The battle turned when Inaerion smashed through the heavens to land in the hands of the one who deserved it most. It turned into a slaughter when six figures of light joined the seventh. It became wholesale butchery when a black-clad figure launched into the air on coffin-like wings.
Despite their craven master, the Fallen Angels still fought on with admirable courage. They reacted to the sudden change in circumstances with commendable alacrity and made haste to resist. They surrounded the new arrivals with their superior numbers, harried the newcomers' flanks with practiced precision, and hurled light spears into the gaps in their foes' defenses with steady accuracy. More than that, they fought with the strength of desperation, with the knowledge that the odds were hopelessly stacked against them. Even then, they still sacrificed for one another, risked their lives to drag wounded comrades back, taking death blows that were meant for a friend. In the end, they were soldiers with all the courage, honor, and duty that title entailed.
And all of it was depressingly futile.
The tip of Sandalphon's spear was a white-hot blade. He used it to scythe down all opposition, cleaving apart shadowy forms, amputating limbs, detaching heads from shoulders in great spurts of blood. When they sought to surround him, the Archangel changed the grip on his weapon, presenting the butt-end which was shaped like the yawning jaws of some great primordial beast. From the opening, holy flame spewed, retched out in a continuous stream, covering Fallen Angels in killing heat, entwining around them like the coils of a fiery viper. Sandalphon guided it like an artist would a brush, and created tornadoes of fire that sucked in his enemies and scorched them to the bone.
Raphael surged into pockets of resistance and ended lives with great, clean sweeps of his sword. The blade was a massive espadon that would have taken a dozen men to lift. It was an executioner's sword, made holy only by the one who wielded it, and Raphael spun the immense weapon in a one-handed grip with flawless grace. He split Fallen Angels in twain as effortlessly as a man would chop firewood, bifurcated twisted forms from head to feet, folded enemies in half with horrifying ease. Such was the speed of his blows that his foes did not bleed until well after they hit the ground.
Uriel fought with a jester's grin bright upon his lips. Unlike his brethren who waged war in concentrated silence, the Archangel of Retribution plied his trade with barbed words on his tongue. He exchanged insults with the foe, hurled abuse at them in between expert strokes from his flaming sword. Not a blademaster like Raphael, or possessing of a weapon like Sandalphon's, Uriel's method of battle was fire. Righteous, angry fire. Waves of it he summoned with mere flicks of his hand, pillars of it he conjured with his bright, burning blade. He turned the very air into a raging inferno and charred Fallen Angels into blackened skeletons.
Gabriel was shrouded in an aura of terrible beauty. She was a war maiden of unparalleled skill. A Valkyrie clad in silver plate. Beauty given wings and handed death to deal out. The Crimson Wake, she was known to her foes. The Red Maiden, angelkind called her. She earned well both titles that night. Her smile seemed to grow with every enemy slain, seemed to become more radiant for every drop of blood shed. She left behind mangled, disarticulated corpses behind her like devastated wreckage after a hurricane. Flecks of ichor stained every portion of her battle-plate. It served only to make her all the more beautiful.
Martial prowess was Michael defined. A commander of legions he might have been, but good commanders led from the front, and great ones fought side by side with their men. Deus Xiphos, the Golden Sword, was strapped to his hip, but he did not deign to use it. The enemies before him were inconsequential things, and the blade that could banish demon lords with a single swing remained dormant within its sheathe. Instead, in his hands, Michael wielded a simple light spear and yet still managed to outpace his kindred when it came to body count. There was no flair to his strokes, no flowery elegance or stylish grace. He slew the Fallen with clockwork precision, killed them with machine-like efficiency. Every wound he inflicted was just as life-ending as the last, every cut and thrust just as savage.
A ragged brotherhood broke away from the fight. They retreated and met the faceless helm of Melchizedek. Arcane lightning blew half their number out of the sky before they could respond, burst corrupted bodies apart like distended balloons. The rest took to ground. Melchizedek followed and cornered them against an outcrop of debris. He gestured and they became dark red smears against white plastered walls.
Metatron's brilliance shone like the light of a newly born star. Such was his luminescence that it became a weapon in itself. Those that strayed near him burst spontaneously into flame, writhing and contorting as vengeful heat stripped them of their flesh and ate into their bones. Their pain continued to exist well after their bodies crumbled into ash, yet this was of no surprise. The Fires of Sinai burned the very soul. Those that stayed away met the same wrath in a different way. Metatron's response to their hurled spears was to lift his palm up towards the sky. The heavens answered his request with swords of pure light. Like gleaming crucifixes they fell onto his enemies, descending on corrupted heads and twisted bodies in a killing rain. Those not immediately cut to pieces were pinned to the ground like grotesque specimens on a mad biologist's cutting table.
The Fallen Angels weathered this storm with the dignified grace of beings who knew they were outmatched. They resigned themselves to this fate and resolved to face the end as a warrior should, fighting bravely until the last. They fell before Raphael's and Uriel's blades with little complaint. They died impaled upon Michael's spear and burned trying to reach Sandalphon's. They were killed messily by Gabriel and turned inside out by Melchizedek's sorcery. They faced Metatron and were consigned to oblivion from mere glances of the silver, unforgiving mask. The seven greatest Archangels waging indiscriminate slaughter among them and they did not run.
They ran from Thanatos. They fled from Death itself.
The wrongness that permeated from the Persona's frame was a physical thing. It sapped courage from beating hearts, crumbled resolve to bare dust, bled dignity into an emaciated husk. Bravery meant nothing to it. Honor was equally as worthless. It laughed in the face of duty. Death was the great equalizer of life. It cared not for the traits of the worthy or the damned. It cared only that things died.
Comrades who had taken blows for each other now hurled one another into the grasp of white-gloved hands in their haste to escape. Friends who dragged each other to safety now fed one another into the skull-like jaws in the desperate hope of prolonging their lives. Brothers-in-arms who had fought at each other's side through grueling campaigns now abandoned one another to the cleaving sword in acts of craven cowardice.
They ran from Thanatos and Thanatos chased them.
Throaty, sickening laughter howled from the eternally open jaws as it followed them. The Fallen Angels were fast, but Thanatos had hunted life long before their existence. It pounced on them from above, bearing them down to the ground, where it tore their thrashing bodies apart limb from limb. It eviscerated them in midair, sinking blade and hand-like claw into vulnerable flesh before dragging out organs that should have never seen the light of day. It made sport of their suffering and killed them in the most gory, creative ways possible. Each process was different but the ending was always the same. It hauled savaged, brutalized bodies into the air and laughed in their faces so the last thing they would ever see in life was the leering visage of Death mocking them and their imminent doom.
A Fallen Angel fell heavily to the earth. His legs were amputated from the thigh down, cleaved away by a sideway swipe from Thanatos's sword. He dragged himself on two, gory stumps, trying to claw himself away from the fight. An indomitable mass of plate stopped his pitiful retreat. The Fallen Angel looked up and promptly ate a halberd in the face for his trouble.
The Knight Templar wrenched his weapon free and ignored the split skull spilling blood and brain matter onto floor. His attention was on far more important things, like the raging battle that was taking place up in the air. The warrior's helm was gone, as were the helms of his brothers, cast away so they could better see the fight above them. Scarred features wore openly awed expressions mixed in with equal reverence.
The lead warrior pointed his halberd into the air, where silver figures clashed with twisted mockeries of themselves.
"There brothers! This is why we are here! This is why we fight! God is dead, but His angels still live! For Heaven! For the Nephilim! For all mankind!"
His cohorts copied the war cry, shouted it out for all to hear. They surged forward in a wave and those Fallen who had the misfortune to land injured on the ground were butchered by Templar blades.
