Good news, I am alive.
Also good news, this is the last chapter I expect to zealously follow the core (Vol 1-4) canon timeline; I expect to scrap and overhaul some things going forward as I see fit.
To recap, since my last update years ago I've moved states, jobs, relationships, and much more. Fun stuff. None particularly made writing easy or enjoyable at times. Bless you SeerKing, for checking in on me from time to time.
By the time I was actually in a good irl situation to pick up writing again, this COVID thing hit the states. And for you international folks, I'll let you in on a secret - no one can agree on what needs to be done. Between conflicting scientific studies, trying to keep community businesses afloat and with a freaking election year with gloriously idiotic fallout, I'd say progress towards anything productive will take time.
In my personal life, considering my grandpa doesn't give a damn about other people's opinions after Vietnam and my other grandparents don't watch the news since their introduction to the iPhone weather app, my family is largely unaffected or mostly ambivalent towards the news cycle and frankly tired over how the country is treating things. We wear masks, most that qualify got the vaccine/some can't for medical reasons, but damn we want things back to normal quickly.
Fortunately I can work from home but that brings other problems. Like electricity, for work computers and ac running during times of day I would normally be out at the office. Bill is noticeably higher. Had to pick up more hours and projects to offset some other new costs. In fact, working from home means to my company management that your commute hours are workable now for overtime. I'm getting good money for a currently hourly position, but costs go big too.
I did think abou n, but no, just no. I don't like the idea of hiding my own work behind a paywall. Not now at least, maybe not ever. I understand why some authors do it, but I'm not interested in boosting my own financial situation that way. I get the argument. "Help me get more time to write part time," but I don't think my quality is worth that. My financial situation is good enough that I don't need to put that option on the table. Maybe someday, but not now. (Beta's note 1: The possibility to make it a timed paywall exists, similar to how RT does their content. Not sure if anyone would like that though.)
Maybe if I used OnlyFans, that seems to be the rage these days. (Beta's note 2: Fun fact, OF's original purpose wasn't what it's famous for, so it's theoretically possible.)
2020 was lackluster. 2021 is showing to be a little bit better. This update may be the same way, but it may take a few to get back in the swing of things. Please bear with me.
Disclaimer: See 1st Chapter. If you recognize an anime reference keep in mind I don't own it.
"Juggernaut Drive Incantation"
Just a reminder that this is a DxD story that is also rated M. It wouldn't be DxD otherwise. You have been warned.
Beta: Shad0wReaper133 (Shadow, you are damn under-appreciated for giving me good feedback still)
Final Word Count: Fuck it, 30 pages worth (Shad0wReaper133's answer: Yes)
Chapter 27: Dynasty of Fire
"Dammit," Vali groaned as he weakly struggled to sit-up. "Where the hell did that come from?"
[Get back into the fight, Vali.]
"Sounds lovely, but I want to know more about Hyoudou first." Vali prodded his ribs where the blast had struck, and then his side, where he had struck against Ryuu. Both felt broken, the ribs close to puncturing a lung. And he had already used his only vial of Phoenix Tears.
Ha, the look on Issei's face had been priceless. Idiot, the Phenex clan had made their fortune from selling them at high prices, had it really never occurred to him that he might inevitably face an opponent who had one?
Still, the timing wasn't ideal with these new injuries.
He couldn't turn his neck, a grinding sensation would stop him if he tried. And if the pain from his side wasn't enough, he could feel a bloated ache from his midsection. Could be internal bleeding. Could it be he had boosted to his limit and held it for too long? Either way, he wasn't in any condition to fight for the time being.
He sympathized with Hyoudou. Fights with family were always ugly, but if it was him and Rizevim, he'd demand it remain one-on-one. So he wouldn't intervene with the father-son reunion, no matter how fun it looked. Once it ended though...
Instead, he spread his Devil wings and ascended to a relatively safe altitude to observe. He made sure to hurry, the pair were already fighting.
Issei's frantic breath of white fire was enveloped by a rain of liquid flame that the teen rolled to avoid, puddles of fire and molten rubble forming where drops landed.
Issei brought up both arms but was still forced back as a massive paw crashed into him.
He had barely recovered his balance before a thick tail whipped into his shoulder with an audible crack of both armor and bone.
With Vali, it had been a hard fight but they had been more or less equals when all skills and abilities were accounted for. But Ryuu was completely different.
Issei didn't know how old his father was. If he'd ever asked or learned, he couldn't remember, but it was reasonable to expect that a century or two had passed since his birth before he and his mother had even met. So, he had to have some high level of combat experience, and he was the lucky recipient of it today.
A massive head came down to glare at him with sickly yellow eyes.
"How did a whelp of mine grow into such a weakling in that little corner of Hell, I will never know."
Issei staggered to his feet. If the beast planned to gloat, then he would demand his own answers. "You knew I was in Tartarus! And you did nothing to help me!"
That sickly yellow orb clacked open and shut. "What reason do I have to help anyone, let alone you?"
"How about when I was fighting for my life! You're my father, where were you when I needed you?!"
"If you thought those in Tartarus were truly dangerous, then you truly are foolish, whelp. The Pantheons may send their criminals, their unwanted and insane, those weak enough they can subdue and capture for someone else to hold, but for those that are truly the most dangerous and violent to their rule, they are hunted down and executed, not imprisoned. Much like how Devils kill off their Strays. You bled yourself against the worst they had to throw at you, but if you ever thought yourself in true danger..." Ryuu's neck twitched as he head butted his son backwards, horns and skull too large to entirely evade.
"...then perhaps I overestimated your worth."
Issei growled, calling upon the same newfound power of his, that seemingly endless amount revealed after Albion had done something. It gathered easily, excited, focused into the palm of his hand.
Ryuu then struck; for a behemoth he was quite fast for his size. But Issei had now seen the limits of his speed and was prepared. He managed to bring his hand up, shaping his aura around it.
"Fool, it was I who taught you to do that!"
"I may be a slow learner, but I've learned a few things since then!"
His energy reshaped itself just as Ryuu struck, reforming into four separate, massive discs layered atop each other, successively shorter in diameter and thicker with each one. As Ryuu's claws dragged atop the first shield, it detonated. As his father forced through the defense, the other shields exploded in turn, causing the already chipped scales to flake and darken even more.
The destruction of the final barrier halted Ryuu's claws; Issei batted them aside with both hands and then compressed as much energy as he dared to spare beneath his left foot. Igniting it, he rode the explosion just like he did all those years ago in the old clearing.
Were this any other opponent, Issei would have generously used his Longinus without abandon. Fighting gods and upper level mythological beings was its intended purpose. But using it would mean drawing away his enemies' power, and by no means did Issei want to ingest or use his father's tainted energy. It felt wrong, oily, repulsive sickening in a way that he couldn't properly describe.
If he could find words for the feeling, besides horrific, he'd use them. He knew that power instinctively, or rather what it had been. Now it was corrupted beyond his ability to phrase and he'd very much like to be anywhere but there at the moment.
In some ways it seemed to remind him of Ascalon. Only perhaps malevolently worse if he was instinctively remembering how that power once protected him.
So if he would not use his best ability, then he'd resort to skill and whatever power he had left. That, and seeking to cause as much physical damage as possible.
A decade ago, he'd failed to do anything striking his father's shoulder. This time, mid-flight, the second detonation from his right foot propelled him onto a new course.
He aimed for the mouth.
It was as weak as a vulnerable spot on a dragon could really be, which is to say, it was a softer target only because of the inner lack of scales.
