"So magic is real, the Yakuza are magical, and they run the country?"
"To be fair," Issei spoke up, "Everybody already knew the part about the Yakuza running the country."
"...Alright, fair enough," Matsuda nodded, "But still, Angels, Devils, Gods, Yokai… It's a lot to process."
"Especially the part about every mythology being real at the same time." Motohama interjected, "Like, how does it work? Who is the god of what? What afterlife do people go to after they die? Which religion is the one true religion?"
"I'm still figuring that out myself, to be honest. As far as I know, all afterlives exist and are valid, and which one you end up in depends on what you believe in as well as on whose turf you die, and the political weight you hold."
Motohama, Matsuda, and Aika stared intently at Issei as he spoke.
"Basically, factions earmark souls based on their beliefs, actions, and origins, but someone who's earmarked for Christian heaven, for example, could die in Asia. If they're a good person, dying in Asia would entitle them to a trip to one of the Buddhist heavens, but none of the Asian pantheons would try to claim this soul because it would be considered encroaching within heaven's authority, and could lead to war."
The eyes of everybody in Issei's apartment widened at those words. Gulping nervously, Matsuda spoke up.
"War? That sounds pretty bad."
"It would be." Issei nodded, "All-out faction wars are something to be avoided at all costs. The human equivalent would be a full-blown war between nuclear-capable countries. Not only would the fighting between the two directly involved factions be extremely destructive, but it could act as a powder keg for the whole world. Everybody would start fighting for their interests, old alliances could be broken, new ones made, and there are many that would take the opportunity to settle old grudges.
"It's very likely that there would even be great conflict within the different factions since they're composed of different groups with different interests and goals. Basically, there are factions within the factions."
"So no one claims souls that don't belong to them…" Aika spoke, "But what about Atheists and stuff? Who takes them?"
Issei shrugged again.
"Once again, it depends. Where was the person born, where did they die, and what interest would the involved factions have in that person? Your behavior in life impacts the level of interest different factions will have towards you. Of course, there's the universal 'good or evil' thing that they all judge, but, beyond that, there are different traits that different factions value over others.
"The Norse faction, for example, puts great importance on martial prowess and valiancy. If an atheist person of good moral values but with a warrior's spirit dies on Norse turf, they're probably gonna become a priority for the Norse over someone who is meek or cowardly. That means that if they had to negotiate over these souls, they'd try to push to others the ones they saw less value in.
"For example, a pacifist atheist and a martially inclined pacifist both die in Sweden, but both of them grew up in India. The Norse would try to keep the fighter and give the Hindu the pacifist, and the Hindu would more than likely agree to that trade since their afterlife prioritizes Buddhist principles of cooperation, pacifism, and that sort of stuff.
"Still, avoid dying on the turf of a faction who'd send you to an afterlife you wouldn't want to be in."
"Hah…" Matsuda leaned back into his chair in a boneless heap, a bandaged hand running over his bald head. "Now we have to not only try not to die, but we also have to be aware of where we die…"
"Yup." Issei nodded. "Also, don't reveal the existence of the supernatural world, or bad things can and will happen to you."
"...How're we even supposed to deal with all of this?"
Issei turned towards Motohama, who had asked the question, before snorting.
"By getting stronger, of course. What happened to you guys last night should be enough to show you that ignorance doesn't count for shit when the bad guys come knocking. The only thing that can improve your chances at survival is becoming strong enough to deal with whatever bullshit gets thrown your way.
"The reason why I didn't step in until the last second against that stray is that I both wanted you guys to understand the danger of the supernatural world, as well as figuring out how you'd respond to it. I gotta say I'm very proud of both of you.
"Motohama figuring out that he could use prayer against the stray, Matsuda using Reinforcement, and the two of you timing things to get a kill shot - that Matsuda didn't hesitate in taking - are very impressive for people who were just dropped into the deep end of the pool head-first."
"The two of us would've died if it weren't for the training you've been putting us through," Motohama said, "But, then again, that was probably your goal from the get-go, wasn't it?"
"Yup. There're devils in our school, Yokai in our town, and my neighbor is a fallen angel," Issei hopped up from his couch and made his way to a bookshelf while Motohama and Matsuda gaped in shock at the series of revelations, "Whether we know it or not, we are constantly surrounded by the supernatural. The best we can do is learn how to deal with it."
He pulled one of the books from the shelf and lobbed it at Motohama, who fumbled with it before finally stabilizing it between two hands. The glasses-clad boy looked at the cover of the book, only to see a series of charts and diagrams.
