The sound of crossbows being readied echoed through the strange, labyrinthine place. A tall boy with a dark complexion and black hair. The lower half of his face hidden behind a large collar. Lime green eyes, alertly looking at them. A ragged cape over the Yasogami High School uniform.
Behind him a girl, her long blonde hair full of white flower clips. A scared expression, her eyes closed, her face averted slightly downwards. Over her school uniform, a yellow cardigan.
"Who are you?"
"I was scared, but *** kept saying that we need to go in..."
"I am *** and she is ***. That's what we call each other."
After school had ended, Yu was leaning against a window of the unused classroom, looking at Issei. "Is there a reason you've been avoiding me?"
The younger one looked away with a sheepish expression. Yu saw the lie before he ever said it. "I-I don't know what you're talking about."
"Since we met with Gremory's club, you've done your best to stay away from me. Why?"
"It's nothing." He had avoided looking at Yu for the entire time since the Fool had appeared to drag him into the room.
Yu sighed. This was getting strange. "You're a horrible liar, Ise."
For the first time since entering the room, Issei looked into his eyes. His expression was apologetic. "I... Okay, I give. I wanted to make my Sacred Gear appear."
…The Fool waited for an elaboration.
"It's just... You've saved my life twice, and I didn't want to rely on you all the time. And Gremory-senpai told me I'd need to concentrate really hard on it, so I was trying to keep to myself.." That was understandable. Nobody likes being helpless.
"And?" He pressed on when Issei didn't continue. "Did something happen?"
"It's just, well..." There was an edge of frustration in his voice now, tinged by another emotion, this one very like him. "Every time I try, I remember how her breasts swayed when she told me that."
The answer was so like him, Yu couldn't suppress his smile. This guy was one of a kind.
"Hey!" The indignation just made it funnier. "Come on! It's really troubling for me, Senpai! Those breasts just won't leave my head alone!"
Issei realized what he just said two seconds later, and whatever frustration he had felt before melted away as he gained a vacant look in his eyes. He let his imagination run wild. No wonder he couldn't concentrate properly.
Yu hadn't been able to laugh like this for the past few days.
"This is inconceivable." Raphael voiced his opinion. "This boy, this unrepentant pervert of a human being holds a gift from Lord Almighty?"
"He might have a better sense of humor than recorded." Ose remarked dryly.
Yu didn't deign that worth a reply. Neither did Raphael. The feline demon was amused enough to needle further. "Why so drab, friend?"
"We are not friends." The Healer replied sourly. "We are beings of the same soul, fragments of the same World. No more than that."
Their bickering continued and Yu ignored them and settled his face into his usual neutral expression. He walked over to Issei. He had the right to know this. "The fallen angels are in town again."
That got his attention. "What? Why?"
"They were sent to observe me. The leader of their faction, Azazel, came by personally to offer me a contract."
"...That's big, right?"
"I think so. Kalawarner was with him when he visited me, and she didn't know what to make of the situation."
"Right, the one with the great clothing sense." Issei muttered, once more proving the depths of his perversion, because he wasn't being sarcastic. He became visibly more nervous when he continued. "What will they do? Did you take the contract?"
In light of his previous interactions with fallen angels, Issei's trepidation was only natural.
"I didn't." Yu said, calming the younger one down immensely. "I don't trust them enough. Kalawarner and her group will keep an eye on me, and unless I get violent, there isn't much I can do. But Azazel gave me a few books and notes with details about the three factions. And about Sacred Gears."
"Oh." Issei unconsciously clenched his fist. "That's..."
"If you want help, just say so." Yu moved away from the window. "You have my number."
"Yeah. But Senpai" Determination flashed across his face. "I've been thinking. This Sacred Gear... People can sense it, right? So, there's gonna be others who'd take notice of me. Maybe they'll be like Yuum... Raynare. I... I don't want to feel like that again. So, I want to get stronger."
Yu leveled a worried look at Issei, whose head was bowed. What was he saying?
"I want to be strong, because..." His voice broke off for a moment before he suddenly launched into a different course of thought. "...I don't really know what's up. And I don't know why I have this..." He gestured in thin air, his expression a show of uncertainty.
