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"Let's go!" - Regular Speech
'Oppai!' - Thoughts
[BOOST!] - Sacred Gear/Ddraig Speech
Chapter 18: Raynare's Guild of Dungeoneering
Outside of the Ruins of the Purifier Base, Kuō Town
Rias Gremory let out a breath through clenched teeth as she stood at the edge of a rooftop, carefully watching as Devils under her brother's command worked and crawled through the rubble that they had once believed to be nothing more than a barely-afloat plumbing and cleaning company.
"Do you suspect our red-armoured friend might be responsible for this latest complication, Rias?" Sona asked as she walked up to stand beside her. Both of their Peerages were working together to handle the perimeter watch, which basically amounted to little more than busy work considering the number of barriers the response team, that the two heiresses had learned was officially named the 'Ria-tan and So-tan Rapid Rescue Squad' (RSRRS), had put up when they'd arrived. The humans in the surrounding buildings had already had their memories modified and a cover-up story was already being disseminated. Now all that was left was shifting through the rubble to find any remaining bodies and retrieve/destroy any other evidence of supernatural involvement.
"There's no proof just yet, but I honestly can't think of anyone else nearby with the…ability to inflict this kind of destruction." the Crimson-Haired Ruin Princess replied dryly. "I'm also fairly sure that our new friend wouldn't cause something like this without some very good reasoning behind it."
"Indeed." the Sitri Heiress acquiesced with a grimace. "Still, some of the things the teams are already reporting in…Rias, there had to be at least a hundred humans in that building. Most seem to have died in the explosion, but a significant number of what our people believe to have been security staff were all killed a short time before the explosion ruptured the building from below. More so, they were all killed via some form of bladed weapon, while their firearms were rendered useless… the gunpowder had been rendered into sludge via some form of transmutation."
"And we're sure that this place was a Purifier front?" Rias asked softly, a bit unnerved at the idea. With their primary weapons rendered useless, normal humans would have been little more than chaff before a scythe to a supernatural combatant on the level of their red-armoured acquaintance.
"Everything we've found so far is pointing to it." Sona offered grimly, her eyes hardening slightly. "The 'security staff' were all equipped with advanced, military-grade body armour and weaponry, and that's not even getting started on the kind of technological wreckage our people are reporting on the lower levels. Even the name of the company 'Pure Drains' seems mockingly obvious in hindsight. That still begs the question of what they were doing here and how they stayed hidden from us for so long."
Rias shook her head. "There are simply too many unknowns about this entire affair and I don't like it." she offered, a troubled look on her face. "With this, and the other incidents that have been springing up recently that we haven't been able to deal with directly, I've started to hear whispers that we're going to be recalled to the Underworld to explain ourselves."
"What!?" Sona snapped, turning to her friend in a mix of shock and anger.
"It's just rumours and whispers…for the moment at least." Rias grimaced as well. "But if we keep getting caught flat-footed like this, then even Onii-san and Serafall-sama won't be able to stop people from questioning our ability to oversee our territory. Your parents could very well try and use this to pressure into lowering your stipulations for anyone seeking your hand. And I could very well be pressured into marrying Riser earlier than I thought."
Sona's hands, dainty and petite, curled into angry fists at the thought. No, she refused to allow that to happen. She was the architect of her own destiny and she would not let her parent's 'well-intentioned' ambitions allow some arrogant High-Class Devil with more brains in his lower head than anywhere else interfere with what she desired.
Unlike many of her fellow High-Class Devils, Sona truly saw and understood the potential that Reincarnated Devils possessed. One of her dearest ambitions was to open a school for Reincarnated Devils in the Underworld. It was one of the reasons she'd sought to spend her time in the Human World, aside from gathering her Peerage directly; to get a more hands-on understanding of human schooling through direct observation and interaction.
Any of the people she knew her parents would consider a 'proper match to ensure the continuation of the Pureblooded Devils as a race' would never willingly allow her to follow those ambitions, many would actively work against her if they could. The one young man who might have approved would be Rias' cousin, Sairaorg Bael, and while he was handsome enough and was generally a good-enough person, he also lacked the [Power of Destruction] that the Bael Family regarded so highly. That alone made him 'defective' in the eyes of many High-Class Devils, despite his overwhelming strength and ability in other areas.
Also, he was an utter meathead, which was honestly a bit of a disappointment. If he could actually use the muscle in his skull every now and again, he might have been a decent candidate, but Sona demanded a certain degree of intelligence from anyone she would consider her paramour.
Rias gently slipped her hand onto Sona's clenched fist and undid it. "Don't worry Sona, I refuse to let it get to that point. I promise, you'll keep your freedom."
"And what about you, Rias?" the bespectacled Devil snapped back, giving her overly kind friend a glare. "If you think I'll let you take the blame and sacrifice yourself to Raiser for my sake, you'd best think again. I have my Pride and this as just much my responsibility as it is yours."
Seeing the pained smile that crossed Rias' face honestly made Sona's heart ache a bit. She and Rias had been friends for as long as either could remember and shared a bond as strong, and as deep, as those that existed between their blood siblings.
"Unlike you, I don't have any exceptional talent where I excel beyond Raiser. It's not like I could challenge him to a manga trivia contest to earn my freedom like you did with chess and your former fiancé. There's a provision in the contract about a Rating Game, so I at least have a chance to fight for my freedom, but even with the advice, tricks, and spells our new friend supplied, my chances of victory still aren't that good." the redheaded Devil said softly. "We're simply too badly outnumbered, and that's not even counting that he has Ravel as part of his Peerage. Against a single member of the Phenex Family, it would be a struggle, but facing two at once, along with a full veteran Peerage…I'm not confident in our chances."
Rias Gremory was always confident, always self-assured, always determined to walk her own path. Seeing her dispirited like this made Sona want to hunt down the fool Phenex and drown him herself to help her friend. She also felt a not-so-small flare of ire and distaste toward Lord Zeoticus Gremory, Rias' father. Unlike her own parents, he already had a Pureblooded grandchild to secure the Gremory bloodline through Millicas. He was simply being greedy at this point.
Oh, she knew the man didn't mean to harm his daughter. The man likely believed that it was a good match but, while Raiser wasn't entirely without his good points; the arrogant, pampered scion of the Phenex Family simply didn't respect Rias. Her bloodline, her title, her position as an heiress of one of the last remaining 72 Pillars families…those he respected and cared for, but he showed none of that toward Rias herself. Rias was simply a means by which he could attain power and influence, not to mention a vessel for his Lust.
Another one, anyway. Aside from Ravel, Sona knew from both gossip and spies that Raiser liberally indulged himself in the bodies of his Peerage, slaking his lust several times over with them.
Disgusting pig. Even Devils should have limits to their debauchery.
"To use a human saying, it's not over until the fat lady sings Rias." the Sitri Heiress offered quietly. "Please, don't give up until its over, not until you've done everything you can to win."
The Gremory Heiress offered her a watery smile in return and nodded. "I promise." she offered simply, and Sona felt some small part of herself relax again. Rias was never one to break her word, particularly to someone she cared for.
Shaking her head, Rias eyed the task force beneath them with scant favour. "I will be having words with Onii-sama about why this…team…was set up in the first place. I specifically talked about him not going overboard like this." she offered mildly, hoping to change the subject to one less depressing. "I imagine you did the same with Serafall-sama?"
"I did." Sona agreed, adjusting her glasses irritably. While she did truly love her sister dearly, the overly-affectionate manner in which Serafall Leviathan expressed her own sisterly feelings was overwhelming, exhausting, and, above all else, utterly embarrassing.
The two heiresses shared a look of exasperations that only younger sisters far too used to their embarrassing, over-protective siblings could share before returning their focus to supervising the various Devils combing through the rubble.
The Next Day
Courtyard, Kuō Academy
Hyōdō Issei tried to swallow his yawn as he made his way through the front gates, absently ignoring the Student Council girl (Shinra Tsubaki, the Student Council Vice-President) standing at the gates as he momentarily wondered why Sona-kaichō wasn't there, like she had been every day since she was elected Student Council President.
'She's probably still dealing with the mess I left at the Purifier base.' he thought, feeling a bit guilty. It wasn't as if he could help what had happened; given the circumstances there had been little he could do to prevent the entire affair from getting so far out of hand.
He honestly hadn't gotten much rest himself either; after a late dinner with his parents and making sure that they were asleep in bed, he'd teleported back to his base in order to continue working on creating and refining his base's defences. At least that was going smoothly, he'd already finished the first floor and was nearly done with the second as well. A few hours of work tonight and it would be done.