"That's a university-level calculus book. An absolute robbery to buy, but you're gonna need it."
Issei paused, a smirk splitting his face as he leaned forward, prompting the other three present to do so as well. An odd type of tension fell onto the apartment as Issei silently met the gazes of his friends, getting a gulp from both of them, before speaking in a conspiratorial tone.
His smirk widened at the way both boys' eyes widened, before he proceeded.
"Broadly speaking, there are two types of magic. One of them is intent-based magic, which is magic based purely upon the manipulation of internal energy using imagination and willpower, and the other one is structured magic, where mathematical principles are used to shape ambient mana to fulfill whichever purpose one might want it to.
"Basically, if you become good enough at math you can bend reality over a barrel and make it squeal like a stuck pig. Humans inventing and continuously improving math is the reason why we're the best magicians in the whole world. It's reached a point where everyone and their mothers, even users of intent-based magic, structure their whole magical systems through math and geometry-based magical circles.
"In short, your job is to use that numbers-oriented brain of yours to make reality your bitch."
Motohama looked down at the book in his grip, before breathing out a stunned "Whoa".
"With that being said," Issei spoke up once more, "Just because you're going to be the team's dedicated Mathemagician doesn't mean that you get to slack off on the physical side of things, nor that the rest of us can get lazy about magic.
"Oh yeah, there's a team, by the way."
The three other humans blinked in surprise, yet said nothing as Issei continued.
"In order to make sure that the two of you can defend yourselves, I'll be introducing you to this nice lady I know, and who Aika has gotten rather familiar with. Actually, let's go meet her right now."
Motohama and Matsuda raised curious eyebrows at that, while Aika gave the two a pitying look.
Shaking off the chill that ran down his spine, Matsuda spoke up.
"Sure, let's go."
"You know," Motohama said as he stood up from his seat, "It'll be pretty cool to meet a supernatural being that's not trying to kill me."
"You can stop running, maggots!"
Motohama and Matsuda flopped to the ground the very moment those words reached their ears, their chests heaving as they greedily gulped in as much air as they possibly could.
Lilith and Aika were barely any better, but the fact that they were still standing seemed to give them the sense of superiority to look down on them.
Lilith especially was enjoying the schadenfreude of the role inversion from when she had first joined them on their runs. Back then she was the one incapable of moving a muscle, but today, it was them, and it was an oh so sweet sensation. She opened her mouth, ready to gloat-
"Well, since you ladies are still on your feet, then go and run a few more laps around the campus. 5 should be enough."
Only for smugness to turn into despair at Xinthia's words. Knowing what would happen if they were to delay - even more laps - the two didn't tarry, getting right back to their circuit.
Xinthia turned her gaze towards the downed boys, ready to say something, only to be surprised by the sight of them pushing themselves back to their feet and dragging themselves after the girls, completely unprompted.
She turned a pleasantly surprised gaze towards Issei, who spoke up.
"They feel like they're already behind the girls, and don't want to fall behind any further."
The succubus watched Issei, who, in turn, was watching his running girlfriends and friends with his arms crossed over his chest, for a silent moment, before shaking her head and turning her gaze back towards the runners.
'Truly, nothing about you is normal, is it, Issei? I'd usually say that your friends are simply exceptional as you are, and that may yet prove to be the case, but… The young lady wasn't like this before. She was at best halfhearted about her duties, and she absolutely loathed the thought of exercising, but ever since you've entered her life she's been taking her lessons of statesmanship and magic with lady Laveria seriously, and she's been giving it her all in this field. Even that Jackie girl has been spending her time back in Luxuria trying to gain proper control over her Sacred Gear. I wonder, how far will this ability of yours to pull people into your orbit and pace take you?'
Rias Gremory wasn't having a good time.
Ever since she had moved into Kuoh with her peerage and had been granted shared control over it with Sona she'd felt like her life was on track. Sure, she had the engagement weighing over her mind, but she had a plan for that. She just had to recruit more members to her peerage, have said peerage fulfill as many contracts as possible to continuously increase their power, and by the time she got to university and was forced to address the engagement contract, she should've been more than capable of dealing with Riser's peerage.
Recent events made her understand the fact that those plans were hopes at best.
"I am running out of patience, Rias."
Case in point, Sona, her best friend outside of Akeno, acting in an uncharacteristically irritated manner and pressing her for an answer to the Hyoudou Issei question.