The Scale Mail reformed as Issei threw his arm out. Redirecting this newfound energy of his, he warped the armor of his right gauntlet. The short spike that normally extended above and over his wrist lengthened until he had a good blade to work with, nearly half his height in length.
With his own speed and the quality of the armor, Issei cleaved a deep gash in the gumline of the jaw until the edge ground to a halt, embedded in bone. Pivoting on that arm, he kicked a yard-long tooth at its base, fragmenting the root and sending bits flying. With a finish, he drew back his other arm, a similar blade extended and drove it deep where the tooth had just been. Stabbing that spike straight into the bone, Issei wrenched his arm, breaking it off completely but the effect was the same. The energy compressed into the makeshift blade, cut off from its source, reacted violently.
An explosion, not as great as a typical dragon shot but still forceful, rocked Ryuu back as dark blood splashed everywhere. A normal dragon shot was energy condensed, the physical Scale Mail exploded more akin to a fragmentation grenade. If not outright broken, Ryuu's jaw was fractured, silencing him for a little while at least.
Issei landed, pivoting on his back foot to avoid a clawed swipe from an angry drake. His light Wings dispelled, the shoulder pads, parts of his chest plate and thigh armor as he removed all parts of his armor that overly broadened his silhouette to make himself a smaller target by however much.
In place of the wings, Issei copied the boosters he had seen Vali use. With his original blade remaining, Issei placed it forward and pushed a considerable amount of his newfound strength into his armor's new configuration.
It had looked much cooler in his head. Still, there were significant results.
Unprepared for just how fast he was going at speeds beyond anything he'd pushed his Light Wings to, he streaked past a bleeding jaw. He had intended to steer somewhat, aim for the chest and the more vital regions. Instead, he tore through Ryuu's left hind leg, cleaving through both scales and underlying flesh just above the knee.
And then he promptly crashed into what was left of the science lab classrooms.
At the same time he heard Ryuu howl in pain, he bit back his own screams of agony and looked to his left arm.
The blade was gone from the force of the blow, but his left arm was pretty useless in its current condition. Elbows weren't made to bend that way and he was missing a good deal of the armor, skin, and muscle of his forearm. As for his hand, Issei regretted looking as he immediately felt nauseous.
It wasn't the worst thing he'd ever seen after his time in Tartarus, but this was easily the most crippling injury ever done to his own person, besides getting stabbed with a dragonslayer. Could he really call that a hand anymore? With fingers splintered and skin melted together? Could that even be healed, given his resistance to even benevolent spells? Asia's Twilight Healing might work but she had her limits.
Though any hopes of healing would need to be delayed for later. If there was a later for him.
He grit his teeth and winced as he directed some power to his arm, trying not to move it as he stood back up. Since he didn't have a convenient brace, he reformed the armor on his arm, silently hoping it could make do as both a cast and bludgeon. With a thought, the talons flexed, moving the fingers with his armor when charred nerve and minced flesh could not.
On second thought, he reformed the complete version of his armor, wings and all as he looked to the hole he'd made in his crash landing.
His father was on the ground, all weight to his right side. His right foreleg was barely attached, loosely hanging with some sinew. Issei's attack had done its purpose.
Without warning, a row of beakers shattered. Shards plinked off his armor, even as every other glass container began to crack and explode. Other items were affected too, melting where they were.
Outside, the Volcanic Dragon slowly plodded forward. Heat roiled off him in waves, causing the air to shimmer. Even without his signature flame, their environment boiled as whatever self-restraint he had decided to comply with was abandoned.
"Albion, if you have any more tricks up your sleeve or words of advice, now would be a good time."
(Use all your power with the intent to kill. Without hesitation or mercy, for he will offer none.)
Issei exhaled as he gathered his resolve to fight again. Ready and confident to slay his father if it came to it.
At least, that is what he told himself.
"Ok, break it up!"
A bolt of lightning glanced Le Fay's shoulder, pushing her back while the Priestess of Thunder and Lightning scooped Ravel into her arms and flew back swiftly in retreat.
Since Ryuu had meandered off somewhere, it had given those remaining a bit of a breather. The leaders who had held him off were resting now, exhausted. Azazel and Walburga were still fighting, that is, Azazel was still throwing schoolyard taunts and Walburga chose to respond violently each time.
The ORC, the Student Council, and Griselda had gathered with the leaders, administering to them as best they could. Without the oppressive heat of the Volcanic Dragon, they were all recovering, albeit slowly.
Ravel struggled in her arms, making strangling motions with her hands as she reached for her chosen adversary. "Let me go! I can beat her!"
"Ara, Ravel that's not very ladylike…" Akeno quipped, though as tired as she was, her comment was more from habit than to grant herself any real amusement. She was too on edge, beside herself with worry.
Her mother, Shuri, and Issei's, Hikari, had been both killed in front of her by her mother's clansmen, for the crime of protecting her. That was perhaps her darkest memory, but even now she could remember how a distant dragon howled that day as she herself fled in terror.
They'd both lost a mother, and she'd since been reconciled with her father, but Issei would be seeing the worst of his sire now.
"Is everyone alright?" Rias asked as Akeno drew nearer.
"In one piece," the Queen responded, depositing Ravel before her, still angry. "Though we're all on edge."
"That'll have to do," Rias cast another cooling spell, the moisture giving brief comfort as the temperatures began to rise again. "Oh, hell, what now?"
There was a staccato of explosions nearby, growing louder as they grew closer. There were differences in the sound. One set seemed to have more force and impact, the other seemed to be more sizeable, heavy.
On the last of the deeper blasts, an armored figure was blown across the sports yard, skipping across the dirt and rubble.
Their hearts fell.
Blood leaked from the gaps and joints of the white Scale Mail. Heavy plate punctured. Left arm hanging limply.
The Volcanic Dragon followed, limping but clearly winning the engagement.
And then the monster spoke.
"You're nothing more than a gladiator, a slave to fight and die for your so-called master's entertainment!"
"No, I am not!"
"Oh, forgive me. Why else would she have another slave, a girl with a Sacred Gear to heal your most grievous wounds…"
A mace-like tail whipped into Issei's shoulder with an explosive crack, knocking him through one of the few remaining walls still standing. Asia flinched in sympathy, her face distraught.
"...A nekoshou, to repair any damage done to your life force and keep your spirit in the best fighting condition…"
A lance of blue energy, Issei's dragon shot fired through the smoke and broke against the already damaged scales on Ryuu's chest, but his father continued undeterred, teeth bared in a rabid grin.
Koneko shivered with both fear and loathing.
"A swordsman to measure your skill, and later a swordswoman to test your arm, to hone your ability further and nothing more…"
Issei flew forward, a sword of his signature flame flaring to life in response. Enough power invested gave it solidity as it gouged into the weakened section of Ryuu's otherwise impenetrable hide.
From their own positions, Kiba and Xenovia fought all the more frantically to reach their friend's side, aided by a tiring Irina.
"A little bird, to spy upon you and relay to the Underworld of your condition and willingness to serve those naming themselves your betters…"
Ryuu's neck twisted as he caught the left pauldron and Light Wing of the Scale Mail within his teeth. He bit down, drawing blood. A hasty explosion freed Issei, but that didn't conceal the torn and flayed muscle from sight.
Never before had Ravel wished to share her innate healing with another so desperately. Or for the reason she had officially come to Kuoh be anything but that painful, superficial truth.
"And your childhood friend held hostage, giving you her body and allowing you to satisfy your own desire. Deigning to sleep with you, offering her own lusts and rewarding affections to imprison you within webs of lies."
Rias and Akeno nearly despaired, but for one thing. Never before had they felt Issei angry like this. It burned hot, but it was for their sake, and more than a little concerning.