It turned out that the [Gamer's Store] had a whole host of stuff specifically for creating and upgrading dungeons and the various things inside. There was even a [Dungeon Core Add-On: Dungeon Store] that, after being added to the [Base Core], allowed him to access a Dungeon-specific area of the store without having to filter and search through the main store. It had been dirt cheap too, only a 100 yen, so Issei hadn't felt the slightest bit guilty for indulging in that bit of streamlining.
Thanks to his efforts, any Fallen Angels that managed to find his dungeon were not going to enjoy their trek…at least once he was finished with it anyway. That couldn't happen soon enough in Issei's opinion, though at least he had a bit of time. According to Asia, the leader of the Kuō's Fallen Angels, Raynare, had left for the Fallen's main base in the Underworld a couple of days ago to resupply and to handle a debriefing about the death of the 'rogue' Fallen Armârôs the Lesser, and likely wouldn't be back for a few more days, four if he was particularly lucky.
None of the other remaining Fallen likely cared enough or were motivated enough to actively try and look for her. Kalawarner was apparently too lazy, Dohnaseek didn't care about anything other than finding a good fight, and the fourth, Mittelt, was accompanying their leader.
Yeah, the Fallen sounded like a real pleasant bunch, didn't they?
As he entered the Academy itself, he couldn't help but grimace. While preparing a proper defence was all well and good, you couldn't win anything if you only stayed on the defensive; you had to go on the offence if you wanted to win. Armârôs the Lesser had been in the low-thirties, level-wise, and he'd barely managed to win against her by the skin of his teeth. There was no reason to expect that the four other Fallen that inhabited Kuō's abandoned church were going to be any weaker than her. Hell, there was every chance at least one or two of them would be even stronger.
And that was just the Fallen; according to Asia there was at least two dozen stray exorcists inhabiting the area as well, led by one 'Father Freed Sellzen,' all of which would be armed with Light Swords and a variety of Exorcist Guns. Unfortunately, Exorcist Guns were far more difficult to counter than normal firearms. Rather than simply being normal firearms loaded with something like 'blessed bullets' as he'd initially assumed, Exorcist Guns were actually closer to a mass-produced enchanted item that fired 'bullets' of condensed Light Magic from a 'magazine' of compressed magical energy.
While they were technically at their best against creatures attuned to darkness and shadows, like Devils and Vampires, they were still effective enough against any normal living creature…including humans.
'Because of course they are.' Issei thought bitterly. If it was a game or something, like Pokémon, then Exorcist Guns and Light Swords would only world against their intended targets, or at least be severely less effective against other targets. But no, apparently, he wasn't that lucky in real life and Light Magic was just as deadly to a Normal/Dragon type like him as it was to Dark and Ghost types.
He was suddenly pulled out of his thoughts as a hand reached out and snagged him by the collar of his shirt before quickly dragging him into an empty classroom, the door quickly sliding shut behind him.
"Who the hel-!?" he grunted out indignantly as he stumbled to regain his balance after being let go, only to freeze up and gulp upon spotting Katase, Murayama, and Kiryū Aika standing and looking at him. Murayama, the tallest and physically strongest was also the closest and likely the one who'd grabbed him.
"Ladies…I could have sworn that I haven't done any peeking recently, so why the rough treatment?" he asked nervously.
"Cut the dumb act, Hyōdō; we know you hire that red mercenary guy to find and help Asia yesterday." Aika pointed out simply, adjusting her glasses with one finger. "He also saved us from the same people."
"I-I don't…" he trailed off weakly. He honestly hadn't been expecting them to openly confront him like this. That was part of the reason for keeping him and the 'red-armoured warrior/mercenary' as separate as possible.
"Enough!" Murayama grabbed the front of his shirt and dragged him close enough that they were practically nose-to-nose when she spoke again. "Admit it already!"
Issei was having a bit of trouble doing so, what with Murayama accidentally(?) strangling him with the front of his shirt as she held him aloft. Surprisingly, aid came from an unexpected, bespectacled source.
"Unless you plan on kissing the truth out of him, you might want to let go Murayama." Kiryū offered dryly. "He's starting to turn blue."
Murayama blinked before leaning back a bit. "Oops!" the dark-haired kendoka squeaked in shock as she let him go, a blush adorning her cheeks.
Issei managed to catch himself before he landed on his rump, absently massaging his poor, abused neck before he eyed the three girls warily. They were obviously not going to let up on this, so he was stuck with playing along for now.
"Alright already." he offered with a sigh. "I was the one who hired that merc to save Asia and rescuing you all in the process. You're welcome."
Katase ignored the sarcasm in that last statement. "Did you know that we were going to be kidnapped as well?"
"How would I know something like that?" Issei shot back dryly. "It took that [Gamer]-guy using that [Observe] power of his on you in order to find out that you were spiritualists. I don't have anything like that, and the first I knew about the Purifiers grabbing people was when a half-dozen of them jumped me and Asia."
"That makes sense." Kiryū agreed, absently flexing the arm that held her [Staring Armoured Red]. "Hyōdō might be a perv, but he's not the kind of guy who'd just let someone be attacked without doing anything."
"Thanks, I guess." the boy offered uncertainly. Did she have to phrase it like that?
"My question is just how you managed to hire a magical mercenary to run a rescue mission." the bespectacled girl continued, eyeing Issei carefully. "From what I hear, you spend all your money on eroge, galge, hentai and other kinds of porn. So just how did you manage to hire Mr. Armour to hunt down, invade and decimate a secret based filled with murderous assholes armed to the teeth."
"Well, first off, I stopped buying that kind of stuff ages ago." Issei stated with a huff. "Nearly getting sliced and diced in your own house tends to rearrange your priorities a bit, so I've managed to scrunch and save up some funds for a nice little nest egg. Second, it really didn't matter how much I had. The red guy has a massive hate-on when it comes to the Purifiers; he'll take any job that involves impeding, attacking or just plain harassing those assholes dirt cheap. I promised him a favour he could call in whenever if he helped Asia, and another if he rescued anyone else that they'd managed to grab along with her. He even called one of them in last night, I was supposed to keep an eye on you three to make sure you didn't do something to put the masquerade at risk."
"Doesn't sound like a half-bad system." Kiryū offered with a nod.
"Yeah, guess it makes some sense." Murayama agreed, crossing her arms beneath her bust.
"So was that everything? Class is going to start soon." the Gamer asked hopefully.
"One more thing…do you know who the De-" Katase started to ask before Issei suddenly darted forward, clapping a hand over her mouth.
"Do not mention them in school!" he hissed out as his eyes darted around the classroom in a near-panic. "The walls could have fucking ears with them around!"
"They're here!? In our school!?" Kiryū asked sharply, one hand moving to cover the arm that held her Sacred Gear.
"Yes! Why do you think I've been trying to keep such a low profile since I found out!?" Issei snapped back before letting out a frustrated sigh, quickly removing his hand from a glaring Katase's mouth before she decided to bite him. "If you really want to talk about this, even though I know the merc specifically told you to drop it, meet me at the gates after school, we'll go some place a bit safer and talk alright?"
"Wouldn't that gather a bit too much attention? I'm one thing, but if the Kendo Co-Captains are seen going somewhere with the Oppai Baka a lot of people are going to start talking. Everyone will probably think you're blackmailing them or something." Kiryū pointed out.
"Ugh, I really, really hate that nickname." The Red Dragon Emperor groused tiredly, before taking a moment to think. "Still, good point. How about…Kiryū, would you mind if I 'asked you out' in class today, then these two can 'follow us to make sure the pervert doesn't try anything'."
All three girls had very different reactions to that plan. Murayama just gaped at him. Katase spluttered for a half-minute. Kiryū simply gave him a slow blink before grinning devilishly.
"My, aren't you the daring one." she offered with a smirk. "Sure, I'm game. Though when we're done talking you owe me a real date as well."
Issei joined Murayama and Katase in a loud "EH!?" in response to that bold declaration.
"What? A girl can't take a date offer at face value?" the female Sacred Gear user asked with a pout. "And heck, some of the other girls have been betting about 'Female Perverted Glasses' hooking up with one of the 'Perverted Trio' since halfway through First Year. Might as well let it come true, so they can move on to something else."
"Do they really do stuff like that?" Murayama scowled. "That's appalling."
"That's the price you pay for being at the bottom of the social ladder." Issei offered with a shrug. "People have said a lot worse about me and Kiryū, particularly the other boys. I'll admit that I kinda deserved it, but Kiryū's never done worse than flirt a bit."