Pushing aside the stack of paperwork she had been dealing with, Rias pushed down the glasses on her face - she didn't need them, but they made her feel smarter - before turning her gaze towards Sona and answering.
"Look, Sona, I just need more time to-"
Everyone's eyes went wide, but none moreso than Rias', at the sight of Sona smacking her hands atop Rias' desk, a frown on her face as she spoke.
"I need more time. How long will you say that for, I wonder? A week? Two? Six Months? A year? Until we graduate High school?" The Sitri heiress leaned back into her seat, her hands resting atop her crossed legs as she spoke, "The world does not move at your pace, Rias. It is something that you yourself should be extremely aware of considering your circumstances.
"Friends we may be, but that does not mean that I have to constantly push back my schedule for you. You are not the only one who wants to fill all the spots in their peerage, and it is greatly disruptive for my goals to have to constantly postpone this because 'You can't make up your mind'.
"You have a week to decide, Rias, before I try my luck at recruiting Hyoudou Issei."
Having said that, Sona and her peerage left the ORC room.
Rias leaned back into her comfy chair, still trying to overcome the shock of an actually angry Sona, before turning towards her queen and speaking up.
"Did… That just happen?"
"Indeed, buchou." The Yamato Nadeshiko smiled at her King as she spoke, "It was rather amusing seeing Sona-san that agitated."
"But why?" The Gremory kind turned her chair so she could stare out one of the windows of the old school building as she thought aloud, "Why would Sona, someone so calm, cool-headed, and measured in her actions, be so upset over some human?"
"Buchou." Rias turned towards Akeno in curiosity over her weird tone of voice, only for her eyebrows to climb to her forehead at her queen's smile. "I hope that you keep in mind the fact that Yuuto-kun and I were human before we were reincarnated before giving such disparaging comments."
Noticing the verbal landmine she had accidentally stepped on, Rias decided to try to explain herself better. She didn't want both of her best friends feeling insulted by her at the same time, after all.
"I didn't mean it like that, Akeno. I'm just… Confused. Why is it that Sona is so sanguine about recruiting Hyoudou Issei specifically? There are so many options she could go for, some of which she had already mentioned, yet she is fixated on Hyoudou. I don't get it… Why?
"What about him makes him such a sore spot for her?"
Akeno's smile softened at that explanation. She knew that her Buchou wasn't the type of person to easily discard a life because it was a human, it would go both against her innate character and against the education her family had instilled upon her.
As people who fought against the Old Satan Faction, and with Sirzechs having been the face of that battle alongside the other 3 members of the fours satans, the value of a life was something the Gremory family always emphasized in their teachings, and it was part of why they above all other families treated their peerages not just as servants, but as family.
With that being said, Akeno was forced to admit that despite not being an inherently evil person, her Buchou could be a bit… Inconsiderate. It probably shouldn't have been a surprise, considering the fact that between being the younger sister of the current Satan Lucifer and being the heiress of the Gremory family she was pretty much nobility, yet the fact that Sona grew up in similar conditions but was more grounded easily highlighted the fact that this was more a question of Rias' immaturity than anything else.
As her Queen, Akeno decided to help cover for her King's shortcoming.
"You, Buchou, have a bad habit of expecting things to always work out fine." Akeno ignored the wide-eyed stare from her King, and chose to proceed, "You are completely willing to act at your own pace because as far as you're concerned, things will ultimately 'work themselves out'. And truthfully, considering the way your peerage so far was assembled, and the way most of your wishes were acceded to, like your desire for independence being answered to with a whole town, it's not surprising that you came to be like that.
"But other people aren't like that. Sona-san had to recruit every single member of her peerage herself and help them train to the level of strength they have today, without aid from her sister's own peerage. She was granted joint control over Kuoh with you not for appeasement purposes, but as a test, for which she is expected to show results. The reason she is not beholden to an engagement contract like you, buchou, is not because her parents were any less eager to help conjoin the bloodlines of the remaining pillar families than yours or any others of such stature, but because since she was young, she has been proactive in fighting against all of these attempts, rather than complaining about them and expecting someone else to solve things for her.
"For Sona-san, time is a limited resource that she needs to make optimal use of because she can't just wait for 'everything to turn out fine in the end'. If her skills in chess decay and she gets beaten, she could be forced into another engagement. If her family believes she is mismanaging the town, she could be forced to return to the Sitri house for further tutorship, and lose trust and freedom of action.
"Is it any wonder that your current actions frustrate her?"
