly glow, but because Asya commented "I don't care about it during battle, but... The color of our protection gets in the way when we're investigating," so they tried erasing to color.
Although it made for less ambiance, prioritizing practicality was the point here. Hal nodded and took a casual step forward.
He was startled. With just a tiny step, his body floated up lightly.
"Even with imperishable protection, we're still not completely free from the effects of low gravity."
"This is a defensive ability to begin with. It's still better than hopping around like astronauts. We simply float a little."
"It's fine as long as you pay attention. But ahead of us..."
After examining the place carefully for a while, Hal and Asya summoned two runes of Ruruk Soun.
This simple arrangement signified "Flight."
Hal levitated into the air. He had never undergone training for moving around on the moon, but with this, he could fly anywhere he wanted. The gravity, one sixth of the Earth's, no longer affected him.
"I see, so you use it this way, huh?"
Murmuring, Asya stared at her right hand.
On her palm was the Rune of the Chain, a symbol similar to the "巳" kanji. The master-class witch and native Earthling swung her right hand—
She summoned the same "Flight" runes as Hal.
Whoosh. Asya likewise floated into the air, flying effortlessly next to Hal.
"Impressive as ever, Asya. You're able to use Ruruk Soun magic now."
"I can only use the ones involving a few runes. Unless I get more familiar, I most likely won't be able to use magic that'll be useful on the battlefield."
Once again witnessing how much of a prodigy his childhood friend was, Hal felt quite impressed. However, Asya herself merely shrugged nonchalantly.
"Unlike you, I don't even have a magic wand yet."
"On the other hand, I think you're more amazing for using magic without a wand."
The two of them started moving to their destination using flight magic.
The flying was quite stable. Even if they were holding cups in their hands, the water inside would probably just tremble slightly.
However, they were actually flying at up to four or five hundred kilometers per hour.
After all, too slow a speed would be no good for flying around inside a crater with a diameter of a hundred kilometers. For human standards, this was extremely amazing high-level magic. Without a leviathan's assistance, even master-class witches could not achieve this.
However, Hal said, "From the perspective of dragonkind, this magic is even easier than radio calisthenics... Probably like 'lighting a match.' Thus, I don't think this will accelerate my transformation into a dragon."
Conversely, one could also say—
Haruga Haruomi had already become this close to being a dragon.
Hal deliberately kept this last comment to himself. Asya did not pursue the matter either, probably out of consideration. It was just like in the past when Hal avoided broaching the subject of Rushalka's lifespan running out.
"By the way... Your earlier loss of appetite seems to have recovered. What was the reason after all? You've been acting strange lately."
Hal had not had a chance to spend time alone with his childhood friend for quite a while. The duel against Princess Yukikaze was also coming up soon. Perhaps he should get this cleared up first.
Worried that it might affect his coordination with Asya, he made his decision to ask about that.
"Do you remember? Take for example the time when we were alone in that hotel in New York..."
Before the battle against Dragon King Hannibal at New York, his childhood friend had kissed him. Furthermore, she had told him something profound. This scene, which had caused Hal much agitation lately, was like a fish bone stuck in his throat.
It caused him to think "Huh? Does Asya actually feel that way about me..."
Hal thought it might be a boy's tendency to consider themselves more attractive than they actually were, common during puberty, but what if it was not the case this time?
When he cautiously asked, his childhood friend reacted emotionally.
"W-What are you talking about, Haruomi!? Recently, my magical power has been in a poor state. There are even times when I don't remember what I've done. Did I do something in front of you!?"
"Eh? Is that what's been happening?"
"That's right! So I'd be very happy if you could be generous and forgive me for my mistakes!"
The one who had acted suspiciously was now very nervous and panicking.
Hal felt it would be bad to pursue the matter any further, so he stopped.
Asya immediately raised another question, "Putting that aside, there's something that bothers me about your dragonification. While I was away, weren't you merging with the Crimson Queen?"
"Don't worry, the others helped cure me."
"That's precisely it. How did they cure a body that had dragonified completely?"
Hal's heart instantly went cold.
"Th-They didn't tell you?"
"They didn't. There wasn't enough time last time so I know nothing about the details. Orihime-san did mention to me that Luna and Hazumi-san helped and it apparently took a lot of work."
Apparently, his childhood friend was not aware what Orihime, Luna and Hazumi, the three young maidens in a state of nudity, had done for Hal when he had turned into a red dragon.
