Chapter 12

It was roughly five in the morning when I woke up. I would have gotten out of bed, but Asia was hugging all of my tails. It felt like some sort of crime against nature to even risk disturbing her, but it wasn't the first time I've had to rescue my tails from being snuggled.

As I was starting my morning stretching, warming up the oven and such for my baking and the like, my phone hummed quietly.

Flicking a tail at it to collect it from the counter top, I flipped it open and squinted at the text message.

Boss: Meet me in the park at 5:30. Bring Asia. Put her shopping in the hallway.

Fox: But she looks so comfortable. Need a map.

A pause, then a little picture popped up on the screen, showing tiny, but clear directions, starting from the school, and ending in a little patch of green.

Boss: Going to increase training. Issei will be there.

Fox: 5:45, or I can't bring cookies.

Boss: Deal.

"..." Asia made some sort of attempt at a noise.

"Hey... Going to be an early day." I said quietly from the kitchen, "Rias wants us to join her and Issei for morning exercises."

"...k..." She managed to sit up, blinking at the relative dimness of the room. "cookies?"

"Just started baking them." I replied, "We should be there by quarter to six. I'll get a little breakfast going."

She nodded, nearly falling back to the bed. Then she swung her legs over the side, and zombie shuffled towards the bathroom.

While she did that, I continued my usual morning, though I put my exercises on hold for the moment. Between that, and cooking up a simple vegetable omelette, as well as pulling out a small batch of cookies from the oven, we were both out the door by 5:30. Not exactly bright eyed, but Asia was picking up speed by the minute, gaining a sort of radiance as she did.

"I suppose I'll have Issei pick up his lunch today, since this is kind of a surprise." I said, settling my armoured coat on my shoulders.

"That looks a little uncomfortable." Asia commented, "If I can, I will take over his lunches starting tomorrow." She said, looking at her phone, "It says we go... this way."

My tails were under my coat, hidden from sight, if a little crowded. My hood was up too, hiding my inhuman features. "Well, I'm not exactly human... I don't want to cause a problem."

"I thought Kitsune could use illusion magic?" She looked over at me, "Poor tails."

"I'm not a Kitsune. Maybe related, distantly, or something. But no. And if I can, I don't know how. Well, okay, sort of."

"Sort of?"

"I can make those little foxes, right? Well, I can make them look like me. Like a projection. But it's not easy. Still has the tails too." My golden tail flicked out from under my coat and went to visit Asia. "Yes, she's adorable."

Asia giggled, petting my tail then shoo-ing it away. "Don't get Mrs. Kodori in trouble. I'll pet you later." She looked at her phone again, "And... Here?"

5:44, said my phone.

"Good, you're here." Rias called from just around the corner, from behind some bushes.

The park itself, had no real gate, but it seemed to be walled off by a fairly tall, perfectly trimmed row of bushes. A simple green place, in the middle of a concrete jungle. After a moment though, I realized this was where I'd first met Issei, and Rias.

"Oh, it's this place." I commented.

"It's a quiet park, that almost no on uses at this time of day." Rias replied. "Good morning, Asia, Kodori-Sensei." She was dressed in a pink and white track suit. The workout suit doing nothing to hide her curves.

"M...or...nin...g" I heard Issei say from ground level. He was doing push ups, and judging by his red face, he was around a hundred or so. He was dressed in a grey tracksuit, though it looked like it was a little old. He also had Rias sitting on his back, balanced perfectly, her round behind right above his hips.

"Relax." I said, the boy flopping to the ground, "Wow, how many did you get him to do?"

"Almost one hundred and fifty." Issei replied.

"Not too bad, but I was expecting more, since you've been training him." Rias commented, standing up and patting her rear to settle the fabric.

I resisted the urge to talk back to her, and instead said, "I'll show you. Issei? Shake your arms out, and stand behind Rias."

He did, rolling his shoulders a couple of times, then reaching up towards the sky until I heard his spine pop a few times. Then he stood behind the red head. "Yes, Sensei?"