"...Maybe there is no reason." This was something Yu honestly had no idea about, so he just said what came to mind.
"Maybe it's pure coincidence. I don't know. And I don't think anyone other than their creator knows Sacred Gears enough to tell."
"So what?!" The sudden spike of anger came unexpected. "I almost got killed because of chance?!"
Yu put a hand on his shoulder. "It looks unfair, doesn't it?"
Issei slumped. "Yeah."
"But that just means you have to make it fair." His head shot up to stare at Yu. "That's how it works. You have to do the best you can with what you've got." Seeing how Yu himself was someone who had already spurned the fate a goddess would have pushed on him, perhaps following this defiant logic was inevitable for him.
"...You... You really think so?"
"I think that it comes down to what you do by choice, not what happens without it." Because it were the choices one makes that determine the kind of person one was. He learned that lesson because of last year. Every step, he and his friends had made the choice to seek out the truth, looking past lie after lie. The other choice, the possibility to give in to those simple lies, had always been there.
A tentative smile came over Issei's face. "I... guess. Thanks. You're really good at this kind of thing."
"You know... Talking to people."
A corner of his mouth twitched, the amusement from before threatening to return. "It's a lot easier than you'd think. You just need to find the right words."
"...That's not easy." Issei gave him a completely deadpan look. "I'd be grasping for straws in this kind of situation."
Yu shrugged. "Have you ever been there?"
"Eh? Uhm..." He floundered around a bit. "Does it count if I help Matsuda decide on what porn to watch?"
Yu looked at him, not a trace of emotion on his face, until Issei drew back. "...G-guess not... Ehehe..."
After another moment of staring down the pervert, Yu continued as if Issei never said anything. "If you never did something like this, how would you know what your performance would be like?"
"...I don't know...?" The pervert responded with a thoughtful countenance.
"Heh, guess so." Although his expression became sheepish, Yu could see another emotion glimmer across Issei's face. The Fool smiled. Good.
"Anything else you want to talk about?"
"No, not really. But Senpai, I'll keep trying with my Sacred Gear. And when I've got it, I'll repay you!" With a big smile, Issei clenched a fist.
Yu smiled again. "I'll be looking forward to it." He walked to the door. " But if you need any help, don't hesitate to ask. There's no point in running into trouble alone because of your pride."
Considering he did pretty much just that when he rescued Issei, it might be a tad hypocritical to say that. Then again, Yu was strong, and he hadn't been sure whom he could have trusted. The latter was still a problem, but maybe some steps could be made to solve that issue.
"Right. What are you going to do now?"
"I have a meeting with the Student Council President."
Yu had stopped wondering about it quickly, but Kuoh Academy really was a ridiculously high-class school. The architects of the building had put a monumental effort into making it look like something out of another century. He, admittedly, didn't know much about architecture, but the place seemed to belong into older times – older times on the European continent.
Whoever was responsible for the place must have had money to spare. A number of things had reached the point of being completely unnecessary.
The Student Council Room was an example of such things. The desks seemed to have been made from expensive woods while the ground was nearly sparkling, so clean was it. The couch he was sitting on also looked like a rather high-class piece of furniture. All in all, the Student Council Room really seemed like a step up from the rest of the school's interior, just like the clubroom of Gremory.
Now, what could possibly be the connection between those two groups?
Yu thought about that as he waited for the Kaichou to appear. And he wondered why she had asked for this meeting. With a glance at the present members of the Student Council, he could find one possible answer to both questions. They were devils, each and every one of them. The conclusion that Shitori Sona was also one seemed rather obvious.
Now, he considered the fact that Rias and Sona were known to be friends. He suspected, unless all his impressions of Rias had been wrong, that the two of them would talk about noteworthy people. Like him.
One of the devils, this one with brown hair in braids – Kusaka Reya, if he remembered right – put down a steaming hot tea cup in front of him. "I'm sorry about this, Narukami-senpai. I don't know what came up, but Kaichou wouldn't make you wait if it wasn't important."