Dohnaseek had lost his wide-brimmed hat sometime earlier in the fight. Bareheaded, he made for a humble figure. But much of that also had to do with the look plastered onto his face.
"Glorious," he said softly as he watched Gabriel carve her way through a throng of Fallen, "Glorious," he repeated as he saw Raphael effortlessly lift a shadow-wreathed figure and break its back across his knee, "Glorious!" he shouted as he launched himself into the air, light blades clasped in each fist.
Mittelt followed him, cackling like mad.
Kalawarner swayed on her feet. She was just as affected as her comrades, but her attention was reserved for one particular figure among the seven. She braced herself against the ground before rocketing upwards, lance held high to skewer and impale anything that got in the way between her and her intended target.
The devils and humans she left behind blinked at her choice of battle cry. The boys among them shuddered at the sheer passion behind it. The girls sighed in understanding.
"Okay," Issei said slowly, "That was kind of scary," turning, he regarded those around him with eager anticipation, "Are we going to let them have all the fun?"
"No," Rias's features was set into a grim smile, "You have my permission to join in. Show them that we devils are just as capable of defending ourselves."
Issei whooped and from his back sprouted bat-like wings. The boy took to the air, one gauntlet closing into a fist, the other open and presenting the fat-mouthed barrel of a cannon.
"I'm not going to miss this time!"
The rest followed him, and the recently besieged made their wrath known to those who had besieged them.
He bounded over the tops of apartment buildings, vaulted over towering edifices of cement at breakneck speed. He blitzed across their rooftops and used them as springboards to launch himself further towards his destination. Honestly, he would have preferred flying to this primitive form of leapfrogging, but the nightmare of obstruction that was a human city would have slowed him down, and he could not afford that. Time was not on his side. Azazel had made that clear.
Kokabiel's betrayal had stung them all. Shocked them with the sheer audacity of it. He was not surprised, however. As a lord among the Grigori, Kokabiel had always been a sullen, hostile soul. The Fallen Angel's contempt for beings other than his own kind made him an unpleasant prospect to deal with and his glowering presence among the few meetings he chose to attend was not well received among his peers. Paranoia did not match well with logic and reasoning, after all. But that was what they had all thought of Kokabiel in the end. Paranoid but harmless.
Now it was clear just how wrong they had been. Kokabiel was not just paranoid. He was mad. Insane. That was the only explanation for what he wanted to do and the goals he wanted to achieve. And not only that, his madness had spread.
Kokabiel had taken with him two hundred Fallen Angels. Among that number was fifty of Azazel's elite guard. They had been Powers and Dominions in their past life, peerless soldiers of Heaven. After their Fall, none of their discipline had eroded. They were supposed to be loyal only to Azazel. Supposed to be. But now it was apparent that the maddening influence of Kokabiel had wormed its way into their minds.
For a faction that prided itself on its uniformity, this was a betrayal that dug deep. The Fallen had no Old Satan Faction or its equivalent. Unlike the devils who allowed power to congregate in the hands of a few chosen families and were divided by it, the Fallen Angels were united behind the banner of the same liege-lords that had led them countless centuries ago. There was no schism in their ranks, no break between sub factions. Not until now. The cracks that had just so recently surfaced were raw and ugly, and alongside the shock and surprise that came with their discovery was the undertone of anger at having been deceived for so long.
Azazel had been fully prepared to lead his own hand-picked force to bring Kokabiel back for interrogation and then punishment. Baraqiel had demanded the honor be his. Such a betrayal, the normally morose man had said, deserved retribution beyond punishment. He suspected it was because the man's own daughter was in the line of fire. Kokabiel's target was not her, but her master, but that was of little comfort. Madness had a way of putting everyone in danger, and he did not doubt for a minute the Fallen Angel would kill her if given the chance.
Even before his departure on this task, Baraqiel was mustering his forces. Hundreds to match hundreds. Azazel had lent his own personal guard as well, and from what he had seen before he left, they had been most keen to meet their treacherous brethren in battle. The irony of Fallen Angels calling Fallen Angels traitors was not lost on him.
As he leapt over another building, he could hear the sounds of battle growing closer. He could see it too. The horizon that loomed before him glowed with distant light, like the flickering flame of a candle. More worryingly he could see the tiny figures beneath him pointing, gesturing to the same light that he was hurtling towards. It was to be expected. Kokabiel was not exactly subtle in his methods. He would have brought his entire force down on the heads of those he sought to kill, and this many Fallen Angels congregated in one spot was impossible to ignore. Azazel would have much work to do if he wanted to keep his faction hidden from human eyes.
He bounded over the last collection of houses, and his destination was revealed at last. What he saw made him skid to a sudden, abrupt halt.
Kuoh Academy had always been the stateliest building for blocks. Its architecture made it stand out from the drab apartment complexes that surrounded it. None of that existed anymore. None of it existed anymore because Kuoh Academy itself no longer existed. Much of it was destroyed. Much of it was obliterated into rubble. Much of it was on fire. A few standing walls were all that was left, lone monuments of defiance amid a sea of debris. And all of that was an inconsequential backdrop compared to the furious battle that was being waged over its broken body.
He had to blink to make sure he was seeing correctly. Had to concentrate to make sure he was viewing with absolute clarity. Had to shake his head to make sure he was witnessing the impossible being made possible.
Something dark and heavy flew at him. He ducked to avoid being hit. It landed behind him in an inglorious splatter, what was left of a torso and a head, the top half of a Fallen Angel, bloody and very much dead. He frowned at it and then glanced back at the skull-helmed, berserking figure that had thrown it. The laughter that came from the monstrous head was rich with disdain, mocking in its contempt, and so very, very wrong.
It was then that Vali Lucifer decided that now was not the best time to interfere.
Once more, a figure fell from the skies. Like a comet it descended onto the grounds of Kuoh Academy and smashed into the very wreckage it had created. A body skidded across the floor, five pairs of broken black wings trailing behind it. The body was accompanied by a second, a figure encased entirely in luminous silver, and unlike the first, she managed to stay upright in their fall to earth. She rose now, her pinions stretching almost lazily over her shoulders. The figure below her tried to get up and was only prevented from doing so by the foot she placed over his chest.
"Down you go," Raynare said softly and plunged Inaerion into his shoulder.
Kokabiel howled in pain as the angelic spear tore into his flesh. It pinned him to the floor, this weapon, impaled him into the ground like a wriggling insect. The Grigori attempted to free himself from the holy lance and screamed again when Inaerion burned the hand that sought to remove it. A third howl arose when his tormentor twisted her grip on the weapon, and widened the already gory wound.
"Let's not try and do that," the gentleness in her voice was a stark contrast to the steely smile she wore on her face, "Can't have you escaping, can we?"
"You…" Kokabiel hissed, "…You would do this to the one who loves you?"
Raynare tilted her head to one side, the motion pure in its innocence.
"Have you ever loved me?"
"I have…" the Fallen Angel croaked out, "You must believe me when I say I have."
"You have not shown it."
The Grigori bobbed his head in agreement.
"Circumstances prevented me from doing so. But I have always loved you. I have always longed to hold you. To feel your skin pressed against mine."
That brought a smile to perfect lips.
"Ah, so you do love me then."
The spear was freed from his flesh and Kokabiel breathed a sigh of relief. He screamed a fourth time when Inaerion drove through the meat of his other shoulder.
"The humans have a saying," Raynare leaned against the polearm, pushing it in deeper with her weight, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. How many times have you fooled me, Kokabiel? How shameful would I appear to have you fool me one last time?"
"You bitch…" the Fallen Angel snarled.
Raynare's response was to pull out her spear and stab it into the Grigori's stomach.
"This is wonderfully cathartic," she said amid his howls and wrenched Inaerion free to do it again.
