I'm back. I aim to quickly finish this chapter so I can finally write the original arc that takes place right after.
MrNeedsToRemoveAllFavs: You appear to be forgetting that Vali cannot contain all of that power. He needed to expel the excess power after Dividing Issei's pseudo Balance Breaker once or twice. Issei, as in the guy whose base stats are so laughably low that he almost can't be differentiated from a human. Even while using his pseudo Balance Breaker, his power is barely above that of a High-Class Devil until later in the story. And also, Vali only used his normal Balance Breaker. In the latest volume, Vali can only fight a God in Emperio Juggernaut Overdrive, which is apparently stronger than Juggernaut Drive, but can only last a few seconds. While Kokabiel is not God-Class, he is still one of the Fallen Angel leaders and thus Vali should not have curbstomped him so easily.
Rias and her peerage were by no means low-tier. Perhaps in comparison to all of the villains that the author's been pulling out of his ass, yes, but Rias is stated to be above an average High-Class Devil, and Kokabiel himself states that she has talent that rivals even Sirzechs's.
Even the reishi Ichigo uses to stand on in midair can be turned against him. A Quincy only needs to use their Sklaverei to absorb the reishi Ichigo stands on and he'll immediately lose his footing, which can be fatal in a fight.
Akuma-Heika: Hm…Good point, I have no idea why I'm hesitating to make Restia Est's equal. I am already planning to give the Vorpal Sword a ridiculous ability anyway.
You're right, now that I went back and reread Volume 8 Extra Life, Ajuka does say that the Evil Pieces are changing due to Juggernaut Drive's influence, though it appears that the change was stabilized by Triana and Cardinal Queen.
Argh, don't even get me started on how much Kubo screwed up Ichigo's power level. He was so freaking fast during the SS arc, you'd think he'd at least try to outmaneuver his opponents after, but no, in typical shonen fashion, Ichigo has to force his way through all of his opponents thereafter.
Lol, Byakuya, he and his pride. Just hope it doesn't get him killed in the manga.
Ichigo breathed in a part of Ulquiorra? Urgh, thanks for the mental image. Ulquiorra won't play that big of a role, so I suppose it isn't really that important.
I personally believe that Kokabiel and Vali should have been around the same level at the time. You're right about the condescendence though, it would make Kokabiel underestimate Vali, but not so much that he gets curbstomped without being able to fight back at all.
Anytime! You're one of my favorite reviewers after all! Thanks for your continued support of my stories!
Yeah, about that, I was actually typing out the chapter in 3rd person POV at first, then I thought about how I would have to rewrite the previous chapters to match, and I thought 'fuck it' and went back to 1st person. I must have missed one of the lines while I was rewriting.
She made a sword out of black lightning, so I guess it's an energy sword.
By the way, does anyone know who that Spanish guest who sends in a guest review like every day demanding I update? Any idea how to get him to stop?
Anyway, on with the story!
…The tension could have been cut with a knife.
The leaders of each faction present stared unflinchingly at each other, analyzing and evaluating.
Being seated right between the Devils' and the Shinigami's side, Restia in her Elemental Waffe form next to me, I had a perfect view of the leaders' faces as they sat in silence for a few moments before Sirzechs-san spoke up.
"Before we start, may we first confirm something? That everyone present knows of and acknowledges the absence of the Biblical God."
I glanced at Kaichou to see that her stoicism had not been broken by the revelation. It appeared that she had already been informed of God's absence. The same went for everyone else, who had either a neutral or a somber expression on their face.
"Very well, then let us begin this meeting." The leaders sat up straight as the atmosphere in the room seemed to grow heavier.
The conference started and the first subject they talked about was of course, the future of the Three Factions. If the Three Factions continued as they currently did, it would eventually result in the complete destruction of the Three Factions, leaving a major power vacuum all around the world.
Most of the world was somewhat safe as the other Gods, secluded as they may be, were around to defend their territory, but Italy had no other Gods. The Italian Gods had faded long ago when Christianity was integrated into Italian Society. Most of the other pantheons were in similar states due to lack of faith, like the Incan Gods, the Saxon Gods and the Aztec Gods, though others like the Greco-Roman Gods, the Norse Gods, the Egyptian Gods and the Persian Gods were still around as there were devout believers still scattered throughout the world, their faith enough to help them maintain their presence in the world. The Hindu Gods , the Shinto Gods and the Buddhas still maintained a strong presence in the form of religion, but even they paled in comparison to the number of Christian followers around the world, which was why despite the loss of their God, the Three Factions were still able to maintain a strong presence in the world.
If the Three Factions were to fall or worse still, if they learned of the absence of the Biblical God, the other Factions would move in and try to claim as much territory and followers as they could in order to expand their own power, potentially leading to a devastating war worldwide that would make the Great War look like a water balloon fight.
That's where Soul Society came in. While not having any deities, the Captains of Soul Society were incredibly powerful. The old man especially is said to be stronger than a God at his full power. If the Three Factions successfully formed an alliance with Soul Society, they could fill the void that had been left behind by the Biblical God. Other factions would hesitate to attack Soul Society, not only because of the old man, but also because of the Soul King, a being rumored to be stronger than even the old man himself.
I've ever only heard whispers of the Soul King and the fabled Royal Realm. Among all of the Shinigami alive, probably only the old man, the oldest Shinigami alive and one of the founders of Gotei 13, and Goat Face, a former member of the Royal Guard, had ever met the Soul King in person. Information on the Soul King and the Royal Realm is so heavily restricted that the promotion of personnel to the Royal Guard is known only to the Captains, which is why I found it surprising thinking back to 2 years ago when Aizen was defeated, his madness finally surfacing when he started ranting and raving about the Soul King as though he had met him or at least seen him.
As for why the other factions were aware of the Soul King, whose existence was supposed to be Soul Society's most closely guarded secret, that could be attributed to a young, cocky Captain five centuries ago, who blurted out his imminent promotion to the Royal Guard while in the human world and ended being overheard by a member of the then more active Shinto faction, rumors spawned rumors and eventually, every major faction was at the very least aware of the existence of the Soul King.
According to Goat Face, the aforementioned Captain had his promotion revoked and ended up being executed via the Soukyoku a few days later. A bit harsh, but I guess a justifiable punishment for giving away Soul Society's greatest secret.
I honestly didn't see what the big deal was. If the Soul King was really that great, he should be able to handle a few idiots here and there trying to kill him. Not to mention, it was impossible to access the Royal Realm without the King's Key. Even if the other factions knew of the Soul King, they could not lay a finger on him.
"Rias, can you give your report of the Kokabiel incident?"
Sirzechs-san's and Buchou's voices broke me out of my thoughts. I looked up as Buchou stood up, followed by Kaichou and Akeno-san. The three took turns talking about the events that culminated in a clash with Kokabiel at night right here at Kuou Academy.
Though Buchou's voice was calm and steady, her hands were shaking at her side. That was natural, her report could potentially make or break this alliance. Even if she was a High-Class Devil, she was still a girl around my age, in a room with the leaders of the Three Factions and Soul Society, with only an uneasy truce to stop a fight from breaking out. I was personally impressed that her voice hadn't cracked at some point.
As everyone in the room listened to Buchou's report, they showed different reactions. The old man let out a gruff sigh, Unohana-san, Ukitake-san, Kyoraku-san and Michael-san smiled wryly, Sirzechs-san and the other Angel frowned a bit, Azazel and Vali looked amused, Grayfia-san was as stoic as ever, and Serafall-san…still had an upbeat expression on her face, as though she wasn't really listening to the report.
"That is all. The events that I, Rias Gremory, Sona Sitri and our peerages have experienced." Buchou finished recounting the facts up to the point where Byakuya and the others arrived and attacked Kokabiel.
"Good work. You may sit." Sirzechs-san nodded and gave them permission to sit down.
"Thanks, Sona-chan, Rias-chan!" Serafall-san winked at them as she thanked them.
"Ukitake-taichou, Kuchiki-taichou's report." The old man told Ukitake-san.
"Yes sir. Continuing from where they left off, this is a report by Kuchiki-taichou, Captain of the 6th Division who was dispatched to the Human World along with the Lieutenant of the 6th Division, Abarai Renji, and the Lieutenant of the 13th Division, Kuchiki Rukia, following the request for reinforcements from the Substitute Shinigami, Kurosaki Ichigo. Unfortunately, Kuchiki-taichou is unable to attend this conference due to health issues and thus, I'll be reading the report in his place." Ukitake-san stood up with pieces of paper in his hand. Everyone's attention shifted to him as he read Byakuya's report. As expected of the head of a noble clan, the report was written in a professional and elegant manner.
As Ukitake-san got to the part where we fought and defeated Kokabiel, I noticed that a few people in the room, namely the Angels' side and the Fallen Angels' side, were looking at me with slight fascination and curiosity in their eyes, peaking when Ukitake-san read out the part where I defeated Kokabiel with a Boosted Getsuga.
"That is all." Ukitake-san finished reading the report and sat back down.
"Before we continue, I noticed that there were mentions of three humans who don't appear to be in attendance today. May I ask who they are?" Michael-san asked about Ishida, Chad and Inoue.
"They are allies of Soul Society. They are unfortunately still schooling and were therefore unable to attend this conference." Ukitake-san answered. Michael-san nodded, satisfied with the answer, vague as it was.
"Well then, after hearing the two reports, I'd like to ask for your opinion as the Viceroy of the Fallen Angels, Azazel."
Azazel smiled wryly and started talking.
"Like I said, regarding that whole mess, Kokabiel, a former leader of the Grigori, was acting on his own. He kept quiet about his intentions to me and the other leaders, and created that whole mess independently from the rest of the Grigori. He got his ass kicked by Kurosaki Ichigo and was captured by Vali. After that, we tried in our court and sentenced him to an eternity frozen in the Cocytus. He won't be coming back out. As for the reason behind the punishment, well, I wrote that down in the reports I sent to you guys. That's all I have to say."
"It's quite a poor explanation, but…I've heard rumors that you have no intention to start a war between the Three Factions. Is that true?"
"Like I said, I have no interest in wars. Even Kokabiel was slandering me during his little rampage, right?" Azazel answered with a shrug. Like he said, Kokabiel was criticizing Azazel's inaction and that all he was interested in were Sacred Gears.
"Azazel, I'd like to ask you why you've been gathering Sacred Gear possessors over the past few decades. At first, I thought you were building an army to replace the one you lost in the Great War. I even expected you to wage war against Heaven or the Devils, but…" Sirzechs-san asked.
"True, no matter how much time passed, you never made any move against us. When I heard that you had recruited the Vanishing Dragon, I was particularly worried about it…" Michael-san said, having the same opinion of Azazel as Sirzechs-san. Even the old man narrowed his eyes suspiciously at Azazel, who smiled bitterly.