He leaned forward and took the cup. "Don't worry, Kusaka-san. I understand." There was another reason he could think of. That little incident with the Kendo club from shortly before he discovered the new level of his powers...
The voice he heard from one of the desks tried a whisper – but he still heard the other male student present quite clearly. "Not sure why Kaichou wanted to meet him."
A female voice, just as badly suppressed answered. "Don't you remember, Gen-chan? You know..."
Yu pinched the bridge of his nose, feeling a hint of irritation. He knew it would come up again. Of course an institution of Kuoh's renown would investigate such overt events. If anything, he was surprised that it took so long. But why the Student Council would handle this instead of a teacher...
"It's still weird. And why now? He's the only one who hasn't been interviewed yet."
"You don't sound thrilled about me being here." Yu looked over his shoulder at the blonde boy behind a desk, who gave a 'deer in the headlights' expression. "Is there any particular reason for that?"
"Eh? Well, uh, you know..." He fished for words, only for the white-haired girl beside him to come to his rescue.
"Please don't take what Gen-chan said seriously. He can be a bit abrasive at times."
The Fool gave a half-smile. "I'm just curious. And I didn't catch your names."
"I'm Hanakai Momo, second-year student. This is Saji Genshirou, also a second-year."
He looked over the fourth and last present member of the Student Council. "Meguri Tomoe, same year." She seemed amused for some reason. "And I'm sorry for my friends. They don't really get the meaning of subtlety."
"That's not fair, Tomoe-san!"
He shook his head. Their interplay was funny, in a way that only really came to be by spending a lot of time with each other.
Further shenanigans were prevented by the door opening, and the Student Council President entering. Sona held a folder in her hand, frowning a bit. The frown faded when she looked at him, replaced by a strict expression. "Hello, Narukami-san. I apologize for the wait, even though I made you come here."
"Don't worry about it, Kaichou."
She walked over to what must have been her desk and put the folder down, before taking a seat on the couch opposite his own. "Thank you. However, I still made you wait because of what turned out to be a minor disagreement."
He shrugged. "That's better than something serious happening."
A hint of approval showed on her face. "Quite so. Ah, thank you, Kusaka-san." She took the offered tea cup.
Yu reminded himself of what he knew about her. The Student Council President was renowned for a strict, but reasonable policy. Few students had anything bad to say about her. She was the third-most popular student of Kuoh, right after Rias and Akeno. Not to mention being one of, if not the most intelligent student of the school
"I believe you know why I asked you here."
"Does it have something to do with the Kendo Club?" As Sona's underlings already mentioned it, this question wasn't hard to answer.
"Yes. More directly, it concerns the incident where the club, aided by you, ended up fighting a local group of delinquents. Could you please give us your version of the events leading up to this alteration?" There was neither accusation nor approval in her voice. As far as he could tell, she was preserving her judgment. She held a small notebook, ready to write down the information he was about to divulge.
"Let's see..." He took a sip from the tea while gathering his thoughts. "Three days before the fight, I saw a guy from another school try and convince a girl from Kuoh Academy to come with him in the residential district where I live. She told him 'no' repeatedly, but he persisted. I interfered when he tried to grab her arm and force her to go along. After some grandstanding and threats, he ran away. The girl turned out to be from the middle school section."
After another sip of tea Yu continued. "She introduced herself as Murayama Haruka. She recognized me by name because her sister Murayama Mika has tried persistently to scout me for the Kendo club. I escorted her home, in case the delinquent tried anything on the way back, and advised her not to go out alone for the next few days."
"As far as I know, nothing much happened until three days later. On my way back home after school, I came across Haruka-san, who was rather out of it, mumbling about her sister and a gang. When she recognized me, she told me that the gang of that guy was trying to get back at me, and that the Kendo club interfered on my behalf."
"Do you know why they did that?"
"The older Murayama at least, did it out of gratitude. And most of the club still consists of girls, who are all rather close due to... some incidents."
"That's probably the nicest way of describing the Perverted Trio I've ever heard." He wasn't sure who of the girls behind him said that, but he couldn't deny the truth in that statement.
