Leviathan:Volume 8 Chapter 3
Chapter 3 - The Start of a Gamble
Hal was standing in the middle of the space.
The abyss of the macrocosm lay in all directions around him. Entering Hal's view was not complete darkness but an ever-changing canopy of night, decorated by the glow of countless celestial objects.
"The secret archives of Ruruk Soun... The grimoire passed down generations of dragonkind."
He called out to the endless seas of stars.
...Actually, this was not the real cosmos. At this moment, Hal's body was meditating in a certain tower in the moon ruins.
This was an imagined world that he had entered through meditation.
Through a vision, Hal was reading the secret archives of Ruruk Soun—a grimoire that recorded dragonkind's mystic wisdom—which had become part of his consciousness.
In the past, his formidable rival Pavel Galad had also activated the secret archives of Ruruk Soun during battle.
The silver dragon had used it to practice back when he had yet to grow accustomed to the dragonslaying sword. Hence, this cosmos could be manipulated according to Haruga Haruomi's thoughts...
"Show me a more complete view, which will make it easier for me to find the treasure I want. Zooming out is fine."
The macrocosm suddenly shrank.
Countless stars gathered around Hal in succession. Ten-odd seconds later, a huge number of spiral galaxies appeared in front of Hal. This also included the solar system where Earthlings lived.
An intricate miniature model of the universe containing countless galaxies.
If one had to use mundane objects for an analogy, this magnificent entity was roughly the size of a classroom blackboard.
Hal focused his eyes. In the secret archives of Ruruk Soun, doing so would allow him to see fine details on a microscopic level.
He was trying to find the seventy-two celestial bodies that Hinokagutsuchi had told him about.
They included stars, planets and satellites.
Some had been discovered by humans while others remained unknown to this day.
After finding seventy-two celestial bodies scattered all over the universe and summoning them all at once...
"O stars constituting mystic power and knowledge, gather in my hand."
Dozens of stars, scattered all over the place, traversed tens of thousands of light years to gather in Hal's right hand, lining up neatly to form a circle. There were exactly seventy-two of them.
"This is a bit too many..."
Hal released magical power and compressed them.
The seventy-two stars were reduced to forty-two, which then turned into runes completely.
This was the moment when forty-two runes of Ruruk Soun—magical symbols very familiar to Hal nowadays—were born. By summoning this arrangement, he should be able to invoke a certain spell.
"Assuming Hinokagutsuchi didn't trick me." Hal sighed.
This secret technique was apparently invented by the self-styled devil, which meant that he would not know how to use it if he left it to the magic gun as usual.
The only way to learn this spell was for her to instruct him on the arrangement of runes.
"Anyway, this is my last lifeline..."
Hal muttered to himself and blinked.
The moment he opened his eyes, the cosmic abyss and mini-galaxies vanished. He was sitting cross-legged on the floor inside a room in the moon ruins used as a bedroom.
Phew. Just as Hal exhaled deeply and stood up...
He heard a familiar voice.
Asya's partner, Blue Rushalka was flying towards him.
With her head extended towards Hal's window on the top floor, she kept flapping her wings, hovering midair like a hummingbird.
Rushalka was a wyvern with a body length of ten-odd meters.
Apart from the fact that she lacked forelimbs, she was quite similar to elite dragons in form and appearance.
The flapping of her wings alone was noisy enough. With every flap of her wing, Rushalka blew strong wind against Hal's face.
"What a racket..."
"I called her."
"What, so you're here too, Asya?"
Hearing his childhood friend's voice, Hal turned to face the source.
This window was over ten meters above ground. Nevertheless, Asya was outside the window.
She was hovering in the air—no, flying in the air.
Next to the gigantic face of the blue wyvern hovering in the air, Asya was flying in the sky.
"This is the Flight spell you learned yesterday, right? You've already mastered it completely."
"That's not all. Watch."
"A magic wand!?"
Unfazed by the sight of his childhood friend flying, Hal reacted with surprise this time.
A silver chain was wrapped around Asya's slender body with an arrowhead on one end serving as a counterweight.
The silver chain was like a living snake, clanging as it moved.
The counterweight on the chain's tip rubbed itself affectionately against Asya's face, like a snake playing with a snake charmer.
"You mastered the magic wand in just one day. You made that chain, right?"
"Yes. After all, I heard you explain what you did before."
"Amazing. You are very smart, or should I say, a genius."
It was only after Asya ended up in the same situation as him that Hal finally got a poignant sense of her natural talent.
However, the genius master-class witch, who used to be Europe's most powerful Shootdown Ace, frowned and said the following extremely coldly, "Learning synthesis magic on this level sooner isn't going to help much in tomorrow's battle."
"No no no. Just having a wand makes controlling magical power much easier."
"What's important is whether it has practical use in combat. I wouldn't be worried if it's just an ordinary elite dragon, but our opponent is Princess Yukikaze. Oh well, to me it's just consolation at this point."
"What are you so pessimistic?"
"Not really. Even though it's consolation, something is better than nothing. Because fighting dragons without any consolation would be way too difficult."
Words of a brave and seasoned warrior, impressive as ever.
Before acquiring a dragonslaying rune, his childhood friend had fought armies of Raptors all over the world, as well as the occasional elite dragon. Precisely because of that, she was able to say this kind of thing so calmly.
"Putting that aside, Haruomi, Rushalka and I will go there again."
"Again? Didn't Juujouji just finish investigating the Rune of the Mother Dragon?"
"Yes, but that rune is a more important trump card than a magic wand. I want perfect preparations, and that includes checking one last time."
Asya not only had natural talent but also devoted herself to training and effort, never succumbing to pride and complacency.
The prudence exhibited by someone like her, fully worthy of the genius label, deeply impressed Hal.
Clang clang clang!
Asya picked up her silver chain and swung it swiftly.
This small movement summoned the runes of Teleport on top of Rushalka's head. The blue wyvern and her partner instantly vanished.
Apparently, she had gone to look at the Plato crater, just as she had said she would.
"So she even learned that spell, huh...?"
He definitely could not match Asya in talent for magic. Hal was reminded of this fact again.
His childhood friend the genius witch, the Rune of the Mother Dragon, Juujouji and Akuro-Ou who had awakened the power of the Sun—and that particular arrangement as well.
Perhaps there really was a way to deal with Princess Yukikaze...?
"I hope so."
Hal hoped sincerely. There was less than twenty-four hours remaining until the duel with the princess was set to begin.
"Anyway, I have to continue with my preparations."
He was pretty much done with all the preparing that could be done indoors. Hal exited the stone tower through the window.
"Haruga-kun, where did you go?"
"Outside. I went outside the ruins to use runes to send messages to Luna and SAURU on Earth."
When he returned to the stone tower that served as their base of operations on the moon, Hal found Orihime inside, waiting for him.
Using the Ruruk Soun runes of "transmit my voice yonder," Hal had conducted interplanetary communications.
His original intention was just to test it out, but it succeeded even better than he had imagined. However, Hal did not tell them about a certain arrangement he had learned earlier.
He wanted to keep it a secret as much as possible. The girls would definitely stop him if word got out...
"By the way, Haruga-kun, could you please... undress?"
When Orihime timidly made a request, Hal stepped back in surprise.
Could it possible that saintly compassion had suddenly surged in Orihime's heart, making her willing to cross the final line with Haruga Haruomi who could very well lose his life in the duel tomorrow? No no no, but a considerate move of this sort would be very unlike a well-bred young lady such as Orihime—
"D-Do not get the wrong idea. This is a regular check up!" Orihime declared, blushing to her ears.