"Squat down, get your balance, and grab Rias's ankles." I held out my hands for Rias, "And don't look at her butt too hard. "Rias, hold my hands, and keep your legs straight." She looked at me, confused, but I looked down at Issei, "Set?"


"Arms to chest. Balance." I called out, Rias looking surprised as she was lifted up off the ground, Issei grunting in effort, as he brought his hands close to his chest, then stopping as he wiggled his feet a little to get balanced. "Stand. Balance."

"Eep!" Rias exclaimed as Issei stood up slowly, his elbows tucked to his sides, his face going a little red with the effort, but he was doing it. Lifting, and balancing, someone who weighed almost as much as he did. Not only that, he was holding that weight steady with just his hands and wrists.

"Think you can do the last bit?" I asked Issei.

He considered, then took in a huge breath of air through his nose, "OrrrrrrrrrYAAAAAAAA!" He exclaimed, not just lifting Rias over his head, but letting her go and getting his palms under her shoes, leaving her airborne for a split second. Rias, to her credit, kept her balance as well, trusting her pawn not to drop her.

Asia commented quietly, as she clapped softly, "If you had to rescue a kitten from a tree, you could."

"Need help? I asked Issei, who was looking up, though I could tell it was only partially because it was a really good view.

"Yes." He admitted, his arms starting to quiver a little.

"Crouch slowly." I said. I held up my hand to Rias, and as the boy lowered himself, Rias took my hand and hopped off, landing easily. "Not bad. Kept your balance, and managed to get..." I put my hands on Rias's hips, and lifted her off the ground, then put her back down, "Almost your own weight off the ground on the first go." I looked to Rias, "I understand you want him to be stronger, and that's fine. But too much of one thing becomes pointless. I'm training him to be a fighter, not a circus strongman."

She frowned at me, but nodded, "Very well." She looked to Asia, "I've found a place for you to stay, I think. If you'll come with me and Issei after our training?"

"Yes, President." Asia replied, "Um, am I going to be training too?"

"Yes." Rias and I said at the same time.

"You had something for Issei first?" I said to Asia, who got a thermos from a small handbag that was covered in panda faces, "I'll assess Asia, if you want to run Issei around the block?" I put a hand on her arm as she nodded and started to turn away, "Trust me. You are paying me to train them, so, let me train them. I have yet to have one of my Familia die due to lack of training, and I intend to keep that record for anyone I teach."

"Very well." She smiled slightly, "Issei? You heard Kodori-Sensei. Once around the block."

"Twice." I said, "Full speed for the last half block."

"Yes President, Kodori-Sensei!" Issei replied, handing back the thermos Asia had given him, and exiting the park while Rias got on a bike that was leaning against a tree.

"Okay Asia." I looked to her, "Lets try some stretching."

My assessment of Asia could be summed up in three words, 'adorable cream puff'. She had practically no physical ability to speak of, her flexibility was terrible, and she had no stamina. However, she had that little spark of determination to improve herself.

By Hestia's little blue ribbons, I missed my wife.

So, once I made sure she was really willing to train seriously, I told her to make her lunches exactly like Issei's. Oh, and gave her a hug. I couldn't help it, and she didn't seem to mind. It was about then when Rias and Issei returned, and the three of them left together, leaving me to return to the school alone.

However, there were now people out. Being around 7:30AM or so.

I was sure I got a few looks, as I walked, hands in my armoured coat pockets, the bottom of my coat looking like it was lined with fur, as my tails tried to hide without making me look like I was wearing a padded suit. I could have been more stealthy, or maybe ran back, but...

I couldn't. The random people on the streets and sidewalks, as I got closer to the school, reminded me of Orario. It made me feel... normal. Like I was on my way home, or to the dungeon, just minding my own business as part of the crowd. I reminded me of, and eased, my homesickness.

It also made me stick out like an ink mark on a white page. Wearing all black, while walking among a bunch of uniform clad students.