"Moving on, I considered calling the police, but Haruka-san begged me not to. Later, I found out that someone in the gang had threatened the Kendo club members thoroughly so they wouldn't involve any authorities, although nobody told me with what. So I did the next best thing and met up with them to help in the fight."
He shrugged. "We beat them down well enough, with just some light injuries for some of the club members." She had only asked for the events up to the confrontation. Plus, the actual chain of events after that point got far too confusing for a proper description.
Sona nodded, her strict expression unwavering. "That lines up with the picture my interviews with the Kendo club, as well as the younger Murayama, painted."
"Will there be any repercussions for this?"
"...No, nothing of the sort. As you may know, the police was informed of the events afterward, and launched into an investigation. The delinquents' hideout contained enough illegal material to keep them locked away for a long time. The school administration struck a deal with the police that the investigation into our school would be led by them."
"Pretty powerful administration. And why are you interviewing me only now? Or rather, why is the Student Council so involved?"
Her nod seemed to be appreciative of the questions. "I had intended to do this earlier, but other events got in the way. Events concerning you. As for why us... I'll explain later."
...Ah. His first meeting with Kalawarner. Looks like it had some more effects he couldn't foresee.
After some further clarifications, Sona put down her notebook and dispensed her judgment.
"While I cannot condone your acting on your own, I see little reason to admonish you for taking the best course you saw available at the time."
"Thank you." Neutrality was the best he could expect from her. Someone who followed rules as much as she did could not possibly say something positive about his choice.
"With that settled, Narukami-san, perhaps we could talk about another matter?"
He could guess what she meant by that. And since nobody but him in the room was human...
"Does this have to do with the supernatural side of things?"
"Correct." She nodded again, pleased by the directness. "I would like to introduce myself formally. Sona Sitri, heiress of the house of Sitri, one of the 72 pillars of the Underworld. The entire Student Council consists of my peerage, as you may have suspected. It is also the reason we are spearheading this investigation: By then, we picked up on the fact that there was something out of normal about you, so we chose to take over, for the sake of security."
Good reasoning. They couldn't have let an unknown factor like him alone like that. It would have been irresponsible, and that was a word nobody could possibly use to describe Sona.
"Then... Narukami Yu. Human with a very rare ability outside of what you call God's System."
Sona' face shifted to a look of surprise. "Outside the system... Certainly, there are some abilities like that accessible to humankind, but none of those I know would allow you to do what you have done so far."
"Azazel's notes said as much." There wasn't that much in them, though. Half a dozen or so sightings of people who may have had a Persona throughout the times, a short list of abilities they displayed, a number of theories, none of them hitting the mark...
Not even the name was known. Or had been. If the devils and fallen angels cooperated on this as indicated, then he probably knew by now. Well, maybe those books would be more helpful in getting a grip on the situation.
Yu smiled thinly. "He was pretty forthcoming with information."
"Rias mentioned a contract he offered you, but did he really give you additional information?"
"His underling tried to kill me. If he wanted my cooperation, he had to give me something."
"And knowledge is power." Sona inlcined her head. "Adding in your reluctance to join a peerage, and thus a group, giving you the means to decide for yourself is the best way to gain your goodwill."
"That's pretty much what I gathered from his actions." Yu agreed easily, after emptying his tea cup. "Can I have some more tea?"
"Of course." Reya refilled his cup.
"Your interactions with Rias made your position on peerage quite clear, so I won't test your patience by offering you the same. But perhaps you would sate my curiosity on why you're so reluctant?"
He wanted to make an effort to get along with the devils at school anyway, so... "I don't actually see a problem with people choosing this." At seeing her puzzled expression, he tried something different. "I can understand if people want to become devils. It doesn't even sound like a bad deal, as long as the King of their peerage is a decent person. The advantages are undeniable."
"But?" Sona prodded.
Hm. This was actually kind of difficult to put into words. The simplest part was that he didn't want to be a devil, Persona or not. The deeper reasons were a good deal more complicated. He was stumped for words on this matter, which showed on his face.
He continued slowly. "But... Well, events in the past showed me something. And I want to know what can become of it. I'm sorry I can't get any clearer, but to find out, I have to stay human."
