He was not sure how Elizabeth had done it. One moment he was sealed in stone, his mind drifting in the vast void of nothingness, and then he had been here, alive, breathing, and confused. Then he had seen the white haired woman, staring at him with a sad smile on her lips. It had taken a second for him to realize, to comprehend, and by the time he did, she was gone, as fast as she had appeared.
He searched for her, but the location of the Velvet Room refused to disclose itself to him. He searched for the others as well, but like Elizabeth, they too seemed to have vanished. It was as though they had never existed in the first place. Not even Mitsuru's conglomerate, the Kirijo Group, existed, and that had troubled him most of all. People could disappear, but not a multi-billion company that spanned nearly every continent.
Reality reared its head. The truth was there to be seen. Steadily he came to accept the fact that the world he knew, the world he had died to protect, no longer existed. It had been a bitter pill to swallow. One could not easily forget the Dark Hour, the unending levels he had climbed in that accursed tower, the many faces of Nyx as he ascended to battle her. Sometimes he wondered if it had all been some elaborate dream, a figment of his imagination, and he had merely woken up. But then he would call for him, shattering his mind with the Evoker, and he would always answer, proof before his eyes, skulled helm bowed in deference.
And he was not the only one. Others came to him, some that he remembered as being his and others drawn to him by the strength of his Arcana.
They were the only proof he had. The only evidence that reminded him of who he was, what he had been, and he clung to them like a drowning man would a clutch a raft.
Still, life had to go on. He eventually settled in the place Elizabeth had brought him to, surmising that there was something he had to do, some task he had to perform before he could go back. When the months passed and nothing out of the ordinary happened, his hope had dwindled and he resorted to working odd jobs to support himself, earning enough to rent a small apartment in a middle class section of the city. His basic needs met, the only problem that was left was boredom. He needed something to keep his thoughts off the past life that he led, or otherwise his mood would grow dark and his mind would wander.
He solved that by attending the local high school, and despite the material that was presented to him was almost word-for-word the same as that of Gekkoukan High's, he still enjoyed it. It brought a sense of normalcy to him, attending this school, with the familiar chatter of students and the buzz of everyday activity. It gave him a feeling of belonging, and though the faces were different, he could at least pretend he was one of them.
And in the rare instances his jobs gave him time to spare, he would always find a seat in the school's library, his headphones over his ears, a book in front of him, listening to the same track as the sun set.
She reminded him of Mitsuru.
From her red, flowing hair to the almost aristocratic way she carried herself. It was an uncanny resemblance, and it was for that reason he did his best to avoid Rias Gremory.
There were differences, of course. She was never as cold as Mitsuru when he first joined SEES, and though that cold eventually disappeared, it still did not compare to the warmth of the President of the Occult Research Club. As far as he could tell, Rias was kind to everyone, compassionate almost, to a degree. She would reply to any student, whether they be freshman or senior, and help with sincerity in any task presented to her. It was within her nature, he guessed. Perhaps that was why she was considered to be one of Kuoh Academy's Two Great Ladies. He couldn't imagine Mitsuru ever displaying the same amount of passion, not in public anyways.
But then again, if she did, he probably wouldn't have fallen for her, and her, him.
He still remembered that bumpy, lonely ride on the back of her motor scooter, as odd a trip as the request that led to it. She had plied him with questions, and it was halfway through their journey that he divined its true purpose. He had answered to the best of his ability, and still the trip back had been awkward. He had succeeded though, realizing it at first when the Persona he could summon from the Empress Arcana grew stronger, and then a week later when Mitsuru cornered him in a classroom and kissed him.
It was that scene alone that played in his mind over and over again when he saw Rias, and the image pained him; dangling the one thing in front of him that he desired most, yet was unable to attain. So he avoided Rias, going so far as turning away when she approached or slipping outside into the hallway when they were in the same room. The memories were still too raw, too painful, and he did not like having them.
Unfortunately, his efforts at evasion did not go unnoticed. He was not like the other boys, who immediately went wide-eyed and became tongue-tied when the school beauty gave them a look. In the times he could not avoid her, he would at least give her a polite nod of acknowledgment, and focus on whatever he had been doing before. That apparently set him out from the rest, though it did not surprise him. It had been much the same with Yukari and Mitsuru at Gekkoukan High.