"Geez, it was just for the sake of my Sacred Gear research. If you want, I can send you all a copy of all of my research. Good grief, I'm being suspected of wanting to start a war just because of that? I already said it many times, I don't have any interest in war, especially not when the world's finally at peace. I even ordered all of my subordinates to not interfere in the affairs of humans, though some of them don't take me seriously. I'm not going to interfere in religion or in the affairs of the Devils…Dammit, am I the least trusted person in this room?"
Sirzechs-san, Michaels-san, Serafall-san and the old man agreed unanimously. Behind them, the other members of the Factions had expressions that said they agreed as well. Off to the side, Vali chuckled to himself at Azazel's misfortune. Azazel clicked his tongue in annoyance.
"Tch. Here I thought you guys were better than God and the original Maous, but turns out you guys are just as troublesome. Ah, I get it already. In that case, isn't it time to make our peace? That was the intention for all of you, right?"
…I knew that was the purpose of the conference, but to hear Azazel say it himself is pretty surreal, considering he's the leader of the least trusted faction present. Buchou, Kaichou and the rest looked quite surprised to hear those words coming out of Azazel's mouth, since they don't have a very high opinion of him. Even the leaders looked briefly surprised to hear it from Azazel of all people. Then, Michael-san smiled.
"Yes, I was going to propose that to the Devils, the Grigori and to Soul Society. Let us end this meaningless conflict. Continuing the way we are now would only bring harm to the human world. The original cause of our conflict, God and the original Maous, have fallen. There is no longer a reason for us to fight. What we need right now is to band together, in order to prevent a collapse of the power balance in the world." Michael-san proposed, wishing for peace. Azazel laughed out loud at his words.
"Ha! So the stubborn Michael has finally started thinking by himself! Back then, you were going 'God this' and 'God that'."
"…I have lost many things in the Great War. But, there is no point is wishing to get something that is already gone back. Guiding humans is the duty of Angels. We, the Seraphs are of the opinion that the most important thing now is to watch over and guide the children of God."
"Oi, that speech of yours will cause you to fall…or at least, you would have back then. But, the world has become a better place after you took over the system. It's vastly different from the time that the original Fallen Angels fell." Azazel said with a smirk as he rested his chin on his hand.
"We're the same. Though the original Maou have fallen, the Devils must move on in order to survive. We do not desire war. Another war would only bring devastation to our kind."
"Hmph, Soul Society's mission has always been to protect humans. We do not desire war as well, not after we have just recovered from a war of our own." The old man added his own two cents to the conversation.
"That's right. If another war breaks out, the Three Factions will be destroyed, the human world will be affected and devastated by the aftershocks, and Soul Society will be overrun by human souls. The delicate balance of the world that was finally restored after God's death will be shattered beyond repair. A war cannot be afforded anymore." Azazel's carefreeness from before vanished and was replaced by an uncharacteristic seriousness.
"Is a world without God wrong? Would a world without God fall into ruin? If you think so, then look around you. Everyone is living healthily just like you and I. Even without God, this world will continue to turn."
Azazel finished and fell silent. The room had also gone completely silent along with him as everyone processed his words.
He was right. Even with God gone, humans continue to live their lives normally. 'Even without God, the world continues to move', those words were engraved deeply into my mind.
After that serious discussion, the subject shifted to war potential. The tension in the room had also mostly vanished, now that each faction knew that none of the others had any desire for war.
"…And, I suppose that's all." At Sirzechs-san's words, the other leaders let out a sigh of relief. It had probably been around an hour since the conference started. Grayfia-san started serving tea, though the old man declined, choosing to take out a pot of Japanese green tea from out of nowhere instead.
As Michael-san sipped his tea, his eyebrows raised as though he had remembered something.
"Since the important discussion is over, Sekiryuutei-dono, I believe there was something you wished to discuss with me?"
As he asked me, everyone's gaze shifted to me, making even me a bit nervous. But, I calmed myself and glanced at Asia before speaking.
"Perhaps this isn't the appropriate time to be talking about this, but I wanted to ask about Asia's exile from the Church."
Everyone's expressions stiffened as though they agreed that this wasn't the place to be talking about this. Even so, I pressed on.
"Actually, it's not just Asia. Xenovia as well, and I'm sure there must have been many people in the past in the same situation as them."
Asia's and Xenovia's faith in God is exceptionally strong, probably stronger than most of the other members of the Church. Even so, they were cast out for reasons that I personally think are complete bullshit.
Michael-san's face fell.
"I can only apologize. Back then, it was God who created the faith system, which he used to bring miracles, answer prayers and to bring out the power of exorcism tools like Crosses and Holy Water. However, after God fell…"
"…A serious error occurred in the system, is that what you're saying?"
"Correct. Honestly, there isn't anyone aside from God who can use that system efficiently. Even with the combined power of the Seraphs, we barely managed to activate the system, and thus, compared to the time when God was still alive, divine protection and mercy is heavily diminished. I'm sorry to say that those who can be offered salvation are extremely limited in number."
Kokabiel did mention the diminished blessings when he revealed God's death.
"That's why, in order to prevent further complications in the system, there was a need to keep those who could potentially influence followers' faith in God away. For example, the possessors of certain Sacred Gears like your own Boosted Gear and the Hakuryuukou's Divine Dividing. Asia Argento's Twilight Healing is also counted as one of these Sacred Gears."
"Because Twilight Healing can heal even Fallen Angels and Devils, not just the followers of God?"
"Yes. If there was someone within the ranks whose ability to heal, believed to be a gift from God, extended to Fallen Angels and Devils as well, it would cause a massive shift in shift in the faith of our followers. That's why Twilight Healing had to be branded a heretical power. And not just Sacred Gear possessors…"
"…The ones who know the truth of God's demise as well?" Xenovia interjected. Michael-san nodded in response.
"That's right. It was a terrible loss for us to have to exile you, but if anyone else other than we Seraphs and a few High-Class Angels knew about God's demise, it would also a strong negative impact on the system."
Then, Michael-san unexpectedly bowed his head to Asia and Xenovia.
"I apologize. We had no other way but to declare you two heretics."
Xenovia and Asia floundered about for a moment, not sure how they should react. Then Xenovia composed herself and shook her head.
"No, Michael-sama, there's no need to apologize. I felt that my banishment was a bit irrational since I was raised by the Church from a young age, but now that I know the reason, I no longer feel troubled by it."
"However, because of that, you two had no choice but to reincarnate as Devils to escape the prejudice. It's a sin we can never atone for."
"No, it's fine. I did regret leaving the Church, but now, all of the things that I could not do as a member of the Church, I'm able to fully and freely experience them for myself. Perhaps these words would be considered blasphemous by other followers, but I'm satisfied with my current life."
So, she felt that way about her life…Even though she's socially awkward and sheltered, she's a good kid after all.
"I also feel the same way. I now have a lot of important people in my life, and I've met and spoken to the Michael-sama I've always admired! I encountered a lot of hardship at first, but now I can be certain, this life has been blessed!"
Michael-san showed an expression of surprise and relief at their words.
"I'm grateful for your forgiveness. Xenovia, I'll leave Durandal in your care. If it's with Sirzech's little sister's peerage, I can be assured that it won't be misused by others."
Xenovia nodded at Michael's words, looking relieved at being able to keep Durandal.
Hm? Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Asia trembling and saw that it was because Azazel was staring at her.
"Looks like those idiot subordinates of mine killed her without informing me. I remember receiving a report about that."
"It wasn't just Asia, even I ended up getting attacked by your subordinates, who even said it was for your sake. Are you the one who ordered to kill me in the first place?"
"Well, it's true that we've been eliminating Sacred Gear possessors that could potentially become a threat to us or the world as a whole. We are a small organization compared to Heaven or the Devils, you know? Though, in your case, I only ordered them to keep an eye on you, since you have a Longinus. Longinus Gears are so hard to come by that it's foolish to kill their possessors without collecting data first. Those idiots probably misinterpreted my orders and killed you on their own initiative. I'm not omniscient, so I can't keep an eye on all of my subordinates' actions 24/7."
"…That sounds like an excuse."
Azazel shrugged in response.
"Take it however you wish. Even if I apologize now, it's already too late. Instead, I'll make up for it in a better way."
…? I had no idea what he was talking about, but before I could question him further, Azazel started talking again.
"Now then, how about we hear the opinions of those aside from the factions who could potentially change the world. The invincible Dragon-samas. Firstly, Vali, what's your opinion of the current world?"
Vali shrugged while smiling in response.
"As long as I have strong people to fight, I don't really care."
Ah geez, the battle freak in him is really showing.
"Then, Kurosaki Ichigo, what about you?" Azazel turned to me and posed the same question.
"Me? Hm, I'm fine with the current peaceful state of the world. I've already had enough fights to last me a lifetime-" While I was answering him, a familiar sensation washed over me and I instinctively tensed in response. Around me, several people, namely Akeno-san, Asia, Koneko and Kaichou froze in place, though the leaders, Buchou, Yuuto, who was holding a Holy-Demonic Sword, Xenovia, who had drawn Durandal, Vali and I were fine.
"This is…Forbidden Balor View? It's on a completely different scale from before…"
Outside, all of the Angel, Fallen Angel, Devil and Shinigami soldiers had stopped in their tracks, their time frozen by the inexplicably powered-up Forbidden Balor View.
"Ichigo, the Hakuryuukou and the leaders are safe because they possess enough power to resist the effect, I happened to be near enough to Ichigo to be protected, Yuuto summoned a Holy-Demonic Sword, an irregular power, to protect himself from the effect and Xenovia used Durandal's power. But, why on earth is Gasper…" Buchou analyzed the situation calmly, as everyone tried to figure out their next course of action.
*FLASH* *FLASH* *FLASH*
Suddenly, multiple flashes of light appeared outside, fading slightly to reveal a huge number of…
That's right, numerous magic circles, easily numbering over a hundred, had appeared everywhere outside, and people dressed in dark robes teleported in. They raised their hands and fired simultaneous magic bullets straight at us!
With so many of them, even we won't remain unscathed! Or so I thought, but the blasts stopped right before they hit the building, crashing into a giant transparent barrier protecting the entire building. I turned to see that the leaders with their hands outstretched, having pooled their powers to create this defense.
"Yikes, they really got us good. With this amplified Forbidden Balor View in effect, even the troops outside who were supposed to be maintaining a barrier around this place have been incapacitated. If we hadn't created a new barrier on the spot in time, this building would have turned to ashes." Azazel laughed in the midst of the crisis. This guy's attitude really irritates the hell out of me…
"Onii-sama, what on earth is this?" Buchou asked Sirzechs-san, but it was Azazel who answered.