What he'd seen after Izanami's defeat... That was the true form of the world within human hearts. That was something he didn't want to give up, no matter what.
And somehow, deep inside, he knew this would be important. That feeling, that instinct... He would follow it. It was that same feeling that let him discern the final truth, the identity of the real culprit.
Apparently, Sona noticed his problem to some extent, because when she spoke next, there was some sort of acceptance in her eyes. "I see. Prying on such a sensitive matter would be impolite, so let us rest the case. Instead" The Student Council President gestured towards Reya, who... Oho. A chessboard. She placed it on the table between Sona and Yu. "perhaps you'd care for a match?"
"Chess... You're supposed to be the best at school."
She inclined her head. "There are few even in the Underworld who are as good as me. Chess has become a favored pastime among devils, you see."
"Your advantage, then." Impressive. Very impressive. "But, if it's just a friendly game, I can't see the harm. And being pitted against another person can tell you so much about them."
Sona found her expectations for Narukami Yu largely fulfilled. His account of the incident with the Kendo club fit into the picture that had been painted by the other interviews they had. She hadn't thought it would be any different, and since he was apparently used to much more dangerous events, she suspected any warning words would have hardly any effect.
While normally, that wouldn't stop her, his supernatural abilities and downright reckless rescue of Hyoudou Issei convinced her to let it rest. Instead, she focused on creating a favorable relationship with him. Peerage was out of question, so she would follow a much less invasive plan, one that would offer him advantages as well.
Playing a round of chess with him would help her take his measure, as he himself deduced. So they were on the same page in doing so.
But to be honest, she wasn't sure she would have approached him like this without knowledge on how he reacted to less straightforward measures.
So far, their little game has gone in her favor. She lost only two pawns, a knight and a rook, while he lost seven pawns, a bishop, a knight and a rook.
Still, he was keeping up well, if one took into account the vastly different levels of experience.
"Rias told me about the few times you actually conversed." She moved her knight, getting into position to take out his queen. It would be a necessary sacrifice to end the game in three turns after his loss.
"What about it?" Hm. The impending attack wasn't difficult to find, but why would he only get ready to avenge his queen with a bishop, instead of trying to save her?
"There is one thing she hasn't mentioned so far." She would have to be careful about that. Her rook was put in position as well. Now, what would he do...
Clever. "And what is that?" She hadn't expected him to move his pawn now of all times. Either she abandoned her offense to prevent it from promoting, or she continued to take out one queen only to deal with another.
"Contracting." The new queen would be able to move from a very dangerous position. She would have to abandon her attack and take the safer route. "Devils gain prestige by making contracts with humans." Her bishop took out the last pawn, at the cost of her net around his queen unraveling.
He jumped at the chance and moved his queen to... Yes, that would have been her idea as well. She would lose either her last rook or a bishop now. And she wouldn't be able to use her queen, since moving her would expose her king to his rook. "How do your contracts work?"
"If a person summons us, we listen to their wish and determine what it would cost them. The price is different from person to person, and can range from money, to items, knowledge, or even favors. Souls, however have fallen out of favor with the current generation of Maou." Losing the bishop would be painful, but not crippling. She moved her rook away, ready to put another plan into motion.
Her bishop was lost, as expected. "And doing that raises your prestige how?"
"Devils normally have one of four ranks. Low-Class, Middle-Class, High-Class and Ultimate-Class. However, we do not necessarily stay at the rank we are given initially." Their game continued as she gave her somewhat lengthy explanation.
"While some devils may be satisfied with what they have, most choose to strive for a higher rank. For an example, all newly reincarnated devils start out as Low-Class. However, by now there are reincarnated devils in all ranks, even Ultimate-Class. Contracting is a simple and reliable, if slow process of rising up."
"For devils, slow might not be as ineffective as for a human. You live a long time." He made a valid point.
"True. However, the process of becoming a devil was specifically build up so it wouldn't disturb ones mental processes. The thought of living for so long doesn't register properly in the mind until you have been a devil for a few decades, especially for teenagers."