Uriel was first to land. Always a whimsical soul, he withdrew from the battle when it became clear that there was no more enemies to fight. The last few that remained were being dispatched by his brethren and he had no wish to rob them of their glory. The seraph drifted down and landed next to a figure whose wings were different from all the rest. He glanced at the utter ruin she had wrought upon her foe and chuckled.
"Archangel of Vengeance, indeed," Uriel flashed her a smile before striding over to her victim, "And how are you, Kokabiel, on this fine day?"
The Grigori growled low in his throat.
"It has been a very long time since I last beheld you," the Archangel stroked his chin thoughtfully, "but there is something different about you that I can't place my finger on," a few seconds of mock-thought later and the seraph's features brightened, "You've grown uglier since I last saw you!"
Kokabiel gurgled some obscenity.
"You heretics are always so predictable," Uriel sighed, "When you are on the edge of victory, you jeer and taunt. When you are on the brink of defeat, you curse and spit. The only other thing that is more predictable is your kind's horrendous fashion sense."
"I am… the Slayer of God…" the Fallen Angel wheezed.
The Archangel of Retribution grinned cheerfully.
"And that is very high sounding and mighty, but so far it has not prevented the many large holes from being poked through you."
Raynare took that as a cue to stab another in the Grigori's ravaged body. Kokabiel writhed. He did not scream because his throat was too dry from screaming.
"Thank you, sister," Uriel glanced at the new bearer of Inaerion, "for proving my point."
"You might want to stand aside though," the seraph added in, "Justice is here, and I do believe he is rather angry at our mutual friend."
Raynare blinked at those words. Then she saw what was coming, what was heading their way, what was striding towards them with vengeful purpose, and wisely stepped aside.
Without the angelic spear holding him down, Kokabiel rose. It was a last act of defiance in the face of the inevitable. The flat of the blade connected with his shoulder a second later and smashed him back down.
"On your knees, filth."
The Fallen Angel spat blood from the blow. He glared up at the wielder of the sword before the blade came back, this time across his face and made him spit teeth as well as blood.
"Here it is, heretic," the angel breathed, "Here is the death you so richly deserve," the massive espadon was lifted in an executioner's grip, ready to behead, "And I, Raphael, Archangel of Justice, will give it to you."
"I'm afraid I can't let you do that," the new voice prevented the deed from being done. They all turned to regard the newcomer, who despite being outnumbered as more Archangels descended, bravely pressed towards them, "I'm Vali Lucifer, and my orders from Azazel were clear. To bring Kokabiel in and I'm ready to fight you to do that."
It was Raphael who answered, a steely smile rigid across his face.
"Azazel? I see that my counterpart in this world was unsuccessful at keeping that one imprisoned in his cage."
"Or he has been incapacitated for quite some time," Vali said softly.
Raphael's smile grew far more ruthless.
Armored digits continued to lift the blade up, the joints tightening over the grip. Vali tensed, waiting for it to fall and the fight that would unavoidably ensue.
"Halt, brother," Metatron called out, "Let the Nephilim decide."
They parted ranks to reveal the boy, blue-haired, posture stooped. His hands were in his pockets as they always were, but that was where the similarities ended. There was a difference to him now, a smidgeon of emotion that broke the normal façade of impassiveness. None missed the slight drunken sway in his movements. None missed the faint scowl of concentration over his face.
Thanatos followed him, trailed after his steps like some demented guard dog. It snapped its jaws at the merest movement, the slightest perceived threat, and such was its gruesome presence that those who showed concern on their faces at the boy's condition dared not come near.
He arrived before the conclave of angels and the first thing he did was almost collapse. Gabriel caught him before his legs could fully buckle and tugged him gently upright. She gazed reproachfully at Metatron, her arms still supporting him.
"Such a state, your request, has left our young Nephilim in."
Metatron nodded, accepting the blame.
"If only there was another way. But you have sensed it yourself, sister. The absence of God. The crumbling foundations of Heaven. Put yourself in my place, and you would not have asked for anything less."
Gabriel pursed her lips. It was hard to imagine that such a calm figure had been a tempest of slaughter not moments ago.
"Some things, brother, are too much to ask for."
Metatron met her gaze with the conviction of a being utterly assured of his actions.
"Which is why I have not yet asked."
The boy freed himself from Gabriel's grasp. He staggered upright, and frowned down at the reason he had been called.
"What will you do with him?" he tilted his head towards Kokabiel.
Vali, who had tried hard not to look interested in the conversation, hesitated before replying.
"I imagine Azazel will seal him away. In a suitable prison. Cocytus, I assume."
The boy looked tired. Much more tired than anyone his age should look.
"You may have him then."
Vali nodded gratefully and moved to drag Kokabiel upright. He was prevented from doing so by Raphael, whose armored bulk interposed itself between the two of them. The Archangel's blade was still raised high to strike.
"You would let this creature live?" the angel whispered, "You would let this filth go free? He, who embedded his blade in God's back? He, who butchered Father in His moment of weakness? He, who wears his crime on his sleeve and celebrates it like some heroic deed?"
"He will be punished for that crime and more," the boy said softly.
"The judgment of Fallen Angels and devils are not to be trusted," Raphael challenged.
"They are not the Fallen Angels we know," the boy replied. His gaze flickered over towards Rias and Sona and their peerages who were watching the confrontation with wide eyes, "They are not the devils we know."
"The devils we know," Uriel smiled, "are far uglier."
"Far more blasphemous," Michael agreed.
Sandalphon's bronze-clad gaze covered them all with its sternness.
"Devils, not demons. We will make that distinction."
Melchizedek's featureless helm was tilted towards Uriel. The tone when he spoke made it sound more like a question than a statement.
Uriel crossed his arms over his chest. It almost looked like he was pouting.
"I meant it as a jest. It is not my fault when the mortals cannot distinguish the difference."
Raphael slowly lowered his blade.
"Justice should not be forgotten like this," he growled.
The boy shook his head.
"Not our rules. Not our laws. Not our judgment to make. Theirs. Respect that and let them have him."
The massive sword descended, not in a swing, but tip first into the ground.
"I protest the Nephilim's decision," Raphael grated, "I bow to His."
"Don't we all?"
Vali took the ensuing silence as permission to haul Kokabiel upright. The Fallen Angel struggled feebly in his grip.
"Come on now," his temporary custodian sighed, "You've already done enough."
To the devil-human hybrid's chagrin, that only seemed to add fuel to the fire that was the Grigori's madness. His eyes gleaming with maniacal light, Kokabiel began to laugh.
"I'm going to kill all of you," the Fallen Angel half growled, half giggled, "Your friends! Your family! I'm going to pull out their guts and show it in front of you! Everything all of you hold dear I will violate! I will desecrate! My revenge will be bloody! It will be bloody and red! I will stain this world in crimson and none of you will stop me!" by the end, his ranting sounded like the labored panting of a mad beast, "No prison lasts forever, and once I break free, I'm going to kill every single one of you!"
The boy's response was swift. His arm snaked out and planted a palm over the raving man's forehead. Kokabiel had time to snarl once before he started jerking, started convulsing. His eyes grew wide before they rolled back in their sockets. Drool flecked down from the corner of his lips as his struggles gradually ceased. The silence that followed was both gratifying and strained.
Vali raised an inquiring eyebrow.
"What did you do to him?"
The boy shrugged.
"Made sure he never breaks free."
He turned towards them, his waiting allies, took two steps forward, and abruptly fell flat on his face. They all cringed at the sound of his head smacking against the pavement.
Uriel craned his neck to stare at the boy's collapsed form. The fact that the Archangel's body had started disappearing from the waist down did not seem to bother him in the least.