The frequent slips he gave her when the redhead came to talk to him could not be misconstrued as anything else but avoiding her. Still, Rias had not given up, and the more he avoided her the more she persisted in finding him. In the few months he had arrived at this school, it had almost become a game to them, with him hiding and her seeking. It was a game that required patience, and he was confident that he could win for he had patience in ample supply. That, and from the recent sour looks she would send him after spending a lunchtime of searching only to discover he had been in his homeroom all along, told him he was close to victory.
He regretted he could not at least be friends with her. She just resembled Mitsuru in too many ways for him to even consider the possibility.
He did not consider Issei Hyoudou a friend, though from the way the perverted boy treated him it was clear Issei considered him one. He had tried to make himself scarce but like Rias, the boy would seek him out. Unlike Rias though, Issei could actually find him, and long were the hours he suffered as he was regaled with tales of harems, women, and womanly body parts. It seemed that was all Issei could talk about, and he had a sneaking suspicion the boy had not a clue about what a real relationship was like.
He had experience with Mitsuru, and an inkling of what would have happened if he had tried the harem route when he announced his relationship to the rest of SEES. From the way Fuuka suddenly excused herself and the fact that Yukari would not speak with him for the next three days spoke volumes of how badly he had missed the signs. He had been so focused on strengthening the bonds of their Arcana that he had not noticed the inevitable feelings that arose as a result.
He had felt like an ass afterwards too.
He apologized, of course, and Fuuka at least had been fast to forgive. She required him merely to taste some of her cooking, and he had survived that only with some mild food poisoning. He considered that a victory compared to some of her more… exotic dishes. Yukari had not been so lenient. He had suspected she had liked him from the very start, but either had not the opportunity or courage to tell him. Ever since that day the girl had been noticeably distant to Mitsuru, and though Yukari had always made sure that it would never affect her combat performance, the awkwardness between the two still lingered.
Issei, however, was blissfully unaware of all this. From what scatterbrained ideas the perverted boy had let slip, it was clear that he thought that everything would come together flawlessly. It was as though he didn't factor jealousy, envy, or even simple human emotion into the equation.
He could not bring himself to hate the boy, however, nor dislike him for that matter. For all his shortcomings, Issei was still a decent person at heart, and possessed an admirable streak of loyalty. He would not leave his friends, no matter the odds, and he could respect that, at the very least.
It reminded him of Junpei, oafish and clumsy as he was, the Magician Arcana was still steadfastly devoted to his friends, and the obstacles they had overcome together merely added to that loyalty.
Nevertheless, Issei's constant talk of women and harems still irked him to no end, if not from the impossibility of it, then from the sheer frequency of it. He had been honestly glad when the boy found a girlfriend, happy that he would have some relief from Issei's inane jabbering. That relief had lasted for all of one day. And then Issei had come back from what was supposed to be his first date and from the stunned look on his face he knew something had gone wrong. The melancholy affected the boy for weeks, and for some reason their roles had been reversed, with Issei being the one to avoid him in the halls and actively retreating from his presence when they met.
It was a time of relative peace for him, but to his surprise, he did not enjoy it.
And then the boy had come to him, as suddenly as he had disappeared, anger on his face instead of sadness.
"What would you do, Arisato-san," Issei had asked him, "if one of your friends was in danger but your other friends said it was too dangerous to rescue her?"
The question had been so out of the ordinary, so unlike Issei, that he had actually set down the book he had been reading to give the boy a look of pure disbelief.
"I mean it was me who got her into trouble in the first place, so I can't just leave her, you know," the boy had continued on, unmindful of the stare he was receiving, "I know Gremory-san told me I shouldn't go, but damn it, it was my fault to begin with!"
What happened to the usually boisterous, cheerful Issei that he had grown used to- Wait, Rias? What did Rias have to do with this?
"I can't stand the thought of her suffering in the hands of that… that bitch," the boy spat out and he raised an eyebrow in response, surprised at the vehemence in his tone, "I need to help her right away! What would you do Arisato-san?"
He considered the situation. From the limited information that had just been dumped onto him, caution would clearly be the wisest choice. He told the pacing boy as much.
"You're right!" Issei pounded a fist into his palm, "I should be cautious about telling Gremory-san what I'm going to do and rescue Aria right away!"
That… was not what he had said at all.
The boy flashed him a confident grin.
"Thanks Arisato-san! I'm going to do as exactly as you say!"
And with that, Issei had spun on his heel and left, his gait so fast that it might as well have been running.
He had a sinking feeling that the boy was about to do something incredibly foolish and incredibly stupid. With a sigh, he had risen from his feet and after a backwards, longing look to the unfinished book still on the table, he had stepped after Issei, and hastened to follow.