He nodded, understanding the point, so she continued. "While reliable and a good way to gather experience, another asset of contracts is the reward. There have been cases of some rewards being rare, or even unique artifacts."
"Doesn't sound likely."
"It's not. But the chance is still there. And as a matter of fact..." Sona pointed Reya towards the cupboard with the papers in question. "I show you how it works."
Her Bishop retrieved a contract paper, then put it down – a simple piece of paper engraved with the sigil of the house Sitri – next to the chessboard.
"We have these distributed to people with strong desires in town. The desires, more often than not greed, act as a catalyst, substituting the magical energy normally necessary, while the prepared sigil opens a connection and does the calculations involved."
Yu took the paper, looking it over attentively. She waited patiently until he put it down before making her next move. Checkmate in two turns.
"So, just about anybody could use this?"
"I believe you would have trouble gathering the necessary greed, Narukami-san, although it's not much of an issue in your case. If what Rias and her peerage gathered is correct, then you would still be able to use raw energy instead."
"I cannot even guess what you might be capable of, but I believe that you possess enough sheer power to use the original method. Perhaps you'd like to try?"
"This isn't a binding thing?"
"In no way, I assure you. My presence here would allow us to terminate the contract should you succeed, and even if you make one, those who would look at you negatively for using it would already look down on you for 'consorting with devilkind'." She couldn't hide her dislike for this view. It was a degrading extremism that cost more than a few lives.
She couldn't tell what he was thinking, his head slightly inclined to the left, his eyes still on the chessboard, where his next move would be his last.
"Let's see, then." One hand was put down on the contract, and she could practically feel the formless energy he was feeding into it. The sigil started glowing blue, stronger and stronger and stronger...
"Stop!" He jerked his hand away from the paper and looked at her. "So much energy..." Her voice trailed off. Really, it was a lot more power than expected. It was practically shining, so much flooded into the contract.
Behind Yu, the present members of her peerage also gave him a look of shock. Understandably.
While she didn't put that level of power beyond him, after all that happened, seeing it in person was still something different. There were a number of humans capable of this, but most of them weren't complete unknowns like him, nor would the raw power feel like... this.
The power fed into the contract was more than sufficient to summon her, instead of a member of her peerage. In fact, not even Tsubaki, her Queen, would be qualified for this.
"I see." Yu looked down at the contract again. "So that's what happens."
"You... know what happened?" She couldn't help but ask, slightly incredulous.
Ah, so he wouldn't elaborate on what he did. To be expected, she supposed.
Sona swiped a hand over the contract, deactivating it and letting the energy disperse. "I do believe that was a success, Narukami-san."
"I suppose." He moved his remaining bishop into position. "Those contracts are pretty interesting. They seem like something convenient."
...Apparently, what just happened didn't shake his concentration much. Quite impressive.
"Quite so, but whatever you did, please don't do it much pure energy is dangerous, especially when used on something created for ordinary people." Sona moved her queen, ready for the...
Ah. Looks like her own concentration had been shaken if she made such a mistake.
And he pounced on it, taking her vulnerable queen out.
"Again?" She looked up at his face. He quirked an eyebrow to accompany the question.
"I'm getting ahead of myself, I apologize. It's just that I intended to offer you another contract, if it worked and you are interested."
"...Even if I don't use it?"
"Better to have it and not need it."
He nodded as if he expected the argument. "Why not? If the offer comes with no strings attached."
"None." A smiling Reya held a second paper in her hand, this one folded. He took it.
"You know, Kaichou, I didn't think I'd manage a draw against you."
Ah, yes. Her little oversight cost her the victory. Being unbalanced so easily... How strange it felt. "Admittedly, I didn't expect it either."
"If you hadn't held back at the beginning, or made that mistake just now, you'd have beaten me, though. I got lucky."
Agreed. He was by no means bad, but she was a prodigy of strategy and a very experienced player. Had she gone at him seriously, she would have ended it quickly. "Luck is also a viable factor in a game, Narukami-san. As are the mistakes of your opponent."
"No way, Kaichou not winning..." Her pawn looked unduly shocked. "How'd that happen?"