"Doesn't your body harden to become dragon-like when you use too much of your powers? I must check regularly."
"O-Oh, now I see."
Hearing Orihime's explanation, Hal understood. The guilt of his weird delusion made him reluctant to refuse Orihime. He hastily removed his shirt, leaving his upper body naked.
He found a random pedestal to serve as a seat.
Orihime circled around to his back, then started a "tactile examination" of Haruga Haruomi's not very muscular back.
"You don't need to examine so closely."
"I will be the one to decide that."
Orihime's right hand gently slid from left to right, checking how Hal's back felt to the touch.
"You girls helped cure me last time. I'm totally fine now."
Part of his skin hardened with a glass-like shine.
This symptom had appeared recently, a warning sign that acquisition of dragonslying power led to dragonification.
Hal muttered, "I'll be a good boy and report any that that comes up. Trust me."
"That rests on the assumption that you won't deceive."
Orihime took a shot at Hal then continued her examination.
First the shoulder then below, then even lower down. Finally after gently checking the texture at his waist, Orihime nodded.
"It looks like you are definitely fine. Nothing hardened."
"See? I haven't used much power after coming to the moon either."
"Since the back is fine, I suppose there isn't a need to check the front? Your body really seems to be fine."
"Huh? Don't tell me... You were planning on touching the front side too?"
Even caressing his chest and abdomen gently with her right hand.
Hal could not help but wonder what he could do to make Orihime change her mind about ending the examination here. His facial nerves tensed up, a reflexive action whenever he did not want others to notice his dirty thoughts.
However, this was enough for Orihime to discern Hal's thoughts.
"You seem to be thinking about something inappropriate..."
"No, of course not. My mind is filled with nothing but gratitude for the gentle you."
"Goodness gracious. What a pervert you are!"
Though Orihime was a bit angry, she sighed in the next instant.
"I don't want you to turn into a dragon, but—Sure enough, I have to take this situation into consideration after all..."
Orihime's face was shrouded in gloom out of worry for Haruga Haruomi.
Hal laughed out loud, a warm feeling flowing through his heart. Perhaps this was what people called happiness.
He had never experienced this before when he was always alone.
Precisely because of that—
He was afraid of loss. Logically speaking, Hal was going to lose everything, even his meager life, in the duel tomorrow. 99% certain.
Princess Yukikaze had mentioned "If I defeat you and you're fortunate enough to survive..."
But he knew that the probability of such a future approached zero. This charity condition of "surviving an all-out attack from the dragon king Princess Yukikaze" was as fragile as a thread of spider's silk.
Hal's stomach began to hurt.
He even broke out in cold sweat. This was a stomachache caused by stress. In fact, Hal had been experiencing these stomach pains every now and then ever since arriving on this asteroid.
Extremely uncomfortable. He had difficulty sleeping at night, unable to achieve unbroken sleep till dawn.
"Because the previous battles always happened right away... There was no time for me to feel stressed. This time, with so much time, it's quite an ordeal, almost like 'having an execution scheduled a few days later'..."
He muttered, his eyes gloomy.
Ignoring the physical body, Hal's mind was still too human to be viewing things with detached perspective.
Stress was building up the longer he spent time at the moon ruins.
If only his opponent was a mere elite or Tyrannos.
But this time he had to confront dragon king-class, the strongest of dragonkind, and definitely stronger than him.
So far, Hal had twice fought dragon kings and survived, but that was because he had gambled his life on strategies that succeeded by chance. It was also thanks to him possessing trump cards unexpected by the two dragon kings—Princess Yukikaze and Hannibal.
"It will be fine. Asya-san is helping with research on how to use that Rune of the Mother Dragon, and didn't Kagutsuchi-san say 'it appears that prior preparations are sufficient' after listening?"
"More precisely, she said 'You could consider it sufficient, but possible not enough too'."
Translated into plain English, it was "I don't know!"
In addition, there was the trump card that Hal had secretly prepared, but there was not telling whether any of his cards would actually end up useful. There was nothing he could do about that.
"The previous battles" against Princess Yukikaze and Hannibal.
Now that he thought back to them—Neither of them were battles to the death. Both sides had reached a ceasefire before that point. But this time, it was going to be a duel to the death...
Orihime secretly walked up to Hal's side.
She drew very close, so the two of them were pressed intimately together. How unbelievable. Simply the touch of her body warmth was enough to calm his thoughts a bit.
"Did you forget? Akuro-Ou and I are very strong in critical moments."
"Now that you mention it, yeah, that's true. How should I put it...? Perhaps you two are like goddesses of fortune. It was the same in the first battle against Pavel Galad."
Thinking back to past experiences, Hal looked up.
"Probably thanks to your naked body, my luck has surged—"
"H-Haruga-kun! You still remember that!?"
"Of course! How could I possibly forget that wonderful image!?"
"And you snapped aback indignantly!"
"Anyway, basically it boils down to this... Sure enough, you're the only one who can be my mental support. It's the same in love matters too, you have to be my guardian goddess of luck—"
"W-Wait a second, Haruga-kun. What... What did you just say?"
When the panicking Hal slightly calmed down, it was Orihime's turn to be flustered.
She stared nervously at Hal, like she was hoping for something.
So cute. Hal immediately replied.
"Uh... Goddess of love and protection."
"In other words, you mean—love for me? For me and Haruga Haruomi to nurture human love, romantic feelings, and man-woman affection between the two of us..."
"Yes. All of them."
In a state of heightened emotion, the two hugged tightly together.
Then they kissed passionately.
...This could be considered "a dialog in preparation for the decisive battle tomorrow." But in fact, this was also a tryst for them at the same time.
"Tonight again, I will come over to find you after Asya-san falls asleep."
"Even if you suffer from insomnia, I will still stay by your side."
"Although you probably won't sleep better simply because I am next to you, I still want to do something for you no matter how small."
"Not at all. I'll feel at peace just from having you by my side."
"Fufufufu—Ah, here you go again exaggerating. I haven't finished talking, you know?"
"Sorry, I accidentally—"
Orihime's love and affection made Hal kiss her again.
Gazing gently at this good-for-nothing of a man, Orihime kissed Hal back.
"By the way, I actually thought of something. Probably because I'm just a step from leveling up to becoming a dragon, a new idea occurred to me."
"Lend me your ear. I'll explain to you."
"We are the only ones here. Is there any need to whisper?"
"Who cares? Whispering is more intimate."
"Here you go again, honest at a time like this... Go ahead, tell me."
"Yeah, thanks. Specifically, it's—"
Orihime swept her long hair behind her ear, exposing it.
Hal brought his lips close to whisper in her ear. There was something problematic with what he said, and even the Japanese girl with the sunny open-minded disposition glared at him with a "Haruga-kun—" in protest.
Even so, Hal still continued apprehensively and said, "So that's the long and short of it. Will you stay with me to do some mental training?"
"If this is definitely necessary for the duel against Princess Yukikaze—I won't refuse. However, is that really true?"
"Of course! Trust me!"
"Of course I trust you. But can you promise that you are sincerely doing this without ulterior motives?"
"How very honest of you. You cannot promise, can you?"
"Seriously... You must not say such things to any girl other than me, okay? If you promise me that, umm, then it's not like I can't make an exception and practice with you..."
"Haruga-kun—Ah... I-Is this part of training too?"
"There's more to it. Well, sure enough, I really love doing this with you..."
"Sheesh. You are too honest... Ahhh!"
"S-Sorry. Was I too rough?"