"It's a father's duty to see the best for their children, wasn't it? I'd forgotten. The duty of a parent."
Ryuu flapped his wings twice to gain altitude.
"Then, boy… you cried for help, years ago. Today I set you free."
That pure, burning anger of his that the girls had felt so quickly turned into crippling terror, that they themselves were paralyzed by it. Rooted in place like all the others as Ryuu let his own draconic presence be fully known without restraint.
When it was Issei's, to them it was loving, kind, caring, arousing even. Beyond that, they had no experience with the truly terrifying nature of a dragon's existence. It was quite a shock.
The others fared no better, despite previous experience with Issei's own presence. Issei would make use of that ability, that facet of his being when necessary, but he had done well in the past to avoid subjecting them to it directly and without caution. Even when temporarily losing control, it was usually restrained and quickly so, to the point that even humans could survive, even if horrifically unnerved.
Ryuu however, was both an adult, and an Evil Dragon.
They were not prepared for this. None of them.
Beyond the academy's protective barrier, mundane humans began to fall, short of breath, pulses laboring to sustain themselves under the malevolence.
The barrier was a shield somewhat, distance a factor too, but there were some too close who simply gave out and expired.
Both peerages, the remaining leaders and the delegates were pinned in place as the Volcanic Dragon reared his head back and spat a deluge of liquid fire upon them.
Without hesitating, Issei placed himself between his friends, new family, soulmates and his father's boiling attack.
He knew he could not redirect it. He knew he could not block it in its entirety, if at all or even possible.
But every instinct he had screamed for him to do something now, or lose the precious persons he held most dear. So he did what he could.
He gathered all his strength, all available power he could muster as he spread his hands before him as if to push back. His aura coalesced, forming a disc that quickly grew in size even with time seemingly slowed. It stretched, matching the diameter of the liquid fireball then further still. He altered the thickness too, doing his damnedest to keep danger at bay.
It wouldn't be enough. Even with all his current strength, it wasn't enough.
So he gave more.
Aura was the total embodiment of one's being. It was his soul, life force, body, power, physical strength, feelings, memory, and then some. His feelings fueled his defense already, physical strength nigh depleted, power reserves invested without restraint. His memories he could not lose, they were too dear and tied to his future. So he sacrificed his body.
As a being of fire, he was quite familiar with freely using the element, yet unfamiliar with himself being burnt. Yet that was the only word for what wracked him. He'd been stabbed, electrocuted, exposed to Light, cursed, manipulated by illusions and a host of other ailments of the physical nature, but burning was the only thing he could associate with this feeling as his own flesh ignited from within as fuel to supply that critically needed energy.
But he could only give so much in that regard. If his body gave out now, whether he lost consciousness or if he withered away it would be over. So he ensured that he could still function after, even if briefly.
('A little more, Issei! You are nearly there, just a little more!')
'I have no more left to give!' He would have screamed it aloud, but he barely had the strength to draw breath or even remain awake at this point. Everything he could safely give and much that wasn't was invested in this one chance to defend the others.
('Then you will suffer and survive alone…')
Albion's reminder only made him grit his teeth as he worked, but then it clicked. He didn't want to survive, he wanted to live. So long as he lived he would never be alone.
Diving into the bond, Issei searched for Rias and Akeno's minds at the speed of thought, all too aware of how his perception of time was beginning to speed back up, Ryuu's blast growing closer. In not so many words, but more feelings and intent, he communicated his goal and request to his mates, clear and without misunderstanding.
Without hesitation, he received a positive confirmation and eager support from the mental connections.
All six of them, some weak yet aglow in defiance and some shining strong.
With no time to wonder why he had received the additional responses, he activated his Longinus' ability as he held contact with the mental connection. Reaching across it without touching them physically.
He didn't take aura, he feared that particular burden would kill them, weakened as they were. Instead, whatever reserves of magic or strength of limb he halved and added it to his defense. But what made the true difference was their feelings.
Love, admiration, trust. Faith, hope, joy. He didn't need to Divide those, they were simply there in abundance. These positive emotions he felt from them bolstered and enhanced his own, and the defense was completed. Solidified.
His barrier would be sturdy enough to defend against this one attack.
Rias and Akeno collapsed against each other, Akeno still holding the fainting Ravel even as Rias caught the unconscious Asia. To the side, Koneko collapsed as well, though Gasper transformed into a swarm of bats to surround her and cushion her fall.
Kiba, Xenovia and Irina were battered and bruised, tired. None were affected like the others, but when they saw their friends' sudden exhaustion they hurried to support their comrades and allies, though they could only watch Issei from afar.
They all watched as Issei's defensive shield grew in size and strength, just in time. Ryuu's gout of liquid flame crashed against it like water upon rock. White aura held firm against the boiling power. They would be safe from that at least.
Yet before the flame could drip or splash down to earth, Albion made his thoughts known.
(Well done, Issei!)
The solid barrier turned a brilliant blue, detailed with an ornately carved symbol depicting the Vanishing Dragon's true form.
With a tremendous flash, the whole wave of flame recondensed and rebounded off the shimmering shield. Everyone stared, wide-eyed and shocked, as the attack that had nearly obliterated them was repelled and neatly returned to its source.
Dragons are by and large immune to their own element. Their stomachs and lungs, reinforced to withstand the strain of generating and channeling such energy. Their hides, tempered against magic and nearly all kinds of attack, including their own.
But Issei had spent a good amount of his own strength previously to gouge and chip and maim his father, creating imperfections, open wounds, damaged scales, and ripped hide.
In overconfidence or surprise, whichever it was, Ryuu didn't evade an attack that had cost him most of his available power.
That proved costly, as his own liquid fire engulfed him and seeped through every cut and weeping puncture Issei had placed in their joint battle of attrition.
The Evil Dragon shrieked, equally unaccustomed as he was to burning, and by his own element no less. To their fortune, Ryuu had used a greatly significant amount of energy in his own right for that one attack. Running low on power just as much as his son, he had little power to spare to mitigate any damage.
Of course, the sound Ryuu made was devastating enough even if not intended. Koneko's cat ears started bleeding, wailing as she woke and covered them. She was not alone, merely the worst affected as everyone felt the need to cover their own, both friend and foe.
As his cries drew to short breaths, the Evil Dragon glared down upon them. "I was mistaken, then." Ryuu's eyes narrowed, his breathing evening out. "You do have our line's bite after all."
"The hell… are you... talking about…" Issei panted heavily, recovering just slower than his sire.
"Oh? Albion never told you?" Through his agony, Ryuu grinned horrifically. "Well, that is something. I never did tell your mother, it hadn't mattered to her, but for you… Ddraig was right, grandfather; to hide something so crucial as this from your own descendant, you truly are a coward!"
"What…? GRANDFATHER?!" Issei shouted, from surprise, shock, disappointment, betrayal.
"That's right," Ryuu seemed to be enjoying this now, more than his injuries plagued him for he stood and sneered down at the teen. "Albion and Ddraig, they fought and continue to fight over the love of the Chaos Karma, Tiamat, your great-grandmother. Her hate for Ddraig is for starting the battle that claimed her mate's consciousness and living body; my grandfather, your great-grandfather, is none other than the Heavenly Dragon imprisoned in that Gear on your back."
"Albion… what…" Issei couldn't find the words.
(That is enough, Ryuu. Bite your tongue.)
"Oh, don't deny it, old fool. Did you not wonder, boy, of your true family? Our origins? No matter, if the Vanishing Dragon is so ashamed, then I'll wipe the slate clean."