"Kodori-Sensei?" A voice called out to me, derailing my thoughts. Turning, I saw Saji, walking with a couple of other boys. "This is a surprise."

"You know her?" One of the others asked.

"Wow, she's pretty tall too. I thought you only had eyes for mmph!"

Saji quickly wrapped an arm around the other boy's head, clapping a hand over his mouth. "Ease off, she's just a regular at the store." He let the other boy go, "I thought you were only a night person though?"

"Early morning jog with Issei." I said, "I'm just heading back. Got things to do." I tried to keep my face shaded by my hood, since the other two boys were trying to get a better look at me, without actually looking like they were.

Saji nodded, and looped an arm around the other two, "Lets leave her be. And stop trying to peek, she's a bit shy." He winked at me while half wrestling the other two, "If you take a right here, you can go around most of the traffic and get to the old building faster."

"Thanks." I replied, spotting the path he mentioned. As I turned, I took out my phone and flipped it open, then closed, meeting his eyes for a moment. He nodded back and gave me a wide smile, before letting the other two go, and getting wrestled back in return.

"Hey don't mess up the hair!" He complained.

"First the President, now a mysterious woman? How many are you gonna go after?" Complained one.

"At least he isn't like that Issei guy..." Said the other.

I went back to my room first, mostly because I had more cookies to bake, as well as get lunches ready, bottle more milk, and grab my 'idea book'. After doing all that, and changing into something less 'armour' and more 'workshop', I went to said workshop, humming something from the apparently non-existent vocaloids. Ironically, it was 'the disappearance of Hatsune Miku'.

Just as I was setting up, around 9:00am, I heard a heavy wing beat, a lighter one, then a "Hup!" as a pair of feet landed just outside the garage door. "Hello?" It was Mittelt.

"Oh? This is a surprise." I said, as she stopped just outside the garage door, "Please, enter." and she did, stepping inside.

Her wings slipped back into her as she did. She looked pretty good in her new outfit, a matching uniform to Cime, only, of course, much smaller, since she herself was a tiny person. She also had a backpack on, the straps over her shoulders and belted around the waist too, "Why is it surprising? You ordered some stuff, so I brought stuff." She was sounding much better too, not angry, like the first two times we met, or sad, like the last time. She undid the buckle at her hips, and took off the backpack, "Lets see..."

I waited, and watched with interest, as she took off the pack. It was a pretty big bag, for someone with wings, but I suppose being a fallen angel and now a devil gave her the strength for it. "Water? Cookie? Muffin?" I asked.

"Business first." She said, "This is my first job... ever. Now that I think about it..."

I nodded, and waited, as she pulled out a small box, and a bento box. The first, she handed to me along with a clipboard and paper. I signed the paper, and accepted the box, a very light one for its size. The bento box, the same one I gave Cime, was put next to the fridge, so I wouldn't forget it on my way out. Applying my thumbnail to the tape, I opened the box.

"Aha, my safety glasses." A box of ten, they were plastic, but professional grade. At least, I was hoping they were. It would suck to have to mix up some 'clear all' with only partial, or no, vision. "Excellent."

"I hope you continue to use our services." Mittelt said professionally, then paused, stretched her arms over her head, making her spine pop a few times, then relaxed with a sigh. "There, business done... Did you say muffins?"

"I did." I replied, putting the box of glasses by the door, and putting on a pair myself. "I hope Cime isn't being too rough with you?"

"He's..." She sighed, "Look, you have no idea how old, or how long I've been at war with devils." Her sigh actually sounded ancient. Like the dungeon breathing. "For a while, before I got sick of taking orders from those, literally, holier than thou, angels, Cime, and all the others like him, were 'the enemy'. It was just... how things were."

I nodded, "I've got a similar situation back home." I said.

She looked at me sharply, as if to refute my statement, but she paused, "Really?"

I nodded, but offered her a muffin from the fridge, and a bottle of water, "Yes. You eat that, and I'll tell you the short form."