"As Narukami-san said, Saji. He would have lost, had I been serious from the start."
"Thanks for the game, Kaichou." Yu stood up. "But I should go home now."
"I am the one who should thank you. It was quite enlightening, Narukami-san. Please be careful on your way back home."
"Will be. See you around, everyone." With nods for every member of her peerage, Yu walked out of the room.
"..." Sona looked down at the deactivated contract. "Strange..." She mused. "I don't think humans can even have such a magical signature. Just what did he do?"
Issei came across a... peculiar scene on the way back home.
It started when he heard a male voice out of an alley. The man sounded as if he was in pain, gasping and groaning in a weak, pitiful voice.
He wanted to enter and see what was wrong, but then a girl came out, grinning broadly. Younger than him, blonde hair, gothic lolita...
"Gah!" The pervert let out a startled yelp when he recognized her. It was that fallen angel from before.
"Oh? Hel~lo, Hyoudou-kun~" Her voice came out sweet, friendly and happy.
"You... you are..."
"Mittelt. Part of the observation team now officially in town."
"Ehm... Senpai mentioned that..." Suddenly meeting her was still a shock.
"Good, good. Then I don't have to explain it." She nodded her head cutely.
...He was torn. Here was an extremely cute girl, in extremely cute clothing, beaming up at him with an extremely cute smile. His perverted side, which made up a large part of his personality, was yelling at him to enjoy this attention.
The rest of him flashed back to when she helped Raynare fight against Yu, who had been protecting Issei himself from death.
Neither side was winning, it was an inner battle with no real victor. That left him floundering like a fish on land.
"Is something wrong, Hyoudou-kun?" Argh, now she was striking a pose. Hands behind her back, leaning slightly forward, she peered up at him.
He was weak! So, so weak against such cuteness!
"No! Nothing is wrong, nothing at all!" He needed something to divert the attention! Something... "What's that sound from the alley?"
"Hm?" She looked over her shoulder for a moment, then turned back to him with a beaming smile of even greater proportions. "That, Hyoudou-kun, is the sound of justice."
"Uh... Pained gasps are the sound of justice?" Maybe that wasn't the best diversion after all...
"These are." She bobbed her head up and down, the motion full of conviction.
"Don't worry, don't worry! He's had it coming, trust me." Gah, now she was peering up again. Maybe he should put it to rest.
"Okaaaay... If you say so."
"Good boy." She patted his shoulder "That wasn't so hard, now was it?"
"Don't treat me like a kid." He turned away, his head red with embarrassment.
"Then don't act like one." Mittelt giggled. "Say, Hyoudou-kun, have you activated your Sacred Gear yet?"
"Eh? No, not really." He spoke before the thought occurred to him that sharing this may be a bad idea.
"Huh... That's weird." She took a few steps away from him, twirling. "It doesn't take that long, normally. Are you that weak?" Arrow, right into his heart. "Have you even been trying?"
"Of course I did! It's just..." He trailed off, unwilling to share this with what was practically a stranger. A dangerous stranger.
He knew Rias told him not to do it until this strange headache was gone, but he wanted to be able to do something, dammit! And it only came sporadically now, so it would probably be better in a few days anyway. Only when he tried to concentrate really hard. So, why wait?
"Yeeeees?" And she was right in his face, closer than any girl he ever got close to.
...Which was a very small number, a depressing voice added.
"Gremory-senpai... I constantly remember her boobs whenever I remember what she said about Sacred Gears." Again, Issei turned away from the cute girl in front of him, even more embarrassed.
"Ah, that would be a problem." His head snapped back to her with such speed, he felt one of his vertebrae protest. "Hormones make concentrating a real struggle."
She cocked her head to the side, deep in thought. "Maybe if you used that... Yes, could work..."
No recrimination? Just acceptance of his problems? That was a strange experience for Issei. Only Matsuda and Motohama ever understood his perverted side.
"Uh... You know, you lost me."
"Hm? Oh, I just thought about how to solve your problem."
"Not to complain, but... why are you helping me?"