The brunette kendoist just gave him a long searching look for a moment, as if she wasn't sure what to make of him anymore. If he didn't know any better, he'd say it was appraising.
"Hyōdō's right, shit like this happens. Though thankfully, most aren't stupid enough to say something like that to my face." Kiryū agreed, absently adjusting her glasses with a single index finger. "Thanks for being offended on my behalf girls, but I honestly just don't give a damn about it anymore."
"That still doesn't make it right, Kiryū." Katase huffed back with a scowl.
Issei held back a bemused snort as he looked between the three girls; apparently they'd somehow managed to bond after their shared ordeal. Not surprising given the shit they'd gone through together and learning about the whole 'magic is real' thing was probably another bit of insanity to bond over as well. Still, seeing the Kendo Captains and the Female Perverted Glasses together made for a strange grouping.
"So we're good with my plan then?" he asked after a moment. The three girls shared a look before nodding in unison. "Alright then, let's get to class. The last thing we need is to cause any more of a ruckus with what's going to happen later."
Gates of Kuō Academy
Issei let out a light breath as he leaned against the wall, looking perfectly relaxed…save for the rapid twitching of one of his eyebrows. Class had been…irritating after he'd 'asked out' Kiryū as planned. Between the shrieks and whispers of the girls, the stunned disbelief of the guys, and his two friends howling about 'traitors' and 'go explode, you riajū bastard!' things had gotten very loud and very tiring, very quickly.
'I can't believe those two?' he scowled sourly. 'What? Were they expecting me to stay single for the rest of my life!? On second thought, I don't think I want an answer to that one!'
It was times like these that were slowly making him reevaluate his oldest friendship, but bonds that had endured for over a decade didn't break so easily.
He'd had to (gently) thump the two across the head at lunch to get them to finally shut up about his 'betrayal' of getting girlfriend like a normie, even 'someone like Kiryū'. That particular statement had earned Motohama another, far harder, thump.
With what he now knew about what drove Kiryū Aika to dress down, act out, and simply pretend to not be as cute as she could be…well, he'd never been one to disparage even a moderately cute girl and he was certainly glad for that now. No one deserved what happened to her, and he was determined to at least ensure she had fun today, if nothing else.
"Hyōdō!" the devil herself (figuratively speaking in this case) arrived, her typical smirk flashing across her lips. "Ready for our 'date'?"
"Yup. You?" he smiled back at her, already noticing several people staring at them. He held out his bag and absently nodded to her bag, which she handed over after a moment, still grinning.
"More than ready." she answered. "Let's get going before people really start gawking."
Nodding in agreement, Issei fell into step beside her as they walked out the gate. He easily noticed Murayama and Katase 'sneaking' behind them, much to the encouragement of the suspicious girls and boys of Kuō Academy…and the remaining two-thirds of the Perverted Trio, but the perverted duo were ignored as usual.
Family Restaurant, Kuō Town
"So why here?" Katase asked, frowning as she looked around the small little eatery Issei had led them to.
"The shop's small and out of the way, not some place anyone but a local would visit." Issei explained from his own seat. The four were currently seated in a booth that was tucked into a secluded in a corner away from the window and most of the other seats in the restaurant by a bit of bad spacial designing. It made it a popular seat for couples looking for some privacy, but little else. "Nobody can see us from the street or try and eavesdrop from the other tables. No security cameras either, so no chance of remote lip-reading. I also managed to get a talisman that'll prevent most low-level forms of magical eavesdropping from our mutual friend. This place is as safe as we're going to get once we've got our food ordered and delivered."
Once the waitress came in with their drinks and took their orders, Issei looked over the three girls before sighing softly.
"So…what exactly do you want to know?" he asked neutrally.
"Who are the Devils in Kuō Academy?" Katase asked quietly.
"The entirety of the Occult Research Club and the Student Council." Issei answered bluntly, deciding to bite the proverbial bullet.
"R-Rias Gremory Sempai and Shitori-kaichō?!" Murayama asked in disbelief.
"'Gremory'…that's the name of one of the demons of the Lesser Key of Solomon, can't believe I didn't put that together before." Kiryū muttered to herself. When the Katase and Murayama openly gaped at her, she huffed. "What? I got into Shin Megami Tensei a while back and I spent a few hours just doing internet searches on some of the source material. It's not that hard to find."
Issei snorted. "Yeah, and Kaichō's real name is Sona 'Sitri.'" he added quietly. "That's another demon from the Lesser Key. From what I've heard, most of the Demons listed in the Lesser Key are actually the names of Houses of Devil Nobility. Gremory and Sitri are the only Pureblooded Devils in Kuō Academy as far as I know, the rest are all Reincarnated Devils."
"Reincarnated?" Murayama whispered, looking halfway between nervous and scared.
Issei nodded. "Long story short. Devils, Angels, and Fallen Angels are all real and they were involved in some big war thousands of years ago." he explained, absently tapping a finger on the table. "It…didn't end well. From what I've found out, all three of the Biblical Factions were pretty much devastated, population-wise. The Devils had it even worse since they had some kind of Civil War not long afterwards due to the four rulers of their kind, the original Lucifer, Leviathan, Beelzebub and Asmodeus, dying in the Great War. Apparently, things were so bad that they were worried that their population wasn't large enough to even maintain their species in any real numbers. So one of their leaders, the current Beelzebub, figured out a way to turn humans and other races into Devils to help rebuild their population. It's called the 'Evil Piece' system, and each noble or 'High-Class' Devil is given a set to reincarnate a number of individuals into what they call a Peerage.
"So…they're what? Slaves?" Katase asked, eyes narrowing sharply.
"Depends on the Devil you're talking about." Issei answered with a slight shrug. "From what I've heard, it varies a lot based on the Devil involved. Some treat it as little better than slavery or a form of indentured servitude in exchange for near-immortality and magical power. Other treat it like a business contract, trading loyal service for a period of time in exchange for longevity, magic or some other services. Then there's the opposite end of the scale. I know that the Gremory Family is rather infamous for treating those they reincarnate as a form of informal adoption. Sitri-sempai's not quite the same, but from what I've been able to gather she at least treats her Peerage as friends. Out of both groups, the only one who was reincarnated against their will was Kiba Yūto, and that was to save him from dying."
Seeing Kiryū open her mouth, Issei quickly cut her off with a sharp shake of his head. "No, I don't know any particular details about that. The only reason I even know that much is that the mercenary mentioned him as the only unwilling reincarnation among the Peerages active at Kuō. I didn't think it was my place to pry and I had a lot of other things on my mind at the time."
"Fair enough." the bespectacled girl conceded. "So why are they here anyway? Why live in Kuō of all places?"
"That I don't have a clue on." Issei admitted with a shrug. "Might simply be bad luck on why Kuō in particular. As for why they're here in general, the only thing I've heard is something about Gremory-sempai being a Japanophile."
"The whys don't really matter right now. What will they do if they find out about our powers?" Murayama asked seriously.
"What make you think they don't already know?" Issei asked, hitching a single eyebrow in her direction. "Devils are innately supernatural beings; to them sensing magic, chi and the like is practically second nature. Them being able to tell that you two have some nascent spiritual powers isn't outside the realm of possibility, particularly considering that Shinra-sempai, the Student Council's Vice-President, is from a family of exorcists herself. Best case they know and simply don't care. Worst case, they couldn't tell because your powers haven't fully awakened yet, meaning that should you actually learn to use your gifts, you might draw their attention."
"And they didn't notice my Sacred Gear because it had been mostly sealed…" Kiryū pointed out, chewing on her lower lip in thought. "But now that it's been unsealed, they'll notice sooner or later. Will they try and recruit me?"
"I…I don't think so." Issei offered uncertainly. "Remember, your Sacred Gear is Light-oriented which, according to everything I've learned, is one of a Devil's biggest weaknesses. There's a possibility that if you were Reincarnated, your own Sacred Gear could turn against you. The only thing more dangerous to Devils is Holy-type magic. Spiritual powers can damage or destroy Devils, but it's a fairly neutral form of energy, just as dangerous to a lot of supernatural beings."
"So those two are in more danger of being recruited than me, that's good to know." the glasses girl offered with small relieved sigh.
"Hey!" the two kendoists barked in unified outrage.
There was a break in the conversation to let the girls digest that as their food arrived and they started to eat. Issei had told them that it was his treat and the girls had given in with minimal protest.
"So is there anything else we need to worry about in town?" Murayama asked cautiously as she finished her Hamburger Steak.