Allowing himself to dive, Ryuu's mass would have an impact similar to an artillery barrage. No additional energy would be needed.
Issei raised his quivering arm and reached internally for that sensation that had rushed through him when he used Reflect, hoping to use it again. He could feel that skill, but it was just out of his grasp, as if searching for it pushed the ability just a little out of his grasp.
Relying entirely on his Light Wings, Issei flew upward instinctively, intact right hand outstretched and yelled as he caught and swung the object Irina had thrown.
Ryuu roared again, his course diverted. His right foreleg, already grievously injured, now completely severed by Ascalon, fell just before the others.
Without hesitation, Issei threw the offending blade straight down to earth before it could leech from him even further. His right hand, already broken from his fight with Vali, was now dead to all sensation, much as his maimed left.
Ryuu, hobbling on all three remaining legs, scrambled up and with madness in his eyes, galloped towards Issei with murderous intent. He was beyond words now, though the anger he exuded spoke volumes.
"Not so fast."
A red blur streaked by Issei, and Vali Lucifer's fist slammed an uppercut to Ryuu's jaw, stalling him.
The resulting shockwave forced Issei back down to the others. His Scale Mail shattered, his Light Wings barely aglow.
"I won't allow you to kill the White Dragon Emperor," Vali declared.
[The right to kill him is ours! As is our right to end you, spawn of my enemy.]
Though Vali didn't deny it, he didn't reproach Ddraig. "I want to fight Issei Hyoudou. I won't allow someone else to kill him before I can fight him fairly myself."
"And you are a fool yourself to think you shall have your chance now."
Red energy wisped around the members of the Three Factions, coalescing back into the shape of a man, and then into Sirzechs Lucifer. "I've seen enough, and many of my questions answered tonight. If you wish to live, then retreat now."
"You're letting us leave, just like that?" Vali's tone wasn't mocking like Cattleya's had been but curious. Curiously absent as he had been, Sirzechs was the only one who hadn't exerted himself. Even if he hadn't been one of the current top ten, with all others present weak and exhausted, he could walk into the fight and claim victory on his own.
"It's within my power to kill you both. I simply can't risk imprisoning you, and your lives simply aren't mine to take." Sirzechs' normally blue eyes burned red, white sclera blackened. Of everyone there, he looked most like a Demon. "Though if you wish for further battle, I will be the one to oblige you. Letting this fight continue would no doubt claim father and son, yet Issei has done more than enough for one night I think."
Vali shrugged in acceptance. "Then my rival and I will have to settle this another time."
[VALI, DO NOT-]
The descendant of Lucifer dispelled his armor and coated his left arm with an array of the symbol of his clan. The Boosted Gear dematerialized forcefully, the gem on the back of his hand winking out and Ddraig was silent.
"Ddraig will be rather displeased about all this," the princeling grumbled. "But that'll be between me and him. I would be more concerned about him," Vali pointed at the Evil Dragon across him.
The liquid flame had finally cooled and winked out, but sections of Ryuu's hide had been burnt or boiled away. Scales fell and cracked upon the ground.
Most notably, the malevolent pressure he exuded previously was gone. Those still conscious could see, the Evil Dragon was not well. Nearly spent. Injured, perhaps permanently maimed by Ascalon. Lethargic, yet still dangerous by virtue of his size.
The son however was similarly battered. His armor had taken the brunt of the beating, yet the steady accumulation of such injuries could not be ignored much longer. Yet he stood his ground, his right arm quivering yet raised. Exhausted but still ready even when beyond his limits.
Sirzechs was right. For the two to continue fighting, for one to die was certain, though the victor was not guaranteed survival.
"Then deal with him." Sirzechs stated firmly. "Leave, while I'm still feeling charitable."
"You're not even going to try and capture us?"
"As I said, I won't risk it. I have enough trouble with the old-Maou dissenters without bringing a half-blooded Lucifer into the Underworld. And I will not bring an Evil Dragon among my people with a chance to rest and regain his full strength."
"Letting a monster like him leave is a fool's gambit."
Sirzechs smiled without humor. "Angering a monster like me even more so."
Vali shrugged once again. "Whatever you say. I know that I still have much to learn by observing you both," he walked over to a section of rubble and tore it away. Underneath, a circle with the center sigil of Lucifer shielded Walburga and Le Fay. Hoisting both unconscious humans onto his armored shoulders, Vali whistled.
A figure fell from the sky, with features of a young man in an armored, oriental monk's attire and wielding a long staff. He spun it and slammed the butt into the earth as he landed, and he, Vali, the two magicians, and Ryuu began to melt into the darkened ground.
"No parting words from a father?" Vali mocked his apparent ally.
Ryuu gruffed and spat, blood, spittle and teeth falling the shortening distance from his maw to the floor. "If I must say anything..."
Yellow eyes glinted at Issei.
"That is no son of mine."
Issei screamed in outrage and agony, letting loose an angry torrent of flame. The stream burned pitifully, the last embers left of his power fanned by emotion.
Too late. They were gone.
His Longinus finally dispelled, Sirzechs caught him by the shoulders before he could collapse.
He could sense shouting figures rushing toward him, and then he blacked out.
Sirzechs lowered Issei into Rias and Akeno's arms as the ORC gathered round the exhausted teen.
Already, green and pale blue glowed as Asia and Koneko tended to his injuries, ignoring their own exhaustion as Twilight Healing and Ki began to treat him.
Ravel stood a small ways away, an orange circle beneath her. The Maou recognized it as the ritual circle the family used to create their Phenex tears and turned away to give her some privacy.
Xenovia was ripping apart her school uniform shirt for bandages. Kiba, generating water with a newly constructed sword.
Gasper hovered over them all as a swarm of bats, denying any intrusion.
Rias and Akeno did nothing but hold him close and weep as they stumbled through casting what healing spells they could. Sirzechs wagered that they would have felt all the rage, fear, and turmoil their lover had experienced in the last few hours, and though Issei likely instead needed professional medical and mental care, he said nothing and made no move to remove them for the moment.
Once Ravel moved in with refilled vials of her Tears, Sirzechs cast a brief spell that made no appreciable difference to his relatively untouched reserves. Devils could heal and transfer energy through skinship, but in the civil war he had developed his own to be much faster and from a distance. The conscious members of his sister's Peerage felt their exhaustion drain away as their strength was restored and injuries diminished. Rias and Akeno received a greater amount; he was sure that some skinship would happen tonight, that would transfer something at least to the drake.
Issei's aura had been drastically expanded, then severely tapped out. The Crimson Maou had felt it and seen it happen. In an incredible display, Issei had surpassed all expectations. And to his senses, it was increasing and restoring itself at an incredible rate.
Not fast enough to be of use in battle or recover overnight completely, but faster than any Devil, god, or being he had personally met before.
Evil Dragons were rare nowadays, most dragons banded together to contain and end them before they could rampage. Outside of battle, their formation was an uncommon occurrence.
One made of Albion's line, held at bay just barely by his own son.
He turned away to meet Grayfia. Behind her were Serafall, Sona and her peerage, Baraqiel, Penemue, Michael, Gabriel, Irina supporting Griselda. Approaching them was a singed Azazel, who had Tobio in a fireman's carry and Dulio close behind.
"Apologies," Dulio reported. "That Wukong fellow blew right by me while I was helping the innocent around the school and blindsided Tobio."
"Cheap shot," the magician grumbled.
"Everyone else is well enough," Baraqiel grunted. "Shaken, but we'll recover in time. I wish we could say the same for some humans beyond the barriers."
"You didn't tell us Ryuu was this powerful," Grayfia chided Baraqiel.