"Having become a Tyrannos myself, I'm quite curious."
"Relax. I already know how to cure you if you turn into a dragon in the future."
"W-What do you mean by that!?"
The trigger for Haruga Haruomi's recovery was apparently rooted in lust.
In that case, Asya's was "gluttony" of course. Fully satisfying human desires was the key to avoid dragonification.
Thinking he would explain this later, he told Asya, "I'll explain in detail to you later... Right now, let's prioritize the mission."
Using flight magic, Hal and Asya arrived near the center of the Plato Crater whose diameter was a hundred kilometers.
On the surface of the moon, a couple hundred meters below them was an infinity symbol, roughly five or six kilometers wide and half that in length.
This was apparently the Rune of the Mother Dragon.
Its color was black. On the moon's white surface, it was particularly striking.
However, humans without magical sight could not see it. Were it visible, the observation center on Earth would have discovered it long ago.
In any case, they had flown for roughly ten minutes in total.
The two of them finally arrived just above the edge of the infinity sign.
"This comment is like a very old gag now, but I'm reminded of the Nazca Lines."
"Indeed. Weren't we seven when we went to look at the Nazca Lines together—Hmm?"
Just as they descended rapidly and were about to land on the surface of the moon...
Hal widened his eyes. To encounter an acquaintance here out of all places. Given that unique manner of dress, Hal could not have recognized the wrong person.
"Uh, fine," Hal muttered in a grumbling voice. "I shouldn't be surprised this guy ran all the way to the moon."
Hadn't he said before?
'So long as it is to see you, Tyrannos and dragon king, I am willing to venture anywhere, not just on Earth but even the far ends of the sea of stars.'
The man who kept his word was named Sophocles.
Too dark a complexion to be Caucasian. Too deep set his facial features to be oriental.
Of indeterminate race, yet he was undoubtedly a handsome man. Like Hal and Asya, the mysterious man was dressed in a manner that completely ignored their environment in space. In his case, he was wearing a black suit under a black coat.
Alone, he was standing on the white moon.
"Long time no see, young man."
The instant Hal and Asya landed, Sophocles greeted them.
His voice was reminiscent of rusted metal.
Still, it was a beautiful voice, deep and magnetic. Combined with his cool and handsome face whose expression barely changed, perhaps he might prove popular with housewives if he were to act in television dramas.
However, this man had sided with dragonkind despite his human identity.
Lowering his voice, Hal said to his childhood friend, "Although I'm in no position to criticize, this is truly a bizarre situation for us to have a normal conversation despite being on the moon."
"Because he's using magic, just like us. Look."
Asya was looking behind Sophocles' back.
Three runes of Ruruk Soun were hovering in the air, signifying "transmit my voice yonder." This magic allowed one to communicate in all conditions.
In fact, the same runes were present behind Hal and Asya too.
After leaving the ruins to visit the true surface of the moon, they had used this magic in order to communicate to each other through the vacuum of space where sound could not travel.
Hal shrugged and responded to the strange man in black.
"You keep showing up after every incident. It really doesn't feel like a long time to me."
"Wonderful. I would like to maintain a long relationship with you, if possible."
"Hard to say. Despite how I look, I'm someone who could end up dead any moment."
Sophocles calmly spoke to Hal, who was harboring pessimism towards his own future, "Do not put things that way. Even if you have encountered a few problems, you have made astounding growth in a few short months, charging along the road towards dragon kingship. Given your ability, asending to the throne just like that would also be—"
Smiling wryly, Hal looked back Sophocles who was goading him earnestly.
Why? Despite clearly looking like an ascetic with strict self-regulation, Hal always wanted to address him as "the devil" from the first moment he met him.
"I think you were being disingenuous just now."
"Come on, you've spent thousands, tens of thousands of years observing the Road to Kingship. I'm sure you've noticed long ago, right? I'm actually unsuitable to becoming a dragon king at all."
"Fufufufu, what are you talking about?"
Sophocles seemed to smile.
But his cheek merely twitched a little, so it was hard to be certain if he was actually smiling.
"Without anyone's guidance, you have climbed the dragon king ladder step by step, rely on your own exclusive methods that no one can imitate. How could someone like you be 'unsuitable'?"
"But I don't have any cheating methods available to me anymore."