Issei paused for a moment to think about it. "Aside from the Devils, there's a group of Fallen Angels who've taken over the old church on the outskirts of town. I'd…avoid them at all cost if I were you, they don't tend to be fond of humans in general. Aside from those two groups, there's no other real permanent residents on the supernatural side of things. The occasional migrant Yōkai will wander through, but I don't think there's a permanent population in town. I could be wrong about that though. Other than that, there's the occasional Stray Devil, but those things are a Devil issue and I don't know much about them."
"Do you think that the mercenary would be willing to train me?" Kiryū asked suddenly. "I can't think of anywhere I could safely practice with my [Staring Armoured Red], but that guy has a base somewhere in town."
"I…I think he might." Issei blinked in surprise at the sudden request. "I guess it depends on what you're willing to pay him. I don't think he charges his rates in money, or at least not anything a bunch of normal highschoolers can pay, but he's always seemed willing to trade favours. Given that you've got a Sacred Gear, he'll probably be willing to make some kind of bargain. He left me a way to contact him in case I find anything else involving the Purifiers, so I can try and set up a meeting if you'd like?"
"Appreciated, Hyōdō." Kiryū smiled and offered him a wink, causing him to blush slightly before he regained control of himself. "What about you girls? Do you want in on this?"
"Actually, before they answer that, I'm really curious about how the heck the Purifiers managed to grab you two." Issei asked with a frown. "Kiryū I can understand, she's got no combat training after all, but I know for a fact that you two can pack a punch when you want to. Didn't you fight back?"
Both kendoka looked embarrassed for a moment. "We got ambushed. A couple of them distracted us from the front while two more snuck up from behind and tased us." Murayama admitted, before frowning. "It was really weird. We were right in the middle of the street, but no one seemed to notice what was happening."
"The Purifiers that took Asia had some weird magi-tech-disc things that made anything that was going on around it unnoticeable to normal people." Issei explained. "They likely used one when they attacked you two as well, so they could have knocked you out and stuffed you in the van before collapsing the dome and no one would have noticed anything. Useful little gadgets, I have to admit."
"I…I don't want to have something like that ever happen to me again." Katase growled out, hands gripping. "Despite all the training we've done, we were helpless, I don't like that. I'm in. Keiko?"
"I'm in as well." her long-haired friend nodded firmly. "That is…if he'll accept the same offer from us."
"He probably will, even if its just to spite the Purifiers. Like I said, Mr. Red seems to have a real hate-on for those guys." Issei answered carefully. "Honestly, I can't blame him either, these guys are the most extreme xenophobes I've ever heard of. And even if that building was their last base in Kuō, they're at least a national group, and there's a real possibility that they've got bases in at least Europe and America as well. They will be back, and they'll come looking for anyone involved with what destroyed their last foothold, that likely includes us as well as the mercenary, Asia and Abe-sempai. I'm sure he knows that as well, it's probably why he agreed to help with my training and he'll likely do the same for you three."
"So he's helping you train as well?" Katase asked, frowning slightly.
"Yeah, we made our own deal shortly after that crazy asshole attacked my family. If you're lucky he'll start you off easier than he did with me." the Gamer offered with a not-entirely-fake shudder. He still remembered how weak he'd been when he'd done his first dungeon dive, how easily he could have died. "It wasn't a pleasant experience, trust me on that."
The group paused again as their waitress arrived again to deliver their desserts and take away their dishes, before Kiryū looked at Issei curiously.
"Hey Hyōdō, why do hang out with Matsuda and Motohama anyway?" she asked curiously, as opposed to the usual contempt he got when people talked about his friends. "You're a perv sure, but you're nowhere as bad as those two. Honestly, you might end up pretty popular if you didn't get caught up with those louts."
"Weird question." Issei muttered as he took a spoonful of his chocolate sundae to buy himself time to think. "Honesty…I've known those two since we were in kindergarten…back when all that we knew about girls was that they had cooties and whatnot. I used to have another friend, a guy called Rin, but he and his family moved away. Anyway, I guess I just never grew out of being their friend. It just always seemed wrong to try and abandon them because they weren't 'cool' or 'popular', you know? Besides, I've never been one to try and hide who I am, and that includes being a perv."
"Why do you act like that anyway? Those two idiots are the only ones anywhere close to being as perverted as you and I don't wanna know how their minds work." Katase sniffed.
"Well, that kinda goes back to just after Rin moved away." Issei offered thoughtfully. "I was a bit down in the dumps because my best friend had moved away, so I was moping around the local park. That's where I met this weird old guy; he's the one who told me the wonders of…well, you know. I thought it was weird at first, but it helped get my mind off Rin so I played along and eventually things just kept rolling on until that Purifier showed up at my house."
"Of all the…" Murayama growled out. "If I ever find that old letch I'm going to beat his groin into paste. How dare he corrupt a little kid like that and turn them into a…" she made a vague waving motion in Issei's direction.
Issei felt vaguely insulted by that.
(Meanwhile, a certain one-eyed god felt a shiver suddenly run down his spine for some reason)
Katase didn't seem too happy either, if the very unkind words she was muttering under her breath was any indication.
Kiryū was simply frowning as she gave Issei another careful, searching look.
"Hyō…Issei, did you ever meet this weirdo again after that?" she asked faux-calmly.
"No." Issei offered carefully. "I only met him once when I was about five or six."
"Good, that one exposure was bad enough." the bespectacled girl offered with a nod.
Their little meeting broke up a few minutes later, with Katase and Murayama taking their leave. Before they left, the shorter pinkette paused, looking slightly uncomfortable. "You're…not so bad Hyōdō, I suppose there's a bit more to you than an Oppai Baka." she blurted out before spinning on her heel and marching off before he could even start to formulate a response.
Murayama merely shook her head in bemusement, muttering something under her breath before she followed after her.
"Okay, what was that about?" Issei muttered out, blinking in bewilderment as he ignored the various screens that popped up in front of him.
He'd pay attention to those later.
"That was Katase finally admitting that you're not as bad as she thought, dumdum." Kiryū offered with an eye-roll. "You're at least partially responsible for us getting rescued from some…really bad shit, you've helped us get a better foothold on what's going on around here, and you're even going to negotiate with…him…to help us get stronger. That was her admitting that a minor case of perversion doesn't make you as bad a person as she thought."
While Issei wasn't sure if he should be insulted or not that his previously perverted antics were being called 'minor,' he could at least get the point.
"Well, that's certainly something." Issei coughed into his fist, before smirking toward Kiryū. "Now, I believe I owe you a date Kiryū."
The bespectacled girl offered him a predatory grin. "Considering we're dating right now, Issei, I think that calling me 'Aika' is well within your ability."
Hyōdō Issei's Base
Issei was honestly feeling pretty pleased with himself. Not only had he managed to mostly resolve things without revealing his identity but, more importantly, his date with Aika had gone pretty darned well in his opinion. He honestly liked that he didn't have to put up any form of front with her; she knew exactly what type of person he was and seemed fine with it. She also, surprisingly enough, had very similar tastes as him when it came to games, both normal and eroge-types as well. She kept the later to herself mostly, in order to prevent even more stories from being spread about her and to keep from being bothered by Matsuda and Motohama.
He'd even earned a kiss on the cheek after escorting her back to her apartment, which had ruled!
Then there were the repercussions that his meeting with the girls had had on his [Gamer Gear] quests.
Relationship Reset! Your Relationship with [Katase Reiko] has been reset to the middle of [Neutral]! Former Relationship: [Dislike].
Congratulations! Your relationship with [Murayama Keiko] has increased to [Friendly]!
Congratulations! Your relationship with [Kiryū Aika] has increased to [Friendly]!
You are now dating [Kiryū Aika]! [Eroge Dating Subsystem] unlocked! Please look at the relevant page for more information!
You have successfully cemented a dual identity! Unlock Condition: [Hyōdō Issei] and the [Gaia Gamer's Gear Wielder] are considered two separate people by fifteen or more people! While assuming your alternate identity, you use an alternate Relationship Page for people than you have as just [Hyōdō Issei]. Check the [Relationships] page for more information!
You have a chance to train others! The [Contract] and [Tutelary] systems have been unlocked! Check the appropriate page for more information!
The Chain Quest [Gentlemanly Pursuits] has been cancelled due to the relationship reset of [Katase Reiko]! The title [Oppai Baka] can now be unequipped!
That final message had been the real prize in Issei's humble opinion; he no longer had to see that never-to-be-sufficiently-damned name in his Status Screen whenever he opened it! He immediately swapped out his Title for [Ratman Slayer] and planned to let that infinitely damned [Oppai Baka] title remain in storage for the rest of eternity if he could help it.