"He wasn't, at least, not when I knew him. But even then he could've crushed me."
"Time." Gabriel added softly. "Ten years for soul-breaking hatred and grief to fester. That would change anyone with their very being fractured so."
"Enough so that Ryuu doesn't care he's going Agni Kai on his own kid. If he doesn't give a damn about him, then he won't for anyone else." Azazel grimaced.
"And time is still not on our side, not when the Khaos Brigade is apparently willing to work with or recruit Evil Dragons to their cause. And Ryuu was just one." Michael continued for his sister. "Granted, one descended from Albion himself, so he may be more powerful than the others, but this does not bode well for any of us."
"All in favor of immediate and enforced peace between us?" Azazel raised his hand.
Every one of the delegates and representatives raised their own. Even those such as Irina and Griselda, who had no official say in the matter, did so.
"Good," Sirzechs concluded. "We'll have to hammer out the details sometime else," he surveyed the decimated school and the huddled group. "There's some rebuilding to do."
Issei opened his eyes to the void and the massive white dragon within.
"What did you do?"
(I did what I never could before nor had prior reason.)
(I… I used some of my power to unlock the rest of yours.)
(It was just after we first spoke, the day you awoke in Tartarus. Keeping your Longinus and my presence hidden would be challenging in practice but still simple in process. But your own power, that which grew as you did, that was something you couldn't easily hide, so I took steps to limit what maximum energy you could call upon at times.)
"You did what to me!?"
(Our individual energies are too alike, too similar. Many veterans of the war between Angels, Fallen Angels and Devils would have recognized you as my blood. Hiding your identity as my descendant was a priority second only to keeping you alive and well. If any of the gods and spectators that watched you fight made the connection, or even harbored suspicions, you would not have survived their attention. Kokabiel may not have been aware but he did not hesitate to manipulate you for his own purposes; many would have done the same and more had they known.)
"I… I don't"
(If you wish to know why I never undid the limitation, it's because I was… uncertain of how to explain myself.)
"How hard can it be?!"
(As hard as family affairs can ever be. To explain what I did would require divulging our true relationship, and I was unsure of how to say anything after holding silent for a decade. 'Oh, by the way, Issei, I happen to be your great-grandfather and have enough enemies and grudges to warrant coming after you in addition to the Welsh Dragon?' That hardly would have been appropriate to bring up in casual conversation.)
"I deserved to know."
(...You did. And you still do. You had every right…)
"What else did you do to me?"
(Besides undoing your limiter, I did something quite reckless with Divine Dividing. I broke it.)
(It is still a Longinus, it will function just the same as before, you personally will never know the difference. But I made my own modification. In addition to Reflect, you will be able to use many of my other abilities, even if they were dormant genes inherited by your sire. My own true strength is still restricted through Juggernaut Drive, that won't change, but you're no longer so limited in what you can truly do. I fully expect you will surpass me in time. Also, it is now no longer a true Sacred Gear.)
(You would be amazed at what one can accomplish within a millennia of imprisonment. I once had hoped to destroy the Longinus from within, either releasing my soul to whatever next adventure I might find or reincarnating me in physical form again. But choosing either option now would kill you, my great-grandson, so I chose a third choice, to dissolve the connection between Divine Dividing and the Heaven's system that operates Sacred Gear distribution.)
Issei's eyes widened. "Then that means…"
(Now there are really only Twelve Longinus in circulation. Even if you were to die, which I will never allow, my power would not be recalled to the system and given to a helpless babe in the next cycle. You're it. The last and strongest White Dragon Emperor, my heir. If you wish to be more poetic about it, you could lay claim to be the Vanishing Dragon with my blessing.)
"This… why, how!?"
(Because I wanted nothing more than for my wielders to live long and happy lives. And you are not simply a wielder, you are my flesh and blood, perhaps my last living family besides your father and great-grandmother. To me, your safety, well-being, and happiness are paramount. If I intruded on any of those, then I freely accept whatever blame and hate you'll give me. I am aware of my imperfection and faults, I will feel no shame in admitting them and their consequences.)
"You're too accepting."
(I am a selfish being, you and I are alike in that matter. What lengths would you go to in efforts to keep your family safe?)
Issei groaned as that single point was something he could never argue against, intrinsic to his own nature.
(If it helps, you now know that you are not alone.)
"I'd hardly call my father an honored member of my family at the moment."
(You would do well to at minimum respect him. Your sire aside, he is my descendant as well, one generation closer than you. The same strength you have is his also. Perhaps not in exact skills and abilities, but the raw power he has is all too real. Besides, it was not to him I referred.)
(Yes, Tiamat. My own bondmate and your great-grandmother.) Albion spoke with a tone of wistful nostalgia and affection Issei had never felt before, shifting his bulk in the void-like space. (Our time together was brief, though she still holds my heart and soul. And I treasure hers. With your father's rampage against the others in our shared family, she may be the last living… sane... blood relative of yours.)
"Anything I should know about her? Before I meet her?"
(Well, I would look beyond the legends for one.)
"What do you mean?"
(Put simply, your great-grandmother was commonly worshipped as a goddess of war and chaos yet equally revered as a goddess of sex. One of her abilities was quite unique even among our kind. She had children with several gods before we bonded, yet not all of them dragons. Some had the appearance and form but lacked the aura to be considered true and hunted down over centuries. In fact… your strength favors my power over hers, but I wonder if your ability to bond more than once is a trait you inherited from her. No, not inherited. Perhaps derived?)
"She bonded multiple times?"
(No, only to me, but a creature of sexuality and love she was nonetheless. Perhaps it is that, combined with your own human potential maybe? I would need to discuss this issue with her to be sure however. But if it is the case, then it means that your ability is not a disease or sign of invalidity, but a gift. A natural part of your being.)
Issei snorted in derision. "Some gift."
(Think of your mates and ask yourself if you would ever part with what binds them to you before saying that again.)
His jaw clicked shut.
(This is something that bears further consideration, from both of us and we do need Tia's input on this as well. As much as we need to process current events, perhaps it is best we do so, in our own ways until we can meet with her. I won't lock away my power, but please, Issei. I hardly deserve your company, nonetheless I will beg for your forgiveness.)
One of the Legendary Dragons. Begging.
As much as Issei wanted to hate Albion, for the lies, deceit, benign neglect, the fact that he would beg for forgiveness spoke volumes of his willingness to throw away pride and reputation. And he'd be doing it for him, for how he viewed him. For his family.
"We do need some time apart. And I will think about all this. I promise."
(Then go. Rest. Think. Meditate. Spend time with your loved ones. Train. You'll find Reflect much easier to use, now that you've achieved it once.)
"How much easier?"
(Half of what you needed tonight. And the next time, half of that. And so on for each time after.)
Issei nearly swallowed his tongue as he choked in surprise. The idea of having a flawless shield that in time would cost next to nothing to create was daunting. "That's…"
(A technique I am glad you have earned tonight. None of our shared family have ever managed it, until now. I trust you to use it well.)
"You have my word on that."
Albion seemed pleased with the answer and nodded as the void grew brighter, ejecting Issei back to reality.
The members of the ORC were besides themselves in worry. Issei's injuries were mostly healed, yet he remained catatonic.
If it weren't for the bonds and Koneko's ability to sense his lifeforce, one would think he was truly dead and not sleeping as he normally would.
"Ise, wake up!" Rias gently shook her boyfriend, desperate for him to respond.
"Come on you big lug, wake already!" Akeno was no better, her hands balling her haori with worry. "Come on, there's a week of non-stop loving if you do!"