With a sense of helplessness from having exhausted everything at his disposal, Hal declared lightly.
"My body is probably turning into a dragon soon. But perhaps because I'm lacking in wild instinct or something like that... Once I turn into a dragon completely—turn into an intelligent beast—I might not be able to continue using petty tricks like before."
Yesterday, Hal had turned into a dragon in the middle of his fight with Galad.
Taking on the form of ferocious monster, he had fought the silver dragon—and was easily driven back. Hal completely lacked the wild quality that would have made the difference in that situation.
"A dragon's nature... The qualities of a ferocious wild beast are completely incompatible with the cheap tricks of a lowly commoner like me. I'm civilized to the core. In this sense, Asya over there could very well have more potential to become a dragon king..."
"Hmm. That girl, yes?"
"I met you only yesterday. Thanks for your help."
Asya said she had met this strange man inside Pavel Galad's barrier.
It was soon after she discovered the flint. Apparently, under Sophocles' guidance, his childhood friend had become "dragon king-like" Tyrannos.
Hal asked, "How did he help you?"
"When I was trapped inside Galad's barrier, Sophocles opened a path to the ground surface. That's why I was able to get back to Tokyo so quickly."
It was the moment just before Pavel Galad had survived, turning into a monster to wreak destruction.
Asya and Rushalka had used the Rune of the Chain to deliver the final blow against the silver dragon that was on the verge of death. Had Asya not arrived, Hal did not know if he would still have a chance to visit the moon.
"Also, I used a trick when inhering the Chain."
"You know, right? When trying to steal someone's dragonslaying rune, even if the owner is dead, the chance of success is still pretty low."
"Yeah. Hinokagutsuchi said the probability was less than 40%."
"When guy cast a spell to raise the chance to around 70%."
"So that's how you managed to inherit the rune!?"
"Although it boils down to luck in the end, raising the probability from below 40% to more than 70% is quite a lot. It was a huge favor."
Pavel Galad had revived himself, going as far as to remodel his body that was supposed to have died.
Hal's childhood friend's cold chain had severed Galad's obsession. Having one question resolved, Hal brought up his next biggest doubt:
"Did he propose some kind of condition in exchange for doing such a big favor for you?"
"Umm... Nothing at all."
Asya stared at Sophocles from the side, totally suspicious of him.
"He said 'With every additional Tyrannos in this era, I become one step closer to my wish.' But we can't have me turning into a dragon too, so I don't really want my power of dragonbane to grow stronger."
"I said this yesterday. That does not matter to me."
Sophocles' tone of voice was quite sincere.
"Holders of dragonslaying runes do not always progress even if they thirst for power. Conversely, there also exist those who become immensely powerful and approach the dragon king throne without any intention of becoming king. This young man is an excellent example. Everything depends on destiny and a person's talent."
" "..." "
"Regarding the birth of Tyrannoi, all I have ever done is offer them chances."
Hal and Asya silently stared at Sophocles.
They felt like they could almost see a "devil's tail" behind him, but this strange man remained the same as always, looking so honest, speaking every word from the heart.
Even though his actions always felt like there was some ulterior motive behind them.
"However," Hal switched the subject and spoke to Sophocles.
He wanted to understand more about the true nature of the man who served dragonkind despite his human identity.
"I can't believe you even picked a witch like Asya... the sworn enemy of dragonkind, to become a Tyrannos. Do you have any principles at all? What is your intention?"
"You have misunderstood something," asserted Sophocles calmly.
The man who seemed extraordinary despite the ordinary suit he was wearing remained expressionless.
"For the game revolving around dragon kings and runes of dragonbane... The Road to Kingship, I serve as a facilitator. This does not imply that I am dragonkind's servant at all."
"What are you trying to say?"
"Allow me to rephrase. I am not dragonkind's friend. Rather, it is the opposite. Whether now or in the past, I have always been trying to help the beautiful planet that nurtured mankind—as well as the humans living upon it."
Sophocles pointed at the brightly shining blue planet in the distance.
Despite being on the moon, his every action was no different from how one would behave on Earth, but Hal and Asya were in no position to criticize others in this regard.
Sure enough, this man possessed extraordinary magical powers as well.
"Haruga Haruomi. I believe our aspirations are the same despite our differences in standpoint."
"Oh my, that can't be possible."
"Please. You and I—We are kindred in a certain sense, you know?"
