Beyond the Outer Gates Lies...Recriminations?
"Time out," I said immediately, bringing my hands up in the customary 'T' shape. Surprised by my interruption, the towering Kings complied. The break seemed to take some of the wind out of their sails.
That also gave me a chance to notice that Akeno and Tsubaki were on stage as well. Except the Queens were behind their respective Kings. Out of their line of sight. Chickens. I mean, it was really smart, but still…
"Okay," I told Sona and Rias sternly, "I get it, you're angry. You're pissed at the Heroes like the rest of us. And you were worried about us. But that doesn't mean you can take out that anger on us. We stumbled unprepared into a bad situation, but we handled it. And fairly well, if I do say so myself."
"Frankly," I lightened my voice and adopted my regular sarcastic grin, "The only one of us who has definitely earned a lecture is Ise."
My friend had been nodding, until I brought up his name.
"Hey!" he squawked in protest.
"Sorry, buddy," I shrugged, "And I get it. 'Perverted secret power are revealed to you, when you hold aloft her magic boobs and say…' a-cuuh…"
Reya suddenly grabbed my hand, and squeezed it tightly. And Tsubasa was less gentle. She jabbed her elbow into my ribs. All the air was driven out of my left lung, cutting me off with a weak cough.
"Right, that was a bit too much," I admitted once I caught my breath, "Anyway, my point is that you summoned her, without warning, into the middle of a battle. In her underwear. So yeah, you have to pay the piper for that one."
I deliberately didn't mention his taking her bra. Acknowledging his main mistake might lessen his punishment, but I wasn't going to totally rat him out.
Ise hung his head in defeat, unable to refute me. Rias appeared to have calmed down, but she was still shooting her Pawn a look. Not angry. More like the combination of lust and annoyance that I had seen on Susan's face a few times early in our relationship when I did something that was both stupid and cool.
Sona, on the other hand, hadn't given up yet.
"You didn't contact us," Kuoh's Kaichou did not quite snap the words at me.
"That is exactly right," I told her immediately and easily, "You know that calling the Underworld is difficult at best. And that's if we had access to the magically attuned land lines like Serafall has in her office. Using our cel phones? No way."
Then I allowed myself a frown and grumbled, "Especially since Az and Ajuka refuse to share the spell, so I can try to adapt it to mobiles…"
I force myself back to a relaxed tone, and continued, "Second, you were on important business, and we are all adults. More or less. We can't be calling you for every little thing. We need to get used to that before the four of you head off to college next year."
I deliberately called the Queens back to their Kings' attention.
"Finally," I grinned very broadly, "Azazel took charge of the communications."
"Sensei, why are you under that bus?" Motohama called out to the pair of legs.
"I dropped my keys," Azazel answered angrily, "And I need to get them before the bus leaves and crushes them."
Then the Fallen muttered under his breath, "And if my students went home, instead of loitering in the parking lot, I could have just summoned the keys back to my hand,"
"What was that, sensei?" the Sizes Scouter prompted.
"I said I got them," Az said as he crawled back out from under the bus.
"He got ahold of Serafall, Athena and Bastet just fine," I reminded them, "And he called the Angels and Grigori for reinforcements, though he did hand the backup off to Levi-tan. I don't know if he tried to call you two, and just couldn't get through…"
I noticed Akeno flinched when I suggested that.
"… or just decided not to interrupt you. You'd have to ask him, Sona."
She exhaled sharply, releasing her anger. Then she set up her business face.
"Alright," my King said, "Then if you would tell us your version of events?"
The Kings and Queens took a moment to think, after Asia and Momo finished telling them about how we freed Christine Lee and she left with the Greeks.
"Well," Rias smiled at us, "You all did an amazing job, especially considering the situation."
"Yes," Sona was more thoughtful, "Learning that the Chaos Brigade has access to Phoenix Tears is useful and somewhat disconcerting."
"And I will replace the vial you used to save my darling Ise," the red-head King told me.
"Don't worry about it," I said off-hand, trapped in my own thoughts.
"No, that was a housewarming present," she insisted.
"In that case," I decided, "More you could try to get three or four extra doses."
"It would be good to have some extras on hand," Tsubaki noted.
"Sure, that too," I shrugged.
"Dresden, what are you thinking?" Sona asked, cautiously curious.
I called up a Holy Edge mandala. More than a few of my friends recoiled away from the glowing dagger that appeared in my hand.
"Light is lethal to you Devils," I started, even though they all knew that, "And Cao Cao just proved that my jackets only block so much of it. I'll try to refine them further, but I'm not sure I'll ever be able to stop him completely. We need to try something else."