"If its anything like your cookies..." She smiled, the gloom over her face breaking for a moment.

So, I told her, in short form, the history of Orario. Not much about the place, or the gods, but just 'the dungeon' and 'the people', and the 'war' that was just... always there. Then, I told her about the Xenos, and how a thousand years of history, of how monsters were 'the enemy', was now the biggest barrier for the Xenos to be a 'people' and not a 'target'.

"Wow..." She said, "You're... really strange you know." She licked her fingers clean, "You really do have an idea of what its like... For a mortal, its just... odd." I shrugged, and motioned for her to continue. "Well... Fighting has been almost all I knew. But then it stopped. The great war finally had an ending."

"An ending?"

She laughed bitterly, "Yes. And guess what? No one won. The angels are nearly gone. The devils are nearly gone. And the Fallen are nearly gone. All that fighting, and no one wins." Again, that heavy sigh, "But many of us just couldn't put it down. Even with the leaders of all three factions trying to ask for a ceasefire. Or for some, especially because of it."

"It's hard to forget a history of violence." I nodded.

"It's even worse, when some don't want to."

"So the war ended because there was almost no one left to fight it. And the ones who wanted to keep fighting, have no support from the leaders?" I asked, knowing some of this from talking with Rias.

"Basically." She nodded, "Now that... well, now that you scared the fight out of me..." She looked at me, and I handed her a cookie, "Thanks for not killing me."

"I kill monsters." I said flatly, making her flinch and almost drop the cookie, "But monsters don't surrender or ask for mercy."

"heh... okay." She nibbled the cookie, "I really was a monster. I mean, Freed and I had a competition once... No, you don't need to know. But be careful of him. For a human, he's a genius. I've seen him pick up a plastic butter knife and hack someone apart with it."

I thought about the logistics of that, and shook my head, "I'll remember that, next time I see him." I looked at the time, "You're not still on the clock are you?"

"Technically, yes. But you were my only delivery today."

"Oh. Well, do you have a moment to look at something then?" I went to the pile of exorcist equipment, and quickly dismantled one of the lightsabres. "I'm trying to get a handle on what makes these tick. And if I can figure out this little cube, I think I'll be able to do other stuff with it."

"Oh! Sure, I can help with that." She paused, then grinned, "Fu fu... Except, it will cost you. I am a devil now, after all."

"Very well." I replied, my eyes widening, ears twitching forward, "Lets talk price."

In the end, it cost me an I.O.U. For a scarf. Yes, a scarf. Apparently her new uniform was only so warm, when flying, and once she took a look at some of my 'projects on the go' and heard of my gift for making things, she asked for a scarf. And gloves, if I could.

Silly question, of course I could.

But in return, she'd broken down, translated, and explained the little runic cube. Using her information, and a few google searches, I was well on the way to devising my own version of the cube. It would take a little time to really get it right, but I could already think of dozens of ways I could implement an energy field that was powered by a person's will. I just hoped I wouldn't have to replace too many goggles.

Who was I kidding? I'd need lots more before it was really done.

Lunch was fast approaching, and I was visited by Issei, looking a little... off.

"You can't be that hungry, can you?" I asked, putting his bento on the workbench beside me.

"Well, you know how this morning..." A pause as he sat down heavily, resting his chin on the workbench as his arms dangled, "The President, Asia-chan and I left together?"

"I was there, yes. Oh here." I put a pair of chopsticks on top of the bento.

"Thank you for the meal." He said, straightening up and popping the lid off, "Well, Asia is staying at my place now, in our spare room."

I gave him, the raised eyebrow.

"I know, right? I mean, its amazing she's staying at my place. She's just so adorable and..." He paused as my raised eyebrow twitched, "Yes Sensei, focus." He took a breath, "My parents agreed to it really fast. And while the President was smiling about it, she looked... a little sad? I dunno." He dug into his lunch, surprising me by not being a 'shovel everything in' person.