"For example, I have a rough idea as to why you came over to observe the Rune of the Mother Dragon. On the other hand, dragonkind—especially dragon kings—would find it impossible to comprehend."
"I don't believe you." Hal scoffed at Sophocles. "Or maybe you used magic to read my mind?"
"No, I simply tried to imagine your intent. First of all, to investigate this Rune of the Mother Dragon to see if it could prove useful in the battle against Princess Yukikaze."
"That goes without saying, but anyone can guess this much—"
"Next, I am afraid you intend to destroy it."
"The Rune of the Mother Dragon is clearly a threat to mankind, most probably producing dragon children endlessly. In that case, it is necessary to find out whether it can be destroyed... This is what the Haruga Haruomi I know would think."
Seeing his thoughts revealed, Hal was rendered speechless. He licked his lips.
Sophocles was right. If possible, this was something he ought to destroy before the battle against Princess Yukikaze.
Before Haruga Haruomi died, or turned into a dragon completely.
"Whenever you encounter problems, more than coming up with solutions to overcome the predicament at hand, you are more predisposed towards putting large-scale structural reforms into motion, to eliminate the problem itself. Am I correct?"
"I am just... lazy."
Hal finally interrupted Sophocles' long-winded speech.
"It's a lot of work initially, but ultimately, this way of doing things means less hassle after the fact. Anyway, the less effort the better, that's the kind of person I am."
"Indeed. In fact, I am the same."
Sophocles nodded expressionlessly.
"Allow me to offer you some advice as a kindred spirit. The power of dragonbane cannot destroy the Rune of the Mother Dragon. It cannot be destroyed unless you are powerful enough to erase all dragons from the entire universe—a power equal to the god of creation. Nowhere in the universe will you find such an exceptional being."
"H-How did the scale of things suddenly get so big..."
Despite the excessively grandiose warning, Hal still summoned his magic gun to his right hand.
Words alone could be exaggerated to any extent. It could be a bluff. He could not be certain of the truth unless he tested it for himself...
Realizing Hal's intent, Asya exclaimed in alarm, "Haruomi!?"
He aimed the muzzle at the ground and pulled the trigger.
The target was the crater directly below, with the infinity symbol carved upon it. With investigative magic added to the bullets, hal fired three red magic bullets in succession—
Bam bam bam!
The three glowing projectiles struck the white sand definitively, but he did not feel like he had shot anything.
The firepower and magical power were completely nullified. It was like firing bullets at a cosmic abyss, futile.
"Then how about a technique of assured annihilation..."
If he summoned the Crimson Queen and fired the sun-shooting divine bow with maximum firepower—
Thinking that, Hal slumped his shoulders. Trying would be pointless. The investigative magic he had added to the bullets just now had already told him Sophocles was speaking the truth...
This infinity sign was a magic symbol equivalent to the god that had created dragonkind.
Hal dispelled his magic gun and muttered, "Impossible to destroy, huh? Looks like you're right."
"I am pleased that you understand."
"But on behalf of humanity, I'd like to call you out on that 'I am the friend of Earth and mankind' comment. Why would someone with such sentiments go around doing things to help dragon kings and dragon king candidates?"
"Allow me to ask you a question in return—"
Sophocles' tone was sincere as always.
"Do you really believe that we humans can win against dragon kings?"
"Of course not. In fact, just like you, I... am a man who became a Tyrannos by chance. One day, I suddenly realized: At this rate, our planet and all of humanity would get roped into civil conflict between dragonkind—There is no path but demise."
"The Road to Kingship is where elites, Tyrannoi and dragon kings fight one another. This game cannot be left unattended. When their conflict and competition intensifies, the world will one day collapse. Such is the astounding competitive instinct and destructive impulse of dragonkind."
The mysterious man's voice remained sincere.
"So long as dragonkind exists, the Road to Kingship needs an administrator to control the game so that it unfolds in mankind's favor. That person needs to serve the dragon kings and Tyrannoi while surreptitiously make sure that competitors from the human side continue to join in."
"Now that you mention that..."
Hal understood and muttered.
"The dragon kings I know... Hannibal, Princess Yukikaze, and the Crimson Queen—they were all hybrids who used to be humans, right?"
"Correct. And of the current dragon kings, both the Black Lightning Emperor and the Blue Sea King are purebloods."