"Don't worry—This is fine... Umm, I think I enjoy doing this with you—mmmmm!"
Unlike previous occasions, the main reason for doing this was no longer for the sake of transferring magical power to a vassal sharing the same dragonslaying power.
Driven by emotions and impulse beyond that, the two of them embraced each other.
Clenching his right hand where the Rune of the Bow had surfaced, he tightly squeezed the left breast—the body part closest to the heart—of the girl he loved most in the whole world. In return, Orihime passionately allowed him to do as he pleased, in a state of ecstasy, accepting Hal's caress.
This was a world that belonged to just the two of them.
However, exhaling hot breath, Orihime suddenly spoke, "By the way... Asya was suspicious of our relationship earlier."
"Yes. I was originally hoping you be there to help, but I managed to explain on my own and barely pulled the wool over her eyes."
Juujouji Orihime was not only inexperienced in love but also a little airheaded.
Her personality was also extremely straightforward. It was hard to imagine her female friends getting fooled, but right now, Asya had lost her feminine skills that she had acquired previously.
Thinking "well, it should be fine," Hal refocused his mind on the training.
"Mmmm! Haruga-kun... Remember clearly how I feel, okay?"
"Yeah. I surely... won't forget."
Once again, they entered a world of their own, but...
Just as Orihime's slender body swooned and leaned back...
An adorable but sinister giggle was heard from outside the room.
It was the suggestive giggling from someone they knew well—his childhood friend and witch companion. Orihime froze in her posture, still with Hal holding her breast.
"Indeed... It is I. Feeling a bit worried, I quickly finished what I needed to do, but to think I would see such as scene on my return. Although your stammering was quite suspicious, Orihime-san, I did have a faint feeling before that...!"
Hal's childhood friend Asya walked into the room.
She was smiling but did not look happy at all. This was merely a smile used to control the anger that had nowhere to go.
Oh right, even with her feminine skills diminished, Asya's bestial instincts were still intact.
Only now did Hal think of that. Then he said to Asya, "Yeah, to be honest, this is actually the kind of relationship we have."
"What the hell!?"
"I love Juujouji more seriously than anyone else, and Juujouji, you feel the same way towards me, right?"
"Y-Yes. I love Haruga-kun very much."
Probably because Hal made his declaration too naturally.
Orihime immediately followed up after a brief pause. On the other hand, Asya was so shocked that she could not close her mouth.
For Hal, Asya was neither an older nor a younger sister, instead, she was a childhood friend known for many years.
Perhaps it was fate that she became the first one he told. And it was right before the day when his fate was going to hang between life and death...
In any case, Hal released his hand from Orihime's breast as though nothing had happened.
He made the call to admit everything and started to explain.
"Oh right, tonight will be the night of the full moon."
Hal glanced at his pocket watch and said softly.
A mechanical pocket watch made with bronze. The time was just after three in the afternoon on September 10th. Furthermore, this pocket watch was also a Clockwork Mage used exclusively by members of SAURU.
For Hal as he was now, it was a redundant tool, but he still kept it by his side.
"Is it that? I recall an event known as the viewing of the mid-autumn moon." Hinokagutsuchi spoke with mockery in her voice.
"If they are going to organize an event, why not hold one where beautiful women are admired under moonlight...? I believe this occurred to me in the ancient past."
"Don't forget you're a former queen. Say something that fits the mood better."
"Hmph, staring at the moon is too boring. Incomprehensible to me."
"Fine. Anyway, it's an event that used to take place on the fifteenth day of the eighth month in the lunar calendar. Since adjustments are needed to fit with the current calendar, it happens on a different day every year."
Hal and Hinokagutsuchi looked up at the night sky together.
There was no full moon among the scattered stars of the night canopy, instead there was a round Earth roughly the size of a coin. The moon was underfoot.
Leaving the moon ruins, Hal walked to another plain on the moon, the Sea of Showers.
The black of "seas" on the lunar landscape was the color of basalt, terrain formed from lava that had erupted from underground then cooled.
Observing from the Earth, one could see a black area on the white moon.
Recalling this, Hal said poignantly, "I never thought I'd spent a night of the full moon on the moon itself."
"Who knows? If you draw your last breath before admiring the moon, then it would not really count as 'spending' the night." Hinokagutsuchi laughed maliciously.
She had come out from the magic gun that she had possessed, materializing into a young girl in a kimono.
This could very well be his last. Three days ago—at around 3pm on September 7th in Japan—Hal was taken to the moon.
Princess Yukikaze had told him she would only wait three days.
A quick calculation showed that seventy-two hours had just passed. It would be natural for the princess to come pick a fight any moment.
"Although I've made lots of preparations for this battle, how much difference do you think our struggling will actually make?"
"Against that lass Yukikaze?"
"Yeah. And it's Princess Yukikaze in serious mode."
"Simple. If she is serious about taking your life—No matter how it happens, Yukikaze is guaranteed to win."
Hinokagutsuchi predicted gravely. She did not look like she was joking.
Since she spoke without thinking, Hal reflexively argued back.
"Uh, this is a contest, you know? There's that saying, you never know who'll get the last laugh, right? Didn't I squeak through last time?"
"Because the battle to defeat Genbu-Ou was 'war.'"
"Whereas this time is a 'fight.' Do you understand the difference?"
"...I see. Sort of."
Realizing what the self-styled devil was trying to convey, Hal sighed.
In war, one would retreat to regroup once losses mounted to 20-30%. This was because casualties of this extent would affect an army's tactical plans. It was a general's job to regroup before further losses occurred.
A fight was different.
How far a fight went would depend on both sides' perseverance and will to fight...
"In addition, there is another decisive difference. Brat, you have grown far too strong."
"Yukikaze might show mercy if it were merely an angry puppy biting her. However, given your current strength, if you were to bite, she would probably intercept with her full power. A cornered beast is not going to hold back."
Neither his childhood friend Asya nor Juujouji Orihime were by Hal's side.
Like the time when he first obtained the power of dragonbane, only Hal and Hinokagtsuchi were present. Once again, Hal argued against the former dragon king's merciless words.
"But if I bite seriously, there's a chance I might kill the princess—"
"Impossible. No matter how many cheap tricks you pull out, struggling like a pathetic rat to bite the cat to death, your teeth will never tear into a berserk dragon king's throat. And have you forgotten?"
"You said it yourself. You do not have what it takes to become a true king. Over these past few months, I have come to understand that deeply too."
Such opinions were quite unbiased. Hal grumbled softly, "I wasn't hoping you'd recite some kind of spell to stoke my courage, but with the duel about to begin, couldn't you be a little more sensitive about my feelings?"
"Fufu." Hinokagutsuchi smiled maliciously.
"Then you posed the wrong question to ask the wrong person."
"Indeed. Sigh, in that case, I'll just have to make the most of it and struggle to the very end."
Hal shrugged and summoned the magic gun with his right hand.
Hinokagutsuchi vanished. She had returned to the object she was possessing.
"Runes of Ruruk Soun—I'm counting on you."
The arrangement created by the self-styled devil when she was still a dragon king.
Hal summoned forty-two runes of Ruruk Soun overhead and used the secret technique he had just learned.
Muttering to himself, he activated the spell.
Hal's body and the magic gun instantly turned into particles of light and vanished into thin air. This was the same de-materialization used by leviathans and Hinokagutsuchi to suddenly disappear.
However, his mind and magical power had not vanished.
Responding to Hal's voice, what materialized was a giant red dragon.