Rias stared silently at Akeno, her mouth gaping in a wide O. Her mouth closed with a click of her teeth before she closed her eyes, taking a deep, steadying breath, and then meeting Akeno's gaze, her expression visibly shaken as she spoke.
"I-is that really how I come off as? Some sort of… wishy-washy, spoiled brat?"
The pain in Rias' eyes made Akeno instinctively want to soothe her, but she knew that she could not. If her goal was to help her King become a better version of herself, then she had to let her hurt first.
"Not the words I would use, Buchou, but correct."
Rias' body slumped back into her chair as she silently digested those words.
There was a saying so popular that it was pretty much known throughout the whole world, and even the other worlds that constituted the various mystical dimensions, heavens, and other such dimensional pockets that constituted reality as it was known.
Curiosity killed the cat.
The cat, in this case, was one Toujou Koneko, real name Shirone.
Her last conversation with one Hyoudou Issei was still stuck in her head. Of course, the 'family' comment was hard to forget, no matter how much she tried to just figuratively smooth over that emotional hill, but she had enough practice ignoring that old ache that other, more immediate concerns could become her… Fascinations.
At this point in time, her fascination was the whole suite of sensations she experienced while in the presence of the slightly older teen. The warmth in her chest when he shared his sweets with her, the fluttering in her belly when he smiled at her or laughed in her presence, the unpleasant sensation when the two were together and he just sat there staring silently at her, the way that his hand on her head and his soft gaze made her feel as if she were wearing a warm, fluffy blanket…
The itch she felt between her legs after witnessing the scene of his girlfriends licking, sucking, and stroking his thing in the mall bathroom, and the euphoric high she felt when her fingers rubbed that itch away, which were paired with some slickness down there that she'd never seen before…
Koneko was very curious, and, like any other cat in her position, she felt the need to sate her curiosity.
She picked up her phone, opened her web browser and her search engine of choice, Ding, and started searching for whatever it was she considered relevant to the subject.
The first term she searched was 'Sex Ed', a term that led her to results that explained quite a few things she had no idea of, up to and including why Hyoudou Issei had said that he wouldn't explain it to her 'because he didn't want to harm her'.
That thoughtfulness only made the warmth in her chest blossom further.
That was nowhere near enough to fully do away with her curiosity, though. Sex Ed explained things in general terms, but she wanted more than that. She wanted something to help her really understand. She wanted concrete examples.
It was for that reason that she typed in 'Sex' in her search bar.
That one search opened a whole new horizon for Koneko.
From articles and journals explaining the how's and why's of sex, to the moral, ethical, and philosophical ramifications of it, as well as the practical preparations for and possible consequences of sex, everything was covered after a few hours of reading.
A few dozen different pages later, and mid-article, she was shocked when her screen was suddenly covered in an image of a penis in a woman's mouth, all of this over a shockingly bright pink background.
Gulping, and feeling that that could be a pathway to curbing her curiosity, Koneko tapped on the image.
A moment's scramble had her phone's volume set to mute as she kept a sharp ear out to ensure that no other members of the peerage were within range of her room. Satisfied that she was all alone in the house the Gremory peerage had been occupying, Koneko raised the volume of the video and turned her focus back towards what was happening on screen.
After a few minutes of watching, though, she felt that something was… Missing.
Sure, when she had first tapped on the image and the video started playing, she did feel a slight itch in her nethers, but the longer she watched the video, the more she felt just… Uncomfortable.
The man's body wasn't particularly interesting, the woman's expressions looked forced as if she were trying to hide her boredom behind a mask of fake interest or engagement, and their words…
"Oh yeah, baby! Fuck me! Fuck my pussy, big boy!"
"Who's your daddy?"
"Who owns this pussy?"
All of it just felt… Off. Unpleasant. Artificial.
The man sounded like he was trying to affect a growl, but between her sharp hearing and her instincts, Koneko could easily make out the strain in his voice as he did so. The woman, on the other head, was forcefully pitching her tone higher every time the man thrust, and with every word she said and moan she released, to the point that Koneko physically cringed as her ears suffered such assault.
This here? Comparing it with what she had seen firsthand was like night and day.
She could easily envision the toned look of Issei's body, the defined abs and sides that showed when his girlfriends, the succubus and glasses girl, lifted his shirt. She could still remember the bulge underneath his underwear when his jeans were shimmied down, and the way that the pillar of flesh jumped from its confines and smacked the purplette in the face the moment she pulled down his boxers.