"And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why you do not summon multiple Personas at the same time," the seraph smiled, "Think of the headache he must be suffering through right about now."
Thanatos prowled over to its master's fallen form. It heaved a disbelieving breath and promptly started poking at his body with its very long and very sharp blade.
He awoke to a dull steady ache in his mind. The pain was akin to a buzzing drone, and he had to blink several times to clear the throbbing haze away. His surroundings hovered into view, the imagery muddled and distorted. He had to shake his head to make sure they stayed there.
The white walls and clinical scent affirmed his suspicions. He was in Kuoh Academy's infirmary. That was a surprise, as well as unsettling. The last time he had seen the building it was in pieces and on fire, with Kokabiel's Fallen Angels floating above it like a flock of oversized crows. The feeling of disconcertment passed after a moment. They must have repaired the structure while he was still unconscious.
Clarity returned and with it came the knowledge that he was not alone in the room. The mop of red hair was the first clue. The fact that his hand was being held in hers was the second. He glanced down at the sleeping form of Rias slouched over in her chair, her head resting on his bed, and could not help but feel that something was wrong.
Slowly, delicately so as to avoid waking her, he extracted his hand from the devil's. The motion was almost regretful. In response, Rias made a disquieted sound. He hesitated, this time genuinely regretful. A small sigh escaped him and he let the hand fall back into hers. The girl smiled contentedly when their palms met and squeezed it with sleep-induced strength.
The pleased chuckle told him the third person in the room had seen everything that had just transpired.
"Sirzechs," he said.
The man's response was to drape the blanket he had been holding over his sister's shoulders.
"Rias's compassion for others sometimes keeps her from preserving her own well-being," the devil winked at him, "I hope you don't mind a brother intruding on what was supposed to be a private moment."
"How long?" he croaked out.
"Three days," Sirzechs remarked off-handedly, "Four if you count this one," the man's face softened, "You look like someone who just had the weight of the world placed on your shoulders."
He rubbed the back of his other hand against his lips. He was surprised just how dry they were. The feeling of wrongness refused to abate in the back of his mind.
"I look like someone who has been out for three and a half days."
"At least you are lucid," Sirzechs chuckled, "If you can say something like that, it means you still have your wits about you," the devil nodded at his sister's sleeping form, "She has been at your side for all of those three and a half days. The rest too. They have been quite worried about the state of your well-being."
"They should not be so concerned."
Sirzechs tilted his head to regard him.
"Should they not be? One regards you as a surrogate brother for what you have done for her. Another thinks of you as a friend for life. The most recent holds you in the highest esteem for the revenge you allowed him to take and the counsel you have given him. Even those you have not directly affected, they still think of you as a friend who can be depended on," the devil smiled mischievously as he directed a look at the one by his side, "Do I need to tell you what she thinks of you?"
"No," he said rather hastily, "You do not."
A few seconds of silence passed between them. The only sound that could be heard was Rias's soft breathing. He finally overcame the sense of dread that had been building inside of him since he had woken.
"What happened while I was out?"
Sirzechs seemed to be expecting that question for he promptly cleared his throat.
"Perhaps it would be best if I started from when you fell unconscious."
He nodded slowly. The devil smiled again before growing serious.
"The Fallen Angels arrived in force shortly after Kokabiel's defeat. Baraqiel led a significant amount of them into our territory expecting a great, prolonged battle. They were rather surprised when they were greeted by two devils, their peerages, and a group of battered exorcists. They became disappointed when they learned that the foes they were expecting to fight had become… indisposed by that time," a grim look of satisfaction spread over the man's face, and he was reminded that while pleasant, the being before him was still very much a powerful devil lord, "As for Kokabiel, that monster will be sealed away in Cocytus, along with whatever other punishments Azazel can think up," Sirzechs shook his head. Again the motion was accompanied by grim approval, "That one, despite his lackadaisical attitude, is still at the very least creative when it comes to punishments."
He digested that information and frowned.
"That was four days ago," he said.
He looked up to his surroundings.
"Four days is not enough to rebuild something like this."
"That would be Azazel's doing," the devil explained, "He felt very guilty about the entire affair. Enough to lend his own craftsmen to repair any damage Kokabiel and his forces had wrought. Even if he had not, we would have done the same," Sirzechs sighed, "The onus of wiping the memories of those humans that have seen the battle also lies with him."
The man must have noticed his disturbed look for the next question was aimed directly at him.
"You disapprove of this course of action?"
He inclined his head.
"I will not pretend to understand why it is needed. But taking away a person's memories… that is not something anyone should be able to do."
Instead of being affronted, the devil seemed quietly pleased.
"If that is what you think, then we agree. Unfortunately, it is a necessary evil. Humanity is simply not ready to face the fact that there are devils, angels, and even gods living amongst them. The knowledge of beings far more powerful than them having existed alongside them for so long would be unsettling at best and unnerving at worst," Sirzechs looked at him measuringly, "Mankind have fought wars for much less. And now it has weapons that can level entire cities to wage them with, two of which have been used on this very country."
"You are afraid of us?"
Sirzechs chuckled at the thought.
"No, but we are afraid of the chaos that would ensue. The Great War was pandemonium where vast armies ground each other into ruin. Add humans to that mix, and pandemonium becomes the least applicable word to describe it. The destruction would be… immense."
"You have thought this out," he observed.
The devil's reply was a thin smile.
"Centuries of living under the Great War's shadow have taught us the meaning of caution and the importance of balance. That is why all three factions are unwilling to upset the status quo. It has kept the peace and allowed us to thrive. There are some, though, that are keen to see this balance tipped, to see this fragile equilibrium upset. Kokabiel was one of them. His reason was madness. He wanted chaos so he could prove the superiority of his race. There are others in our ranks who seek the same chaos, but I fear their goals are far more sinister."
He caught the meaning behind the words immediately.
"You are implying that there will be more of them."
"All factions are innately divided," Sirzechs replied with a faint trace of amusement, "The Fallen Angels learned that the hard way. Even Heaven has their own sub factions. We devils are no different. There are influential members within our society who would very much see the world burn if it meant they could come into power," the man glanced at him, "That is why we must unite and face these enemies together. Divided we are but lone fingers on a palm. United we can form a fist to defy those who would threaten our way of life."
It was a curious euphemism, but he found he could not disagree. Sirzechs gazed down compassionately at Rias's sleeping form before continuing on.
"The battle was the proof. Kokabiel's defeat demonstrated that we can work together. Devils. Angels. Fallen. Even humans. Uniting together to face a common foe. Before, talk of a genuine alliance had always been curtailed by the naysayers among us. The messages of peace Michael, Azazel, and I sent to one another could never lead to anything substantial without the backing of our peers. They always wanted evidence, a sign cooperation was possible among beings who had been at war for so long," the man's expression was set with purpose as he turned towards him, "We have that now. We have the evidence. We can force the issue. Those who cling to the old ways can no longer deny us our right to unite. The Siege of Kuoh Academy is so much more than just a victory against a common foe. It is the hope we will lay our new alliance on."
He shook his head. The motion was heavy with resignation.
"Already the battle carries a title."
The devil chuckled at his expression.
"People have a tendency to romanticize what they think is impossible. News of this victory has been carried far and wide in the Underworld, and not only have you been mentioned, but the others as well. Their names are lauded among our kind," Sirzech's attention shifted back towards his sister. This time, there was a noticeable hint of pride in his gaze, "I believe Rias will have all the recognition she is looking for when this is all over."
"They deserve the recognition," he said slowly, "I do not."
The only other occupant in the room who was not sleeping raised an eyebrow at that.
"There is setting aside one's accomplishments so another may take the spotlight. Then there is this," the devil cocked his head to one side, the motion laden with patience, "Why do you feel this way?"