"Well... Because of the incident, you're considered an affiliate of Narukami-san. We're supposed to help him, and by extension you. And Azazel-sama's curious what you've got anyway. So, as for your problem: Sacred Gears react strongly to their users desires. You have to take that distraction, and think about it in a positive way."
"In a positive way?"
Thinking about breasts in a positive way? Wasn't that what he did day in day out? And it could actually help him? Hah!
"It's just a theory, mind you. Buuuuut, it could work. Where have you been trying, by the way?"
"At home..." He answered absentmindedly. How could he make that work? Maybe think that activating the Sacred Gear helped him touch breasts? Right, if he avoided thinking of the steps between, that might work... Unlikely, but better than nothing.
"What?!" He jumped when she shouted. "Where your uninvolved parents could come across you? And where you could cause damage? That's so irresponsible!"
"Eh... Uhm... I... I'm sorry?"
"You better be." And now she was giving him a judgmental glare, clenched fists at her waist, puffing out her chest. Still so cute...
Aaaah, if only he had a chance with someone like her... It's a pity.
"I'll think of something better...?"
"I hope so." She huffed indignantly, but a smirk was already making its way onto her face. "And people call me immature. Have to tell them about you."
"Hihihihi, I don't think so~" She sang. She sang it. She really sang those words.
"I'm going home." He did not cry. No sir, those were not tears running down his face. That was just sweat. It was a hot day!
"I'll accompany you. It's not safe outside, so a frail little girl like me needs an escort."
"Gah! As if! You're way more dangerous than me!"
"Just means you can't stop me." With another giggle, Mittelt started walking beside Issei, looking oh so happy.
...It would be nice if he really could make a girl smile like that on his own. Without being laughed about, or made a fool of. But that...
"That's impossible. After all, this is me we're talking about."
King: I AM ALIVE! Finally, I managed to get this out!
Sona: How fortuitious. Then this story is not going to die, I take it?
King: Nope. I've invested too much time into this to just let it fall.
Sona: Then, please tell us why you took so long. I'm sure your readers would like to know.
King: About that... Uhm, you see... It's... You know...
King: Writer's Block.
Sona: Is that so?
King:... Big Writer's Block. A Writer's Block Deluxe.
Sona: You broke through it, then?
King:... Yes. I took some time trying out other ideas I might follow through with, then returned with renewed motivation and better ideas. Still, I'm not all that satisfied with this chapter. Some stuff here and there got me sidetracked and expanded further than planned, so I had to push later scenes back to the next chapter. In my own opinion, it feels kind of subpar for all the time since the last update.
Sona: Very well. Is there something in particular you would like to mention about this chapter?
King: If you say it so bluntly... How did you like appearing so much?
Sona: Oh? I was mostly explaining and evaluating. Is that subplot of yours going somewhere?
King: With the delinquents? Well, it's mostly a setup for something down the line. Unexpectedly, giving Murayama a first name was surprisingly difficult.
Sona: And that little sister character? Or is she just a convenient plot device?
King: Who knows? I haven't decided yet, truth be told. Maybe she'll be a part of future events, maybe not.
Sona: What an attitude to have.
King: Ah well. So, plenty of readers guessed correctly what the Orb of Remembrance does. It lets Yu regain the memories of Persona Q, so I guess down the line, that means this story will also contain spoilers from that game. The appearance of Philemon and his adversary was received well enough, I'd say.
Sona: What plans could you have for entities of such power? It's quite worrying, so what do you have to say? And what plans do you pursue concerning Hyoudou-kun? That last line gives me a bad feeling...
King: Who cares! Next chapter, the Asia Arc is finally gonna start. The dice will fall, relationships will be forged. I'm pumped!
Sona: Perhaps you will be able to update faster, if you are so motivated.
King: That hurts, you know? As if you're stomping on my heart.
Sona: That is entirely your own fault.
King: Excuse me for putting quality and my own standards over speed!
Sona: Is that the line you choose to draw? Very well, then you will have to uphold those standards of yours, no matter what. Or else you will be in trouble.
King: Don't say something so ominous! I hope you, readers of this story, enjoyed this chapter!
Sona: Please, express your opinion. Such words are valuable to gather experience.