"The number of hybrids... is slightly greater."
"Yes. Would you believe me if I said this was because I brought dragonslaying runes to Earth?"
Sophocles calmly revealed the truth.
"Human have no means to fight dragons, but it is a different matter for humans who inherit dragonslaying runes to take part in the Road to Kingship. To drive away dragonkind by the hand of these heroes, thus prolonging the lifespan of the human world and the Earth that nurtures humans—That is my wish."
"N-No no. But—"
There was a decisive flaw in what Sophocles said.
Did he not notice it? Or did he not care at all? Feeling he had to make sure, Hal asked in a trembling voice, "Even if you share the dragonslaying runes with humans like this, these humans end up dying in the process or losing their memories as humans, you know? In the end, isn't all you're doing just instigating 'a war between dragon king-class competitors with Earth as the arena'? In that case, the Earth's demise will happen sooner or later..."
"Indeed, that is one viewpoint. I concede that."
The strange man in the black suit nodded unfazed.
No mistake. Hal was sure of it. This man was mad.
"No matter what, in this era when dragonkind has started becoming active in earnest, there is no fate waiting for humanity but demise. However, so long as 'humans capable of killing dragons' are born from the seeds I have sown, humanity's lifespan could extend somewhat."
"Extension of lifespan..."
"Haruga Haruomi. That is precisely what you are doing now."
He realized why he thought this man—Sophocles—was the devil.
His actions were definitely not unreasonable. His views had grounds to support them. With this as the starting point, upgrading continually, perhaps one day, humans really could obtain the means to resist dragonkind. However—
Sophocles could no longer do it.
He had become a machine-like being that executed the plan he had devised thousands, tens of thousands of years ago. That was why he resembled the devil.
His mind had most likely died long ago.
Hybrid dragon kings maintained the vitality of their minds by indulging in human feelings and pleasures.
But Sophocles had not done so. He lived this long, most likely only to execute his mission. This was the result.
Hal felt a chill.
(If one seals away the power of dragonbane while in the virtually immortal state of a Tyrannos, to prevent oneself from turning into a dragon... Perhaps this is the outcome.)
As a living thing, humans lived to at most a hundred years or so before dying of old age.
What awaited Hal several thousand, tens of thousands of years later, was perhaps a state akin to insanity like this man's. Moreover...
If Haruga Haruomi were to continue this current state, neither human nor dragon...
Would he eventually get stuck in a dead end like Sophocles? Realizing this possibility, Hal shuddered from the bottom of his heart.
"Sophocles-san... He said that!?"
"Yeah. He's even more crazy than we thought."
At the ruins located in the Sea of Showers in the moon's northern hemisphere.
Dozens of stone towers were built here. Juujouji Orihime was on the top floor of one of them, talking to her friend, the senior witch Asya who had just returned from the moon surface.
Also, Haruga Haruomi was not present.
Claiming he had errands to run, he had split up from them.
"Although I cannot fully agree with his views, I have to admit it makes a bit of sense."
"Really? Isn't the world safer with fewer Tyrannoi and dragon kings?"
"Think of it from a different angle. Those who hold dragonslaying runes are essentially enemies to all of dragonkind."
With a knowing look on her face, Asya was the very image of a knowledgeable witch.
"Imagine this. What would happen if a herd of deer were to reproduce on an island without natural predators? The deer will eventually eat all the vegetation on the island, causing a severe ecological imbalance. If dragonkind did the same on Earth—"
"...It will lead to the destruction of Earth's civilization."
"Yeah. And currently the only beasts capable of hunting dragons are the dragon kings and Tyrannoi with their ability to use dragonslaying runes."
"In that case, why not leave dragon kings and imitation dragon kings alone, and give humans the power of dragonbane, thereby managing the risk. This is Sophocles-san's methodology."
"Oh my? Now that I hear you say this, why does..."
Orihime realized something and tilted her head in puzzlement.
"The goal Haruga-kun and Luna-san said they would achieve through GUILD—"
"Are very similar, right? In this sense, he is quite similar to Haruomi."
"Does that man... want to do something to Haruga-kun?"
"He probably doesn't care what happens to Haruomi, sincerely."
"It's fine if Haruomi turns into a dragon king. If he ends up dead in a ditch instead of turning into a dragon, then there are no loose ends to tie up, very convenient. I think what he truly doesn't want to see is Haruomi doing nothing, living as a hermit without achieving anything. Because the rare power would become meaningless."