The dragon that once possessed the Rune of the Bow. After a long battle, with irreparable damage inflicted to its heartmetal, she had taken a finishing blow from Princess Yukikaze, the Arrow inheritor—
With wings outspread, the Queen flew into the sky.
Though slightly smaller than Red Hannibal, the Crimson Queen was quite large. Sixteen or seventeen meters long. Not only was she tall, but she also exuded impressive presence from her powerful musculature.
A contrast to the white dragon king's slender and graceful form.
A giant bow appeared in the Crimson Queen's right forelimb.
The bow was even longer than the Queen was tall. Made of red steel, with light as the bow string, it was the manifestation of the Rune of the Bow as a weapon.
Carrying just the mystic bow, the Queen kept rising.
She slowly but steadily accelerated, escaping the Moon's gravity, finally reaching a spot in the sky roughly a hundred kilometers away from the ground.
This was the same height as the asteroid where Princess Yukikaze lived.
"Okay... Let's begin," Hal said to the Queen.
Even though he was not in human form at the moment, Hal's mind was still linked to the Queen. Under Hal's gaze, the red dragon raised the gigantic bow.
Next, an arrow of light appeared in the left forelimb.
The red dragon notched it on the bowstring and drew hard, firing the arrow forward.
Boom! Imbued with the mystic power to kill dragons by the dragonslaying bow, the arrow flew with a long tail like a comet, tracing out its trajectory as it flew thirty or forty kilometers.
Up ahead was the disc-shaped asteroid where the ice tower was located!
It struck. Explosion. Flash.
The arrow fired by the Queen blew the asteroid to bits.
However, the white dragon king's slender and gallant form calmly flew out from the white light of the explosion.
Both the Queen and Hal used "eye of magic" to watch the white dragon. Suddenly accelerating, they charged straight towards the unharmed Princess Yukikaze.
The white dragon flew nimbly, as though responding to them—
Merely forty seconds passed.
The two dragon finally met on the Moon's orbit.
"O Haruomi! I never thought you would be the one to start the attack!"
"Because waiting for you to attack could end up puncturing a hole in my stomach. I was thinking might as well get started earlier..."
The voices coming from the two dragon's jaws was the same as produced by their human forms.
Even in space, the absence of air did not have any effect on dialog between dragons. The Crimson Queen was holding a red bow, but Princess Yukikaze was unarmed.
"Fufufufu. In the previous battle, it took me so long to turn into a dragon."
The graceful dragon king smiled proudly.
Hal could tell from a single glance. Her dragon face, which ought to bear no resemblance to a human face at all, showed a slight curl in the corners of her lips—He was able to discern this change.
He was not sure whether it was because he understood the princess' personality or because he was becoming more and more dragon-like.
"But this time... I have become like this!"
"Oh, that's right."
"This is proof of your efforts. Commendable!"
Unlike Hinokagutsuchi, Princess Yukikaze was not stingy with giving praise.
However, Hal still carried a heavy heart. He was thinking "I'd rather you act careless or underestimate me, and give me the gift of an opening I could exploit to attack, than praising me"...
"Hazumi-san, it is time to begin at last."
The altitude was 4205 meters.
Luna Francois walked over with a solemn expression to inform her. Shirasaka Hazumi looked up at the night sky, dotted with stars. The stars were so numerous that they felt intimidating. They seemed so near.
This was thanks to the altitude, which exceeded Mount Fuji's height, as well as the clear air.
There was also the fact that they were far away from urban areas. There were no light sources to overwhelm the starlight.
Hazumi's location was excellent for stargazing. After the summer expedition, this was her second time to America—the Mauna Kea volcano in Hawaii.
Near the peak were thirteen observatories from eleven different countries around the world.
One of them was the Hawaii Observatory of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan.
Hazumi was sitting on a lawn in the observatory's premises.
The stars were so numerous that they looked like they were about to fall out of the sky. But tonight was a full moon. The bright moonlight meant that it was not ideal for stargazing.
"Senpai and the others are there..."
"Yes. Roughly fifteen minutes ago, the red dragon and the white dragon apparently started fighting on the Moon's orbit. The battle is shown live on the monitor in the observation room."
Hazumi recalled the observation room mentioned by Luna.
Inside a space that could not be considered large at all were LCD displays of all sizes and even quite a number of laptops. Several members of staff were there, checking images taken by the observatory's infra-red optical telescope.
The two girls had been given a tour as soon as they arrived at the observatory.
"The situation appears to be unfolding in Harry's favor. We managed to complete support preparations too."
"All of the credit goes to you, Luna-san. Thank you."
It was currently September 6th in Hawaii, just after 8pm.
It was nighttime. However, the time and date at Tokyo New Town in Japan was September 7th, 3pm. This was due to the nineteen hours of time difference between the two locations. Dawn arrived at Japan first.
The duel against Princess Yukikaze would begin at this time—
Yesterday, this message had reached Luna Francois and Shirasaka Hazumi through Ruruk Soun magic.
This was also how they received the astounding news of "Haruga Haruomi and company were on the Moon."
After receiving Hal's message, the Trans-Pacific Area's genius Shootdown Ace had taken immediate action.
Mobilizing all of her connections and political capital, she requested full cooperation from the Mauna Kea observatory and staff, forcing them to comply.
Next, Luna and Hazumi hurried to the scene.
Taking a plane prepared by the Japanese American armed forces, they then reached the top of Mauna Kea via Cessna and helicopter. Although Mauna Kea was located in Hawaii, the island of eternal summer, due to the high altitude of 4205m, night temperatures approached zero and the air was quite thin.
This sort of environment imposed quite a burden on the body.
"I know you are probably quite uncomfortable, Hazumi-san, but your power is necessary."
Luna Francois spoke, looking at Hazumi's face.
"Please endure for a while. For our Harry and Orihime-san's sake, and Asya too."
"I-I am fine. Although the environment is harsh... I am still okay!"
She was not putting on a brave face.
Hazumi was definitely not physically strong and her health was worrying, but—Surprisingly, she was not suffering much. Perhaps because she was very motivated.
Or maybe her physical stamina had improved a bit with her increase in magical power...
To insulate against the cold, Hazumi was wearing a white double coat even it was September, along with a knitted cap, a scarf and even gloves.
Luna Francois was wearing a black cashmere coat with a black Russian hat.
Traveling from late summer in Tokyo New Town to Hawaii, then ascending to this peak that was higher than the clouds, what an unexpected expedition. However—
"Compared to Senpai and the others who went to the Moon, this is nothing!"
"Indeed. We must use our power to help Harry. Moreover..."
"There is that. Madam M offered a profound and mysterious suggestion. We must find a way to inform Harry."
Prior to the two girls' departure to Japan, President M had paid them a special visit just to tell them.
Remembering that advice, reassuring despite its short length of a few words, Hazumi nodded firmly.
Haruga Haruomi and Princess Yukikaze had fought once before.
After that, Hal had obtained the Rune of the Twin Katana and absorbed King Solomon's magical power, greatly increasing his strength.
Nevertheless, his main weapon was still the Rune of the Bow.
In contrast, Princess Yukikaze possessed the Rune of the Arrow as her only and absolute weapon.
In other words, both sides were well aware of each other's capabilities.
There were two tactics. The prudent approach would be to neutralize the enemy's advantage while looking for an opening to take advantage of. Alternatively, since they already knew each other inside out, might as well attack boldly.
A bold change in mindset. Seeing as they knew each other's best moves and and tactics, a protracted battle of back and forth attacking and defending would only be a waste of time.
Hal's personality favored the former approach while Princess Yukikaze favored the latter.