"I wonder if Rias used a little magic or something. I mean, sure, Asia brings light to any room she's in, but you're a teen aged boy, who is obviously into the opposite sex, and inviting an adorable girl into your home is kind of..." I might have been assuming a whole bunch of things here, but it didn't sound like the typical Japanese response to an extra mouth to feed.

"Well... Until I came to this school, I've been a bit... well... a lot... lame. Just your average kid, doing average things, and wanting things that are just out of reach."

Another surprise. Issei was usually upbeat. Even when flopped on the floor and gasping for air, he was still ready to keep trying. He sounded a bit down on himself now.

"My parents never really expected much of me. And they make that clear. But now, I have the President, who has been caught, sleeping naked in my bed twice now... And now Asia is living with me. And Akeno-san being someone I can just... talk to... And even Kiba, the most popular guy in school. Or Koneko-chan, who is like the school mascot... All of this amazing stuff is just... happening now." He grinned at me, a bit of his usual energy returning, "I even have someone who is stronger than the President's entire peerage, making my lunches and training me." He blinked, "Oh... Pretend you didn't hear that..."

"I am strong." I said with a shrug, "And have worked hard to become so." I scratched an ear, "You are one of the few... I won't say 'lucky' or 'unlucky' here. But you have stepped just outside the normal every day."

"And into a much larger world." He said with a laugh, "Yes Obi-wan, I understand."

"Do you though? I mean, in the last week, I've met a dozen or so Devils, exorcists, people with sacred gear, fallen angels... And I'm already from a place with Elves, Dwarves, Gods, Goddesses..." I couldn't resist the urge to ruffle his hair, "It's only been a week or so. You'll adapt."

"Hey quit it..." He ducked under my hand, "You're right. Don't worry, I'll get stronger, and learn more, and protect everyone!" He paused, "Oh, I should hurry and eat this... Next class is soon."

Now he was the 'shovel it all in' person.

The exorcist handguns were... odd. They seemed to work on the same principal as the swords. Personal energy in, convert, holy energy out. Except... There seemed to be a middle step that I couldn't quite grasp. And being unable to use weapons, meant the best I could do without someone firing it for me, was guess. Though, with Mittelt's help, and more goggle searches, now that I knew what to look for, I saw there was another set of enchantments, a little string of runes carved into and along the barrel. Tricky work, since it was some of it was actually inside the barrel, not just on the outside. But that's what I was here to figure out.

"My my... What happened to your hand?" Rias visited me in the workshop, about a half hour before I was suppose to meet Issei for his training. I was currently, one handed, trying to chisel my left hand out of a block of melted metal. It was tricky, using one of my tails to hold the chisel while tapping the hammer against it with my right hand.

"I asked myself, 'what's the worst that could happen' and fired one of the exorcist pistols." I paused my work, "It literally melted in my hand, and encased it like this."

"You're strong enough, why not just break free?"

"Well, I could just smash my hand against something, turning it into a weapon, and thus dissolving it. I'll show you." I waved her over, "See this bit here? And this one here?"

She nodded, patting one of my tails when it perched on her arm, before shooing it away.

"They are part of the enchantment that makes it 'ranged'. It survived the melting, and that makes it noteworthy. Say, could you hold this? I have to be careful, cause if I hit my skin with the end of the chisel, I'll lose the chisel."

Once I had a steady hand holding the chisel, it took about a minute to loosen my captured hand enough to slip out of it. "I take it you've made progress then?"

"I have made a pact with another devil, and must make them a scarf for the information." I said, wondering what her reaction would be.

She was a little surprised, but only a little, "And here I am, only paying you room and board, to keep you on retainer."

"And food. Don't forget that. Cookie?" I offered, putting the slagged bit of metal aside.

"Tempting, but no, I will wait until our meeting later." She frowned, "I'm curious, why didn't you just put your hand into the forge? You're immune to fire, aren't you?"