"Because I have interfered enough in their lives."
Sirzechs smiled at his answer.
"I do not think they would agree with you. Some of them may even wish for you to interfere further in their lives."
"You misunderstand," he sighed.
"What do I not understand?"
He hesitated, unsure if he should continue. It was the silence that eventually made him speak, the oppressive air that had settled making him confess.
"I possess power."
"A great deal of it," Sirzechs nodded before frowning, "And you are worried about that? Most people wouldn't worry about the power they possess."
"No. I am worried about what I will do with it."
The devil weighed his words solemnly before flashing him a smile.
"I was not wrong when I said you had the weight of the world on your shoulders."
"No one should possess this amount of power," he chose to ignore the jest, "No one should be able to do what I can do. It unbalances the equilibrium. It destabilizes things. I can hold it back, but it will eventually leak out. That is why when events happen, I try and not interfere," he looked down at the girl resting by his side, "It would have been best if Rias and the others did not discover what I could do."
"And yet you still helped them," Sirzechs observed.
"Because I will not stand idly by and watch as good people, decent people are harmed by actions not of their own doing!" he was surprised at the emotion in his own voice, and struggled to dim it, "It is not cowardice that is the bane of mankind! It is not hatred! It is not fear! It is apathy! It is standing by and doing nothing while others are hurting! It is watching people, good people suffer and having the power to help them but choosing not to! That is apathy, and it nearly destroyed us all! I have had enough of it in the world! I have had enough of it in my life!"
His sole audience did not seem to be bothered by his outburst. Sirzechs watched him quietly, waiting for him to continue.
"I have been fortunate in that all the things I have done so far has benefited them. My judgment has not failed me yet. But what happens when I make a mistake? What happens when my judgment does fail me? Great power can do great good, but it can also do great evil. And that is what I am worried about. That I will do something I think is right and it turns out to be wrong and everyone else around me will suffer because of it."
The devil regarded him for a few more seconds before replying.
"When I was first offered the title of Lucifer and the office that came with it, I nearly refused. As a champion of the devils during the Great War, it was almost expected of me to lead my kind in the peace that followed, and still I almost declined," Sirzechs chuckled at the memory, "Making decisions in the heat of combat was what I was used to. What I was good at that. Decide on a course of action and deal with the consequences later. Weighing them before making a decision was a concept utterly alien to me, and yet that was what was required of my office," the man sighed and stared blankly at a nearby wall, "When you have power over so many lives, when you represent them as their leader, your view of things is irrevocably changed. You can no longer be you. You have to become a role-model, an idol, someone who can make those decisions and appear confident doing it. I was not that person during the first few months of my reign. I was afraid of failing the people that supported me and I let that fear control me. I dithered over every decision, wavered on every choice, scrutinized each alternative over and over until I exhausted every outcome. I thought I was doing the right thing. Instead, I appeared an indecisive fool to those who elected me," the smile was back on the devil's face in a flash, "If you think the devil media was quick to report on your Rating Game, they were even quicker to pick on me. A war hero who has somehow lost his ability to lead. Now that is something the tabloids would love to gossip about."
Despite himself, he found himself smiling along with the man's words.
"I almost gave up, you know. I was ready to resign from my position. I am a warrior, not a politician. Still am. But a very good friend stopped me. She fought by my side during the Great War, and her advice was something that I valued above all else. She told me that a good leader does not worry about the mistakes he will make in the future. A good leader accepts that he will make them and does his best not to repeat them."
"That is good advice," he said after what seemed like an eternity.
"You think so?" Sirzechs mused, "I think so too. That's why I married her. So I could have all of her advice for myself," the devil winked at him, "Don't tell her that though. If she knew what I said, she'll start giving out more of it, and then that would turn very swiftly into nagging."
"I won't," he promised, then hesitated before speaking again, "Thank you."
"There is no need for that," the man laughed lightly, "It is the least I could do. I hope my words were of some use to you?"
Strangely, they were. The atmosphere was not as nearly as oppressive as before. It was lighter. There was less pressure to it. However, there was still a faint nagging feeling that something was wrong in the back of his mind, a sensation that made him believe things were not exactly right. He couldn't put a finger on it and decided to give voice to it.
"Oh?" there was something in Sirzech's eyes that told him that the devil was not quite as innocent as he appeared, "Is the feeling physical or mental?"
He had to think about that for a minute.
"Then I have no idea why you are feeling this way."
Again there was something in the man's eyes that gave everything away. A thought struck him then and he lifted the sheets that covered his body with deliberate slowness.
"Why am I naked?"
Then a far more pressing thought concerned him.
"Who stripped me naked?"
By his side, still sleeping, Rias let out a sudden, perverted chuckle.
Sirzechs saw the expression on his face and tilted his head to one side.
"If it is any consolation," the devil lord said brightly, "the others helped."
It was not of any consolation at all.
The next few days involved him trying to get out of bed and being refused each time. His caretakers, effectively Rias and her peerage, had made sure he stayed in the infirmary despite his protestations that he was quite well. They had been worried about his bout of unconsciousness he surmised, and were taking precautionary steps to make sure he was truly alright. This he could appreciate. What he could not appreciate was the boredom. The drudgery of staying in one room with nothing to do. Fortunately for him, his caretakers had the foresight to provide him with forms of entertainment, mostly books and other assorted forms of reading. Unfortunately for him, his caretakers had no apparent clue what he was interested in and decided his interests must coincide with theirs.
Kiba gave him an encyclopedia about swords. It was a heavy tome, its edges so worn that the leather was peeling off. When he opened it, half a dozen pages fell out. Kiba had explained that he had read that particular work many times. Many, many, many times. Koneko had the forethought to buy him an entirely new set of books. It was a shame they were all cookbooks. The petite girl had helpfully highlighted in red marker which recipes she liked the most as well as described their taste in color coded lettering in the corner of each page. Asia actually got him something interesting to read. A book about fairy tales and myths. He was grateful for the gesture. Learning about a culture's mythology had always been an interest to him. He would have been far more grateful if the former priestess had decided not to sit next to his bed and read out loud every story to him like a five year old child.
Akeno got him a whip. He had no idea what to do with the whip. He couldn't read the whip so therefore he ignored the whip. The girl seemed acutely disappointed when she discovered it lying unused by his bedside the next time she visited him.
All of these gifts faltered when compared to the books Issei gave him. That was because they weren't books at all, but magazines, and because it was Issei, all of them were of the lewd variety. The boy had dumped a veritable mountain of them on his bed and when he had asked, incredulous, what he could possibly do with these, Issei had suggested they bond over them. Bond. Over dirty magazines.
He said no, of course.
Too bad the boy didn't take no for an answer.
For a few agonizing hours he discovered that bonding with Issei Hyoudou involved pouring over pictures of well-endowed women and circling which one he supposedly liked best. The boy was patient to the point of incredulity with him. The pervert took his silence to be disapproval of the models in question and moved on zealously to find him one suitable to his tastes. Halfway through he gave up on maintaining his silence and grudgingly selected a few, a few, that he thought were adequate. Thankfully, Rias had entered then and stopped the madness before it could become unbearable. The devil had ordered her Pawn to put away the paraphernalia or risk losing it. She confiscated those that Issei had circled for him, however.
"For researching purposes," she had said to him, her face remarkably solemn.
He had no idea what that meant. He really, really, didn't want to find out.
It was with relief that he was finally released from the infirmary, and allowed to go home. It was where he was now, in front of the door, key slipping out of his pocket and into the waiting slot. The sound of the lock unlatching was like music to his ears.
He entered the living room of his apartment, saw what, or more correctly who was waiting for him, and his first thought was that such a stately being could not have been more out of place than in his humble abode.