"Most likely, a terrorist attack. We should have expected this. If there are huge powers trying to make peace, there will always be those who are dissatisfied and will attempt to sabotage the whole thing." Azazel shook his head and peered outside. His eyes narrowed as he looked at the army that had gathered.
"Those…are magicians. They're using the magic modified by the legendary sorcerer, Merlin Ambrosius, from the Devils' own magic system so that humans could use magic as well. Good grief, I'd say each of those magicians are somewhere at the level of a Mid-Class Devil."
Azazel paused and let out a bitter laugh as he fully analyzed the situation.
"This is just great. The leaders can't leave this place while we're maintaining the barrier and it looks like there's still more of them pouring in. Eventually, even this barrier will be overwhelmed unless we do something. But, it's still too dangerous to launch a counterattack if this amplified Forbidden Balor View is in effect. They might increase the power even further if we get an advantage. If that happens, even we won't be safe."
"First of all, how did they even increase the power of Forbidden Balor View to this level? Even under tremendous stress, I've never seen Gasper stop time in such a huge area and sustain the effect for so long."
"Hm…most likely, they transferred a huge amount of power into the half-vampire kid to force Forbidden Balor View into a pseudo-Balance Breaker state using a Sacred Gear or some form of sorcery. It's only a false state, yet it had such a huge area of effect and enough power to stop all but the strongest or the ones with irregular powers. So that kid had this much latent potential hiding in that tiny body…"
Tch, so Gasper got caught and is being as a weapon…
"Turning one of my cute servants into a terrorist weapon, I've never been this insulted in my life!" Buchou growled, an angry red aura forming around her body.
Azazel looked back outside and waved his hand at the army outside. Immediately, innumerable spears of light formed in the air and rained down on the magicians, who attempted to put up barriers, but were all mercilessly skewered by the rain of spears. Countless corpses littered the courtyard outside, but even more magicians appeared through magic circles to replace the dead ones, and then some.
"There's supposed to be a barrier around the school grounds that prevents anyone from forcing their way in, and it should still be active since it was the leaders who created it. But even so, they're still appearing inside the barrier. There's either a magic circle planted on the school grounds beforehand so that we wouldn't find it, or someone is creating a gateway for them from the inside."
"In other words, there's the possibility of a traitor in the ranks, huh?"
"That's most likely the case. The magicians are too well-prepared in their timing and the capture of the half-vampire kid for there to not be someone on the inside feeding information to them. In any case, we better do something fast. If Forbidden Balor View's power gets any stronger than this, even we will be affected. If that happens, we'll be completely defenseless."
"So first, we have to rescue Gasper, huh?"
"Wouldn't it be simpler if we just destroyed the old school building in one attack? If the possessor dies, the Sacred Gear's effect will end." Vali callously suggested that we abandon Gasper.
"Oi, read the mood, Vali. We're trying to make peace here."
"You already know this, but standing around idly is not my style, especially when there's such a fun fight going on outside."
"In that case, why don't you go outside and rampage for a bit? If the Hakuryuukou appears and attacks them, the enemy will probably fall into disarray."
"Heh, got it." Wings of light appeared on Vali's back as he walked towards the window.
[Vanishing Dragon Balance Breaker!]
White armor, almost identical to my own Boosted Gear Scale Mail, with the exception of the wings growing out of the back, covered Vali, who flew out the window and started attacking the magicians, who fell into a panic from the unexpected attack.
"Now then, in order to rescue Gasper-kun…"
"Onii-sama, Gasper is a member of my peerage. I will go." Buchou stated, implying that this wasn't open for negotiation.
"I knew you would say that. But, how do you intend to get to the old school building? The path there is obstructed by the army of magicians, too dangerous for you to attempt to cross. And the usual teleportation has been blocked."
"I've left my unused Rook Piece in the clubroom."
"Hm? I see, Castling, huh?"
"Castling? That's a chess term, if I'm not mistaken." I wondered aloud.
"That's right. It's a chess move that allows the King to switch places with one of the Rooks. There's also a similar move for the Evil Pieces that allows the King and one of the Rooks to switch locations." Yuuto explained to me.
"I see. With normal teleportation blocked, the enemy would expect us to have to get to the old school building on foot. This could catch them off guard."
"Alright. However, I will not allow you to go alone. Grayfia, is it possible to modify Castling to send more than one person?"
"Yes, complicated spells cannot be used in such a small space, but I can use a simpler magic to send two people."
"Two people…so, Rias and one other."
"I'll go. I'm fast and strong, so I probably stand a better chance of rescuing Gasper before the enemy tries to do anything." I volunteered for the rescue mission and Sirzechs-san nodded.
"But, there is still a problem." I continued.
"How do we stop the amplified Forbidden Balor View? I don't have any techniques that can drain excess power from Gasper, and I don't think Buchou knows any either." I asked as I turned to Buchou for confirmation. She nodded, confirming that she couldn't drain the power from Gasper either. Azazel raised a hand to his chin.
"That's true. For a task like that, Divine Dividing is definitely better suited…Ah." Azazel started as though he remembered something. He dug a hand into his pocket and brought out a simple looking bracelet with some strange carvings.
"Put this on the half-vampire kid." He handed the bracelet to me.
"A bracelet? What for?"
"It's a product of my research into Sacred Gears. A Sacred Gear possessor who wears that can regulate their power better, so if you put that on the half-vampire kid, it should allow him to retake control of Forbidden Balor View."
Wow, that's pretty incredible.
"To make something like that…Azazel, just how far have you been researching the Sacred Gear system?" Michael-san asked while sighing in exasperation, but Azazel laughed merrily in response.
"It's fine, isn't it? The creator of the Sacred Gears, God, is gone, so there should at least be someone who can explain the workings of a Sacred Gear, right? I heard there's still a lot that even you don't know."
"The problem is that you're the one working on it…"
As the leaders lightly bantered with each other, Grayfia-san placed a finger on Buchou's forehead to begin the spell.
"Well then, please wait for a moment, Ojou-sama."
"Please hurry, Grayfia. We cannot afford to waste any more time."
"However, Azazel." Sirzechs-san questioned Azazel.
"Are you really gathering Sacred Gear possessors just for research? I've heard you've been trying to gather Longinus possessors too. Are you planning to wage a war against God even though he has already perished?"
"Ah geez, didn't I already say it? I'm not interested in war. But, I do have another motive for gathering Sacred Gear possessors: preparation."
"Preparation? Coming from you, that only fills me with unease…" Michael-san said while shaking his head.
"I have no intention of starting a war. But, we do need a means of self-defense too. Though, I'm not talking about you."
"Then, what are you preparing for?"
"…The Khaos Brigade."
Khaos…Brigade? I looked around to see everyone else just as in the dark as I was.
"Even I've only managed to find out their organization's name and background recently, but the Vice-Governor, Shemhaza, has been keeping tabs on that suspicious group even before that. They've been gathering dangerous elements from almost every major faction in the world. I've also confirmed the presence of Sacred Gear possessors, some of whom have already attained Balance Breaker. There are even some Longinus possessors in their ranks too."
"And their goal?"
"Destruction and mayhem, of course. It's a simplistic goal. They're the kind of people who don't like the current peaceful world and aim to turn it into a world of chaos. They're the worst kind of terrorists."
"Then, could it be that the ones outside are…?"
"Yeah, they're probably from Khaos Brigade. But, I still haven't told you the worst part."
"Their identity of their leader. It's the other stupidly strong Dragon aside from Ddraige and Albion."
The other stupidly strong Dragon aside from the Heavenly Dragons? Come to think of it, Vali did say something like that when we met at the school gates a few days ago…
As I thought about that piece of information, everyone else's faces grew pale and grim.
"…I see. So he's finally made his move. The Ouroboros Dragon, Ophis, the one even Gods fear. The being who has reigned supreme as the strongest in the world from the dawn of creation itself…"
Sirzechs-san's statement caused a shiver to run down my spine. The strongest being in existence is the leader of the enemy? It sounded like a really bad cliché, but judging from everyone's facial expressions, they were taking this seriously.
"…To think the old one would finally make a move…" The old man contemplated as he stroked his beard in thought.
"Have you met Ophis before, Yamamoto-dono?"
"Twice in my life. Both times, I clearly understood the sheer gap in our power. Even at my prime and at my strongest, it is absolutely impossible for me to defeat him."
For even the old man, the guy who's so insanely strong that he could match Gods and that even someone as strong as Aizen had to use other tactics rather than directly confront him, to say that he was outmatched…Just how crazy strong is this Ouroboros Dragon?
At that moment, an unfamiliar reiatsu appeared behind us. I turned to see an unfamiliar magic circle forming on the floor.
"That's right. Ophis is the leader of our organization." A woman's voice I've never heard before came from the magic circle.
"Tch! So, it's you! I see, the mastermind behind this attack is…!" Sirzechs-san clicked his tongue when he saw the magic circle.
"Grayfia, send Rias and Ichigo-kun now!"
"Yes!" Grayfia-san waved her hand and another, smaller magic circle appeared, this time under Buchou's and my feet.
"Ojou-sama, Ichigo-sama, I wish you good fortune in your battle."
"W-Wait a minute, Grayfia, Onii-sama!? What on earth-"
Buchou did not get a chance to voice her question as we were forcefully teleported away from the conference room.
As Buchou and Ichigo were hastily sent to the old school building, I focused on the magic circle forming on the floor of the conference room. The pattern was not that of any of the 72 Pillars, even the extinct ones.
"…The magic circle of Leviathan…" Sirzechs-sama's mutter reached my ears and caused me to almost recoil in shock.
The magic circle of Leviathan? But the emblem did not look anything like Serafall-sama's…
"It's something recorded in the archives at the Vatican. The magic circle of the original Leviathan."
…I see. So, it was the magic circle of the original Leviathan. I heard rumors, but why would it be appearing here?
As that thought ended, a woman wearing a low-cut dress with a high slit appeared in the magic circle.
"How do you do, current Maou Lucifer, Sirzechs Lucifer-dono?" The woman greeted Sirzechs-sama mockingly.
"The one descended from the original Leviathan, Cattleya Leviathan. What is the meaning of this?"
A descendant of one of the original Maous! I heard about them. When the original Maous were slain, they put up a desperate resistance while the rest of the Devils were electing the new Maous. The current Maou faction, then known as the Anti-Maou faction drove the remnants of the Old Maou faction away to the furthest reaches of Hell, far from the rest, where they remained ever since, isolated and watched by the current Maous.
"Most of the Old Maou faction has chosen to join Khaos Brigade." The woman, Cattleya Leviathan, smiled deviously and proclaimed proudly.