The church he recognized. He had walked by it a few times on his way to school, though he had never gone in. That was about to change, however. The sounds of combat had faded, but there was still something fundamentally wrong about this place, this chapel, that it made his skin crawl.
He wrapped a hesitant hand around the handle of the door. The last time he had pried in matters not his own, SEES had been the result. But Issei was in there. He had seen the boy charge headlong into the church, and when he waited a good thirty minutes and the pervert had still not appeared, he had to conclude that Issei had bitten off more than he could chew.
Grimacing inwardly, he jerked the door open, and after a cursory glance of the surroundings, his suspicions were proven to be correct.
He saw the rows of wooden pews that should have been arranged in neat rows scattered haphazardly over the antechamber. He saw black marks charred across the walls, evidence of some great fire or an equally great battle, or perhaps both. He saw shards of colorful glass strewn across the floor, the remains of the chapel's many stained glass windows. And then he saw her, garbed in the robes of a priestess, chained to the crucifix, her head hung low, locks of blonde hair dangling limply from her crown. He saw Issei too, prone on his belly, body battered and bruised, lying in front of the crucifix and the girl that was bound to it.
He took a step into the chamber. It did not go unnoticed. Issei grunted and stared at him from the one eye that was not swollen shut. Recognition dawned in it, along with panic.
"Arisato-san! What are you doing here!?" he groaned, "You have to get out of here! Run! It's too dangerous!"
Dangerous? Then he saw the figures, three of them, clad in black. A bearded man, lounging against the church's walls, arms across his chest. A blonde girl who could not have been more than eleven, sitting on a table, dainty legs kicking childishly against the wood. A dark-haired beauty in a revealing dress, face set into a mask of boredom, draped over a chair. He knew what they were. The black wings gave everything away. And then the fourth figure had shown herself, and he suddenly understood Issei's change of behavior.
The Fallen Angel that wore Yuma Amano's face smiled at him, seemingly unperturbed at his intrusion. The gathering motes of light that slowly became a spear in her hand spoke otherwise.
"Die," was all she said.
The strike was been so sudden, so swift, that even in his heightened state of alertness it would have still been impossible to dodge. The spear of light rammed into his chest, passed through his flesh, and hurled him from his feet. He was dimly aware of Issei calling out his name before he crashed into the pews behind, knocking them aside and landing amongst splintered wood. That stunned him, and it took a moment for him to regain his senses. When he did, it was to discover that Issei's former girlfriend was gloating at the boy.
"Why are you doing this!?" the boy gasped out as from the spot where he lay, "Damn it Raynare, even if you're not human you still don't have to hurt other humans!"
"Why, you ask?" the woman's face was stretched into a leer, "It is precisely because you are a human! You are mere insects to be crushed and exterminated! You are nothing! No, less than that! Less than nothing! You and your shitty devil friends!"
He grunted as his vision finally stopped swimming. With difficulty, he stood back up, though he could not stop the slight swaying that accompanied the motion. He blinked when the smell of burnt flesh entered his nostrils, and looked down.
A fist-sized hole in his chest greeted him, faint trails of smoke emitting from the grisly wound. He blinked again, and then picked at it. Bits of cauterized flesh fell to the floor. Then, he shoved a hand through it and looked over his shoulder, discovering that he could see his own fingertips wiggling from the hole in his back.
"You missed," the young girl with blonde curls complained, eying him from her spot perched on the table with distaste.
He realized he had become the center of attention, and hastened to look away when Raynare gave him a thoughtful glance
"No I didn't," the Fallen Angel pouted, "I hit him," and pointed to the wound with an elegant finger.
"What are you doing, Arisato-san!" Issei suddenly cried out, his voice ridden with pain, "Get out of here! Hurry, before they can catch you! I'll try and hold them off!" to his surprise, the boy actually managed to half-rise before a long, slender leg planted a spiked heel on his shoulder and slammed him back down.
"I don't know how you survived that, human," Raynare cocked her head to the side, ignoring the struggling form she had effectively pinned, "You should be dead. I aimed for your heart."
And she had aimed well. The spear had incinerated everything in his chest cavity, his heart included.
"Oh well. As they say, second time's the charm."
Light erupted from her palm, and he could actually see it, the light materializing and shaping into the lance. She hurled it at him with a contemptuous flick of her hands.