A handsome face, wreathed on both sides by long, silvery hair, stared at him with an expression of infinite patience. It took him a moment to realizing what he was looking at. Composure defined. Dignity given form. There was a gloom though, that manifested in the being's eyes, a deep melancholy that permeated the very soul. It made the smile seem all the sadder, the gaze all the more dejected.
The figure rose from his chair when he walked in and revealed the white-feathered wings that had been half-obscured by the table it had been sitting behind.
"May I see him?" Michael asked.
He hesitated. The heavenly form before him noticed his trepidation and inclined his head in understanding.
"I realize you have been taxed of late, but nevertheless I would still ask for this favor."
There was a faint pleading in the angel's tone that should have never belonged to a being of his station. In the end, that was what spurned him into action. The surge of power came a second later and his room was filled with another pair of wings as angel met angel.
"Michael," Metatron greeted.
"I will not ask how this is possible," the Archangel's counterpart whispered, "I will not ask how it is even conceivable. The question I will ask is if you truly are him. That you are not merely an illusion. Metatron. The Voice of God. It must be made absolutely clear that this is not an illusionist's trick."
If he was amused or insulted, Metatron did not reveal it. The silver mask hid all, and presented its audience with only the frown etched onto its steely surface. The only emotion that it would ever show.
"You are right to doubt. But I am no illusionist's trick. I am Metatron. Metatron as he should have been. Metatron as humans would think of me. I retain his memories, his voice, and though my anchor lies within the Sea of Souls, I am not blind to the events of this world," the Archangel spread his arms wide, "If I am an imitation, than I am the most real one you will ever see."
Michael's response was to grasp Metatron by the wrist.
"Then I greet you as a brother should," the seraph's voice was thick with emotion, "Your presence, kinsman, is dearly missed among us."
Metatron regarded his fellow angel silently.
"Such emotion," the Lord of Angels finally said, "is most unlike you, Michael."
His counterpart smiled sadly.
"Ever since His demise, things have been different. Uriel is no longer the jester he once was. Gabriel has lost her warlike luster. And I am no longer the cold, pragmatic being you once knew. After taking over the reins of Heaven, I have learned that leading a kingdom requires so much more than just simple logistics and planning."
"Such a change," Metatron muttered, "His death has caused among us. What of the rest of the Seraphim?"
Another sad smile. This time, he could see the pain behind it.
"Raphael is gone from us in body. He was wounded grievously by Azazel and such was the extent of his injuries that only God Himself could have healed him. Now, without a means to cure him, Justice lies in preserved stasis, waiting for the time to be cured. Sandalphon was lost to us in the defense of Heaven. Your blood-brother fought just as bravely as you did, and many did our enemies fall at the tip of his spear. Raziel is dead, slain by our foes. Raguel as well. And that is only the casualties we have suffered among the Seraphim. The lower echelons suffered just as much. Sachiel is gone. No more will the Angel of Water grace us with his presence. Anuriel, Archangel of Mercy, wounded onto death by enemy blades. I would list more, brother, but the day would grow dark long before I am finished."
"I had sensed the loss among us," Metatron's voice escaped him in a low growl, "The erosion of our numbers. But this… I did not foresee this."
"Chroniclers from all three factions will say that the outcome of the Great War was a tie. That is a blatant falsehood. There is one faction that lost more than any other. Us. Heaven lost the war. We lost as soon as a demented son slew Father in front of us amid a storm of battle."
The silver mask regarded the unhelmed face with solemn gravity.
"Your words, brother, are stained with fatalism."
Weary humor lit up in Michael's eyes.
"I thought the same when I first took up the mantle. But centuries of serving as Heaven's Protector has made me see differently. It is the truth, no matter how differently I try and view it," doubt crept up the angel's handsome features, "Perhaps things would have been different if you survived. If I died and you lived, perhaps things would have been altered and Heaven would not have suffered this fate."
"You would have had me lead the Heavenly Host in your stead?"
"There would have been no finer leader amongst us."
"On that," Metatron rasped, "we disagree."
"You were the Voice of God. You were His right hand and beholden to every decision He ever made. You cannot deny this."
"And I do not wish to. It does not change the fact that He selected you to command His legions. Your pragmatism does you more credit than you imagine, brother."
"And where has this pragmatism led us?" Michael chuckled darkly, "To a slow, prolonged death. Heaven stagnates, and it does so because I chose to preserve it instead of fight for it."
"There is wisdom sometimes in choosing to retreat over fighting against overwhelming odds."
"You would not have done so."
Metatron observed his fellow Archangel silently before inclining his head once.
"I would not have. The death of God would have enraged me. I would have led the legions of Heaven into the Underworld itself to avenge this great wrong. But that would have been our end."
Michael's gaze was earnest as he stared up into the silver mask.
"And we would have followed you, brother, to that glorious end."
"An end is an end, no matter how glorious it is. Outnumbered, amid a sea of enemies, I would have led all of you to our extinction."
"A glorious end is a far better fate than a slow stagnation."
"That is not you, who is speaking, Michael," Metatron said quietly, "That is your regret, your guilt putting words onto your tongue. In your heart, you know you are right."
"My heart," the angel who was unmasked replied wearily, "is heavy with the knowledge of the wrongs I have allowed in His stead. I am not God. The things He has accomplished I have no hope of ever repeating. While I hold the reins, things slip through the cracks. Events that should have been prevented I have allowed in my weakness. Crimes that should have been stopped have gone unchallenged and unpunished in my reign. Heresies that should have been stamped out when they were first uncovered were allowed to bloom and thrive under my rule."
Metatron levelled a stern glare in his fellow seraph's direction.
"There is no shame in failing to live up to the standards of a god."
"Heaven does not need my shame. It needs God, and what it has received so far is a poor replacement. Day by day our numbers dwindle as more of our kind Fall and I am helpless to stop it. It is not our Fallen kin's fault. Azazel has long ago stopped trying to subvert our people to his side, but our population still suffers. Each loss is irreplaceable, and our struggling numbers cannot bear this exodus for long."
"One has returned."
"Yes," Michael sighed, "but she is one among hundreds. Among thousands. How far has Heaven fallen that one wayward daughter is returned to the fold and we celebrate it like some great victory? How far have we been laid low that the ghosts of the past being summoned is enough to inspire us to celebration?"
"Such defeatism is beneath you, Lord of Hosts. You must continue to hope. Salvation may be delayed, but it cannot be denied."
The seraph shook his head.
"I hold in my hands the reins of a crumbling kingdom, and you ask me to hope."
"You hold the foundations. The key. The towers of a keep may crumble. Its battlements may be in ruin, but as long as the foundation is preserved, a new one can be built in its place."
"That is the work of God," Michael said softly, "and God is dead."
Metatron's answer was a knowing chuckle.
"You say that as though gods have never been reborn."
The two angels regarded one another in silence. Michael broke the gaze first.
"I see," he noted that some of the despair seemed to have dissolved from the angel's voice, "I see. I thank you for your words of encouragement, brother," the seraph turned to him, "and I thank you for the one you returned to us in Heaven, even if she has her own… eccentricities."
He frowned and pondered the meaning behind that statement. Michael did not allow him to dwell on that subject for long.
"Your service to Heaven will be rewarded," the Archangel nodded at him, "I understand the devils have already given you a gift of great worth as a measure of their esteem. Heaven will bestow something upon you equally as worthy."
He saw the blades that were covered by a white cloth the seraph was gesturing to and blinked.
"It was not my idea to retrieve them," he said, half because it was true, half because he wanted to deflect the issue, "It was Issei's and the two exorcists' plan."