Also, he had a girlfriend! Yes, it was Ki…Aika, she'd given him permission to call her Aika, but that wasn't necessarily a bad thing. She was pretty cute when you got past her shell, and she was honestly just as perverted as he was. He never had put on airs or anything like that in front of her. In all honesty, he was starting to feel pretty…comfortable around her.
Anyway, back to the matter at hand. He was currently working on expanding his base while lounging on his throne. He'd just finished the last of the second floor a few minutes ago, and he was currently planning the layout of the third floor. One of the first things he'd purchased from the [Dungeon Store] had been an ability called [Trap Master] that, as its name suggested, allowed him to plant traps in addition to monsters throughout his dungeon floors. The best part was that it levelled up just by using it to plant traps in his dungeon.
That is to say, he earned EXP for the skill every time he placed a trap. It also apparently gained EXP every time a trap was activated, with bonus exp gained based on the damage dealt to the one who triggered it. Even better, every time the skill levelled up, he gained access to even more traps and trap upgrades! Granted, there were some limits; some traps were restricted to a certain floor threshold, which was fair he supposed. Using a [Supergravity Explosion Trap] on Floor 1 would just be cheating.
At it was, he first unlocked several basic physical and mechanical traps: [Pitfall], [Dart Wall], [Rockfall], and [Spring Floor] were the ones he'd unlocked when he first got the skill. When he'd started working on Floor 3, he'd also unlocked several magical traps: [Trap Circle: Shockwave], [Trap Circle: Earth Prison], [Trap Circle: Grisly Wind], and [Trap Circle: Vines of Imprisonment].
They were all fairly self-explanatory. [Pitfall] created a concealed hole that, if someone stepped on it, would drop them into a pit several meters deep. [Dart Wall] launched a barrage of darts from a section of wall when it was triggered, and he could upgrade the darts with a variety of poisons after he levelled up [Trap Master] a bit. [Rockfall] would cause a number of heavy rocks to drop from the ceiling onto the area around the trigger whenever someone activated it. [Spring Floor] was…well, it was mostly a joke. It basically acted like a pneumatic cannon that sent whoever activated it flying into the air, but if you aimed it right you could literally launch anyone who triggered it onto the triggers for other traps or into a perfect position for a monster ambush.
The magical traps were a bit more complicated, but still interesting. [Trap Circle: Shockwave], contrary to it name, released a large surge of Thunder Magic into the surrounding area when it was triggered. [Trap Circle: Earth Prison] caused masses of stone to rise up out of the ground and bind the limbs of whoever triggered it. [Trap Circle: Grisly Wind] created a sudden tornado of blustery, cutting winds centred around its trigger, throwing and cutting anyone nearby. Finally, [Trap Circle: Vines of Imprisonment] bound a target with dozen of magically created vines that erupted from the ground.
On their own, none of them were all that impressive and unlikely to one-shot a goblin, let alone a Fallen, but Issei was hopeful that they'd be able to distract and wear down any enemy that stumbled across them.
To compliment [Trap Master], Issei had also bought a second add-on skill known as [Dungeon Law] for his base. It basically allowed him to set down 'rules' that affected either the entire dungeon or selected floors. One of the first he'd implemented across the entire dungeon was [Grounded], which basically prevented any race that had wings (like Angels or Fallen), could generate wings (like Devils), or that could fly via magic or artefacts from being able to do so within his base.
It was an amazing skill, and incredibly useful for stacking the playing field to his advantage. Granted there were limits. [Dungeon Law] couldn't affect anyone that vastly overpowered him in terms of level. It also couldn't alter the fundamental nature of something that entered the base like changing their race, so no [Fallen Become Humans] or [Gods Become Humans] laws. He could create specific laws that inhibited specific races, yes, but he also had a limit on the number of laws he could impose on the base as well, both base-wide and on specific floors.
He could only hope that his preparations would be enough to repel the Fallen when they finally managed to track down his base. There was no way in hell he was letting them lay a hand on Asia again.
Two Days Later
Abandoned Church, Kuō Town
"You stupid, incompetent pair of total fuck-ups!" Raynare snarled out as she glared at the pair of morons she'd been saddled with.
Kalawarner and Dohnaseek both flinched back slightly at her obvious wrath. They fucking deserved to be afraid; she'd only been gone for four days and they'd managed to lose the former Holy Priestess within the first few hours that she and Mittelt had been gone and hadn't even tried to find her yet!
"What part of 'keep an eye on the nun' escaped the pair of you!?" the dark-haired Fallen growled out. "And why the fuck haven't you even tried to find her yet!?"
"She's just a Sacred Gear holder." Kalawarner responded dismissively, regaining some of her usual haughty pride. "So what if she managed to wander into some trouble? There's plenty more like her out there."
'This stupid, arrogant little…!' Raynare's eye began to twitch violently. Kalawarner was the grandchild of one of the Cadre, the leaders of Grigori and the most powerful of the Fallen. Her ancestor's influence, combined with her perfectly seductive hourglass figure and willingness to sleep with any half-decent-looking superior, had allowed her to rise high enough to be assigned to one of the rare teams of Fallen operating outside the Underworld despite the fact that she'd was a lazy bitch who refused to do more than the minimum of work required of her. It was also obvious that, despite her manipulative nature, the bluenette had yet to grasp the significance of Asia Argento and her Sacred Gear.
"Kalawarner, you are such a fucking dim-witted whore that I'm tempted to just throw you in some Hong Kong brothel just to see how long it takes you to wander back fucking out!" the leader of their small band snarled out. "Asia Argento is important! Not only did the order to keep an eye on her come from Lord Azazel himself, but recruiting her was a fucking propaganda coup! A former Holy Priestess joining the Grigori? Just the fucking rumour has increased our recruitment of rogue exorcists and other disaffected members of the Church by severalfold!"
Letting out a huff, Raynare swept a lock of her soft black hair over her shoulder before crossing her arms under her impressive bust and glaring at the two nitwits who seemed to finally be getting how much they'd screwed up. "More than that, Lord Azazel has expressed an interest in studying [Twilight Healing] due to its unique healing properties, so bringing her to him will improve our standing as well. So we are going to find her, and we are going to bring her back. And if you have to eat her the fuck out to appease her, then you'd best brush up on seducing females!"
Kalawarner flushed in embarrassed rage at the thought of being forced to service a mere human.
"You, Dohnaseek, I already know that you were more concerned with finding something entertaining to fight than doing your job." Raynare spat out, glaring at the battle-crazy Fallen, who grinned sheepishly at that. "I don't care anymore. What I care about now is for you to get out there and fucking find her! Do it quickly and I might be able to resist the urge to fucking geld you!"
Not even bothering with his usual bombastic boasting, the tall Fallen quickly turned on his heels and fled the church, Kalawarner hot on his heels.
Once she was certain that they were both gone, Raynare hopped up to perch on the desecrated altar, letting her head drop into her hands. "What an utter and complete clusterfuck I've come back to." she groaned out. "I mean seriously…what the fuck is wrong with those two!?"
"The same thing that's wrong with all of us Fallen, Ray." Mittelt offered. The petite Fallen had been silent while Raynare had vented her spleen, but now spoke up as she approached. "Every last one of us is an arrogant bastard or bitch more concerned with our own jollies than anything else. Kalawarner and Dohnaseek are just too stupid to try and reign it in."
"To the point they'd ignore orders even?" Raynare asked, shooting a half-hearted glare toward Mittelt. "Those two are screw-ups yes, but they've done it by the numbers this time. Not even Kalawarner's Cadre grand-mummy is going to be able to pull her ass out of this fire. Hell, the only reason the two of us might be able to escape getting tarred with the same brush is because I left explicit orders for them to follow when we went to the Underworld to resupply and report in."
"Yeah, but…the three of us are less then two-hundred years old, Ray. Even if you don't look it, you're older than all of us put together." Mittelt pointed out cautiously. "I'm literally the youngest person in our team, and I'm seventy-five. Kalawarner's a hundred and fifty and Dohnaseek is one-hundred and eight-five. This was supposed to be a milk run according to the briefings, so they weren't even trying to take it seriously. I know better because I've had you as my mentor, but those two? They've had everything hand-fed to them with silver spoons."
"Kalawarner, yes, but how the hell did Dohnaseek get everything handed to him." the lead Fallen asked with a frown.
"In addition to being a combat junkie, the bastard's also pretty good at using his other spear. He's had a string of sugar mama's since he joined the Grigori, and some of them were pretty high up." the petite blonde snorted. "His first instinct after he lets his other urges screw him over is trying to seduce his superior and you shut that idea down before we all left the Underworld."