"Fufufufu! Having made me wait for so long, are you still going to keep me in suspense? Sorry, I, Yukikaze, have no intention of taking detours!"
"Uh, you're going for a finishing move straight away!?"
What a candid young girl with a personality as straight as an arrow. The white dragon king suddenly unleashed maximum magical power when facing off against the Crimson Queen on the Moon's orbit.
Runes of Ruruk Soun appeared over the graceful white dragon's head.
A total of twenty-one runes, signifying "I descend from the heavens as the miracle of lightning, turning in the pioneering arrow that pierces the ground." This was Princess Yukikaze's prided move, a technique of assured annihilation.
"I hereby decree to my emblem, the Arrow of Sirius, I, Yukikaze, will now transform into the dragonslaying arrow!"
With her entire body glowing with blue-white light, the princess charged at the red queen.
The two dragons, red and white, were separated by several kilometers, but given the princess' dashing speed, she would close this distance in less than 0.1 seconds.
The arrow of godlike speed, living up to the name of the dragon king, flying through the macrocosm—
Despite his level as an opponent, Hal was able to intercept this attack, probably because he was very confident that Princess Yukikaze would surely attempt to decide the battle in the first move...
"Queen, we're going too!"
Twenty-one runes appeared over the Crimson Queen's head too.
They signified "I will fire the sun-shooting divine bow at the sky, to exterminate the sun." This was the technique of assured annihilation that Haruga Haruomi and his companions had relied on the whole time, his move of greatest firepower.
"My emblem—that's the Bow Stars of the Southern Sky, right!? Anyway, I'm counting on you!"
Notched on the red long bow was fire in the shape of an arrow.
The Queen fired. Incoming in a straight line, the blue-white flash of light collided violently with the crimson flames, just three hundred meters from the Queen.
"Is this the best you can do...? Kukukuku! Too naive, Haruomi!"
"Rune of the Twin Katana!"
Turned into a flash of light, the white dragon broke through the sun-piercing flames, charging straight.
The Queen was blown away despite her greater physique, instantly flying thirty or forty kilometers back like stardust. However.
The Crimson Queen spread both wings and exhaled flight magic.
Like a struck billiard ball, her massive body finally braked. Furthermore—More importantly, the Queen was unharmed!
Princess Yukikaze's white dragon face was filled with joy.
"Splendid, Haruomi. Even Pavel Galad could no longer stand after taking a strike from I, Yukikaze, as an arrow!"
Hearing the princess' praise, Hal laughed helplessly.
Succeeding in defense beyond all expectation was the Crimson Queen, wielding a longsword in her right with a kodachi in her left, crossed in an "X" shape. These two blades had helped defend against the princess in her dragonslaying arrow form, in other words, acted as a shield.
Although he had barely managed to defend against the princess' prided technique of assured annihilation—
"You managed to trick me this time, but you will surely make a mistake if this were repeated two or three times. A 60% success rate, I would say."
That was precisely why Hal was laughing so helplessly.
At this rate, it would be no different from Russian roulette. The revolver would fire a bullet sooner or later and pierce his head.
"Sure enough, I've no chance of winning alone, not even if I aim for a draw..."
The ideal of "a man fights alone" was completely foreign to Hal.
He immediately focused his attention on his right hand.
He clenched his right hand tightly—Not his dragon form that was holding the two blades, but his astral form that was staying by the side of the gigantic red dragon.
"I'd need to prostrate in penance before Juujouji if I don't show results from my mental training!"
Using training as the reason, Hal had groped Orihime's breasts like mad, truly madly.
The number of times easily exceeded three digits, perhaps even reaching four digits. In any case, he had touched and groped Orihime's breasts without restriction, all the way until his right hand memorized the tactile feeling from her.
Hal calmed his mind and focused his attention.
In his mind, he recalled the feeling, a perfect reenactment of his right hand groping, grabbing, touching, stroking Juujouji Orihime's wonderful breasts / bust / boobs to his heart's content.
His imagination was helping him establish a magical connection to her.
Orihime was not at the battle.
The Japanese witch was standing by at the Plato crater on the Moon.
Although the two of them were separated by more than 100km, the image reappearing in Hal's mind made him feel that the girl he loved most across the entire universe was by his side.
The Rune of the Mother Dragon was next to her.
"Show time begins only now...!"
If winning alone was impossible, then just borrow his companions' strength.
Hal began a new gamble.
"U-Using it the first time in a real battle without practicing ahead of time, will that really be okay?"
"Practice leads to failure, actually..."
At the Plato crater on the Moon.
The magic symbol resembling an infinity sign was manifested in the center, but because it was as big as the Nazca lines, from above, all Orihime could see were "a thick curve on the ground."
The one listening to Orihime voice her worries was in a state of depression.
Asya's face was gloomy to the extreme. She muttered, "The mind focuses to the limit precisely because there is only one chance. Especially when... You will be attempting magic unknown to mankind... Orihime-san, listen carefully."
Asya's aura of gloom was like a vengeful ghost lying in ambush against the begrudged.
She was offering advice as a senior witch, making educationally questionable suggestions.
"For a witch, it's not important to have a super boring honors student's disposition of endless practice to minimize the unexpected. Rather, it's the gambler spirit to wager everything on a single chance... The spirit of taking your entire life's savings to buy the year-end J●mbo lottery..."
Kuku. The indisputable genius witch laughed with reckless abandonment.
Incidentally, her eyes were like "those of a dead fish."
"Fufufufu... If all goes well, you can earn big bucks easily..."
"B-But what if you lose all your money!?"
"This kind of question is not considered. You only fail precisely because of irrelevant thoughts like these."
"...Coming from you, it seems to make a bit of sense."
Juujouji Orihime had won a national kendo championship before.
She could be considered an accomplished gambler too. Agreeing with certain parts of Asya's extremist theory, so Orihime changed her mind a little.
However, Asya quietly added, "Well, gamblers who die penniless in a ditch are also part of life..."
Asya had been like this ever since she found out about the relationship between Orihime and Haruga Haruomi.
She focused her magical power as a Tyrannos, summoning twenty-three runes of Ruruk Soun in the air over the infinity magical symbol, completing all preparations deftly to control the mysterious rune that gave birth to dragons. This arrangement of runes was invented by Hinokagutsuchi then modified by Asya.
Anastasya Rubashvili was a master-class witch and Europe's former Shootdown Ace.
Her talent and power as a witch were flawless.
Indeed. Even when dealt a heavy blow by a romantic setback, she was still a true expert, fulfilling her mission perfectly—
Was this personality of hers the reason for her lack of romantic success, or was her lack of romantic success the cause of this personality?
(Looks like I should avoid bringing up my relationship with Haruga-kun for now...)
Thinking "I am so despicable," Orihime pondered.
(At least during this battle...)
Avoiding the topic would be better than accidentally provoking her, causing pandemonium. Because there were things they must do.
(Sob sob, I am sorry, Asya-san...)
While apologizing to Asya in her heart, Orihime came to a sudden realization. Her left breast suddenly felt as though someone was squeezing it tightly.
"What's the matter, Orihime-san?"
"Haruga-kun seems to be transmitting magical power over! The battle against the princess—"
"Is reaching a climax, huh? But given her personality, the battle would most likely rise to the climax right off the bat..."
"A-Asya-san, let us hurry and begin!"
The "groping" feeling kept attacking Orihime.
Haruga Haruomi had previously said, "As long as we do this mental training, even if we're far apart, I think we'll be able to construct a soul link!" She had angrily scolded him, "Haruga-kun, aren't you being too big of a pervert!?" and rejected him once.