"Don't listen to her, if you wake up for me right now you'll get that and breakfast in bed," Rias countered, both her and her Queen smiling with tears falling freely.
"I'd be serving it in a maid uniform."
"I'd be serving it au natural."
The other members of the ORC were closely gathered and conflicted. They were anxious for their resident fire-breather to wake up. On the other hand, the oldest girls were once again behaving like children in their competitiveness, serving to remind them of normalcy.
The one-upping of the increasingly lewd propositions continued until Rias broke. "DAMMIT, ISSEI, WHY WON'T YOU WAKE UP!?" She screamed it into his face, hoping his sensitive hearing would trigger something.
His eyes stirred beneath their lids. "Because," he coughed as he looked up at them, "I'm holding out for a better offer."
Kiba and Gasper facefaulted and Asia, Ravel, and Koneko all turned red with envy and annoyance. Xenovia nodded solemnly, appreciating the tenants of devilhood she'd adopted wholeheartedly.
And while both King and Queen would have otherwise made their Pawn suffer for such a comment before, they were far too busy holding him to themselves and crying with joy.
When tears were dried, they helped him to his feet, though the older girls refused to let him walk unaided. "So… how are you guys?"
"We've been better," Kiba shrugged, dismissing his injuries in favor of his friend's condition. "The higher-ups have agreed to peace. It's all very interesting, but we're more concerned about you at the moment."
"Think I can milk this injury for what it's worth?"
The females present frowned disapprovingly.
"Not you, the Heaven faction. I need to get some things straight."
After a moment's pause, Rias nodded, and part of their group moved away, leaving some to sit and recuperate after the night's ordeal.
"Hey, Michael," he called out to the Seraph, still leaning on Akeno and Rias, followed by Asia and Xenovia. "A word?"
Michael nodded before politely dismissing Gabriel, who teleported away with Dulio. This left just Heaven's current leader, Griselda and Irina to represent their faction before him.
"My congratulations for achieving the power of your ancestor, though you have my condolences as well. Fighting against one's family is never a kind occurrence." A sincere statement from an Angel who had fought and killed his Fallen brethren in the past.
"Thank you, and no, it wasn't. But that wasn't why I wanted to talk."
"Would this pertain to the demand Albion made after your… previous interaction with Irina?"
"Yeah, the one where Albion demanded exclusive access to Eden. You can go ahead and forget it."
Michael, Griselda, and Irina blinked in unison. "Oh," Michael started hesitantly. "You are… rescinding his demand?"
"If it isn't clear, gramps and I aren't on the best of terms right now, he's gonna have to build that trust back up with me. Either way, I can't say I approve of what he ordered to actually be carried out."
Without warning, Issei's head was pulled down, courtesy of Rias tugging at his ear. "Issei, you're giving up a paradise! Think this through! I thought you wanted a safe haven for dragons."
"As did I," Michael agreed.
"That's what Kuoh is for, should be," Issei massaged his earlobe briefly before looking back at Michael. "Yeah, I'm sure. On my authority as his host, long-lost great-grandkid or whatever."
"You're terrible about collecting debts. You're terrible at being a devil." Rias complained and shook her head with equal measure of affection and frustration. "Asia, can you help him here? I need to talk to Grayfia and get some details straightened out before Issei's honesty ruins what business relations my family has."
Asia was all too eager, taking her place beneath Issei's left arm, while Rias gave her boyfriend a chaste kiss. "Be right back." With that, she returned to the devil contingent.
"Father commands us to forgive our debtors, but I can understand her position somewhat." Michael smiled kindly. "You truly do make a terrible devil. Perhaps in another life, you would have made an excellent exorcist."
"Not a priest?"
"Oaths of celibacy and devout worship of a higher being would be difficult for any dragon. I'd be concerned if any proud beings were to express an interest to commit to such a humble life," Michael shook his head. "Regardless, as merciful you might be in this matter, there is still the issue of reparations for your own injury to be dealt with. Albion's wish or not, I am obligated to right that wrong. So what is your desire?"
"You'd make a terrific devil, you have the catchphrase memorized!" Akeno's heel ground into his foot, Xenovia lightly punched his shoulder, and Asia gave him a sad look. "I'm joking, but seriously, I don't want anything. On my own I can acquire most of what I… want... Could you allow Asia and Xenovia to pray? I can't make that happen on my own."
"I mean, can you alter Heaven's System to allow them to pray, read the Bible, go to Church, communion, stuff like that? No pain involved?"
Michael and Griselda looked at him with surprise, Irina blinked as if she was reevaluating her perception of him, Akeno smiled with a look of pride for his request, while Asia and Xenovia looked understandably shocked.
"Rescind God's system from them? No, removing them from Judgment of his system. Shielding them somehow from that which oversees the world..." Michael slowly murmured. "It pleases me to hear you would give your request on their behalf, but if this is the case and for their benefit, I would need their thoughts and approval. Do you both wish for this as well?"
Asia nodded frantically. "Oh please Lord Michael! I'm glad to be a devil, but still, I believe in the Father and would gladly pray to Him again!"
"As would I," Xenovia affirmed. "Though I mourn his passing and enjoy my new life, that belief is still tied to me and my upbringing. Even as a devil, to be able to pray would allow me much comfort."
Michael looked at them both and smiled. "Well then, if this is what you desire then I shall do everything I can to see it done."
"Oh thank you!" Asia and Xenovia said in unison. Simultaneously clasping their hands together in the typical fashion, they said, "Dear God~ OW!"
"Give it some time, girls." Griselda chastised them. "He has not yet gone anywhere to see what can be done for that wish."
"Nor am I entirely certain it can be done, but if there is a way, I shall find it, I promise. I only ask for your time and your patience."
Michael turned on his heel, hand on his chin, and started mumbling to himself, using terms and references that none save Azazel might understand. Griselda made to lightly push her, but Irina stepped forward on her own.
"Be that as it may, I still owe you a debt."
"Hmm…" Issei stared at her. Despite the intensity of his glare, Irina didn't falter. His gaze wasn't hostile or gentle in any manner, but neutral. Controlled. Examining her as if he was seeing her for the first time too.
As if this was a test, Issei nodded. "I can accept that at least."
Irina breathed out, her nervousness beginning to break through her resolve. "Then I~OUCH!"
Issei had reached forward and flicked her between the eyes. Even exhausted, on shaky legs and requiring support, he had enough to deliver a stinging jolt to the entirely-human Irina. "There. We're good."
Any irritation Irina might have had at the sudden pain evaporated. "Huh?"
"We're good. No more debt, nothing else owed."
"But… I stabbed you!"
"Yes. Very painful. Do you want me to stab you? It hurts, you know."
Staring silently, Irina seemed very, very lost.
"We just declared peace. Stabbing you would be a hindrance to that. And mine did get healed up, well mostly. And this hand is going to take time to heal," Issei tapped the place in his side where he had been scarred and showed his palm, still burned and sickly from where he held a dragonslayer. "You seem sincere, so why should I retaliate? And honestly, the last thing I want to do is hurt someone else right now for stupid reasons."
"Rias Gremory was right…"
"She usually is."
Irina smiled. "You are a terrible devil."
"And you're not so bad yourself," Issei held out his right hand. Irina took it in hers without hesitation, both eager to leave the mess behind them.
"Good to see they're getting along," Sirzechs said to his wife and sister, watching Issei and the others interact with Heaven's delegates.
"As good as we can hope for," Rias shook her head and looked around at the decimated ruins of the school.
"Don't worry about this, I'll get someone on it, you'll be back in class Monday morning."
Rias gave him a look. "Today is Monday. It's two in the morning."
"Our construction workers can use magic."