"Oh ho, so the feud between the Old Maou faction and the current Maou faction has reached this scale. I guess even the Devils have their own problems." Azazel laughed it off as though he wasn't involved.
"…Cattleya, shall I interpret those words as a sign of your rebellion against the current administration?"
"It's exactly as I said, Sirzechs. The Old Maou faction is the one in charge of today's attack."
"…I see, a coup d'état, is it? May I ask for the reason?"
"We've simply arrived at the opposite conclusion of this conference. Since both God and the original Maous have perished, we should renew the world and rebuild it in our image."
I see, so they planned this coup d'état because they learned about God's demise and about this conference. And they've decided the opposite path.
"Is Ophis seeing that far ahead into the future? That doesn't seem very likely…"
Cattleya scoffed at Azazel's question.
"Though officially acknowledged as the leader, Ophis is really nothing more than a powerful figure head to deter opposition and gather more allies. In return for our help, Ophis agreed to help us destroy and rebuild this world. The ones who will rule the new world are us and only us."
…What a ridiculous occurrence. So the ones outside consist of not only the members of the Old Maou faction, but also other members of Khaos Brigade who are lending a hand to them…
"…So, you're a gathering of those who are dissatisfied with the current world and seek to build and rule a new world. And the one aiding you is the Ouroboros Dragon, Ophis."
The strongest being in existence, feared even by Gods, and said to be stronger than the Heavenly Dragons…What a fearsome enemy…
"Cattleya-chan, why are you doing this!?" Serafall-sama shouted in dismay. Cattleya Leviathan turned to her with an expression filled with hatred.
"Serafall, how dare you act so shamelessly after stealing the title of Leviathan from me! I am the descendant of the original Leviathan! The title of Maou Leviathan should have been mine!"
"Ah, but there's no need to worry, Serafall. I'll kill you here and now and reclaim the title of Maou Leviathan myself. Our little figure head, Ophis, will become the new God of this world. The system, laws and doctrine will be rewritten and managed by us. Michael, Azazel and Sirzechs Lucifer, your era ends here. And Yamamoto Genryuusai Shigekuni, as well as the other Shinigami, curse yourselves for trying to form an alliance with the Three Factions. You will also perish along with them."
The leaders' expressions darkened at Cattleya Leviathan's words, but one of them had an unexpected reaction.
"Pffft…Hahahahahaha!" Azazel let out a booming laugh as he held his stomach.
"Azazel…what's so funny!?"
"Hahahaha…so, you guys will be the ones to reform this world, huh?"
"That's right, Azazel. This world is-"
"In decay? Humans are foolish? The world will be rebuilt in our image? Hahaha, even though the world is prospering these days?"
"Azazel, you haven't changed at all. Even though you possess so much power, you're simply content with the way the world is now. That's why you are not needed in the new world-"
"Your goal is way too clichéd. And yet, it's your kind of people that end up becoming a complete pain in the ass for others. Hey, descendant of the original Leviathan, your words sound exactly like that of villain who's about to die, you know?"
"You…! A mere Fallen Angel dares to ridicule our ideals!? Regret those words in the afterlife!" Cattleya Leviathan waved her hand in anger. Immediately, a blast of pure magic, easily exceeding that of High-Class Devil's shot out at Azazel.
An explosion rang out and smoke obscured my vision. But from what I could tell, the room was completely intact. That should not be possible if an attack of that level detonated in this small room.
The smoke billowed and vanished and I caught sight of the imposing figure of Yamamoto Genryuusai Shigekuni, the Soutaicho of Gotei 13, intimidating despite a missing left arm, standing in front of Azazel, his right hand outstretched, the back of it facing Cattleya Leviathan. Could it be that…?
"Impossible, that attack had as the same power as that of an Ultimate-Class Devil! And it was negated with a single hand!?"
As I expected, Yamamoto Genryuusai had stopped the powerful attack with just a hand, not even getting so much as a scald mark. So, this is a glimpse of the power of the oldest and strongest Shinigami?
"'Our era is over?' 'We will perish here?' Don't make me laugh, brat. It's still a thousand years too early for someone of your level to be challenging me." Yamamoto Genryuusai coldly rebutted Cattleya Leviathan's words earlier. He tapped his staff on the ground and immediately, a great force blasted Cattleya Leviathan out of the windows and into the courtyard below.
"Sirzechs Lucifer, since she has rebelled against your current administration, you should not have a problem with me executing her, am I correct?" Yamamoto Genryuusai declared his intention to kill Cattleya Leviathan. The temperature in the room was slowly rising and the air became heavier, making it hard for me to even stand. What an absurd power, and he hadn't even unsheathed his Zanpakuto yet. His base strength is clearly higher than even Ichigo's.
"…She doesn't appear to have any intention of surrendering to us, not that I expected her to. I don't mind if you kill her." Sirzechs-sama gave his consent, but Azazel placed a hand on Yamamoto Genryusai's shoulder.
"Wait, even though it isn't officially recognized yet, you're still the leader of this alliance. Forcing the leader to step onto the frontlines for every little scuffle we have won't reflect well on us. Let me handle her instead."
"…Very well. I leave this in your hands."
The oppressive aura around Yamamoto Genryuusai faded away and his posture relaxed as he stood down. Azazel walked over to the hole in the windows Cattleya Leviathan made when she forcefully removed from the room.
"The descendant of the original Leviathan, one of the Beasts recorded in the Book of Revelations…Well, as far as prestige goes, I suppose she makes for a worthy opponent."
Azazel expanded his twelve jet-black feathered wings and released a powerful aura, on par with even Sirzechs-sama's and Serafall-sama's. He jumped down to the chaotic battlefield below.
Now then, what should I do? Should I head for the old school building to back up Buchou and Ichigo? Or should I stay and help with the magicians?
"Kiba Yuuto-kun." Sirzechs-sma called out to me. I turned my head to him.
"Michael, Yamamoto-dono and I will strengthen the barrier surrounding the school. Since both Azazel and Cattleya are fighting, the damage may leak out into the human world. Grayfia will analyze the magic circle the magicians are using to enter, but until then, I would like you to aid in the battle."
"Yes, Maou-sama!" It was an order from a Maou, a great honor for a Low-Class Devil like me.
"Thank you. I'm glad that you're Rias's Knight. Please use your Balance Breaker for Rias's and your comrades' sakes."
"Kyoraku and I will also assist in the battle. Our Zanpakutos are not suited for multiple enemies, but we can still manage with Kido. We'll also try to protect the troops who have been frozen outside until Ichigo-kun succeeds in the rescue mission." The white-haired Shinigami Captain, Ukitake Jushiro, said.
"Ah, so troublesome. And I really wanted to go for some sake." The black-haired Captain wearing a pink kimono over his Captain's haori, Kyoraku Shunsui, sighed. Yamamoto Genryuusai nodded, giving his consent to his subordinates.
"I will stay here as a healer. If any of you are wounded, please return here so that I can heal you. Especially you, Ukitake-taichou. Don't push yourself too hard." The last of the Captains present, Unohana Retsu, said with a gentle smile.
"I wish you good fortune in the battle. We cannot allow the human world to be affected."
"Yes! Xenovia, let's go!"
"Yeah, I'm also Rias Gremory's Knight, the same as you! Moreover, this is my first real battle as a Devil! I cannot disgrace myself here!"
We jumped out the window after Azazel and joined the chaos below.
"Impossible, they transferred here!?"
"What!? Even though we've blocked any means of teleportation into this building!?"
The light of the magic circle faded as we were hastily transferred to the clubroom. Immediately, I heard the panicked voices of the ones who had captured Gasper.
The light faded completely, revealing that we had been transported directly to the clubroom. The furniture had been thrown aside, and in the center of the room was a group of magicians, dressed identically, some of whom held daggers in their hands. And surrounded by them, tied to a chair with a rope was…
The feminine crossdressing half-vampire was tied to the chair, the brown paper bag with eyeholes still over his head. I can't believe he actually wore that…
"Gasper…I'm so glad you're safe." Buchou heaved a sigh of relief when she confirmed Gasper's safety.
"Buchou…it's already too late for me…" But, Gasper burst into tears.
"It's better if I just die…Please, Buchou, Ichigo-senpai, just kill me…I cannot get close to anyone because of these eyes…I'm just a bother, and a coward to boot…" The paper bag began to grow damp from Gasper's tears. Being captured and used as a weapon by the enemy must have retriggered his inferiority complex. In the face of Gasper's despair, Buchou smiled kindly.
"Don't say something so silly. I'll never abandon you. Didn't I tell you when I resurrected as a member of my peerage? Now that you've been reborn, live for me, and for yourself as well."
"…It was impossible for me after all. I can only cause trouble for others, there's no point in someone like me living…"
"You are my servant, and a member of my family. I will not abandon you, not when you've just regained freedom."
Right in front of us, one of the magicians slapped Gasper hard across his face. She sneered at us.
"You really are idiots. Treating this dangerous half-vampire brat like a normal person…It looks like the Old Maou faction was right. The Gremory Clan is as stupid as they are affectionate to their servants. Brainwashing this kid and using him as a tool would have been a more viable option. If you had overloaded his Sacred Gear and thrown him into the Fallen Angel's territory, he could have caused some serious damage to them. Instead, you're treating him like a friend? You really are a complete-"
"Hey trash." Unable to hold back my anger any longer, I let out a cold voice as my reiatsu slowly began to build up.
"Making a mess of this conference, kidnapping my kouhai and turning him into a weapon and most of all, making him cry…You're ready to pay the price for that insolence, right?"
At this point, my reiatsu had grown to the point where the whole building was trembling under its force. The magicians were beginning to look terrified, but I couldn't care less. The only thing I could think of was making them suffer for the pain they've caused Gasper.
Beat them. Crush them. Cut them. Mutilate them. Maim. Murder. Annihilate. Destroy. KILL THEM!
"Then, why don't you do it?"
I froze in place as a beautiful, seductive voice resounded around me. I looked around, only to find that time seemed to have grinded to a halt around me. The magicians, terror still etched in their faces, Gasper, still crying, Buchou, looking at me with a worried expression, all of them were frozen in place. What's going on!? Is it Forbidden Balor View? No, if that were the case, Gasper wouldn't be affected…
"I'll say it again. Why don't you do it?" The same voice called out to me again. It was so familiar. It sounded like…Restia? But, at the same time, it sounded colder, haughtier and more conceited than Restia ever was to me.
I started as my vision began to darken, until I could not see anything but pitch black darkness around me.
"Where…am I?" I looked around frantically, trying to find a way out, or at least a source of light. Then, I was frozen in place as cold, slender arms of alabaster wrapped around me, pulling me into a cold embrace that I couldn't break out of.