In the end, Orihime relented with "seeing as this will satisfy you."
She had stayed with Hal, allowing him to train for a long time.
What Orihime cared more about was whether this could slow down the rate of his dragonification. But right now, she could clearly feel the touch of Haruga Haruomi's right hand.
Sending his magical power into Orihime's heart, through her breast—
"Let's do this, Orihime-san! O Rune of the Mother Dragon, let the blessing of life descend upon here!"
"L-Let the blessing of life descend upon here!"
Together, Orhime and Asya invoked the secret ritual for activating the Rune of the Mother Dragon.
Next, the ground below them started glowing. It was a solemn golden glow. Seen from overhead, the glowing infinity sign would be visible inside the crater.
"I am counting on you, Akuro-Ou!"
The partners materialized behind the two witches.
The blue wyvern and the white fox-wolf. The two leviathans roared bravely, unleashing massive magical power from the most important organ and mystic source—the heart!
This was a unison magic ritual for controlling the power of birth.
To ensure the ritual's sucess, Asya had already called out twenty-three runes of Ruruk Soun in the sky over the crater.
They signified "O restless dragon souls, descend upon the world through the mother's holy emblem"—
"Rushalka, as the vassal belonging to the Tyrannos inheriting the dragonslaying chain, complete your mission!"
The silver-haired witch issued her command sternly. The blue wyvern spread her wings wide overhead and emitted a mighty howl.
The solemn and rigorous spell looked like a grand religious ceremony.
Sensing their magical power, the infinity sign underfoot glowed with greater golden brilliance.
The surrounding air seemed to take on a golden tinge—A solemn scene had been created around Orihime and Asya.
"Okay, Orihime-san, you too!"
"Yes! Akuro-Ou, this is the crucial moment!"
Clearing her mind of random thoughts, Orihime focused on outputting maximum magical power.
From far away, Haruga Haruomi was transmitting powerful magical power into Orihime's heart.
Relying on the idea that "even if I'm not present, I can still imagine the feeling of touching your breasts with perfect accuracy", he forcibly linked their souls together.
(My goodness. I cannot believe he learned this technique through that kind of method, Haruga-kun is such a big pervert...)
Like the time when he grabbed her breast from behind, sending magical power directly.
Orihime could feel deeply the bond between herself and the Tyrannos of the bow and twin katana. His magical power spread throughout her entire body, and his strong yet gentle touch remained the same as always—
Asya was present, so Orihime decided to hold it in as much as possible.
However, due to the quantity of magical power sent by Hal, Orihime was experiencing unbearable heat. Combined with the stimulation from ecstasy and intoxication—
Her body kept writhing. Even her voice was about to spill out.
(No! Even though I am not Haruga-kun, I must keep my expression in check...!)
With the combination of Orihime, Akuro-Ou and Haruga Haruomi's magical power pouring in, the golden glow shrouding the surroundings became even brighter than before. However.
There was no additional change. Logically speaking, there ought to be—
"Our magical power is lacking a little. Really just a little. If only I could raise my power as a Tyrannos... Or if you promoted to Level 5... It might be enough."
"Of course, there was no guarantee this plan would go smoothly in the first place—"
Asya bowed her head slightly and bit her lilp.
Seeing the witch and renowned genius in chagrin, Orihime reflexively yelled, "Then please! Sh-Share your power with me...!"
"If we use that method, mentioned yesterday, I will probably—!"
Panic and fluster instantly turned into understanding. Asya rushed over to Orihime's side. Extending her right had, where the Rune of the Chain was emblazoned, she grabbed Orihime's left breast.
Apart from her beloved young man's, her witch companion's magical power was also entering her body!
A strong feeling shot through her entire body. Orihime finally cried out. Seeing her reaction, Asya nodded firmly and asked her, "My magical power has reached you!?"
"Y-Yes. Th-There is an extremely potent energy flowing through my body!"
"It is greatly arousing you, causing you to squirm and moan erotically!?"
"Ch-Change your wording, okay!?"
"What do you want me to say!? Orihime-san is squirming this way and that, about to open the gates of paradise! I can't believe that jerk Haruomi did the same thing to Luna and Hazumi-san too!"
Yesterday, after admitting his relationship with Orihime, Haruga Haruomi had proceeded to explain to Asya.
Touching breasts was only for providing magical power and strengthening their connection. Both Luna Francois and Shirasaka Hazumi had gone through the same experience too.
...All this time, Hal had not told Asya about this power up technique.
Was it because he could not bring himself to see Asya as a girl no matter what—Uncharacteristically, Orihime speculated, trying to probe the psychological depths of the young man named Haruga.
Burning in wrath, the genius witch unleashed a roar from her soul.
"Th-These are the breasts, huh!? These breasts seduced Haruomi, huhhhhhhhhh!?"
"Ah—mmmm! Asya-san... Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!"
Orihime cried out, but for completely different reasons.
Regardless of the process, the two witches' emotions rose to a climax. In response to their hearts, their magical power also reached a maximum, and a miracle happened at last.
Out from the ground under their feet—the Moon's surface—countless bubbles emerged.
Bubble-like spheres kept flowing out from the Rune of the Mother Dragon.
This was the moment of birth for pure-blooded dragons.
Something similar had happened before, but there was a decisive difference this time—Hal immediate noticed.
"Why are there so many...?"
He had heard that Raptors were born in clutches of three hundred or so.
But right now, within Hal's field of vision, it felt like the spheres emerging from the Rune of the Mother Dragon easily exceeded three hundred.
Hal used Quantity Calculation magic.
"Thirty, forty... two hundred, three hundred, four hundred... A thousand, two thousand—Uh, there's more!?"
This was human magic completely unrelated to the wisdom of Ruruk Soun.
It could instantly count the number of objects within sight. Normally, it was used in situations without urgency, such as birdwatching or researching traffic flows.
The result calculated by this little spell left Hal speechless.
"Eggs—These Raptor eggs... number over ten thousand? And still increasing..."
"Hmph. I expected the quantity to be impressive, but not this impressive."
"You expected this!?"
Hal's astral form was waiting behind the Queen that was wielding the crimson bow, looking down at the Moon.
Dressed in a kimono, Hinokagutsuchi appeared by this side. The two of the were floating in the abyss of the macrocosm.
"More or less. This is the rune used by dragonkind, a race without females, to produce young, you know? Compared to males, good for nothing except fighting, or females who had ascended to the dragon king throne like myself and Yukikaze, perhaps when used by females more compatible with that rune—"
"If your deductions are correct, my memories as a human... such as time spent with my mother, would have been long forgotten."
"So something that Asya and Juujouji have, but not you or Princess Yukikaze, huh..."
The result was the birth of countless eggs. One by one, they cracked open.
The newborn dragons were very similar to Rushalka. Lacking forelimbs, with a pair of wings sprouted from the shoulders, in other words, they were wyverns.
However, instead of Rushalka's blue, their bodies were white like Akuro-Ou.
They also had more tails than Rushalka. Not as many as Akuro-Ou's nine tails, but these dragons had two tails.
"I guess they count as the children of Rushalka and Akuro-Ou."
White minions with two tails.
At a body length of seven or eight meters, they were lesser dragons like ordinary Raptors. The newborn "little white wyverns" numbered in total—
"Forty thousand, huh..."
"Hmph. A ragtag army, but with such quantity, perhaps it might be possible..."
Forty thousand eggs had been ejected from the crater in the Moon's northern hemisphere.
Those eggs all hatched, producing forty thousand white little wyverns. One could consider it the gathering of a great army.