"That would have slagged the metal entirely, and putting magically charged stuff into a fire can be... really bad. Not so bad with a coal forge, since you just have bits of coal everywhere. But a gas one?"

"Good point. Thank you for not blowing up my clubhouse." She laughed quietly, then asked, face going serious again, "Now the reason I'm here... Why was that fallen angel here?"

"She's an employee of the devil delivery service now, and under the aegis of her employer." I replied, "And, she's had a rather humbling experience, and would like to come back inside now that she's no longer a murdering psychopath."

She looked stunned, then said, "Was that... a joke? Hm, so you do have a sense of humour."

"If you weren't so elegant looking all the time, I'd ruffle your hair. Now, as the elder here, you have class, and I have work."

"Yes Sensei." She smiled, "See you at the club room."

April 12. I'd been here nine days. Nine days away from my home and family. Nine days under the protection of an actual devil. Kiba said I had odd luck, and he was right. Was I doing enough? Asking Rias for help on finding out what had happened? Was there anyone else I could ask? Cime? Maybe, but him getting involved might mean him exposing himself. He was a major devil, and probably in hiding for a very good reason, considering there were only three major devil houses left.

And while I was only just barely able to contact home, I wasn't idle in my other pursuits. In the two days since meeting and rescuing Asia, I'd furthered my understanding of enchanting by leaps and bounds. Asfi, the second greatest enchanter in Orario, had commented once, that I was a good copycat. Once I figured out something, I could replicate it in my own fashion. But, I wasn't very good at innovation.

She was right too, I admit. Since I anchored almost all of my enchanting with 'ko-steel', I needed a good example before thinking it could even be done. I had to break that habit somehow.

A little buzz from my phone halted my thoughts, and I turned off the small belt sander before flipping open my phone and reading the text.

Food Vendor: We three have free time after school.

Fox: I should have time. Place?

Food Vendor: (image) It's not far, and secluded.

Fox: Done. If there's a problem, I'll text.

Food Vendor: I'll remind President that you are owed a lesson.

Fox: Cookie for you.

No further texts followed, so I closed the phone and went back to my little project.

"You're ready for a live target, I think." I said to Issei after he'd warmed up, taken off the weighted suit, and done two three minute rounds with the heavy bag. He'd worked up a good sweat, but was only breathing a little heavily. So much progress in the few day's I'd trained him.

"Yes Sensei." He replied, hopping back from the punching bag and lowering his guard.

"Can I stop stretching now?" Asia asked from the corner, dressed in a green track suit and looking a little wilted, as she continued her leg stretches while sitting on the floor.

"Yes." I replied, "I want you to pick up the two little weights there, and do some squats." I pointed to a pair of two pound dumbbells. "Set of ten, sixty second rest, repeat twice more. No rush."

"Yes Sensei." She replied, getting up slowly from the floor.

"Eyes front Issei." I said, watching the boy's face as it slowly went from 'serious' to 'thinking about girl showering after sweating'. "Now, I want you to attack as best you can. Every time you make a mistake, I will attack. Nothing fancy unless you know you can keep your balance and breathing in check."

He nodded, took a deep breath, and called out his sacred gear. Left hand becoming a gauntlet of red and gold steel, the large blue gem on the back spoke instantly, "BOOST!"

I felt a little swell of pride, seeing him do something he had trouble doing yesterday, so easily now.

What followed, was him trying his very best to hit me. He kept his guard up, his balance solid, and got back up every time I caught him doing something wrong, and flipped him onto his back.

"You're relying too much on that hand." I said, letting the red gauntlet pass by, before grabbing his arm just above the protective barbs on his forearm, and flipping him onto his back again. The air in his lungs whooshed out of him, but he rolled up, onto his feet, took a step forward and away from me, turned sharply, and caught his breath again while keeping his arms up. "It won't hurt me, so why not use it for defence? Remember when you punched the wall and not me just a little while ago?"

He didn't reply, but nodded, still getting his breath back.