Raynare snorted at that. "Like hell I'd be just another notch in that cocky brat's bedpost. That's why I told him to make do with Kalawarner or human whores while we're stuck in the human world. I have self-respect, thank you very much."
All Fallen were designed to be as seductive as possible for their gender, and while Dohnaseek was certainly attractive in the 'waning arrogant DILF' sort of way, his arrogant condescension, as if it was his right to screw anything female, humanoid and with a pulse within eyeshot, pissed her off enough that she wouldn't let him near her bed with a ten-foot light spear. His other love was fighting; the man loved to fight anything, from other Fallen, to Devils to even migrant Yōkai if there was nothing else to fight.
Fortunately, beating up the Stray Exorcists and calling it 'training' kept him sated for the most part.
"It doesn't matter. We have to find that girl, Mittelt." Raynare stated, sliding off the altar. "I did not Fall from Grace to spend the rest of eternity as a laughingstock because a couple spoiled brats couldn't pull their heads out of their asses."
Alone among the four Fallen currently assigned to Kuō, Raynare was not born a Fallen, instead she had truly Fallen from Grace, turning from a Pure Angel for giving into the Sin of Lust and seducing a handsome young human centuries ago. As a First Generation Fallen, she was held in slightly higher regards by her superiors, all First Generation Fallen as well, despite being only five centuries-or-so old. It was why she'd been selected as team lead, and why Kalawarner not-so-secretly resented her.
"I'm with you all the way, Ray." Mittelt agreed with a nod. "What about Sellzen and his merry little band of psychos?"
"Once we find out where the Holy Priestess has gotten, we'll bring them in. If she's been kidnapped by someone, we can use a few of them as cannon fodder to get a feel for our enemy's strength before we move in to attack ourselves." Raynare stated simply, keeping her voice down just in case Freed was nearby. The crazy bastard was a total creeper, always lurking around in the shadows.
"Sounds like a plan." Mittelt agreed with a smirk. If someone removed the creepy bastard she wouldn't be complaining. She personally didn't care much for Devils or humans, save a few exceptions, but the so-called 'Genius Exorcist' was madder than the proverbial hatter and a battle maniac that put the likes of Dohnaseek to shame. Frankly, he just creeped her the fuck out; not to mention she was fairly sure he was only one little hop away from deciding he wanted to know what it was like to fight a Fallen Angel to the death.
No loyalty except to someone who would let him kill without restraint or restriction. That was 'Father' Freed Sellzen.
Later That Evening
Hillock, Outskirts of Kuō Town
It took several hours to trace Asia Argento's magical presence, both due to the age of the trail and the distance it covered; criss-crossing over a shopping arcade several times over before seemingly weakening in the middle of a park. It was only due to the strength of both Argento's attunement with her Sacred Gear and her mystical potential that allowed them to pick up the trail again, which unfortunately led to what looked like a bomb-site secured by a large number of powerful Devils.
Raynare shivered as she remembered. Each one of the Devils working at that site was on a order of magnitude stronger than any of their group, and there had been at least a couple dozen of them. Had they been discovered; they'd have been wiped out without a chance to even fight back.
Luckily, even though the trail itself vanished in that Devil-filled crater, Raynare had managed to detect the faintest remnants of some form of teleportation spell mixed with several other magical signals, with the Priestess' being one of the strongest among them. With three of them casting a tracer spell from three different points around the crater, they'd been able to quickly triangulate the rough location of the destination. After their near-brush with the Devils, Raynare decided it was time to use their canaries.
She called in Freed and had ordered him to assemble a squad of Stray Exorcists for a quick smash-and-grab retrieval operation and send them to the coordinates they'd found. He was to gather the rest of his men and secure the church until they returned.
"Just where the hell is that little bitch supposed to be hiding? We're in the ass-end of nowhere!" Kalawarner hissed out in haughty frustration.
"Would you shut your mouth for ten seconds, you two-penny trollop!" Raynare snarled back, most her attention focused on the tracing spell she was manipulating to try and unlock the exact endpoint of the teleport. "It's hard enough working this spell without having to deal with your petulant whining ringing in my ears!"
As the purple-clad Fallen sputtered at the insult, the ravenette smirked in victory as her spell finally worked and a teleportation circle appeared set on a largish rock at the base of a tree. "There, that's the entrance to whatever dimensional pocket the Nun is in."
"So we're dealing with some kind of mage?" Dohnaseek sighed melodramatically. "A shame, they're never as much fun as warriors."
"We're not here to slate your murder-boner you dimwit, we're here to get in, grab Asia Argento, and get out!" Raynare growled back. "Any 'fun' as you put it is a secondary concern at most. From the looks of that crater where the Devils were lurking about, whoever owns this place likely pulled the girl out of there before they brought it down, and I don't feel like pissing off someone who can do that just to feed your cravings. We go in, secure the girl if she's alive and get out while causing as little damage as possible."
"And if all we find is her corpse?" Kalawarner asked casually, not looking at all concerned about the idea.
Stupid bitch, getting Argento back out of this alive was the only way to salvage their reputations after this embarrassment.
"Then we get some answers." Raynare growled out, before turning to the Exorcists gathered behind them. "Exorcists! You're in first, move out!"
Hyōdō Issei's Bedroom, Hyōdō House
Issei suddenly shot up, wide awake and flailing out of his bed with a surprised yelp as an electric alarm blared loudly in his ears; like someone had set up a set of electric buzzers right next to his eardrums.
"Note to self, change the alarm settings so I don't go deaf before I hit twenty." the Sekiryūtei muttered irritably before he managed to turn off the alarm and focus on the message floating in front of his nose.
The boy instantly blanched at the sight.
An unknown number of individuals have unlocked your base's teleportation gate!
Activate teleportation array to immediately return to base in order to defend it?
"Of all the times...!" Issei grumbled. He'd only just gotten back from the base just an hour ago, and he'd really been looking forward to getting a full night's sleep after several days of late nights prepping his base's defences.
Still, Fallen Angels waited for no man apparently.
Using the [Set Equip] function, Issei was quickly dressed and quickly produced one of his more recent purchases from his [Inventory]. The [Life-Model Decoy Dummy] was a ultra-realistic decoy that would fool any observer into believe it was actually asleep or performing some other mundane activity if they looked in on him. His mother had become something of a worry-wart since the Purifier incident and had started checking his room every so often at night. He'd been lucky the last time it happened, having just crawled into bed after returning from his base.
Preparations complete, Issei hit the [Y] key and was instantly teleported into his Base's Core Room, appearing right in front of his throne. Taking his seat, a screen immediately projected from his base core, showing Issei the designated teleporter trap area that was at the start of Floor 1.
"Well now, I believe the old saying goes, 'welcome to my parlour, said the spider to the fly.'" the Gamer smirked as light began to flare across the screen. "Thank you for agreeing to be my lab rats to test my defences. Good luck, I hope you have a fun adventure."
At the Floor 1 Teleporter Redirection Platform
Giuseppe Ciano, excommunicated member of the Catholic Church and former Vatican Exorcist Neophyte, blinked away the spots as the teleportation ended. He and the rest of his five-man squad had been sent to scout out the way for the Fallen, as well as trip any traps that may be lurking along the path.
The last part was an assumption, but Giuseppe knew it was probably just what the Fallen had in mind.
He had both his Light Sword and Exorcist Gun out and at the ready, as did most of the rest of his team. They'd fully been expecting to drop into the middle of the enemy's sanctum, so they had come ready for a fight.
Only they clearly hadn't; instead they were standing in the middle of some kind of underground ruin.
"Whoever's in here must have set up a redirect on any unauthorized teleports. Great, that means we're not dealing with a fucking amateur." he muttered aloud, eyes scanning the barren stone cavern/room they'd found themselves in. The only way out seemed to be a tunnel paved with ancient-looking stone tiles. "Looks like we're going to be doing this the hard way. Antonio, Vincenzo take point. Francesco cover our rear. Angelo stay close to me.
The others quickly moved to obey as ordered, as expected. The five of them had grouped together since they'd arrive in this damned country, being the only native Italians out of the rest of the entire Kuō Group, save the Priestess they'd been sent to retrieve and 'Father Freed' who, frankly, terrified all five of them.
They made their way down the rough stone path for less than thirty seconds, just managing to leave the room they'd arrived in, before a sharp hiss from Antonio made them all tense up.