"And they have been suitably rewarded as well," Michael stated, "I have already given the devil Ascalon to wield as a token of our gratitude. Irina and Xenovia have also been given our thanks," the angel gestured once more towards the weapons placed on his table, "The Excaliburs that you and your friends have fought so hard to recover. They are yours now."
"That, my brother, was a mistake."
"You think it is not enough?"
"I think it is more than enough. I think it is a mistake because of what he has done to the gift the devils have given him."
The silver mask turned towards the cabinets in the corner of his apartment. Michael's gaze followed and saw the blood-red figurines placed haphazardly over a checkered board.
"You are using them as chess pieces," the seraph said slowly, disbelievingly, "Normal chess pieces."
"When I told them I had no use for them," he replied, "I was not lying."
Metatron made a sound that was half between a chuckle and a snort.
"The problem with the Nephilim is not that he seeks power. It is because he avoids it. Give him objects of significance and he will find the most unorthodox ways to use them. Gift him armor that will turn aside any blow and he will use its polished sheen as a mirror. Present him a weapon that would split the sky in half and he would use its haft to dry his clothes on."
Michael smiled. It was the first sign of amusement he had seen the Archangel make.
"Such humility is to be commended."
"Oh, it is not humility," Metatron muttered, "Nor is it modesty born from ignorance. The Nephilim knows precisely what he is doing. I fear, brother, that those holy swords of yours will soon find their way into another's hands."
"Perhaps it is better that way. Swords were created to be used. I have never understood humans and their fascination with keeping their relics locked under key and cage. It is better for the Excaliburs to be wielded in rightful hands than be kept away in a case and left to gather dust," turning, the Archangel regarded him, "I trust you will find the rightful hands to place them in."
He hesitated before replying.
"I have an idea."
He tried giving the swords to Kiba. It was almost refused.
"I abandoned you," the boy whispered, as though that confession alone would invalidate him for the decision.
"You came back," he pointed out.
"I do not deserve them," the sword-user tried again.
"Who do I know that deserve them more?" he asked patiently.
Kiba hesitated and glanced at the two sheathed blades cradled in his arms.
"He was already given Ascalon to use. Besides, he is not a swordsman like you."
"Akeno. Rias. Koneko?" the boy was listing names at random now.
"They are not swordsmen like you."
"Asia?" the devil finished lamely.
"If I give a sword to Asia, I would fear more for her safety than for her enemies."
His counterpart chuckled.
"I see your point."
The boy gently took the proffered weapons from him, as though afraid they would break once they were in his hands. Kiba gazed down at them in thoughtful silence.
"It is strange," the sword-user finally admitted, "that I am holding these now when a few days ago I wanted to destroy them for the sake of vengeance," the devil looked guiltily at him, "That was the agreement between us. Between the exorcists and I. I would help them get the Excaliburs back and in return, they would let me destroy one. But now…" Kiba stared at the blades in his arms, "…now all of that seems so petty."
"Vengeance is never petty. But sometimes it is better to guide it in the right direction. Those Excaliburs," he inclined his head at the weapons that Kiba now cradled, "in the end, they are nothing more than tools. Blame the criminals who use them. Not the tools themselves."
That brought a smile to the boy's lips.
"What would Irina and Xenovia say, once they know you called the Excaliburs tools?"
"I imagine they would have no complaints," at Kiba's inquisitive stare, he explained further, "I gave them both one each."
The boy looked disappointed.
"Ah, and now I don't feel so special anymore."
"I gave them one each. I gave you two."
The sword-user shook his head before smiling.
"That was a joke. You really don't do jokes, do you, Arisato-san?"
"No," he replied, "I do not."
Silence followed, with Kiba still staring at the swords in his arms.
"I still think I don't deserve them," the devil said at last.
"Then don't think of it as a gift," he said, "Think of it as a trade."
The boy nodded and shifted the grip on his new weapons so that one hand remained free. He made a grasping motion and in response, the blade materialized, straight edged and true, with the tip pointing down. The Nihil Weapon, in all its bare, potential glory. It was handed to him and he welcomed it into his grasp. The familiar feeling that presented itself when he ran a finger along the sword's surface was strangely comforting.
When he looked up again, it was to see Kiba shaking his head at him.
"It still feels wrong. Unfair. Two of the holiest swords in existence, two of arguably the strongest swords in existence, and both for an above average blade," the boy looked at him hesitantly, "It feels like I'm cheating you. What's more, I can always create more Nihil Weapons. You can't create more Excaliburs."
The notion was sincere, and he was honestly surprised that the sword-user had thought it out that far. It was a far cry from the cold politeness that he was first greeted when they first met.
"In your hands," he tilted his chin down at the weapon in question, "it is an above average blade. In my hands, it becomes priceless."
Kiba smiled at him.
"Perhaps I should have asked for more."
"You should have."
The devil sighed. There was something akin to amused patience within the sound.
"That was another joke. You really aren't good at this type of thing, are you?"
No. No, he wasn't.
The boy paused. A strange sense of unease had settled over his shoulders, as though the sword-user was uncertain of something. It made the ensuing silence all the more awkward.
He frowned slightly at this sudden change.
"If you have something to ask, feel free to ask it."
Kiba nodded cautiously.
"You can summon Archangels to your side."
"They are Personas," he corrected, "but, yes."
His correction seemed not to have the desired effect, for his counterpart continued to ramble on.
"You can command Archdemons to do your bidding."
He thought of Belial and marveled just how long ago that seemed.
Kiba was looking directly at him now, yet somehow was still avoiding eye-contact.
"Are you… Are you…"
It was clear that the devil was having difficulty forming the last words, but from what had been insinuated, he could very well guess.
"No, I am not a god," the relief that spread over the sword-user's face was almost amusing, "I just happen to have a lot them in my head."
The boy stared at him, surprised.
"That was a joke," Kiba said slowly, almost eagerly, "That was a joke."
Then realization sparked in his eyes, and the devil promptly lost his relieved look.
"Wait, that was a joke right?"
He chose to answer that question by walking away.
"Please tell me that was a joke!" he heard Kiba's voice pleading with him over his shoulder.
He turned and timed his smile impeccably right.
"I'm bad at jokes, remember?"
When she finally appeared before him, it was not in armor as he had expected, but in white, flowing robes. The fabric itself was near-translucent and just by looking, he knew it could not have been possibly made by human hands. On her figure, it fit perfectly and displayed all the right curves at the right places.
"Do you like it?" she smiled and spun around so he could get an even better view.
He chose to answer that question with one of his own.
"Why are you here?"
She smiled again, and when she next spoke there was a teasing tone to her voice that he had never heard before.
"Such an impertinent thing to say, Nephilim," she turned to regard her surroundings, "How things change. She considered this place a prison, you know. It is only now I begin to appreciate the homeliness. There is a certain appeal to it I would never have noticed if I had continued being her."
He frowned, not at the underhanded compliment, but at something else entirely.
"You would distinguish a difference between being you and her?"
"Should I not?" her gaze returned to him, "We are, for all extents and purposes, separate beings. She was a Fallen Angel and I am a regular angel. An Archangel," she amended with a pleased look.
He shook his head.
"You have her memories. You have her personality. You are still Raynare, and I would not have it any other way."
Something told him that was both the right and wrong thing to say. That feeling was only exacerbated when the sudden smirk developed over her lips.
"Hmmm. Perhaps you are right. Perhaps I am just unused to this new body."
"I am sorry," he offered, "I could only go on what I remembered of you. Some things are bound to be different."
"Oh, no need to be sorry," her reply was unusually flippant, "You got most of it right," she placed her hands over her breasts, "Except for these. They are a bit bigger than I last remembered them."
He didn't know what to say to that so he said nothing at all. Raynare took the ensuing silence to move closer to him, almost too close for comfort.
"You should not be here," he said in an attempt to ward her off.