"Good." I glanced over to Asia, "Five push ups, three sets. When you've caught your breath."

"" Poor girl.

Issei stepped in again, leading in with a right this time, then a left. Standard one-two. After a few more punches, he overextended just a little, and I returned with a punch of my own. This time however, instead of hopping back, he hopped forward, meeting my first with his left forearm. The sound was like punching a steel plate, and to me, felt about the same too. The only problem was I was much stronger, even holding back. He staggered back, but I didn't press the attack, instead nodding, "Now you're getting it. Blocking is not 'doing'. If you are going to block, punish them for it." I made a show of shaking out my hand, "Had that been some one of your level, they might have broken a finger, or even their wrist. If you had angled your arm a little, and caught my fingers against those fins, I might be bleeding now." I looked at the time, grabbing a pair of hand wraps for myself and quickly applying them to my hands.

"I think I understand." He replied.

"Have you noticed, that you've been fighting under your first 'boost' for almost ten minutes now?" I clenched my fists, testing the wraps.

"I..." He looked at his hand, the gem on it actually saying 'Boost I'. "I have! I was wondering why I was moving so fast."

"We have about five minutes before it's time to clean up." I said, looking again to Asia, "Five pound weights, set of ten curls. Three sets."

She made a little pouting noise, but got the weights.

"So, do you think you can last that five minutes?" I asked Issei, setting the little timer.

He raised his hands up again, pulling in a noisy breath through his nose. "BOOST!"

Even under the second level boost, he kept his form simple, balanced, and as most people back in Orario would call it 'boring'. Except, now when I attacked back, he tried to either dodge, or meet my fist with his gauntlet. He wasn't very good at it, but I could easily imagine him catching someone off guard and breaking their hand or something. He was learning to use his 'natural' advantage to its full effect, not just as a weapon, but a shield, since it was much harder than his bare skin.

About four minutes in, he frowned. I could see he was starting to waver, his body just not able to keep up the energy, but instead of backing down, or even slowing down, he started to press forward. He surprised me with a sudden attempt to elbow me, instead of punch, and I actually missed a block. The attack fell short, whiffing through the air, but he grinned.

And thirty seconds before the buzzer... "BOOST!"

I honestly forgot to punish him for his next three big mistakes. The first, was losing his breath. He was tired already, and I could see he was pushing for a last ditch effort. Second, was he was losing his form. His strikes getting wild and sloppy. Last, was his balance. Loss of form being the cause. But he was, at this point, almost as fast as Kiba, before I told the knight to go 'all out'.

When the buzzer finally went off, he threw one last attack. His left elbow hissed towards my middle, the air howling between the sharp fins on the sides of his bracer. My hand wraps, at this point, had been pretty cut up, but when I stopped it with my open palms, the fabric finally gave up, and exploded into shreds.

Then, he lost the strength to stand, slumping to the floor, being held up by my unbreakable grip on his forearm.

"Issei-san!" Asia called out, pausing her curls and looking like she was about to run over.

"Don't drop those." I said, stopping Asia as I helped Issei to his knees. "That was pretty impressive." I said, holding him by a shoulder so he wouldn't flop sideways.

"I... You said I was... Relying on it too much." He huffed, "But... It's like a trump, right? Like your magic."

Yes, pride, I was feeling it. "You're learning." I ruffled his hair, "Gonna have to increase your jogging times though."

"But I'm getting stronger." He said, grinning, "Right?"

"Don't push yourself too hard." I said, ruffling his hair again, "But yes, you are getting stronger. Now, when you can feel your knees again, hit the shower. Asia? You can use mine."

"Yes Sensei."

"Well well." Rias raised an eyebrow at the three of us as we entered, "At least you let them get cleaned up." She looked at me as I remained standing while the other two sat down, "Not going to join us? I have exciting news."

"Other business." I replied, "But." I put a little container of cookies on the table, "What news?"

"Well, Asia is making her debut as a devil tonight, with her first summons." Rias replied with a pleased expression. "Not even three days, and you're already getting a request."