Moving forward to stand next to the man, who'd moved to take cover around the edge of the cave's entrance, it took Giuseppe a moment to catch sight of what had startled the other man. There, floating several feet off the ground, was a clay statue, one of the local religion's blasphemous little idols. The thing itself was only a foot tall and he could tell, even from a distance, that it had been intricately carved and decorated.
Were it not for its obvious magical origins, Giuseppe would have been willing to praise the skill of the artisan who'd made it.
The he noticed it turning toward them, an ominous glow beginning to form around its body and its eyes starting to shine.
"Take it down!" Giuseppe barked as he, Antonio, Vincenzo and Francesco (who'd moved forward to stand with Vincenzo behind the opposite edge of the entryway) moved out of cover and opened fire with their Exorcist Guns.
Most of their initial shots went wide, the small, bobbing target managing to dodge and weave around most of their shots, but a couple nicked it, sending cracks across the surface. The statuette seemed unconcerned, the glow from its eyes intensifying again before it shot out a beam of burning, pale green light that slammed into Antonio's torso.
The poor man fell back onto the ground, screaming in pain.
"Damn it!" the lead Stray Exorcist snarled out before continuing to fire. "Shoot that thing!"
The light began to build up again, and Giuseppe was about to order them to take cover, but it suddenly halted when a single lucky shot from Francesco managed to slam into the accursed doll dead centre. The clay statuette seemed to shatter on impact, the glow instantly fading away as the pieces fell to the ground.
"Angelo, how does he look?" Giuseppe, asked turning to look at their team's lone medic, who'd already moved to look over their fallen comrade.
"He…there's nothing I can do." Angelo admitted, shaking his head. "That light beam seared through his skin like a fucking blowtorch, Antonio's going to be scarred for life...what little he has left."
Giuseppe hissed at the sight of the burn that covered his subordinates chest from his right shoulder down to the top of his stomach. That beam had cut through his protective vestments like they weren't even there. The vestments, standard issue among exorcists, were primarily designed to protect against magic imbued with the power of Shadow, but they should have offered at least some protection against any form of hostile magic.
"Can you at least bind his wounds enough that he can move again?" he asked tensely.
"Are you fucking joking? I'm fighting to keep him from going into shock!" the medic snapped back. "He'd need healing magic to get him back on his feet. I'm not the fucking Nun, I just know first aid!"
"Hey! There was a bottle resting where that statue-thing landed." Francesco called from where he'd moved to ensure that the golem or whatever it was stayed down, pointing to the offending object. "It's got something written on it in the local language."
Vincenzo, the only one in their group who could read Japanese (most of their group could barely speak a few common phrases), moved forward and picked it up, before blinking in confusion. "It says 'Health Potion.'"
"What!?" Giuseppe snapped. "This isn't some Lord bedamned video game!"
"[Gamer's Gear]. No one's seen either of them in a nearly a century." Francesco pointed out simply.
That simple statement of fact did cause Giuseppe to pause. Part of Exorcist training was familiarizing them with the more famous and infamous of the Lord's creations, and both of the [Gamer's Gears] were rather well-known, if only for the effect their previous owners had on modern society. If this was truly the [Gamer's Gear] at work….
After a moment of thought he nodded. "Pour it on his wound." the lead exorcist ordered abruptly.
"What!? We don't have any idea what it could do to him!?" Angelo protested.
"You're struggling to keep him alive right now, Angelo!" Giuseppe barked back, stepping forward and taking the bottle from Vincenzo. "This way he at least gets a chance." With that, he uncorked the bottle and upturned it over Antonio's wound.
Angelo could only glare in protest; a glare that quickly melted into stunned silence as he watched the liquid start to glow as it touched the damaged skin, only for the wound to instantly lighten and shrink before his eyes. After a only a few seconds, the debilitating wound was reduced to nothing more than a superficial burn.
"Hail Mary, full of grace...!" the medic said faintly. "That...that wound should have killed him, and it healed up in less time than it takes to boil a cup of water. This...if we can get the wielder on our side...!"
"As they say in this country, if wishes were horses, beggars would ride." Giuseppe said with a shake of his head. "Antonio, you alright?"
"Y-Yes...I'm...how am I alright?" the previously wounded man said, sitting up and patting his chest in disbelief, hissing only slightly as he touched the still tender skin.
"...why the hell did it drop loot?" the Sekiryūtei muttered as he quickly palmed through the interface as he kept one eye on his unwelcome guests via the screen.
Giuseppe Ciano LV13
[Stray Exorcist Squad Leader]
Francesco Bruni LV10
Antonio Baronni LV9
Angelo Zeno LV11
[Stray Exorcist Medic]
Vincenzo Valisnieri LV10
All of them were clearly foreigners, Italians from the sounds of it, and all of them were seriously under-levelled compared to Issei himself, although they were technically strong enough to be able to clear the first floor without too many problems if they had the proper equipment...which they didn't.
What he needed to do was sort out the whole 'item drops' thing; the last thing he wanted was to give them equipment to better fight back with!
"Ah, here we go..." he exclaimed as he finally found the right screen. He promptly switched things over to [Invasion Mode] from [Dungeoneering Mode], and then noticed a couple of other little cosmetic and theatrical options that would make this a lot more...interesting...when the Fallen eventually came in.
Back with the Stray Exorcists...
"The flow of magic's changed." Angelo muttered. The five Stray Exorcists had advanced very slowly and cautiously since Antonio's injury, and had paused to look around them at the sudden shift in ambient magic.
"It has...it's more strident, no?" Francesco said with a frown.
"Great, that likely means whoever made this place knows we're here." Vincenzo grumbled. "So, we're stuck in a labyrinth, cut off from the outside and now the magic's changing."
"More of those flying statuettes, incoming!" Antonio said, shakily. "Two from the front, three from the right!"
"Fall back into the left passage!" Giuseppe ordered immediately. One of those things had been troublesome enough; five of them would be a deadly threat.
The five Exorcists fled down the indicated passage, pursued by the flying statuettes, beams and shots of light being exchanged between the two groups as they fell into a fighting retreat. The exorcists were lucky enough to take out two of the pursuing statues in a hail of gunfire as they pulled back.
One of the Exorcists, Vincenzo, stepped onto what looked like a regular tile...which then suddenly sprang out and upward as if it was mounted on a high-powered spring, propelling him up into the air in a flailing ball of vestments and cursing, only to go silent as he was struck by beams from all three of the remaining golems. He dropped to the ground lifelessly.
"No, Vincenzo!" Angelo made to go back, but Giuseppe hauled him forward roughly.
"Leave him, he's already gone!" the man snarled, snapping off three more shots that managed to down two of the pursuing statuettes.
"Uwaaaaahhhh!" Francesco screamed from ahead, the others looking around in horror to see a horse-sized golem shaped like an Earth Dragon smash him into the wall in an explosion of blood and gore with one mighty paw.
"Francesco! You God bedamned abominations!" Antonio roared, throwing aside his pistol to take a double-handed grip on his Light Sword and charging. He leapt forward when he was within a few feet of the golem, slicing at the murderous statue with a powerful overhand strike.
The blade, a length of bluish-white light shaped like the blade of an arming sword, slammed into the thick earthen form of the golem and barely managed to crack into its stone hide.
"Imp-?!" Antonio blinked in disbelief before a giant mouth bit down on him, ripping his head off in a fountain of blood.
"ANTONIO!" Angelo shrieked, firing wildly at the monster that killed his comrade, peppering it with Light bullets to no effect.
'Damn it, we're geared for dealing with Devils and vamps, not a bunch of enchanted rocks!' Giuseppe thought in horror, finally realizing just how deep they were in. 'Against anything that's not attuned to Shadow, our gear's only slightly more powerful than normal blades and bullets!'
Against small, light attackers like those flying idols, that was sufficient enough, but something as big and solid as that dragon golem? They'd need to have at least a dozen men swamping it in gunfire just to have a hope of taking one of them down.
He only had one option left.
"Chew on this!" the Stray Exorcist roared out, pulling a silver sphere from his belt and throwing it directly into the monster's still bloody maw. It was a perfect throw, one that would normally fill him with a bit of pride. Only this time, all he felt was a grim satisfaction as the Light Grenade went off in the back of the damned golem's mouth, blowing the entire back half of its head off as the rest of its body collapsed.
Meanwhile, Angelo had managed to take out the last of the flying statuettes. As the shattered remains fell to the ground, the medic collapsed to his knees. "What are we going to do now?" he croaked out. "Three of us are gone!"