"Some strong Devils can prevent the corruption from spreading," I continued, as much for myself as for them. I expected Sona and Rias to correct me if I had misunderstood one of our discussions, "Some really strong Devils can expel the Light after they are injured. And a handful of the really, really strong Devils can actually use their block Light at or below a certain level. But for all of them, that takes your Demonic Power. If he were exhausted, even Sirzechs could be killed if I sliced his hand with this knife and there wasn't a healer around. That doesn't mean you shouldn't learn how to fight of the power of Light the best you can."
"Harry, are you suggesting…" Tsubasa trailed off.
"I'm suggesting that we start teaching all of you to resist the power of Light," I confirmed, "And the rest of your Peerages, of course. Plus maybe Serafall's team, if only so she can give us pointers about how she does it. Either way, what I am thinking, is that I will take the weakest version of the Holy Edge spell, and one at a time, prick your pinky fingers. And then you will keep the Light from spreading for as long as possible. And when you can't hold it any more, Asia will heal you. With a few vials of Tears as a backup. Then, as you get better, we can increase the dagger's power, or try to do more than just contain the injury."
"It does sound like a good plan," Irina said, "And I could help, too."
"And will you continue until we can all resist as well as Lucifer-sama?" Akeno questioned doubtfully.
"Probably not," I admitted, "I'd be happy if each of you could expel the Light from a double powered Holy Edge, from a center mass or head wound. But we'll have to see how it goes."
"It is an excellent idea," Sona agreed.
"Why don't other Devils train like this?" Xenovia asked.
"No-one would be crazy enough to suggest something like this," Rias teased me lightly.
"And healers like Argento-chan, who could make this sort of training viable, are rare," Sona said, "I will contact my sister, and see about scheduling some time for an initial session to see if this is viable."
"And I will consult my brother and Grayfia," Rias added, "And see if they have any pointers for us."
The taller King hopped off the stage, and grabbed her Pawn's arm.
"Now if we are done here, my darling Ise and I need to have a talk," Rias said. Any other boy in the school would have been jealous of that. Including Saji, based on his expression. Kiba and I both cringed, catching the sharpness in Gremory's voice.
"Alright, you can go," Sona told her Peerage.
"Sona?" I called out to her, as she turned to leave. She stopped and looked back at me.
"Are you free after this?" I asked, "Want to come over for dinner?"
Her eyes widened slightly. Our dating was an open secret. All the members of both girls' Peerage were aware. However we didn't talk about it, and I had avoided asking any of my girlfriends out in front of other people.
"Yes," she smiled slightly, "That sounds good."
Of course, I forgot that my pantry was almost empty. Ise's mom had left me some apples, and I still had bacon and Coke, but otherwise my fridge was empty. I had some cup ramen and mac and cheese on hand. So, with a little help from Lash, I served us a chopped up apple, and bacon mac and cheese.
"Sorry," I told her as I brought the bowls and plate to the table, "I'm not a chef."
"I remember the last time you cooked for us," she looked at the pasta with mock suspicion.
"Ha, ha, ha," I faked a laugh, "Well, this is pretty simple and Lash was coaching me. She might not have a sense of taste, but she knows her stuff."
'My sense of taste is far better than yours, my host,' Lash told me.
"Well, I will give it a chance. For Lash's sake," Sona said.
We ate in silence, and I could see the troubled expression she was trying to hide.
"Okay, Sona," I set my spoon down and looked at her, "What's wrong?"
"Sona," I cut her off firmly.
"Fine," she conceded, "It might seem a somewhat petty, but I am displeased with your actions earlier. While your arguments were logical and correct, I cannot help but be upset with you interfering with my administration of my Peerage."
"Don't forget, I'm not a member of your Peerage," I told her glibly. She relaxed a bit and raised a quizzical eyebrow at me.
"We are all friends," I said, "And more in three cases. But that doesn't mean you are my King."
"And as for your Peerage," I continued a bit more thoughtfully, "Remember when you first told me about Peerages? I thought they were slaves, and you were appalled by that, though you did admit some Kings are like that. Well, controlling your Peers with Command or other powers isn't the only way you can be a bad King. You've heard of 'shooting the messenger', right?"
She nodded thoughtfully.
"Taking your anger out on the wrong target is another trait of a bad ruler," I said gently, "Even if yelling at them is a lot better than putting a bullet in them. I wasn't just protecting us. I was protecting you and your relationships with the others."
She considered that, and then smiled slightly.
"But if you really feel the need to yell at someone," I offered, "I can give you a reason to tear me a new one."
"Don't go out and break some rule just to assuage my ego," she ordered. But she looked a little amused as she said that.
"No, this is something I already did yesterday," I countered.
"Harry," she was less amused now, but at the same time slipped into using my given name, "What did you do?"
"I skipped out on the class visits yesterday."