"You are very right."
As expected of the genius witch and combat expert.
Asya's analysis was impressive. Exhibiting excellent powers of observation, the witch and friend tossed a gloomy glance towards Orihime.
"Putting that aside, Orihime-san."
"W-What is the matter? Asya-san?"
Orihime was a little startled.
In fact, she had been feeling "guilty" towards her friend since summer.
Anastasya Rubashvili, the genius witch.
She harbored feelings towards her childhood friend Haruga Haruomi and Juujouji Orihime had noticed faint signs of this. However, so much had happened between him and Orihime this summer, admitting to each other that they were dearest in each other's heart—
And they had kissed many times.
Then there was (Haruga-kun, good grief, always towards my breasts...) and yesterday, even Luna Francois and her cousin Shirasaka Hazumi had joined in, all of them engaging in something absurd together.
Logically speaking, the European-born Asya should not know anything about what had happened, however.
(Has Asya-san finally found out!?)
Unable to speak about it, Orihime had kept Asya in the dark.
Was she going to expose that secret? With somber eyes, Asya opened her mouth solemnly and shook as she yelled!
"We were invited by a dragon king to the moon, don't you think it's weird that there isn't even a banquet? I-I finally regained my appetite and yet I have to sate my hunger on such crude food...!"
Hearing Asya's heart-rending yell, Orihime nodded.
At this moment, the two of them were sitting at a humble wooden table with a large porcelain dish before them.
This dish was an amazing magic artifact. All one needed to do was concentrate and food similar to white bread would appear on the dish.
Eating this was enough to get a full meal with sufficient nutrients—
That was what Haruga Haruomi had said. He had apparently experienced this inside King Solomon's secret base. There was also a magic pot that produced unlimited distilled water.
However, this magic bread had no flavor.
Even if one focused their sense of taste to the maximum, one could at most taste faint sweetness.
The texture was also dry. For a gourmand who sought pleasure from food, this was desecration of food, absolutely impossible to accept.
As one would expect, Asya began to roar.
"Meals are more than about replenishing nutrients! The true pleasure of eating is about nourishing the soul in addition to the body! Carbohydrates should be obtained from wheat, rice, tubers, legumes except for soybeans, corn, while protein comes from meat and fish, of course! Anyway, meat! Juicy steaks! Fatty premium ribs! Kansai-style sukiyaki made with A5 black Wagyu marbled beef! Deep-fried pork chop cutlets, thick on the inside, crispy on the outside, served as a set meal! Fried chicken that leaves your hands and mouth greasy and sticky! Mince meat cutlets the size of a sandal! Pork belly stew! Genghis Khan grill! Hamburger with fries and shake!"
"L-Let us all go out for dinner once we get back safely!"
The witch companion recited a long list of high-calorie foods.
Silently finding Asya quite adorable, Orihime proceeded to soothe her.
"I could ask my grandfather to take us out to a delicious sushi restaurant."
"Speaking of whitefish, there's sillago, sea bream, halfbeak, and black porgy wrapped in kombu kelp is good too! As for bluebacks, there's horse mackerel, marinated mackerel and spotted shad! Surf clams, egg cockle, orange clam, abalone and conch! Tiger prawns, mantis shrimp, sea urchin, salmon roe, squid, and the chu-toro and o-toro cuts of tuna! Other than nigiri sushi, there's kakiage and bamboo shoots with their own special appeal which are quite nice. To conclude the meal, kanpyo sushi rolls made with egg and eel are a must!"
"Impressive as ever, Asya-san, you are very knowledgeable about sushi too..."
"J-Just a personal hobby... Oh, one more thing, Orihime-san."
Asya seemed to have calmed down.
She lowered her voice and suddenly asked, "How did you help Haruomi recover when he merged with the Crimson Queen? For some reason, Haruomi won't explain it clearly. When I asked him earlier, he seemed a bit nervous."
"Y-You are asking about this!?"
"Why are you panicking too?"
"It is really nothing special. Nothing worth paying so much attention to—"
"Of course I'm curious as it could very well happen to me tomorrow. Or is there some reason why you can't tell me?"
"Uh, umm, how should I put this—?"
In fact, Orihime had never been this flustered when chatting with female friends.
(I-I was too careless...!)