"Oh?" her expression was curiously innocent, "Am I no longer welcome?"
"No, not that. You are the Archangel of Vengeance. You have responsibilities now."
"That I do," she said with a nod, "Michael has seen fit to give me some new duties. He has also seen fit to give me this city as my place to protect with this house as my headquarters. I will be gone for some errands, that is true, but much of the time I will be spending here… with you."
He blinked and chose to ignore that last part of the statement.
"Michael would do that?"
"I am the first angel to return to the fold in an age," she smiled at him, "The first Archangel to be promoted in centuries. He would not begrudge me the few favors I asked of him."
Once more he was speechless. This time from her sheer audacity. Raynare must have noticed his consternation for she suddenly started advancing on him again.
"I think she was beginning to love you," he hesitated at the sudden turn in conversation, and shuddered at the huskiness in her tone, "which means I am in love with you."
He swallowed and was suddenly very glad that there was a table separating them. A table that he noted was still proving to be a poor obstacle as the angel gracefully navigated around it. Raynare's smile grew as she noticed him taking a step back for every one of hers forward.
"If you do that," he tried to dissuade her, "you will Fall again."
"Hmm," she tilted her head to one side, "I don't believe it would work that way. I have already Fallen once. You can't Fall twice," the redeemed angel's eyes gleamed as she stalked towards him, "Even if I can, something tells me that this time it will be worth it."
He shook his head fervently.
"You still shouldn't risk it."
Her method of reply was to continue closing the distance.
"They say that the thrones in Heaven are built to withstand the ending of the world. I want to test that theory," the look on her face resembled a predator just about to pounce on its prey, "You can be on the bottom. I will be on the top. Together we can… examine… just how stable they are."
The suggestion was so blasphemous that it took his brain three full seconds to process it entirely. And when it did…
Nope. Nope. Nope. Nopenopenopenopenope.
Such was his disbelief that he did not realize he was cornering himself until it was too late. His back collided against the wall and the alarm bells in his head that had been steadily sounding louder began ringing at a fever pitch.
Desperate times called for desperate measures. He pointed to something behind her.
"Oh look, Metatron is behind you."
She smiled and kept on advancing.
"That is the oldest trick in the book."
And yet not an Entirely Useless One.
Raynare turned and immediately bent on one knee.
"My lord Metatron."
The silver mask regarded her on a rapidly materializing body, stern features set into a metallic frown. When the Archangel next spoke, it was with the slow, bemused drawl of a being not quite sure it approved of the situation.
I have been Called into Existence to Face the Accumulation of Man's Worst Emotions. I have been Tasked to Stand Against the Essence of Death Itself. And Just Recently, I was Asked to Bring to Justice a Heretic Who Called Himself the Slayer of God.
The seraph stared at her, the angel he had least expected to be redeemed, and his subsequent words could not have been more apt.
This is the First Time I've been Summoned as a Diversion.
She started with realization and turned to look at him with wide eyes.
By then, he was already out the door and retreating.
When he saw the door to his apartment was slightly ajar the very next day, he expected Rias, Akeno, or any of those who had not yet visited him in his home to be waiting for him. It was a rational assumption, and later on, when he meditated over the events that would eventually occur, he could not fault himself for walking in while ignoring the telltale signs of warning.
He halted midway through, one foot in and the other out, for who he saw waiting for him was not Rias, or Akeno, or even anyone he knew but complete strangers.
He observed a blonde haired girl play with one of his freshly replaced teacups. The smirk on her face was beautiful in all the wrong places. He watched a giant of a man rummage through his cabinets. The heavily muscled figure had found the Evil Pieces that had been set up for display. The giant held a few of them in his palm and regarded them with predatory curiosity. A man with silver streaks in his hair was admiring the Nihil Weapon he had placed over the mantle. The stranger was a swordsman; he knew this from the way the man carried himself, upright and erect. There were more of them, sprawled over his sofa, reclining in his chairs, but these were the ones who stood out to him the most.
It hit him then, the reason for the sense of wrongness that he had felt as soon as he stepped into the room. All the others had intruded upon him, that much was true, but they had always been respectful, even Michael, the real Michael, exalted among Heaven. They were guests in his house and they had acted the part. Humble. Polite. These ones did not. They strutted around his apartment like they owned it. Lounged around on his furniture as though it belonged to them. Went through his things with callous disregard. They behaved with all the courtesy of feral dogs being let into a new home. Dangerous. Treacherous. Ready to turn from obedient pet to rabid animal at a split second's notice.
The door clicked behind him and their eyes immediately switched to him. It was like being caught in the beams of multiple searchlights. The tension was so thick it could be cut with a knife.
Slowly, cautiously, he reached into his pocket and wrapped his hand around the grip of his Evoker.
A part of him seethed at this insecurity. They were humans, his own kind, and he could not give them the benefit of the doubt? The other part, the logical part, the part that had gotten him through thick and thin noted the type of looks he was being given and in response one of his fingers began playing with the Evoker's curved trigger. That same part noted another observation. A passing curiosity. That he was far more comfortable in the company of both devils and angels than with these humans. He could not help the smile from spreading at this irony.
Their leader was a tall, handsome boy with jet black hair. He extruded confidence, purpose, and ironclad will. The weapon that was relaxed against his shoulder was obvious in its power, unmistakable in its identity. He rose now from his position slouched against the wall and addressed him with the voice of a person who knew exactly what he wanted.
"Good evening," the boy inclined his head, "I am Cao Cao, and I have come to greet a fellow hero."
Author's Note: Alright! So I'm back from my vacation, had a great time, and thanks for those who wished me well! Updates should be back to their usual schedule, which means a chapter roughly two weeks. I'm happy that everyone enjoyed the previous chapter and hope this one provides just as much entertainment.
Now some of the reviewers have mentioned that Minato seems to be overpowered. I'm going to be the first person to admit that it's entirely true and that's because canon Minato is overpowered. Remember, this guy is someone who brickwalled Death from wiping away mankind, and in doing so, defeated a canonically impossible to defeat enemy. Hell, every endgame protagonist in Persona games are overpowered, and if you think that's bad, the SMT series goes even beyond that. Really, Minato and Yu are low tier compared to guys like the demi-fiend who would literally be running DxD Underworld in a week. What SMT does is literally cast power levels out the window, sets it on fire, then runs it over with a pickup truck.
Those same reviewers also express surprise that an overpowered character can still remain interesting and my response to that is a character shouldn't be judged on their power levels but on how they act, how they think, and how they react to the environment around them. The terms Mary Sue and Gary Stu have become overused to the point where they've lost their original meaning. Nowadays people don't like a certain character in a fic and that character is automatically a Sue. That's an entirely wrong assumption to make. Just being powerful isn't a criteria for being a Sue. Being flawless, being perfect to the point where the character can do no wrong is. Really, people are so worried about writing Sues these days they go the opposite direction to extreme lengths. For every Mary Sue there's ten characters that have been so powered down that they don't resemble their original counterparts at all. The cliché of "powerful character comes into a new universe and kicks ass" has been replaced with the cliché of "powerful character comes into a new universe but somehow loses all his/her power and has to gain it back" to the point where it's not even funny anymore.
I don't plan to do that with this fic. Powerful characters should be powerful. Curbstomps should be curbstomps. Real life doesn't have a Law of Equivalent Power where the weak are boosted up and the strong are deliberately weakened. Now that doesn't mean that every battle Minato fights will be a curbstomp. It doesn't mean every challenge he is going to face can be easily solved by summoning Personas. I'm not going to give away spoilers but I just want to say by the time this story ends, the bad guys are going to require Minato at his full power along with the help of every one of his allies to beat.
That's all from me. I'll see you guys next update!