"My boyfriend and Peerage need rest." Rias put her foot down. "Issei is emotionally and physically wrecked, and the rest of us aren't faring much better."
"He seems to be processing, hiding it with niceties. His words and meanings are genuine, but his well-being is not."
"He's grieving and angry," Rias' eyes gleamed with unshed tears as his unfiltered emotions affected her. "But he won't let himself show it until he's in private. He doesn't want to show it even to me and Akeno, but he knows he can't hide it. He knows that we're well aware."
"See to it that you care for him," Sirzechs smiled, but the words were not a suggestion and Rias knew it.
"Can you please, please just tell me what you want this time?"
Sirzechs put aside the self that hoped to be a brother-in-law and future uncle, and bore himself as leader of a species on the brink of another war. "I need Issei ready to fight. The sooner the better. I'm turning his suspension for contracts into an indefinite hold. For now, training is his only priority as a Devil."
The cold, murderous glare he received was not unexpected. Still, he had to say it. "Issei is powerful. Some might say too powerful, but he is an asset I can not afford to treat patiently when our species may be brought under attack."
He was of course referring to the written bylaws for Peerages. The Maou could draft or recruit members on a needs basis depending on the situation when the Underworld was in turmoil.
"Find someone else to be your ideal soldier."
"If only I had another squad of fighters each even a tenth of his caliber. Do you have any idea what Issei is? Or rather, where he ranks?"
The question gave Rias pause. Issei had channeled an incredible amount of power in the last few hours. The quality was beyond incredible, but due to the immensity of it and the bond, she couldn't properly quantify him.
"Rias," Sirzechs began slowly, "Issei is strong enough that if he and I were to fight, I would have to take him seriously from the start."
That had an effect on the young King, Rias could not hide her surprise and shock. Even Grayfia widened her eyes.
"As he is, it wouldn't be close. I would still defeat him without killing him, but that can change in time. He simply isn't accustomed to the power he has. His exhaustion, his dreadfully wasteful use of aura, his inefficiencies that he isn't even aware of," Sirzechs looked at the group surrounding Issei. "But when he addresses his pure technique, he might just oust me and Ajuka. That's how much power he's throwing around right now. And that's before you factor in his Longinus."
Rias protested but Sirzechs held up his hand. "Ryuu's energy is practically as toxic as volcanic fumes, I completely understand why Issei did not use Divine Dividing as it was intended. I wouldn't want to ingest that aura in my true form either. But correct his technique, train up his reserves, replenish them consistently with his Sacred Gear and Issei might be damn near unstoppable. More so if he's personally invested in the fight."
"Rias, you and Akeno are the ones who would stop him," Grayfia said gently. "His motivation, to whatever end."
The silent implications of them dying and enmaddening Issei were there. Rias hadn't missed it.
They were hostage material if ever captured. Issei's training would lessen the chance of it ever happening.
"Fine." Rias frowned. "But I'm still not happy about it."
"If you were, I'd be disturbed, both as Maou and your older brother. But as your older brother," he pulled her into a hug, "I couldn't be prouder."
One teleportation circle later, fueled by Sirzechs to spare his sister's peerage the energy, the ORC all but collapsed in the entrance hall of the main residence. Kiba and Gasper weren't with them, presumably sent to their own home mid-transit.
Rias was the first to stand, Akeno and Xenovia assisting to support Issei with her. Already exhausted, the magic inherent to devil teleportation served his physiology no great favors. They gently led him to the master bedroom and bath, though it was more like steering given that he was walking aimlessly and without direction, leaning heavily upon them as the day's exhaustion caught up to him.
Without ceremony, he was guided into the bathwater to soak, still clothed. Sending the other girls out, Akeno and Rias stripped then joined him, removing the blood-soaked clothing that stuck to him. Several times, they needed to cut the garment entirely, Issei semi-aware of their efforts but still mostly unresponsive, moving sluggish only when prompted.
Finally, he was undressed, Rias throwing his ruined clothes into a heap meant for the garbage later. Then, she and her Queen began to gently scrub at the blood that stained his skin. Minding the places where recently he had been heavily injured, working with great care, the two of them managed to remove all traces of blood from his hide, though the bathwater and their own bodies gained a slight red tint.
Deciding to magically levitate him this time, they brought him out of the water, sparing only a minute to completely remove the blood from their own persons before drying themselves off and him.
Bathed, dried, naked; in other times it would be lewd, but there was nothing particularly erotic about them all nearly dying. Attempted murder, filicide, emotional abuse, and many more sins against their lover. Both girls had briefly entertained the thought of some life-affirming sex or something along those lines, but now didn't seem the time. Not with Issei nearly catatonic as his body began its delayed shut down in order to recover.
As Issei collapsed into bed, both girls crawled in with him, though not in their usual positions where they were held close to him. Instead, they pulled him between them and practically smothered him in their goal of skinship.
Issei stirred, gaze focusing on the nipple quite nearly at eye level. "Whatya doing?"
"Shh," Akeno brought a hand over his face, shutting his eyes as he couldn't resist. "Rest." She began to channel what magic power she had left into a spell for dreamless sleep. "You fought bravely, now go to sleep, our heroic dragon."
"Not just… hero... Imma… dragon…" His ability to enunciate was faltering. Perfectly normal for him, but at least it was the spell's fault this time.
"Yes, our dragon." Rias kissed his forehead as his breathing evened out into that seemingly dead state he called sleep. "The bravest dragon there is."
Despite all that had happened that day, despite the revelations and hurt, and everything that seemed intent on turning Issei's life into a living hell, both girls were overjoyed that even in his sleep, he smiled.
Post-credits scene at the end of note.
AN: I have my reasons for playing things like this.
First, Issei now has a personal, visceral reason to hate and confront the Khaos Brigade. Not simply being the best man for the job or because canon Vali nearly halved Rias' tits. That motivation of his was only for his loved ones (internal) but now there's his dad to deal with (external). Vali takes a step back to Ryuu, because this unresolved conflict takes precedence. He's invested.
Second, because I have plans for how Ryuu affects other arcs in the way that only a sufficiently dangerous evil father figure can. While Rizevim Lucifer qualifies as one, he isn't personal to the core characters as an obstacle to defeat or surpass.
Third, because when I choose to end the father and son conflict, I want to do it right, at the right time and for the right reasons to give the desired result. For what I want to do, this wasn't it. I want that closure kept wiiidddee open for someone to stroll along and poke at and let Issri go nuts.
At the very least, I now have written reason for why I excluded Tiamat from the harem. I didn't dismiss her out of hand, but because bonding with your already bonded great-grandma while your great-grandpa lives inside you is totally not creepy whatsoever. And yes, her genetic influence is why a half-human Issei can bond multiple times. More on that later, can't go through everything in notes.
For those of you who read my aside story, Future Taking Flight and paying attention, you might have noticed some foreshadowing for this story there. Maybe worth a look for some of you.
And here's your season ending post-credits scene. Enjoy.
A few hours of sleep passed, and then a soft magical pulse awoke Rias and Akeno, much like an alarm clock. Looking at each other, they nodded. Once they were absolutely certain Issei was in deep sleep, Akeno and Rias gently managed to extricate themselves from his embrace. Immediately he became restless, subconsciously reaching for them or where they had been. Rias opened the door and Asia, Ravel, Koneko and Xenovia spilled in, somehow not making a noise. Each looked still asleep, though eager to join Issei in bed.
"Akeno and I need to go out, but he needs someone with him," Rias sighed. "This is a freebie, and you'll only get the one. Remember, keep it PG."