The silver-haired genius witch looked suspiciously at the flustered Orihime.
Asya's recently emerged feminine charm had vanished as soon as her appetite recovered. Hence, Orihime totally did not expect her to raise this question.
At this rate, she might not be able to keep the secret any longer—
(Haruga-kun, hurry and save me!)
Ultimately, Orihime was just as ill-equipped to deal with romantic rivalry.
She really wished the absent one could return soon. With the two of them together, there might still be a way to keep Asya in the dark...
Orihime desperately cried for help in her thoughts.
"Perhaps you have realized to some extent."
"Time is nigh. Half a year has elapsed since spring this year. You have spent your days in leisure, however—You will soon reach your limit."
After returning from investigating the moon and the conversation with Sophocles...
Hal had gone out for a stroll alone.
Leaving the ruins under imperishable protection that were filled with stone towers, he walked about listlessly on the moon.
Protecting Hal was also imperishable protection, adjusted to be colorless.
The only one accompanying him was dead and did not need protection. The young girl dressed in a red kimono, Hinokagutsuchi who had not manifested for a long time, was by his side.
"Brat, even though you narrowly escaped a crisis yesterday... You may not be so fortunate next time. Were you to turn into a dragon again, it might be the end for you in spite of having the devil's own luck."
Hinokagutsuchi's words were scathing as ever.
"Payback is a bitch, so to speak."
"I think the same goes for you."
"You, the self-styled devil, won't last much longer either, right? You've clearly popped up way less recently."
The two of them picked a random place to stop.
This former dragon queen and high school boy had met in an alley in Tokyo New Town. After that, days of turbulence had persisted for several months, finally even landing on the moon.
Right now, they were chatting casually—
"Back when I obtained the Crimson Queen, you said 'I might very well vanish if I did not find something to possess'."
Precisely because of that, Hinokagutsuchi had possessed Hal's magic gun.
"Even with a replacement, you are soon reaching your limit, right?"
"Well, this body of mine ought to have exhausted all energy a thousand years ago, and I ended up using so much power for the past half a year."
Hence, her limit was near—
Hinokagutsuchi would rather die than spell it out.
Out of pride, she was simply refusing to confirm or deny. However, after coming to the moon ruins, Hinokagutsuchi had become a little more honest, willing to provide information.
Because her end was near? —Hal did not entertain this thought.
He realized this possibility but deliberately ignored it.
The kind of behavior of seeking mutual confirmation to achieve a connection of minds, was completely unnecessary for these two. Haruga Haruomi and the self-styled devil were practicalists to the core. All they needed was cooperation when their interests were aligned. That was enough.
Hence, Hal brought up this topic.
"Roughly eight hundred years ago, when you were still queen, Princess Yukikaze was the one who defeated you, right?"
"Then you asked me, who lives in the twenty-first century, to duel with that princess. In that case, she can be considered our common enemy, right?"
"Do you really think that one as great as I would bear a grudge against Yukikaze this whole time?"
"Because your personality isn't great enough to let go of a grudge that is only eight hundred years old."
"Anyway, I will need to duel our common enemy soon. I hope the great former dragon king will make good use of her grudge, one that compelled her to go so far as to exploit me."
"Your insolence knows no bounds, brat."
"I need information and advice. Hoping for your contributions in this regard won't bring divine retribution—That's what I'm thinking."
"Then it depends on whether you are clever enough or not."
"Neither am I certain you have the mettle to best Yukikaze in battle..."
"All I can do is use cheap tricks to close the gap like before. By telling me about the existence of the Rune of the Mother Dragon, aren't you asking me to make use of it?"
"You think I am that considerate?"
"No, but even a demon from hell might show mercy on a whim sometimes. It's not like I'll lose anything by being hopeful."
Despite Hal's frivolous tone, his expression was quite tense.
Of the cheap tricks that could come in handy during the battle against Princess Yukikaze, he could think of one more apart from the Rune of the Mother Dragon.
However, using it required guidance from an experienced predecessor...
This was his greatest gamble ever. Everything depended on luck, not just the talents and efforts of himself and his companions. How deep a bond existed between him and the self-styled devil with the twisted personality—That was the most crucial of all.
Hal braced himself and spoke, "Actually, I've got an idea. I might be able to defeat Princess Yukikaze so long as I become your—the self-styled devil's—successor."
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