Seeing this phenomena, even Princess Yukikaze could not help but exclaim, "So many winged lizards...!?"
The princess had just been sent flying by the Rune of the Twin Katana, and was twenty or thirty kilometers away.
But Hal, who possessed both a dragon avatar and a mage's extraordinarily sensitive perception, easily noticed the white princess' surprise.
Hal immediately made his decision.
Now was the time to counterattack!
"Rune of the Bow, go!"
He ordered the Queen in dragon form to fire the bow.
The arrow of light was targeting the Moon and not Princess Yukikaze. The Queen casually shot an arrow at the equator of the Moon's surface.
Instead of attacking the Moon, his goal was to prepare a new weapon—
Hal nodded firmly.
The satellite known as the Moon had a diameter of 3500km. Humans called the dark part of the surface the "moon rabbit," comparing it to a small animal.
Right now, a gigantic rune had appeared on the Moon's surface, even bigger than that rabbit.
"A tilted half-moon" outlined in red—The Rune of the Bow.
"Luna-san, look at that!"
"The Rune of the Bow has appeared on the Moon—Harry intends to end the fight."
At Japan's National Astronomical Observatory at Mauna Kea, Hawaii.
Shirasaka Hazumi was standing on a lawn within the premises, pointing at the full moon. Observed from the Earth, the Moon was roughly the size of a human head—
On its surface was a red symbol signifying the dragonslaying bow.
Luna Francois Gregory looked at what appeared to be a scene of the white full moon bleeding and instantly realized the significance.
The two witches were not the only ones who saw this emblem.
Gathered at Mauna Kea to monitor the thirteen observatories, researchers from all over the world were looking up at the emblem that had appeared on the Moon, greatly surprised.
At this very moment.
Everywhere on Earth where night had fallen and the Moon was visible...
The Rune of the Bow could be seen on the full moon.
Indeed. This dragonslaying bow, desperately summoned by one whose magical power was second only to the dragon kings, was visible to ordinary people on Earth even without magical sight—
Gigantic and powerful.
As for the Rune of the Bow appearing on the night of a full moon, causing panic all over the world from speculating "Are the dragons going to launch a main offensive!?", that would be a different matter.
Right now in Tokyo New Town, there was an eccentric who could see the rune on the Moon even though it was only 3pm in Japan.
"What's the matter, Prez?"
"Don't tell me a real UFO is coming?"
President M was staring into the blue sky from the sports field of Kogetsu Private Academy.
The president of the UFO Research Club was endowed with mysterious senses. Dressed in a loose garment akin to a maternity dress, her plump body was full of motherliness. Next to her were junior members of the club, Mutou-san and Funaki-san.
Less than a week had passed since Pavel Galad's attack on Tokyo.
They were living together with other locals who were using the school as a shelter.
President M murmured, "No matter what, you guys lose if you go for a frontal duel. Because the key to this decisive battle rests upon how crafty you can go..."
Words of advice to her junior who was not present.
The Rune of the Bow summoned by Hal covered the entire Moon.
In other words, this was a grand spell that turned the Moon itself into a dragonslaying bow. It also treated the children born from the Rune of the Mother Dragon carved on the Moon as "arrows," a secret ritual to use the Moon as a gigantic bow.
There were forty thousand newborn white wyverns.
Each had the Rune of the Bow on their forehead, proving they were Hal's minions.
The wyverns kept attacking Princess Yukikaze.
They flew at the noble dragon king from every direction. Furthermore, these minions of the bow would self-destruct at close range. As soon as they got close enough for the princess to become caught in the blast, the Rune of the Bow on their forehead and the rest of their body would instantly heat up and explode.
"I cannot believe you are resorting to such annoying cheap tricks, Haruomi!"
Princess Yukikaze grumbled at the commander who was out of sight.
The forty thousand wyverns had turned themselves into suicide bombs, gathering around the princess to form a secure perimeter, intending to kill her through explosions.
It was as though Princess Yukikaze was caught in a mine field.
"Fufufufu! Do not look down at me. Compared to blazing fire and raging winds, I, Yukikaze—"
Infused with the power of dragonbane, explosions and flashes of light kept erupting.
It was hellish space. However, despite being surrounded by such a powerful vortex of heat, Princess Yukikaze's gallant and confident attitude did not change.
She accelerated intensely, flying deftly, dodging the shock and heat of the explosions.
Escaping the range before a blast reached her, instantly evading the next explosion by instantaneously accelerating further, then eluding the following explosion with godlike speed—
Princess Yukikaze kept repeating this process.
Dragonslaying explosions kept detonating in front of the princess. However, the forty thousand wyverns surrounding her continued to pursue, circling ahead of her, keeping the rapidly flying white dragon king in the center of the encirclement at all times. Hence—
Breaking out of this mine field would only happen when all forty thousand wyverns had exploded in suicide.
However, Princess Yukikaze remained fearless.
Simply by flying at super speed, she had already caused over twenty thousand wyverns to explode in vain...
"Impressive as ever, Princess Yukikaze."
Seeing the dragon king's approach, which was a little too honest, Hal could not help but praise.
There ought to be a better way, such as using magic to teleport, or deploy a defensive barrier.
But the princess' movements would most likely slow down the instant she called out runes of Ruruk Soun to use magic, thus getting her devoured in explosions.
"Simple is best. As long as she keeps flying around like an arrow, there won't be any openings, huh...? She is truly someone completely opposite of us."
Hal's astral form and the Crimson Queen were hiding.
They had moved from the Moon to somewhere closer to the blue home planet.
On a satellite orbit twenty thousand kilometers from the Earth.
Using telekinesis, he had gathered meteor fragments and other space trash such as rocket and satellite components to create an impromptu pseudo-artificial satellite. Lying on top, he then hid his presence.
Naturally, he used stealth magic such as Visual Interference.
"That being said, I did quite well in the fight against Pavel Galad."
Holding the bow and an arrow of light, the red dragon was in a sniping pose.
As usual, he used long-distance surveillance magic to keep an eye on his opponent. Since he could freely control the trajectory, there was no need to worry, all he had to do was hide.
"Since I have to do it, might as well go the whole nine yards..."
Improving on the tactics he had used in the Tokyo duel, he applied them to real combat.
That was his goal. The net of encirclement formed by the explosions of forty thousand minions would very likely be breached. However, he was going to launch his attack the moment before that, targetting the princess just when she was the most tired.
He never thought there would come a time for him to imitate a certain thick-eyebrowed assassin.
"I hope it'll work..."
Rapid fire was out of the question. He must strike the first time, one strike one kill.
Instinct told him that there was probably only one chance to hit Princess Yukikaze with a sniping attack. Besides, if rapid fire and a curtain of bullets could take Princess Yukikaze's life, she would have died in the suicide bombing encirclement that was like a mine field.
Thus, he could only fire one arrow.
He had to settle the match with a guaranteed one-hit kill, his fastest and strongest attack.
Also, he had to pour all of his magical power into that one strike.
"...By the way, I need to tell you this first. I don't think I'll be able to control my power very well, you know? After all, I have to smash her with a 'boom!'"
"If you continue to possess my gun, I might end up using all your energy."
Right now, Hal was in astral form, whereas the wand, the magic gun, was merged with the red dragon's body.
Residing inside it, the self-styled devil said nonchalantly, "Telling this to me is pointless... My energy is insufficient for sustaining my form if I leave your wand. Try harder."
"I will try hard, but it'll be difficult."
"Then at least take care of that Yukikaze lass."
This was the last conversation. In the end, neither of them bid the other farewell.