"We can't get back out the way we came in with the teleporter under the control of the enemy!" Giuseppe growled out, pulling his last comrade back to his feet. "We have no choice but to continue. We have to survive, for the sake of our fallen brethren if nothing else!"
"Damnit!" Angelo cursed out, before he redoubled his grip on his Exorcist Gun. "I am going to bring the Hammer of Judgement down onto whatever bastard designed this nightmare! I swear it!"
"You and me both." Giuseppe grunted out, slapping the man lightly on the arm before they started moving again.
The two remaining exorcists moved forward far more cautiously this time, managing to avoid the remaining monsters as they navigated through the maze. Giuseppe set off a trap that fired hundreds of little darts but the protections on his vestments were at least strong enough that he didn't get worse than a couple of scratches.
At last, they found themselves in front of a large set of double-doors that creaked open ominously at their approach. Exchanging wary looks, the pair of Stray Exorcists readied their weapons and carefully advanced through the dark doorway.
The room inside was immediately lit up by torches, showing it to be far larger than the two had thought, and for good reason. Standing in the centre was a massive version of the annoying flying statuettes, at least a dozen meters tall. Unlike the lesser copies, it was made of what looked like silver and gold, with a pair of white wings seeming emerging from its back. As they watched, in terror, the triple claws on the ends of its arms rotated and snapped together.
"G-Giuseppe...what..." Angelo whispered in a terrified voice. "What in the Father's name...IS...that?!"
As if in answer, words written in what looked like blood appeared above its head as it rotated around slowly to look right at them.
[Shakkōmon, the Divine Metal Dogū]
"Trouble." Giuseppe said grimly, readying himself for what he was certain would be his last battle.
The last thing he saw was a blazing flash of red light...
Outside Issei's Base...
"Any luck?" Mittelt asked.
"No." Raynare bit out in frustration as she tried fruitlessly to open the portal again, to no avail. "The teleportal locked down as soon as the exorcists passed through. When we got here it was merely concealed and inactive, now it's completely sealed up. Until the Strays manage to find their way out, we're completely cut off from them."
"And communication magic isn't working either!" Kalawarner hissed in a fury. "Just what the fuck is going on?!"
"If I had a secret underground base that could only be reached by teleporter, one of the things I'd do would be to interdict any unauthorised communication magic." Mittelt snorted, crossing her arms under her small (but nicely shaped) chest. "Basics of the basics, tits for brains."
"What did you call me, you flat-chested shrimp?!" the bluenette shrieked back.
"Oh shut up, both of you." Dohnaseek rumbled from his position leaning against a tree. "Hearing you screech at and needle each other is worse than nails on a chalkboard. If you two can't talk like civilized beings, then just don't talk to each other!"
Just then, the teleportation circle reappeared and disgorged a heap of corpses only vaguely recognizable as the bodies of the five Stray Priests who had gone in to scout ahead. A single note of white paper hung above them with a single word printed on it.
"Son of a bitch!" Kalawarner swore, covering her nose with one hand. "What the fuck happened in there?! It looks like someone really went to town on them!"
"One was shot several times by something hot enough to cauterize his flesh on impact." the only male present noted clinically as he stepped forward and began looking over the remains. If there was one thing Dohnaseek knew, it was fighting, and he could at least tell the cause of most of these injuries. "That one looks like they were hit by something with enough blunt force to splatter them, while this one had his head bitten off by something pretty big. Whatever it was had fairly blunt teeth too. These last two look like they were hit by something similar to the first one, only worse. Their lower bodies were completely incinerated and the flesh at the edge was completely carbonated. They certainly didn't die easy."
Mittelt scowled at the paper. "'NEXT'? Is whoever did this trying to provoke us? We're dealing with one brazen bastard aren't we?"
"Quite." Raynare agreed, one eye twitching as she scowled at the note, before something occurred to her. "I think we've found the lair of the one who was responsible for crippling Armârôs the Lesser and forcing her to flee."
That made all three of the other Fallen straighten up. Although slightly weaker than Raynare and Dohnaseek, Armârôs the Lesser had still been a fairly powerful Fallen. To have driven her into a corner and wound her to the degree that she had been, whoever was responsible for this was clearly more dangerous than they'd first believed.
"Well, even if whoever this is could take on Armârôs the Lesser, surely they can't defeat all four of us." Kalawarner scoffed, trying to reassert her usual pride.
"We're invading the lair of a Sacred Gear user, Kalawarner." Raynare reminded her. "For all we know, we might be going up against the holder of one of the Thirteen Longinus."
"Impossible." the blue-haired woman scoffed. "[Divine Diving], [Absolute Demise] and [Canis Lykaon] are allied with the Grigori. [True Longinus], [Annihilation Maker] and [Dimension Lost] are rumoured to belong some human mercenary group calling itself the Hero Faction, [Zenith Tempest] is under the control of the Church, [Regulus Nemea] has been spotted in the Devil side of the Underworld, [Sephiroth Graal] is under the control of the Tepes Faction of Vampires, [Incinerate Anthem] is owned by Hexennacht, and [Innovate Clear] and [Telos Karma] are under the control of Cross Times Kiss. The only one not active right now is the [Boosted Gear], and all of them tend to be power idiots, not mages."
She caught the surprised looks on her teammate's faces and scowled. "What? Knowing which factions have the Sacred Gears with the potential to kill a god is just common sense."
Raynare decided to ignore the display of unusual competence from the bimbo, as she was certain that if she didn't, reality would break from the sheer impossibility of Kalawarner saying something actually intelligent.
"Well then, I believe we should decide whether to head in now, or go and grab more Stray Exorcists." she said after she teleported the remains of the unfortunate five men back to the church.
"Haaah? Of course we're going now!" Kalawarner sneered. "Just because those idiot humans got their asses kicked, doesn't mean that we will! We're far more powerful than them!"
"If this is the Sacred Gear user that fought Armârôs the Lesser to a standstill, you bimbo bitch," the leader of the four sound just so done with her, "then he or she will know just how powerful one of the Fallen is. If they haven't planned accordingly in preparing the defences of their base, then I will be very surprised."
"Hah! A fine chance to test our mettle then!" Dohnaseek boomed. "Let us go forth then!"
'Muscle-bound, battle-brained moron.' Raynare thought as she deadpanned at him. All of his brains were either in his muscles or his dick.
"I hate to say it, Raynare, but I agree with these two." Mittelt said with a sigh. "We've been challenged by this guy. We need to put him in his place."
'And retreating will be seen as a sign of weakness.' Raynare thought as she cursed the stupid pride of her race. The one-word taunt from their adversary was forcing her hand more effectively than the total defeat of her scouting party.
"OK, fine." the Fallen leader sighed. "But no screwing around! No going haring off on your own, no lagging behind and if I tell you to hold off on attacking, do as I Lord-be-cursed tell you!"
Her glare to all of her subordinates told them that she was deadly serious.
"Fine, let's get this over with already." Kalawarner muttered rebelliously, looking away from Raynare, as if to feign that she wasn't intimidated by the older Fallen.
Dohnaseek looked unhappy that he was essentially being put on a leash, but he also bowed to Raynare's will. Mittelt was already on Raynare's side, but she nodded in agreement with her anyway.
With that, the four Fallen stepped onto the teleportal and activated it, vanishing in a flash of light to their target.
When they arrived, there was nothing but darkness around them, which was relieved by them summoning forth weapons of Light. Illumination of neon pink, pale blue, golden yellow and light pink filled the area.
Suddenly, music filled the room they were in, and a voice started singing, of all things.
"This is the Guild of Dungeoneering, on a quest we're never fearing!
Oh, to be a Dungeoneer! Swimming in pools of gold!
This is the Guild of Dungeoneering, all the monsters keep appearing!
Oh, to be a Dungeoneer! Whose stories will be told!
What's that sound, I hear a noise! Something's coming, girls and boys!
Run for the hills and far away! We're the Guild of Dungeoneering!
Curse and swear, but don't despair! The way out of here'll be over there!
I think we're lost, but what do we care? We're the Guild of Dungeoneering!"
"Well, that pretty much tosses any chance that the bastard wasn't mocking us." Raynare stated evenly, cold fury burning in her eyes. Screw planning, she was going to enjoy gutting this bastard. "Dohnaseek, you take point. Kalawarner, you take the rear. Mittelt, you fly up and act as a spotter. We'll smash this place and make this bastard regret mocking the Fallen of Grigori!"
In his Core Room, Hyōdō Issei leaned back on his throne, laced his hands together and smirked. Time to see what these Fallen were really made of.
Next Chapter: Fallen vs the Gamer's Dungeon