"Already?" Issei sounded shocked, "But... What if she gets a request for something..."

I couldn't help but facepalm, but I had to admit, I was curious. I mean, a succubus was a type of devil, wasn't it?

"She's so kind and gentle! If some one were to request that kind of thing..."

"Issei, calm down." Rias said with a sigh, "We have a special division for those requests."


"Don't worry. I've no requests tonight." Kiba said, "If the President would allow me?"

"I could..."

"Issei, you have a request as well." Rias smiled, "Be sure to make a pact this time." She leaned over and put a hand on his leg, just above the knee.

"Yes President!" Instantly back on track, Issei agreed.

"Now Asia, you remember how to do this?" Rias asked.

"I'll do my best!" She said, doing a pretty good impression of 'Issei's determined pose' little fist clenched in front of her. "Ow... arms are a little sore."

"I'll help you with that later, Asia." I said.

"Oh, thank you, Mrs. Kodori."

Akeno, silent up to now, save for handing people teacups and occasionally 'fu fu'ing at Issei's comments, moved over to the clear patch of flood, "Shall we get started then?"

"That reminds me. Asia?" Rias stood and took Asia's hand, "This will let you use the teleport circle's return function..."

"Wish I could use the return function." Issei mumbled, "Kodori-Sensei? Can you help me get there again?" He took another cookie, his fourth and last, "The jog home will do me good, right?"

"Sure." I nodded.

Following the little map Saji had sent me brought me to a clearing in a forest near the school. It wasn't very big, but the ground had been stomped flat by many shoes, and was isolated by the surrounding forest. There was also a slight tingle of magic in the air, making me think of the teleport circle in the ORC. Sitting on a stump, or leaning against trees, were three people. One, I knew instantly, that not quite tamed head of blond hair belonging to Saji. The other two though, one a tallish girl with short blue hair, a lean build and handsome face, and the other, a shorter girl with longer reddish hair, and a smile that seemed to just naturally be there. The three of them looked up at me as I entered the clearing.

"Evening, Saji." I greeted him, "I take it these two are... Hello?"

The shorter girl, on seeing me, had walked right up to me and started looking at me like some kind of weird owl. Leaning this way and that to take me in at different angles. "Wow! A kitsune? Six tails! I've only ever seen a two tailed one! And you're so tall! And those eyes!"

"Easy easy Tomoe." Saji said, taking hold of the girl's shoulders and dragging her backwards, her heels scraping against the ground. "Introduce yourself properly first."

"Oh!" The girl shed her excited demeanour for a moment, saying, "I'm Tomoe Meguri, pleased to meet you." She bowed formally, and I returned it. "I'm a knight of the Sitri peerage.

"You too." Saji said to the other one, who was just standing up straight from leaning on a tree.

"Tsubasa Yura." She bowed as well, "Rook of the Sitri peerage. Thank you for your time."

"Kodori Haruhime." I said, "But please, call me Kodori." I looked the three of them over, spotting all of the little things one looks for in a fellow fighter. The three of them had varying degrees of 'markers'. Saji was confident, and while still a teenager, he looked pretty solid. Tomeo had a lot of energy, but her feet, ankles and knees were bent just so, looking ready to move in any direction. Tsubasa seemed the most experienced, her weight more on the balls of her feet, her lean figure relaxed in the same way someone who is expecting trouble would be. Her hands were the most noticeable for me though. The first two knuckles of both her hands were built up much like mine.

"Lady Sona says you are here to teach us?" Tsubasa asked.

I nodded, "That's right. But first, let's see where you're all at." I bounced a couple of times on the balls of my feet, and raised my hands, "First volunteer?"


So now that I've worked out (with the help of a couple of my readers, you know who you are, and you are awesome.) the date of the story (something I couldn't do in Danmachi, as they didn't seem to have a calendar) I can progress accordingly. Huzzah!

Anyhow, 5 days, etc etc.