Her eyes narrowed at me.
"Hey, I had already been all over that neighborhood on Thursday when I was scrying for Yasaka," I defended myself, "Plus, after all the fighting, I thought I deserved at least some time to relax."
She looked ready to launch. Then she just sighed.
"You know what?" she said, "You're right. You doubtlessly learned more about Kyoto and did more civil service than the regular students."
Then she looked at me sideways, and prompted, "Did you, and Tsubasa and Reya, enjoy your little outing?"
"Nice try," I smirked, "But I can neither confirm nor deny the presence of other members of your Peerage while I was playing hooky."
"You know, they will tell me," she returned my sardonic expression.
"If you press them, and they were really there, they will probably tell you," I said evasively, "But I'm going to leave that up to them. If it is even true."
She chuckled, and took another bite.
"So, what do you say we take our bowls into the living room, pop in Mulan, and snuggle up on the couch and watch while we finish eating?" I suggested.
"You are a horrible influence," she laughed at me. But that didn't stop her from picking up her bowl, and heading to the other room.
"Johannes is well on his way to recovery," Georg said, "But it took our last dose of Phoenix Tears. Unfortunately, the rest of you will have to wait our contacts can acquire more Tears."
He glanced at the other members of the Inner Circle. Jeanne and Leonardo were unharmed. Siegfried's left hand was bandaged. The right side of Cao Cao's face was wrapped. And Heracles was a virtual mummy.
"In addition, we lost five of the low and middle echelon members," the dimensional magician continued, "Six, if you count the traitor Oakley."
"We are fortunate we did not lose more in the Sekiryuutei's blast," Sieg noted.
"It was a waste," Jeanne muttered softly.
"What did you say?" Cao Cao asked, tilted his head so his uncovered ear was pointed towards the girl.
"I said it was a waste," she said angrily, "The people and resources we lost. It was a dumb plan, and so everything we lost was a waste."
"What was that?" Herc growled darkly. Georg looked upset as well. But Sieg nodded in agreement. Cao Cao looked at the swordswoman directly.
"What is your reasoning?" their leader asked, his voice and gaze neutral.
"I know what you boys think," she began, "But I do listen in these meetings. So I'm fully aware that the Hades Faction reported that the Kuoh Accords were courting the Kyoto Youkai."
She frowned, "And for the record, I still don't trust that damned skeleton. I think he's playing both sides against the middle.
"Anyway, congratulation, we just pushed the Youkai into the Alliance. And B T W, even though they are called Kyoto Youkai, they cover all of Japan."
"Is that all?" Georg demanded, "Because we needed her power to make this work."
"Great," she snapped, "Well we could have done it when Kuoh Academy, the enemies who know us best, weren't visiting the town where we were working. It was even on their freaking website."
"We had to act before the Solstice Purge," Cao Cao reminded her, still unperturbed.
"Still a fairly large risk, for a plan we were not sure would work," Siegfried supported Jeanne, though his voice was more even. Georg bristled at the jab at his spell.
"Right," Jeanne continued, "We didn't know if Great Red would even show up. And why are we even going after that thing?"
"You know our purpose," Cao Cao finally frowned.
"That's not what I mean," Jeanne said, "Why Great Red? Because Ophis hates him? We aren't in this for her, or so we keep saying. And then there is that other thing the Brigade is working on... Anyway, there are other targets that are as, or almost as, dangerous as the Dream Dragon, but are a ton closer and easier to get to…"
"You have another target in mind?" despite his phrasing and tone, it was not a question.
"Trihexa," she said, "It is at least as powerful as the Great Red. Strong enough that the god kings could only seal it away, not destroy it."
"Rizevem Lucifer is attempting to unseal the Beast," Georg noted, settling.
"Exactly," Jeanne nodded, "He thinks he can control it, to make up for the losses his Old Maou Faction has taken. So we can work with him to free it, and then use it for our own purposes, by destroying it. Do something Jehovah, Odin, and the others couldn't do, together."
"You would have us betray our ally?" Cao Cao considered her words.
"I don't know why we are working with that Devil in the first place," Jeanne snarled, "You know he will betray us, if he ever regains control of Hell. And he is a DEVIL. Besides, if we do do this, the Accords won't do anything to stop us. Hell, they'd probably help us."
"Your suggestion has merit," Cao Cao finally said, "But for now, our next plan is already in motion. But we will be more mindful of our limits and our enemies this time."
"That's all I can ask," Jeanne said, but there was still doubt in her voice.
Author's Note: Okay, one more. A few people wanted to see the fallout from the kings, and I realized I forgot a few elements. So now my break. Or pseudo break.
One more thing; looking for one or two people who would be interested in having me bounce an idea or two off them...