This time he was ready, and dodged the incoming projectile, wincing as the spear hissed past his face and embedded itself into the wall behind.
"Not bad," he glanced up, to see Raynare staring at him with an approving smile, "You're much less pathetic than this one," for emphasis, she twisted her heel and beneath her, Issei cried out in pain as the spike dug deeper into his flesh.
And then the third spear had come, and he barely avoided impalement by rolling to the side.
"This is so much better!" the woman seemed ghoulishly pleased, and he frowned when he noticed that the other Fallen in the room were watching him with interest now, "So much better! Oh, why couldn't you been the one with the Sacred Gear? You would have made the hunt so much more fun! Poor Issei here just let me kill him," the boy in question let out a sob of frustration, but could do nothing more, "Can you believe that? The idiot just let me kill him! Just like that! It was so easy, but it wasn't fun! I want to have fun! I want to enjoy the kill!" Raynare raised both her arms, and where only single spears had been summoned before, now there were a dozen; gleaming shafts of light that circled around their master's head, "So let us have fun!"
The volley hurtled towards him, and he only had time to hurl himself behind a pew before the lances buried themselves into the floor where he had stood a bare instant before.
"This is how it should be!" the insane woman cackled, "This is how things should have been! Lesser beings like you should scutter and scrape before us like the insects you are! We are your superiors! We are your betters! We are gods compared to you, and we will judge you for your crime of existing!"
He halted. He had been judged before. When he faced the rotting, decrepit form of Nyx, and had been found wanting. When the Moon descended to Earth, and had threatened the extinction of all mankind. And when Erebus battered against his seal, demanding to fuse itself with Nyx to bring about the end of the world. He had been judged. He did not like to be judged.
He rose from his cover, defiant. The Fallen let out another mocking laugh.
"Stopped hiding, have we? Given up?"
This time, he did not look away, and instead stared back into the woman's violet eyes.
"Such resistance," Raynare whispered, an expression of pure sadism appearing on her face, "Such insolence. I am going to break you. I am going to make you beg to be ended. I am going to draw out your suffering until your entire world is nothing but agony!"
He felt the sudden stab of pain, and looked down to his shoulder, where a new hole had been created. He took a reflexive step back and glared up at the Fallen.
"Oops," Raynare's features twisted into a countenance of exaggerated innocence, "I guess I couldn't control myself."
The numbness that came from his shoulder told him his left arm would no longer function. No matter. He still had one more. And with that arm he reached into his pocket, fingers digging until they wrapped around the cool grip in a comforting hold.
He pulled it out. The woman's eyes shot to it immediately, and contempt shone in those purple irises.
"What is that?" her lips curled, "A gun? You think a mere gun will defeat me?" the sadistic expression returned, "I'll show you the true strength of a Fallen Angel! I'll show you what it means to be judged!"
He looked up to this stunningly beautiful creature, her cruel visage a mocking caricature of the girl she once had been, and he could not help but be repulsed.
He lifted the Evoker to the side of his head, the barrel cool and comforting against his skin.
"What are you doing!?" Issei gasped out, his face stretched into an expression of incredulity, "Stop! Put it down! Just because they're strong doesn't mean we can't beat them! Don't give in!" Raynare silenced him by smashing his face against the floor with a swift kick.
The Fallen Angel let out a giggle.
"Yes. Yes. Despair. Tremble. Know that you cannot ever match my power," she licked her lips, "Kill yourself. Die for me."
Still she did not comprehend. Did not understand the meaning. He would show her.
He pulled the trigger. There was an instant of weightlessness. The sudden splash of liquid chill entering his mind. Then the familiar sensation of power emanating from within, seeking a way out, begging for release. He let the feeling flow over him, a thin smile spreading across his features.
And deep within his conscience something came from the nothingness.
I am Thou, and Thou art I.
Its silver armor shone like the sun, gleaming with the exuberance of a freshly born star.
I am the Light of Humanity. I am the Illumination of the Soul.
Steel pinions that were more blades than wings extended over each shoulder, cloaking the figure in a veil of sharpened metal.
From the Fires of Redemption I am Born. From Thy Mind I have Come.
A frowning mask hid its face from view, silver like the plate that covered the rest of its body, but nothing could cover the sheer power that radiated from its floating frame.
I am the Voice of God. I am the Word in His Command.
The masked face tilted, turning to regard them with almost mechanical precision.
I am Metatron.
Then the sword, alight with righteous fire, materialized into its palm.
And I have Come to Deliver Judgment.