Asia and the younger girls looked ready to cry at the reminder, Xenovia nodding silently. That didn't stop them from crawling into bed with the dragon. Xenovia and Koneko had moved fastest, taking his right and left arms respectively. Asia and Ravel clambered in, hugging his legs. Each in their pajamas, Rias and Akeno wouldn't have let them in otherwise.
The girls had to use their own body weight to hold his limbs down, but he eventually stilled. Satisfied that he would rest peacefully, the older girls left to freshen up.
After taking a few minutes to quickly shower and dress, the King and Queen walked to the living room of the manor. They had hardly waited five seconds before a red circle appeared, Grayfia stepping through.
"Everything's been arranged; your temporary permission to enter the territory, transport," she gestured to the circle. "And Lucifer ordered me to accompany you both."
Rias frowned. "This is a private matter."
"Perhaps, but you are tired already and your safety is more important. If I may speak as a sister rather than your brother's Queen, I won't simply let you gallivant halfway across the world and into another faction's territory without an escort."
"You wouldn't normally assign one." Akeno pointed out, her face betraying her irritation.
"Normally, Sirzechs and Lord Gremory would gladly entrust your safety to your mate," Grayfia replied coolly. "But in both his current condition and absence, even if it is overly cautious, I will be your chaperone."
The girls quickly realized that the only way they would achieve their objective would be with Grayfia in attendance. So they quietly nodded and followed her through the present glyphs, stepping through to find themselves on a snowy mountainside.
"This way." Despite the weather and her maid dress, Grayfia moved unperturbed by the chill or snow, stepping lightly across the ground and leading the girls up the mountain trail. After a brisk fifteen minute hike, they came across a hunter's lodge built against the cliff and perfectly shielded from the wind and snow by virtue of its planned placement.
Without preamble, they entered, lightly stamping their feet to rid their shoes of any snow. They then entered the second set of doors and properly entered the building. It was a game hunter's paradise, skins, bones and trophies adorning the walls. Antlers, horns, heads, skulls, skin rugs, the girls could easily name the mundane creatures as well as several esoteric species that didn't naturally exist on earth or had long died out. However, they weren't there to sightsee, they were there for her.
Across from the entrance was a bar, behind it an expensive wine rack, seated before it was a young woman with auburn hair. From behind, the Devils could see that the woman was slumped over the bar with an unfinished glass before her.
Grayfia remained at the entrance while Rias and Akeno moved forward, stopping right behind the woman.
She stirred. "Ah, Devils." She turned around and her eyes widened in shock and fear at the sight of them. "Gremory."
Rias nodded. "Lady Artemis."
The goddess hesitated then sighed. "So you two are my death."
"Don't be so morose," Akeno put away the bottle and the glass. "We're only here to talk."
"Talk," Artemis turned back to the bar and slumped, using her arms to pillow her forehead. "Talk is all I can do now as I wait for a dragon to find me. If you two could, he will."
Akeno and Rias sat down to her right, willing to wait the goddess out as she bemoaned the situation.
"I miss the old days, back when man was beginning to play with fire," Artemis sniffed. "When worshippers and unbelievers, elders and youths, predators and prey were easily defined. Sometimes I don't recognize this world. And now I can't recognize myself."
When neither girl commented, the goddess explained further. "I am the Goddess of the Hunt, of the wilderness and its creatures, of young girls and virginity. And then when Selene and Hera grew lazy or uncaring, I got saddled with being a protector of children as well. I didn't mind, still don't mind it, but now it's like a slap in the face with everything I did and didn't do for your dragon."
"Oh, really? I'm sure that guilt helped him as it hunted him like an animal and left him to die alone," Akeno snarled angrily, remembering how he was found. Rias put a hand to her shoulder to calm her, but the Queen was on a roll. "Where was your conscience then?"
"Gone." Artemis' voice broke. "Gone when I lost myself in both a false quest of justice and my selfish desire to have a real challenge for the first time in centuries. I let Kokabiel give me prey even though I had not dared hunt for some time and didn't question it."
She gestured and a fresh bottle flew off the rack and into her hand. She poured some into her glass, but after a thought she drank directly from the bottle itself. Artemis only managed to take one swallow before the bottle was pulled from her hand by Rias who frowned upon her.
"So you admit yourself to be a fool."
Artemis winced but didn't deny.
"As it happens Issei doesn't know we're here." Akeno took the bottle and sniffed the liquor, nostrils flaring appreciatively at the smell. "We don't plan on telling him about this or of you for a long while, but we will collect a favor from you on his behalf."
Artemis looked out of it still. "Huh?"
Akeno rolled her eyes and pointed at the goddess. "You do something for us," she motioned at herself and Rias, "then we don't tell Issei where you are, only that your debt to him is considered even."
"That isn't how debts work," the goddess shook her head. "That isn't~"
"It's how this one will work," Rias stated with no room for negotiation. "Issei tries his best to not think of how he died, to stay strong for our sakes. So to preserve that part of him, you'll leave him alone. Besides, I don't want you anywhere near him, murderer."
Artemis had only met Sirzechs Gremory once, fortunately it was in an official meeting and thus peaceful. His younger sister resembled him sure, but at that moment, the girl's eyes flashed red and Artemis felt as though she was standing before the same princely Maou, only this time the monster had paused to personally take note of her insignificant presence.
Grayfia hadn't moved from her post at the entryway, but the normally inexpressive Queen raised an eyebrow. Whether Rias was aware of what she was doing or not, this information that her growth was increasing without precedent would interest her parents and brother. Perhaps some of the bond enhancing her abilities? Issei's presence manifested through the soul connection?
Artemis flinched at the callous reminder. "What do you wish of me?" The goddess bowed her head defeatedly.
"It's simple. You found Issei even with his unique escape options. That means you can find other dragons too. Find his father, the Evil Dragon Ryuu. Don't alert or confront him, just keep track of where he is and keep us informed." Rias' eyes softened back to their usual blue-green as Akeno placed an assortment of cracked and damaged scales on the countertop. Only two real dragons had fought at Kuoh, and these were shaped differently from Issei's. "Once we deal with Ryuu and the members of the Khaos Brigade supporting him, then we'll consider your debt to our mate even."
AN: And this is probably the biggest reason why I chose Artemis. A hunting deity vindictive enough against men and capable of killing Issei in his base condition but still has a passable moral code (at least among most known deities) to repay that transgression in a meaningful fashion. That, and it gave me the best opportunity to develop Rias and Akeno's defensiveness and their own initiative, something that will progressively be more difficult to do in battle as new and stronger enemies are revealed.
The only other hunting deity I considered was Woden, chief of the wild hunt in Anglo-Saxon mythos but better known to the Norse as Odin. Separating the two aspects would have been a pain similar to trying to divide Greco-Roman aspects of the olympians. Pity Odin already exists in DxD, would have loved to try the wild hunt and how they recruit worthy members. And it would've kept the hordes of Percy Jackson/Artemis shippers from bugging me about adding her to the romantic list.
Compromise, I'm going to use the AC Valhalla Odin personality over that of the lecherous geezer. That'll butterfly well I imagine.
I do so love tying up loose ends, this was something I've been sitting on since ch 4 way back when. Coincidentally, this arc was as far as I planned when I first came up with chapter 1. Everything going forward is an outline I came up with since actual publishing chapter one.
Next chapter for this story will be mostly original as I wrap up any immediate consequences, as well as find something to be done in the offscreen weeks between the canon present time and the summer break. Original work should come faster under ideal situations, so pray for that. Or don't. Some people seem to have found my absence as a sign of weakness.
Oh ye of little faith.
Oh well. Can't please everyone.
Until next time.