Whether this sniping attack turned out to succeed or fail, he would never get another chance to talk to Hinokagutsuchi—That was Hal's feeling.
But perhaps this suite them quite well.
"Almost time, huh..."
The Moon was thirty-eight thousand kilometers away from the Earth.
Princess Yukikaze was decorating the long path between these two places with spectacular brilliance. Wherever the white dragon king flew past, there were consecutive explosions like a comet tail.
Out of forty thousand minions of Hal's, there were almost less than two thousand remaining.
The moment before they were wiped out would be the best sniping opportunity.
"Let's do it, technique of assured annihilation."
The Crimson Queen drew the bow tight with her right hand—
The arrow of light was shot at last. The incantation of assured annihilation, "I will fire the sun-shooting divine bow at the sky, to exterminate the sun" turned it into an arrow that could even pierce the sun.
In that instant, Hal could faintly sense that the former queen was vanishing while he kept close attention to the arrow's whereabouts—
Above the Earth, in space at an altitude of thirty-five thousand kilometers.
He watched personally as the white princess' dragon form was pierced by the arrow of assured annihilation, penetrating a dragon's vital—the heart.
(It's not thorough enough, but I did strike the heart... The heartmetal.)
Through his super senses as the one who fired the bullet, Hal perceived this.
This was evidence that Princess Yukikaze still attempted to dodge the magic arrow despite encountering such an underhanded sniping attack. Hal could not help but shudder.
However, it was definitely true that the princess' dragon form had stopped moving.
Floating forward in space due to momentum instead of flying like a comet, her body was going to be pulled by the Earth's gravity and start falling sooner or later.
But before that happened...
Ten-odd white wyverns stuck themselves on the princess.
Then exploded. Exploded. Exploded. Exploded. Exploded. Exploded. Exploded. Exploded—
This was a final concerted attack delivered to Princess Yukikaze. However, after the series of explosions subsided, Hal was shocked when he looked at the princess' remains in space.
"Don't tell me—"
One of her two white wings and her left arm were almost about to fall off.
Her majestic body, extremely graceful despite being a dragon's, was covered with injuries, large and small. Her right eye was gouged out, probably unable to see. Clearly unconscious.
But Hal could see fingers of her right hand twitching.
Although weak, what seemed to be heartbeats could be heard from the heartmetal that should have been partially blown away.
"She's still alive? Is this a dragon king's resilience...?"
He felt a bit of relief, actually, could this be because he had formed some kind of friendship with Princess Yukikaze?
No matter what, by this point, it should be impossible for the princess to deny Haruga Haruomi's victory. Hal took a deep breath, wanting to exhale myriad thoughts—In the next second...
A lovely voice was heard from close by.
"So that arrow was shot from this far away? Fufufufu, Haruomi, you are quite malicious. I cannot believe you took such pains to take my life..."
Hal looked back, only to see Princess Yukikaze standing on her magic surfboard.
It was her human form, clad in a white one-piece dress. Hal instantly figured it out. Her inability to turn into a dragon at will, conversely meant—
"You can also separate into dragon and human forms?"
"Hmm? Oh, I was desperately trying to dodge your attack and ended up separating from the dragon body. Forgive me, my body is quite unreasonable."
Princess Yukikaze had candidly explained the reason.
On the other hand, Hal's laughter rang dry and hollow.
'No matter how many cheap tricks you pull out, struggling like a pathetic rat to bite the cat to death—'
'Your teeth will never tear into a berserk dragon king's throat.'
He naturally thought of what Hinokagutsuchi had predicted.
Then he poignantly experienced "Oh I see, so that's what she meant, huh?"
Staring at the loser in front of her, Princess Yukikaze nodded firmly.
"You are very clever indeed, Haruomi. Your tactics are good. Of course, I am not talking about the arrow. That arrow was at most 'passable' but instead—"
In sequence, she looked at the Crimson Queen, unable to lift a finger due to consuming all energy, and Hal's astral form, then grinned.
"That spell is more praiseworthy. While fighting with you, I was marveling at you."
"When you were fighting Pavel Galad, Haruomi, you instantly lost your human mind because the violent soul of dragonkind had devoured your heart. However, you applied wisdom and fought as a human to the very end this time."
"I simply learned from last time's lesson."
In that battle in Tokyo, the Crimson Queen's violent impulses had been unleashed fully.
The dragon body had absorbed Hal's consciousness, merging with the Queen. This time, he had used a little trick to avoid repeating the same mistake.
"Fufufufu, sure enough, your ideas are so interesting, Haruomi. Specifically, how did you do it?"
"If I simply turn into a spirit, my consciousness would most likely end up absorbed by the dragon like last time... So I asked Hinokagutsuchi—the former Crimson Queen... 'Teach me the spell that turned you into a ghost after Princess Yukikaze defeated you'."
"This is the spell that allowed her ghost to remain on Earth for over a thousand years, so I was thinking it might be useful, and I lucked out..."
Hal had poured everything into that arrow and yet his enemy had evaded it effortlessly. Hal did not even have the strength to fight back. With slumped shoulders, he muttered and explained.
"I originally worried it wouldn't work, but a dragon king's magic is truly different. This time, using that spell to make myself like a ghost, the wildness of dragonkind did not devour me at all. Though in the end, the battle still ended up reversed..."
"No, I am surprised you devised such a plan. Well done."
Since his body was about to turn into a dragon, ending up in a state like Hinokagutsuchi's made no difference—Hal simply took the plunge. That was how he managed to fight Princess Yukikaze so spectacularly. However, in the end, even this move failed to succeed.
Princess Yukikaze joyfully told the dejected Hal, "Then Haruomi, it is my turn to show you what is strength."
"I can fulfill last time's promise right away and become yours..."
"Relax, I have not forgotten. If you take this attack and come crawling back from the underworld—I, Yukikaze shall accept you as my minion!"
The princess' answer was as expected. Hal laughed dryly again.
Sigh, he knew things would come to this—He really wanted to shrug.
"The queen who lent you power seems to have vanished."
"Whether you follow her or not shall depend on your mettle. I shall not say farewell to you. En garde."
Learning that the self-styled devil had vanished, Hal was shocked speechless.
With a wave of her hand, Princess Yukikaze summoned nine runes of Ruruk Soun. Hal was instantly shocked to see them.
He had seen this arrangement before. "Purification of evil spirits."
A technique of exorcism for purging the likes of evil ghosts, spirits and wraiths from the world.
Inside Solomon's ark, the ancient witch Shamiram had used this magic. Under her instruction, Hazumi had awakened goddess power and mastered this ability perfectly.
At this moment, the princess was trying to use the same mystic technique to eliminate Hal in his ghostly state!
(Don't tell me Princess Yukikaze is also...!?)
A certain hypothesis entered his mind.
Princess Yukikaze was human once. Unmistakably.
Perhaps during her human days, the princess was like Shamiram, priestesses who summoned ancient leviathans. Furthermore, she had enabled her partner to awaken as a goddess...
Goddess power was able to control special spells such as healing and purification.
Magical power that ordinary leviathans and dragons could not use no matter what.
(On further thought, the first leviathan we encountered capable of using goddess power was the princess' minion, True Genbu-Ou!)
Only now did Hal remember.
But it was too late. He would not have the chance to use this information in the next battle.
Proof of this was the Crimson Queen—the red dragon that was his other body—whose heartmetal had stopped. Hal's astral body, essentially the queen's soul, was starting to disintegrate.
Hal could feel the spiritual power from the holy spell of "purification of evil spirits."
He could no longer think.
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