"It's time." The same voice spoke, this time right into my ear, as though someone's lips were right next to me. Yet, try as I might, I couldn't even so much as turn my head to get a good look.
Then, my feet began to sink into the ground. No, sinking into a sticky, unending darkness. I finally regained control of my body, but no matter how much I struggled, I couldn't get out of the darkness. Shit, what do I do now!?
"Don't resist. I'll give you all the power in the world, if you let me." The voice, so similar to Restia's, yet so different, spoke to me once more, returning to how it was before, resounding throughout the pitch black abyss.
"Who…are you!?" I demanded, but the voice ignored me, beginning to giggle instead, until it had grown into haughty, cold and manic laughter.
I heard two voices call out to me: Zangetsu's and Buchou's. My vision was bathed in light as I returned to the familiar clubroom, but nothing had changed in the time that I had been in that abyss. Everyone was still in their original positions, though Buchou's hand was on my right shoulder, while on my left, I felt a weight, and I knew that it was Zangetsu's, even if I couldn't see him.
"Zangetsu, what just happened!?"
"I do not know. I simply sensed that you were in danger, so I reached to you."
"I…just began to get uncontrollably angry…and then, the next thing I knew, I was trapped in an abyss…and, someone was there…" I recalled that haunting voice, Restia's, yet not Restia's. I looked down at the Vorpal Sword in my left hand.
I did not receive any answer from her. Was that Restia after all?
…No, right now I need to focus on rescuing Gasper. With that in mind, I returned to reality, just as Buchou started whispering to me.
"Calm down, Ichigo. They're closer to Gasper than we are. If we make a wrong move, they may kill him before we can defeat all of them, or amplify Forbidden Balor View's power even further. We need a plan."
She's right. Even with my speed, I don't think I could take them all out before one of them did something, and I used an attack that could defeat all of them at once, there was a good chance I would hit Gasper too. So, right now the priority should be to…
"…Increase Gasper's power so that he can retake control of Forbidden Balor View and fight back."
But how? If I summoned Boosted Gear and started boosting, the magicians would probably catch on and take action. And even if I did manage to transfer power to Gasper, I might end up amplifying Forbidden Balor View's power instead. I didn't know any technique that could increase Gasper's power, and Buchou probably didn't either. So what could we do?
Then, it occurred to me. The other method of increasing Gasper's ability to control his power, one that was exclusive to someone like Gasper. But it was also a method that Gasper vehemently protested against, though I suppose considering the circumstances, we didn't have a choice.
"Oh boy, I'm going to have to apologize to him later." I subtly cut my right thumb on the sharp blade of the Vorpal Sword. Blood flowed out of the smooth wound and I calmed myself to prepare for my next move. I couldn't afford to mess this up.
Pumping reiryoku to my feet, I shunpoed next to Gasper, stunning the magicians near him and before they could recover, I reached under the paper bag and jammed my bloodied thumb into Gasper's mouth.
For a moment, everything was quiet. Then, a powerful reiatsu filled the room. Gasper vanished from the chair in an instant, shocking the magicians.
*CHI* *CHI* *CHI* *CHI* *CHI*
An odd chirping sound, like the cry of bats suddenly echoed throughout the room. I looked up to see the ceiling literally infested with a giant colony of bats, all with gleaming red eyes. Is that…Gasper?
The colony of bats swooped down on the magicians as one.
"Tch, so that damn vampire transformed his body!"
"You little bastard!"
The magicians held up their hands and prepared to fire simultaneous magic spells at the bats, but all of them suddenly lost their balance, interrupting the spell. I looked to see that what was obstructing them was…a mass of black hands emerging from their shadows, trying to pull them in!
"This is the ability of a vampire!?"
They fired multiple magic blasts at the hands, and the hands were destroyed, they simply reformed and resumed their attack in the next instant. At the same time, the bats reached the magicians and clung onto them while sinking their fangs into several places on their body.
"This guy…he's trying to suck our blood!?"
"No, our magic reserves are also being drained!"
The magicians were completely helpless against Gasper's attacks and could only uselessly struggle.
I was impressed. So Gasper had this much power sleeping inside of him.
"This is a part of Gasper's hidden power, released when he drank your blood."
This is only a part!? It's clearly on the same level as Raiser's own pyrokinesis!
"Dammit, in that case, we can only do this!"
This time, the magicians fired their magic spells at me and Buchou. As I readied the Vorpal Sword in preparation to slash through the spells, all of them froze in midair.
"It's no use. I can already read all of your attacks and movements."
Gasper's voice echoed throughout the room, originating from the colony of bats attacking the magicians. I noticed that the eyes of the bats were glowing bright red. I see, he's using Forbidden Balor View in bat form. SO, drinking my blood increased his power and control over Forbidden Balor View to this extent…
"I'm stopping all of you as well!"
As Gasper declared his intentions, the magicians froze in place, their time stopped by Forbidden Balor View.
"Ichigo-senpai, the finishing blow!"
"Yeah, you two get back." As Gasper returned to his normal appearance and moved behind me with Buchou, I raised the Vorpal Sword. Pumping my reiryoku into it, the blade was covered in black lightning.
"Go forth and pierce, all-annihilating demonic lightning of punishment – «Vorpal Blast»!" The black lightning shot from my blade and devoured the magician, leaving nothing behind its wake as it blasted through the wall, only dissipating when it had reached a fair distance outside.
After a few moments of silence to confirm that the fight was over, I sighed and relaxed…only to feel someone continuously hitting my back lightly. I turned to see Gasper, teary-eyed and a pout on his face.
"Senpai, you're so mean! You forced me to drink blood even though you know I don't like the smell!"
"Ah…sorry about that. There was really no other choice…"
Before Gasper could protest any further, Buchou hugged him from behind.
"Now now, Ichigo was just trying to help. And it did work out in the end. I'm so glad you're safe, Gasper."
"Shh, it's okay. You don't have to say anything. You're safe now and that's all that matters. But, never call yourself a burden or a bother ever again. You are not a burden, nor are you a bother. You are Gasper Vladi, a precious member of my family." Buchou lightly reprimanded Gasper, who was overcome with emotion and couldn't say another word.
Oh wait, I almost forgot!
"Gasper, put this on." I held the bracelet Azazel gave me to Gasper.
"Something to help you keep your Sacred Gear under control."
Gasper slipped the bracelet onto his wrist and immediately, Forbidden Balor View's effect ended. Outside, there was a multitude of screams of panic and confusion, both from the magicians as well as from the troops.
"Alright, now that Gasper's been saved, it's time for us to join the fight!"
"Y-Yes! Though I don't know how much help I can be…"
The three of us made our way out of the old school building to join the battle to repel the magicians.
The Holy-Demonic Sword in my hands sliced through yet another magic barrier and the magician who had casted it. How many did that make now? 20? 30? 50? I couldn't tell, I gave up on counting since new magicians always appeared to replace the ones that had been killed.
Ukitake Jushiro and Kyoraku Shunsui was crushing group after group of magicians with their Kido while gathering the frozen troops in one place and placing a barrier around them. Incredible, to be able to fight off an army like this while protecting the foot soldiers…the Captains of Gotei 13 are truly on a different level from us.
"These guys are seriously endless." Beside me, Xenovia commented as she swung Durandal at the magicians. The legendary Holy Sword ruptured the ground as a blast of holy energy obliterated another group of magicians.
Um…Xenovia, we're probably gonna have to be the ones to clean this mess later, so could you please not add any more to our workload?
*BAM* *BAM* *BAM* *BAM*
Above us, Azazel and Cattleya Leviathan were locked in combat in midair, creating massive shockwaves that rocked the campus with every blow.
Azazel created multiple giant spears of light and fired them at Cattleya Leviathan, who created several layers of barriers to defend herself. As expected of a descendant of one of the original Maous, her aptitude for magic was far above that of regular High-Class Devils and she was even able to defend herself against an attack from the Viceroy of the Fallen Angels himself.
A chill ran down my spine every time a shockwave was produced from their clash. Had it not been for the two barriers present, one protecting the school building and the other surrounding the school, the school and the whole town would have reduced to debris by now.
I started when a sudden weight was lifted from my shoulders. I looked around to see that the frozen troops were moving again, though they appeared to be confused at the battle around them.
On the other hand, the magicians were panicking at the unexpected occurrence and fell into disarray.
Buchou and Ichigo must have rescued Gasper! Good work, you two, the odds are finally shifting in our favor!
"We are under attack from an external force! Angels, Fallen Angels, Devils and Shinigamis, put aside your differences and work together to repel the enemy!" I heard the leaders commanding the freed troops from the conference room. The troops, though confused, immediately responded by charging at the panicked magicians.
It appeared that the battle would be over soon. Even though the magicians were still pouring in, our troops were fighting back with equal numbers and force. Azazel clearly held the advantage in the battle and Cattleya Leviathan was barely hanging on.
Had Cattleya Leviathan, as well as the other member of the Old Maou faction, not scorned the Evil Piece system, she would at least have someone helping her against Azazel. However, that was not the case, and Cattleya Leviathan would be defeated…
Or so I thought, but Cattleya Leviathan pulled a tiny glass bottle out of her pocket and drank the contents, which appeared to be…a small black snake?
The moment she swallowed the snake, a massive aura burst forth from her body, now rivaling even Azazel's, causing special ripples throughout the campus. What the hell was that snake!?
Once again, Azazel fired multiple spears of light at her, but she simply waved her arm and the spears of light were smashed. Impossible, even if he wasn't taking her seriously, Azazel was still stronger than Ultimate-Class Devils. And yet, she destroyed the spears with the force of her arm swing!?
Then, an even more unimaginable event than Cattleya Leviathan's power-up took place. An unforeseen attack struck Azazel from the side and sent him crashing into the old school building.
"Hey, Ddraige, who exactly is this Ophis?" I mentally posed a question to Ddraige.
Buchou, Gasper and I were making our way to the new school building so that we could join the battle. Now that Forbidden Balor View was stopped, the tables had finally turned.
[Ophis…Now that's a name I haven't heard in a while. Ophis is the strongest Dragon alive...no, the strongest Dragon to ever exist.]
"Stronger than even you and Albion?"
[Yeah, that one possesses multiple times Albion's and my power put together. Even if the two of us still had our bodies and worked together, I doubt we could so much as scratch her if Ophis ever got serious.]
"Multiple times the combined power of the Two Heavenly Dragons!? That's way too broken!"
[Ophis is the Dragon whose power is said to be equal to infinity. You heard Sirzechs Lucifer, right? Ophis is the one who has reigned over the position of the strongest in existence since the dawn of creation. That wasn't an exaggeration. Ophis has enough power in just one limb to kill a God. The only other I can think who could possibly be stronger than Ophis is…]
"There's someone who's stronger than that crazy strong Dragon!?"