She remembered the way the succubus rested the thing over her face, and the sheer immenseness of it when compared to it.
She remembered the small, throbbing veins her acute vision had allowed her to notice from the top of the stall divider.
'It's getting a bit too warm.'
Shucking off her shirt to better cope with the warmth that she was feeling, Koneko allowed herself to sink even deeper into those thoughts.
She remembered the heady, musky smell that buffeted her nose as soon as the boxers were pulled down.
She remembered the reverence in the eyes of both girls as they beheld Issei's penis and the hunger in his gaze as he stared down at the sight of their hands on his member.
Lying down on her bed and closing her eyes, Koneko could easily remember the sight of the skin creasing and smoothing out as the succubus' hand glided along the meat pole, the way the musk grew stronger at the first bead of fluid from the slit of the purple head, and the way that the purplette took a deep sniff before putting it inside her mouth.
Feeling an irritation on her chest, Koneko removed her bra, revealing her puffy breasts, whose nubs were pebbled as if she were outside on a snow day wearing only thin clothes. Trying to soothe said irritation, she ran one of her fingers along the nub, only to hiss at the pleasant sensation that resulted from it.
This pleasant sensation sent her mind back to thoughts of Issei, and, at this point in time, she could barely distinguish between memory and fantasy.
In her mind she could easily see the image of the purplette sucking on Issei's penis, slowly taking more and more of it down her mouth until her lips eventually met his pubic mound, while her hands fondled the creased sack underneath.
She writhed as she rolled a nipple between her thumb and forefinger to the mental image of Issei slowly withdrawing from the succubus' mouth, his member covered in all sorts of gooey slop.
The image of him bunching up her hair and taking hold of the back of her head coincided with Koneko's skirt and panties being rolled down her legs, and her hands went down there and started rubbing to the wet, sloppy, yet gag-free sounds of Issei repeatedly hilting himself within Lilith's throat that were within the girl's memory.
She bit her lips and sped up as the mental image of Issei sped up his own thrusts, her feet alternating between kicking out in sync with every wave of pleasure she felt and bunching up the bedsheets with her clenching toes.
Her breathing quickened as did the memory's version of the glasses girl, who had been watching from the side as Issei ravaged the succubus' throat.
She was all but hyperventilating as the Issei in her head hurriedly pulled out of the succubus' mouth and grunted, a real, bassy sound, from deep within his chest, before covering her in jets of white goo, the smell of which pushed her closer to that feeling she had felt only once before in her entire life.
To her shock, the image in her mind completely deviated from her memories as she envisioned herself in the succubus' place, licking up the white goo with as delighted a face as if she were drinking some cream or indulging in the sweetest of treats. Issei's hand fell on the head of her imaginary self, the sensation of him having done so to her at the coffee shop just a few days ago causing her scalp to feel slightly numb as if there was a pressure being applied to it, before he smiled and spoke.
Koneko's back arched off of the bed, her toes digging so hard into the bedding that only magic kept it whole. Her body spasmed hard as if an electrical current was running through it, yet, despite this, her hands were still where they were before, frantically rubbing at her sensitive flesh. A powerful flash of white light went off behind her eyes, leaving her seeing stars, while she felt slick juices absolutely covering her thighs, as well as the hand held in her nethers, and the sheets under her.
She slowly regained her breath and only then noticed that she had been letting out a long, drawn-out yowl that left her throat feeling dry and scratchy, and her heart was pumping so hard that it was a wonder it hadn't jumped out of her chest.
Taking a good half an hour to completely calm down from her peak, Koneko locked her phone before sprawling out on her bed with an arm over her eyes as she thought.
'That was… Masturbation, I think it was called. It started with arousal, and ended with an orgasm, even though the article said that not all masturbation ends in orgasms and that the first few rarely do. I have only done so twice, and I have orgasmed both times. The article said that there are many reasons why people masturbate, but I was not anxious, angry, or bored, which means that it was likely arousal. I started feeling arousal when I imagined Hyoudou Issei, and the arousal increased when I imagined myself in his girlfriend's place. What does this all mean?'
Taking a sniff, the half-nekoshou frowned at the smell of dried sweat that clung to her body.
'I need to figure out why thoughts of Hyoudou Issei bring me arousal… But not before taking a shower.'
Getting back up to unsteady feet, Koneko ambled her way to her bathroom for a very thoughtful shower.
'Curiosity killed the cat,' The saying goes, but there is a version of it with yet more to it that most do not know of. 'But satisfaction brought it back.'