[…No, forget it. That guy hasn't left his home since the dawn of creation. There's no point in considering him as one of the strongest in existence.]
"Who are you talking about?"
[…I don't know what his true name is, but everyone calls him Great Red. He's a red Dragon like me.]
"And this Great Red is as strong as Ophis?"
[If it's in terms of raw power, Great Red is probably slightly superior. But if it's in terms of technique, Ophis is superior to the same extent. Great Red and Ophis are like two sides of the same coin. Ophis represents the void of Infinity and Great Red represents the transience of Dreams. One is infinite and the other is zero. Two absolutes. That's why I can't really say who would win in a battle between those two. Great Red is stronger, but Ophis is smarter. I honestly don't want to imagine a clash between those two. The world would probably end from the shockwave of the first blow.]
"And one of those monsters is the boss of Khaos Brigade!? Do we even stand a chance!?"
[…Well, probably not. However…]
[Don't forget. No matter how strong Ophis is, Ophis is still essentially a Dragon. All Dragons share a common weakness to a Dragon Slayer. Though, I suppose for Ophis and Great Red, even Ascalon won't be nearly enough to wound them.]
"Then, how do we-"
My mental conversation with Ddraige was cut short when three powerful reiatsu signatures started rapidly approaching the building. I paused just as the wall next to me shattered into debris and a black mass crashed into the opposite wall, into one of the empty classrooms.
"Ow ow ow ow…" A familiar voice made fun of his predicament in a jovial voice.
The Viceroy of the Fallen Angel sat up in the debris he had created.
"Oi, your arm…!"
I was in shock. Azazel's left arm had been badly mangled, bent at odd angles and I could even see a bit of bone jutting out. But Azazel simply covered it in a magic spell, and the arm reset itself with a painful crack.
"Tch, so I guess this means you're betraying me, Vali." Azazel grumbled as he brushed the dust off his clothes.
"That's right. Sorry Azazel, but this side seems a lot more fun."
From the hole that Azazel had crashed through, Vali, clad in his white Scale Mail, flew in, accompanied by an unfamiliar woman, who was giving off a reiatsu that could rival Azazel's.
"The moment this conference was organized, we made arrangements to kidnap and use the Sacred Gear of the half-vampire to begin the attack. The moment we saw an opportunity, the Hakuryuukou opened the gate for us and allowed us to enter. The objective is to kill one of the leaders and destroy any chances of the alliance happening. Sorry Azazel, but it looks like you'll be the one to be killed here."
…I see. Vali is the traitor who fed Khaos Brigade the information on Gasper and let the magicians bypass the barrier.
"Geez, for one of my subordinates to switch sides without me noticing, I must be really rusty. So, when did you decide to do this?"
"Khaos Brigade extended their invitation to me the night I went to retrieve Kokabiel."
"So, does this mean the Vanishing Dragon is yielding to the Ouroboros Dragon?"
"No, but they made an offer I couldn't resist. 'Wouldn't you like to fight the Asgards?' My blood couldn't stop boiling when they said that. On the other hand, you're actively trying to avoid war. It's obvious which side someone like me, who enjoys fighting more than anything else, would choose."
"…I see. And here I thought that you were buddying up with Cattleya Leviathan, as those who seek to reclaim their stolen thrones."
Stolen thrones…? And did he just say Leviathan? Does that mean that Vali is also…!?
"My full name is Vali Lucifer."
As I thought, Vali is a descendant of one of the original Maous too!
"No way…that can't be…" Even Buchou had been shocked into silence next to me.
"Well, I'm a bit different from the rest of the descendants. Unlike them, I'm not a Pure-Blooded Devil. I'm a half born from the union of the grandson of the original Lucifer and a human woman."
"I can confirm his statement. He is most certainly the descendant of the original Lucifer. Not to mention the current Hakuryuukou. I can say this with absolute certainty. Just like how you are the strongest Sekiryuutei, past, present and future, he's the strongest Hakuryuukou, past, present and future."
"Of course, there's another reason why I'm switching sides."
At that point, Vali's gaze shifted to me.
"Kurosaki Ichigo, you are an existence so absurdly similar to mine, that it has to be some quirk of fate that we ended up as destined rivals. If the alliance is formed, there's no way I could ever have a proper fight with you, right? Kurosaki Ichigo, why don't we settle our destined battle right here?"
"Tch, this is why I can't stand battle freaks like you." I summoned Boosted Gear and prepared to use Balance Breaker.
"So, you're the son of that accursed Kurosaki Isshin." The woman looked at me with an expression of pure hatred.
"…I see. Come to think of it, my old man mentioned he helped the Current Maou faction defeat the Old Maou faction."
"That's right. If your father…if Kurosaki Isshin hadn't interfered, we would have-"
"You would have still lost. I've gotten a feel of your reiatsu, and therefore I can say this with absolute confidence. Someone like you can never hope to defeat Sirzechs-san."
"Why you little-"
"If you're looking for an opponent, you're looking the wrong way."
Caught off guard, Cattleya Leviathan wasn't able to defend herself from a magic blast from Azazel that launched her back out into the courtyard.
"Oi, it'll be troublesome if you count me out just because you powered up and Vali got in a lucky shot."
Cattleya Leviathan flew back up, floating outside the building with expression of rage on her face. Azazel flew outside to meet her.
"Azazel…I hope you're prepared to die!"
"Oooh, scary scary…However, this much of power-up is unnatural. Don't tell that damn Ophis gave you something?"
"That's right. Ophis is the Dragon whose power is equal to infinity after all. For the sake of reforming the world, all of us were granted a miniscule portion of that infinite power. As you can see, even a miniscule portion can increase my power by this much. With this, I can easily beat any of the leaders, including you!"
"Hmph…As a leader, I really can't do anything without Shemhaza helping me. However, as Kurosaki Ichigo said, Sirzechs won't lose to someone as mediocre as you, even with that power-up. Naturally, you can't defeat me or Michael either."
Cattleya Leviathan's face twisted even further in anger at his words.
"More of your nonsense…! Fine, I'll destroy you right here and now! Your death will be the first step towards creating our ideal world!"
"Bwahahaha! Good, I've been looking for an excuse to test this out!"
In the face of Cattleya Leviathan's anger, Azazel burst out laughing and took what appeared to be an ornate golden dagger with a yellowish-gold orb embedded in the hilt. The dagger was releasing an odd reiatsu, very much like the reiatsu of Vali's and my Scale Mail.
"That's…! Azazel, don't tell me you've…!?"
"That's right. Simply saying I'm a Sacred Gear enthusiast doesn't quite cover it. I already surpassed that level. I've begun producing Artificial Sacred Gears like this one. Though, most of the ones I've made are complete crap. Seriously, God was seriously amazing, to create so many working Sacred Gears. But, they're not without their flaws either. Ever since God and the original Maous died, bugs have been appearing one after another, like the Longinus Gears and Balance Breaker. Well, errors like those are part of what makes Sacred Gears so interesting."
"I wouldn't be too worried about that. The Sacred Gear system will be destroyed. The new world has no use for such things. Once we force Odin, the King of the Asgards to move, the world will have to change."
"…Ah, the more I hear about your goals, the more I feel like vomiting. Valhalla? The other Gods!? So, you intend to use Odin to change the world to your liking!? Like I care, anyone who dares to interfere with what I like…can just die right here."
Azazel held out the dagger, which started shifting its shape and emitting light. The reiatsu coming from the dagger was slowly increasing. Oi, don't tell me this is…
A golden light blinded me and when it faded, Azazel was covered head to toe in golden armor. The shape of the armor and the jewels present, isn't it almost exactly like the Scale Mail!?
"I created this Artificial Sacred Gear after studying Divine Dividing and other Dragon-based Sacred Gears. My masterpiece, Downfall Dragon Spear. And this is its pseudo-Balance Breaker, Downfall Dragon Another Armor.
…What is this? The reiatsu coming from him, although obviously stronger, was also wild and out of control, a far cry from the stable reiatsu of my and Vali's Scale Mail or even Yuuto's Sword of Betrayal.
[That's because it's not a proper Balance Breaker. He forced that Artificial Sacred Gear to go into a pseudo-Balance Breaker state by overcharging it. It'll break immediately after this state ends. Don't tell me he's planning to use like a disposable Sacred Gear…]
Come to think of it, equipment-type Sacred Gears, like the Scale Mail, and Yuuto's Sword Birth, will regenerate as long as the possessor is still alive. If Azazel managed to replicate the same effect in that Downfall Dragon Another Armor, then using it as a disposable weapon isn't that absurd of an idea. To think that Azazel has already researched this far into Sacred Gears...This man, he truly is dangerous!
"Hahaha! As expected of Azazel! You truly are incredible!" Vali laughed in the face of the powerful reiatsu.
"Vali, I'd like to be your opponent, but I'm a bit busy right now. Go have fun with the Sekiryuutei instead."
Screw you! He's your subordinate, you deal with him!
"Hmm…fighting Azazel seems fun, but Kurosaki Ichigo is interesting too…Hey, Azazel, that Artificial Sacred Gear, there's a power-based Dragon sealed inside it, right?"
"That's right. I made a contract with the Gigantis Dragon, Fafnir and sealed him inside this Downfall Dragon Spear. It's basically a copy of Boosted Gear and Divine Dividing, though I don't know whether I've succeeded yet or not."
Fafnir? I've heard that name somewhere before. That was a Dragon in Norse Mythology, right?
[That's right. Fafnir is one of the Five Dragon Kings, just like Vritra whom a part of is sealed inside of Saji Genshirou's Absorption Line. Aside from those two, there's also the Mischievous Dragon, Yu Long, the Chaos Karma Dragon, Tiamat, and the Sleeping Dragon, Midgardsormr. Though, there were originally six Dragon Kings.]
"What happened to the sixth?"
[Tannin? Oh, I'm sure you'll find out soon enough. You'll meet all of them soon enough. Especially Tiamat, since she hates me.]
Urgh, it's already bad enough that I have battle-crazy Dragon after me. Now you're saying I have to deal with one that hates Ddraige in the future?
…Maybe that's why Michael-san gave me Ascalon in the first place.
"Azazel, even though you possess this much power…!"
"Didn't you make a pact with the Ouroboros Dragon yourself?"
"This isn't possible! Your Sacred Gear research isn't supposed to have progressed this far!"
"Oh, from the reaction, it looks like the traitors in the Grigori leaked some of the information to you. But, that's useless. Only Shemhaza and I know anywhere close to the truth."
"You bastard! I'm Cattleya Leviathan, a descendant of the original Leviathan! A mere Fallen Angel will not defeat me!" Cattleya Leviathan snarled and charged at Azazel.
"Heh." Azazel summoned a giant spear, a bigger version of the dagger from earlier, covered in holy reiryoku, in his hand and swept past her.
"Arrrrgh!" Cattleya Leviathan cried out in pain as blood gushed out of the gash Azazel gave her. Weakened by the holy power, she fell to her knees.
But that wasn't the extent of the attack. The ground beneath Azazel had been gouged out, going as far as several meters ahead of where Azazel had stopped. Incredible, he did that with just the shockwave of a simple attack!
"No, it's not over!" Cattleya turned and turned her arms into tentacles and wrapped it around Azazel's left arm. Strange runes appeared along her tentacle-arms. Is that a spell?
"It's a self-destruct spell formula." Buchou groaned as she read the runes. So she's willing to go that far to kill one of the leaders!?
Azazel tried to tear the tentacles off, but they refused to budge.
"Azazel, even if you kill me in this state, the spell will activate immediately and take you with me!"
"…So, you're trying to kill me at the cost of your own life? It's so cliché, but in the end, it will yield a great result."
"Ichigo, Gasper, we have to move back! At this rate, we'll all be caught in the blast too!"
"What about Azazel!?"
"He's a leader! He can figure a way out of something like that!"
We ran to the opposite side of the building and even then, Buchou placed several layers of defensive magic between us and them.
"Wah!" I started when I heard Gasper cry out so suddenly. I turned to see that a strange pattern had appeared in his eyes.
"Sorry, but I'll have to seal that. It'd be annoying if time stopped."
Vali was floating in the air in front of us.
"But, once you know its power and activation requirements, it's not really that big of a deal. It's chock-full of weaknesses. There are hundreds of spells and techniques that can seal one's vision. And if he loses control of it, it'll turn against his own allies."
…It was as he said. Gasper currently has too many weaknesses. It didn't matter if his Sacred Gear was powerful if he couldn't control it.
Meanwhile, Azazel was still trying to remove Cattlleya's tentacles from his arm to no avail.
"These tentacles were specially made with my own life force! You'll never be able to remove them!" Cattleya Leviathan laughed.
Azazel gave up on removing the tentacles and shrugged. Then, he did something unexpected.
He severed his own arm from the elbow with the spear. The piece that was cut off turned to dust, leaving the tentacles with nothing to hold on to. Azazel created a magic circle at the stump, stopping the blood from flowing out.
"You-You cut off your own arm!?" Cattleya Leviathan cried out in shock as she staggered from the sudden loss of balance.
Cattleya Leviathan stiffened as a spear of light was stabbed into her stomach.
"You can have that arm. But unfortunately, your life ends here."
Without a sound, Cattleya Leviathan's body disintegrated, having been destroyed by holy power. Even while being powered up by a portion of the strongest Dragon's immense power, she was still vulnerable to holy attacks.
Azazel's false Balance Breaker shattered. Without a care for his missing limb, Azazel caught the golden orb floating down from the sky.
"Tch, so this is the current limit of my Artificial Sacred Gear…It obviously still needs a lot of improvement before I can use it efficiently. Well, as long as this jewel is intact, I can remake the Artificial Sacred Gear again. Looks like you'll still be keeping me company for a while longer, Fafnir." Azazel lightly kissed the jewel before tucking it away.
With this, the only one left is…
"As expected of Azazel. However, your armor has already reached its limit. Your Artificial Sacred Gear still needs some work."
"What will you do now, Vali? Even with my armor and one arm gone, I can still fight." Azazel created a spear of light in his hand and pointed it at Vali, who shook his head.
"Sorry, but I'm not interested in fighting the current you. Get a new arm and fix your Artificial Sacred Gear first. Instead, I'll have fun with Kurosaki Ichigo."
Vali turned to me, his Scale Mail covered in radiant white light.
"Tch, no choice then. Buchou, Gasper, leave, or you'll be caught in our fight too."
Buchou looked like she was about to protest, but stopped herself and nodded. She and Gasper quickly descended the stairs and left the old school building.
"Ichigo, you're not allowed to lose!" Buchou shouted to me right before she was out of earshot.
"…Of course. I have no intention of losing."
"Well then, I guess I'll go help out with the magicians. Kurosaki Ichigo, don't get yourself killed." Azazel said and then flew off to rejoin the battle against the magicians.
"Shut up. I don't have any intention to die either. Balance Breaker."
[Welsh Dragon Balance Breaker!]
The familiar weight of the Scale Mail bore down on me before vanishing the next instant as the red armor wrapped around my body. I suddenly felt light as a feather and power surged through my entire being. The Scale Mail has really become as comfortable as Tensa Zangetsu.
"Hahahahaha! Look Albion, even though we're in the same state, Kurosaki Ichigo's aura exceeds even mine!" Vali burst out laughing as he read my reiatsu.
[You've been in Balance Breaker longer than he has, so a bit of your reserves have been drained. It wouldn't make a difference against other opponents, but against Ddraige, this could be fatal.]
"Ha! Which means I have to start out strong, right!?" Vali shot at me at high speed and I prepared to slam my fist down on his back, but right before he reached me, he vanished! No, he drastically increased his speed at the last minute when he had already mostly filled my field of vision!
I turned around and immediately swung my right arm back, just in time to strike Vali's shoulder and knock him off course. Vali recovered mid-flight, flew up and stopped at a height above me.
Fast…Not as fast as me in my Bankai, but close. I can't afford to stay on the defensive all the time!
Black lightning coated the Vorpal Sword as I prepared its strongest technique.
"Go forth and pierce, all-annihilating demonic lightning of punishment – «Vorpal Blast»!"
A huge arc of black lightning shot out from the Vorpal Sword at Vali.
[…! Vali, you can't take that head on.]
"I know. Even just by looking, I can tell that technique is dangerous."
Vali held up his hand towards Vorpal Blast making its way through the air rapidly towards him.
[Divide Divide Divide Divide Divide Divide!]
Albion's voice called out as the space in front of Vali rippled and Vorpal Blast grew progressively smaller, until it had shrunk from a gigantic bolt of black lightning to a small bolt half of Vali's size. But that was the most Vali could do before Vorpal Blast hit him.
Vali was obscured by smoke as the weakened Vorpal Blast scored a direct hit. However, through the smoke, several large pieces of white metal fell to the ground. Did it work?
"Hahahahaha! Incredible! Even though I reduced it to a sixty-fourth of its original power, it still broke through my armor! I really would have died if it had hit me with its original power!"
I heard Vali's manic laughter through the smoke. The smoke cleared, and I saw Vali, still floating in midair, but his Scale Mail was heavily damaged. The armor from the waist and above had been completely destroyed, with the exception of the wings, and the armor below his waist wasn't much better. The armor covering his left leg was reduced to only the armor over his feet and the armor of the right thigh was heavily cracked.
Though his armor was destroyed, there didn't appear to be any damage to his own body. So, the Scale Mail completely negated the weakened Vorpal Blast…
However, as soon as I completed the damage assessment, his armor quickly regenerated until it was completely pristine and whole. As I thought, the only way to defeat him is to render him unconscious or outright kill him…
"Don't get distracted in a fight!" I was broken out of my thoughts as Vali started moving. By the time I had registered that he was coming for me, he was already in front of me.
A heavy fist slammed into my gut and cracked my chest plate before sending me careening through the air. I quickly recovered and regained my balance, but Vali had already caught up and caught my arms.
[Divide Divide Divide Divide Divide Divide!]
As Albion called out the Divide command, I wrenched my hands from Vali's grip, but by then, he had already halved my power six times. I quickly moved back and started Boosting.
[Boost Boost Boost Boost Boost Boost Boost Boost Boost Boost Boost Boost Boost!]
I quickly made up the difference and then some, but Vali had already absorbed a good deal of my power. This is gonna be…
…? What's that? Those flickering lights behind Vali? It's coming from…his wings?
[That's the excess power that he cannot contain. It's being expelled through the wings so that he doesn't overload.]
…I see, so even that crazy skill has a limit. However, even if he can't contain it, he can still keep Dividing my power. At this rate, this will turn into a battle of attrition. While I didn't think I would lose, I don't want to take any chances against this guy. Still, if there's a limit to how much power he can absorb, there's a weakness I can take advantage of!
"Say Ddraige, is it possible to use Ascalon's Dragon Slaying property without actually wielding the blade itself?"
[…It's possible, but wouldn't it be better to wield the blade and your Zanpakuto at once, since your skill with swords is greater than your hand-to-hand combat?]
…True, since I'm better with swords, combined with the fact that Ascalon's blade extends from the knuckle means that I can wield three swords at once. However…
"If you recognized Ascalon, there's a good chance Albion will recognize it too and warn Vali. Plus, my plan requires one of my hands to be completely free."
[…! I see, so that's what you're planning. Alright partner, give me the signal when to transfer power to Ascalon, you focus on getting close.]
"Got it. Thanks."
My attention returned to Vali, who had been waiting patiently.
"Just about. Like I said before, I have no intention of losing to you."
"That's good! Come at me then!"
"As you wish!" I shunpoed towards Vali, who put up a shield in front of him the moment I vanished from his sight. Nice try, but I'm not aiming for your front!
"Ddraige, do it!"
With Ddraige's command, an enormous power was transferred to Ascalon, and a strong golden aura surrounded my Scale Mail. This must be the power of the Dragon Slayer!
The moment I reached Vali, I swerved and moved behind him and slammed a heavy fist down on his back. Vali, not expecting me to do the same thing that he did earlier, was knocked down and smashed into the ground unable to move as the power of the Dragon Slayer interrupted his functions. I landed on top of him, slamming a knee into his back and grabbed his wings of light.
I pumped as much power into the wings of light as possible. The wings started glowing erratically as it was forced to absorb and expel even more power at an even faster rate.
"With this, the greatest power of your Divine Dividing has been sealed!"
[…What a thing! Vali, pull back immediately! Recover your posture immediately!]
Vali responded to Albion's voice by forcing me off his back, forcing himself to his feet and trying to pull back, but I already closed the gap between us.
"Go down with this!" I slashed him through his armor with the Vorpal Sword and punched him in his face with my free hand. The power of the Dragon Slayer effortlessly shatter his armor and Vali was sent flying into the wall of the old school building, blood flowing out of the slash wound on his torso.
For a moment, there was a tense silence. Vali did not move after crashing into the wall, and I briefly wondered I had managed to knock him out. That hope was crushed immediately when Vali started laughing.
"Ah, this is just too fun! I haven't had this much fun in a fight in a long time! I know now, it's impossible for me to beat you in my current state, no matter what technique I use! In that case, there's only one option left! Albion, it's fine if I use that , right!?"
[…Normally, I wouldn't let you use it in your current state, but Kurosaki Ichigo is too strong for you to take on with just the Scale Mail. I'll allow it.]
"Hahahaha! Perfect! Watch, Kurosaki Ichigo! This is the pinnacle of the Hakuryuukou's power!"
The jewels on his Scale Mail started flashing different colors as his reiatsu started building up.
"I, who am about to awaken…"
[He'll be blasted away!]
[Yes, he'll certainly be blasted away!]
Vali started chanting something, and the moment he started, voices filled with malice, belonging to neither Vali nor Albion echoed throughout the courtyard, originating from the jewels on Divine Dividing Scale Mail.
Are these…the voices of the previous Hakuryuukous? Oh shit, don't tell me this is…!?
[Partner, stop him! He's trying to use Juggernaut Drive!]
I flew at him with the Vorpal Sword raised, but he immediately flew up and dodged me. I followed him and tried time and time again to hit him, alternating between sword strikes and Kido, but each time, he simply dodged each attack.
"…Am the Heavenly Dragon who has stolen the principles of supremacy from God!"
[The Dream ends!]
[And the Illusion begins!]
As Vali flew away from me, trying to keep me at bay, he continued with the second line of the verse. Dammit, at this rate…!
I summoned Zangetsu and launched a Getsuga at him. A giant beam of red light tore through the air towards Vali, but he simply flew out of range.
"I envy the Infinite and pursue the Dream!"
[Yes, give us everything!]
"Go forth and pierce, all-annihilating demonic lightning of punishment – «Vorpal Blast»! Getsuga Tensho!"
I fired both powerful techniques at Vali as he completed the third line, thinking that he may be distracted enough for me to hit him, but once again, he simply evaded them.
"I shall become the White Dragon of Supremacy…"
"Tenran!" This time, I fired the tornado generating Kido at him, and I finally caught him. The vortex of wind pulled Vali in as he finished the fourth line and spun him around within as I sped towards him, Zangetsu and the Vorpal Sword raised, both imbued with the power of the Dragon Slayer, but just as I made to slash him…
"…And I shall bring you to the limits of a white paradise!"
Vali finished the final line, shouting it in unison with his predecessors.
Albion's voice rang out and reverberated throughout the courtyard.
A bright light originating from Vali's Scale Mail blinded me, causing me to stop mid-flight and at the same time, incredibly heavy reiatsu comparable to even the old man in his Shikai flooded the campus.
In the moment I was distracted by the flash of light, a white meteor slammed into me. Vali's punch was so strong that he completely destroyed my Scale Mail and pierced my Blut Vene. I was sent flying through the air all the way to the scene of the battle against the magicians, and I noticed two things. First, all of those who had been frozen in time were free. As I went flying past them, I briefly saw Akeno-san, Koneko and Kaichou fighting. Second, most of the magicians had been successfully repelled, with only two or three dozens of them left. Now that the numbers had been reduced to only that few, the other leaders who were maintaining the barrier around the building had left the conference room, meaning the barrier was gone. Uh oh, this is gonna hurt!
I crashed into the new school building and went through several walls before stopping when I crashed into an empty classroom.
"W-What was that!?" I heard Buchou exclaiming in confusion, probably because all she saw was a red blur soaring and smashing through the school. Shaking off my dizziness, I flew back out into the courtyard, and immediately regretted doing that. I staggered in midair, the pain too distracting for me to fly properly, and landed on a knee. Even just moving my body caused huge jolts of pain to course through my entire body. I didn't need to even look to know I was in bad shape.
My Scale Mail had completely shattered, though it was now in the process of regenerating.
My Blut Vene was pierced and a huge bruise had formed on my stomach. If I didn't have my Scale Mail and Blut Vene together, Vali's fist would have punched a hole right through me.
And worst of all…
…I was coughing up blood, which meant that punch probably damaged one of my organs. Though my Hollow regeneration was fixing the damage, the process was slow.
"Ichigo!?" Buchou cried out in shock when she saw me.
"Buchou, don't come any closer! This guy is seriously strong!"
I sensed Vali's powerful reiatsu approaching and made the mistake of looking at him, almost blinding myself in the process. However, I could make out some of the new features of his armor. First and most obvious of all, it was radiating a blinding white light. Second, claws had grown on the gauntlets and greaves. Third, the helmet's mouthpiece had changed from featureless to a fanged mouth. Fourth, there were weapons of all kinds growing out from each of the jewels on the armor. Tch, so this is the power of Juggernaut Drive.
"Good grief, to think Vali would actually use Juggernaut Drive. Kurosaki Ichigo must have been a hell of an opponent for Albion to allow it. In this case, I guess we don't have a choice but to fight him together." Azazel prepared to engage Vali in battle as well, and the rest of the leaders followed his lead, preparing a technique or their weapons in order to fight. That's right, if I fought alongside the leaders, we can crush him!
"Hmph, if all of you attacked me at once, I guess it would be problematic. Very well then, I'll say this right now. If any of you tries to interfere in my fight with Kurosaki Ichigo, I'll destroy the barrier surrounding the school."
"The barrier was created by all of the leaders present. Do you really believe you can break it?"
"Of course. Surely you understand, in Juggernaut Drive, I can easily reduce the strength of the barrier to a level that I can destroy with a flick of my finger in an instant. You know what would happen if the barrier breaks in the middle of a titanic fight like this, right?"
The shockwaves of the ongoing fights would affect the rest of the town too…Dammit, I don't have a choice!
"I'll fight him myself! The rest of you, hurry and take care of the rest of the magicians!" I stood up, my Scale Mail fully regenerated and my body partially healed by regeneration. My reserves were still fairly high, so I could still keep going.
"Ichigo…!" Buchou looked like she was about to protest, but Sirzechs-san stopped her with a hand on her shoulder.
"We cannot do anything. The barrier must be maintained at all costs, or the town will be destroyed. It's mortifying, but we'll have to leave this to Ichigo-kun."
Buchou looked like she was about to protest, but stopped herself and turned back to face the magicians, but not before shooting me another worried glance.
"Don't worry. I already said I don't have any intentions of losing." I shot her a thumbs-up before turning back to Vali.
Even though I said that, I could barely even look at him. That would make the fight extremely problematic. If only I had a way to ignore the light…
Just as I thought that, my vision darkened. Not like back in the clubroom just now, but more like I was wearing sunglasses. What is this?
[The Scale Mail is responding to your desire. A Sacred Gear responds to its possessor's desire, remember? You wished for a way to see your opponent, even through that bright light, so the Scale Mail created a way for you.]
"That's pretty convenient."
[It's not like it will always work. Your desire this time was a simple one, so the Sacred Gear did not require additional power to accomplish this. More complicated upgrades will require your own energy reserves, and failing that, your life force.]
"…I see. This is enough for now. Thanks."
I wasn't quite sure who it was I was thanking. Was it Boosted Gear itself? Or God, who created the Sacred Gear system? Or was it Ddraige, the core of Boosted Gear?
But, I didn't have time to dwell on that. I had to focus on the increasingly difficult fight. I doubt I could take on Vali directly while he's using Juggernaut Drive. A possible option was to use Bankai to overpower him, but with my current body, I'll probably wear out before I can beat him. Which meant my only option was to stall until he could no longer sustain Juggernaut Drive. Easier said than done.
Vali came at me once more like a white meteor, and I barely sidestepped in time. Vali swerved in midair and slammed into me just as I held up my arms to defend.
Wha…!? The speed of his Dividing power is completely different from before! My power was cut down to a pitiful fraction in an instant, and the Dragon Slaying aura around my body faded away.
[Boost Boost Boost Boost Boost Boost Boost Boost Boost Boost Boost Boost Boost!]
I quickly recovered my power, but was knocked aside in the next instant by a magic blast from Vali, augmented by the power he stole from me. There weren't any flickers of light coming from his wings, which meant he wasn't expelling excess power. Don't tell me his absorbing capacity increased too!?
I was forced on the defensive over and over again, the speed and power of Vali's attacks, both physical and magical, making sure that I couldn't find an opportunity to attack, or even Boost. Damn, at this rate, I'll lose before his Juggernaut Drive's time limit runs out!
"Looks like you got yourself into quite a predicament."
A familiar voice spoke to me mentally. Restia, the real Restia.
"You've been quiet for a while. What were you doing?"
"Fuaaaaah~ Isn't that obvious? I've been sleeping."
"…Sleeping?" I just heard something pretty unbelievable.
"I'm not interested in conversations between old men, so I took a nap. I only woke up just know when I sensed a powerful enemy."
"…Even though you're supposedly older than all of them put together-Ow!"
A jolt of pain suddenly went through my arm, originating from the Vorpal Sword.
"Fufufufu…Ichigo, don't you know it's rude to make fun of a lady's age?" Restia's slightly angry voice rang in my head. Geez, I'm sorry already.
"…Wait, if you've been sleeping the entire time, then that voice from earlier really wasn't you?"
"…? What are you talking about? Like I said, I've been sleeping from the start of the conference until just now."
I knew it…The source of that darkness wasn't Restia after all. So then, who was it?
Then, I recalled the time I first met Restia. She said I was the current incarnation of her father. Could that have been…?
…No, she said 'father', so Ren Ashdoll should be male. Then again, Restia did mention she's never actually met her father in person before.
*SLICE* *SLICE* *SLICE* *SLICE* *SLICE* *SLICE* *SLICE*
"Aghhh!" While I was busy talking to Restia, Vali broke through my Scale Mail and Blut Vene and lacerated my body with a rain of the weapons that were growing out of his armor.
Damn, now's the time to have a pleasant conversation! I have to find a way to defeat him!
"Hm…he's pretty fast. And no matter how many times you Boost, he can use Divide to negate the effect. Unless you use your Bankai and hit him with a single blow strong enough to render him unconscious, I doubt you'll be able to do anything except defend. But the problem is…"
"…In its current state, my body will break down before I can finish him off. I could deactivate Balance Breaker and switch to Bankai, but Vali's current power is at a level where it's too dangerous to defend against without both the Scale Mail and Blut Vene. This is a really bad situation."
"Hmm…alright then, I guess it can't be helped. I'll teach you something new."
"Something? What exactly?"
"The Absolute Blade Arts. The sword style of my previous wielder and his mentor. I was going to teach it to you from the beginning, so I guess now's a good time as any."
"I would say I'm glad, but I'm not exactly in a position to be learning a sword style right now."
Vali launched another magic blast at me that I quickly negated with a Getsuga.
"It's fine. Right now, I'll just teach you one. It's the simplest and the one that is best suited for this situation. Just listen carefully. Focus your power into one of your swords, but not like how you to prepare for a Getsuga Tensho or a Vorpal Blast. The energy must be refined into the shape of a sword."
I did as she said and pumped reiryoku into Zangetsu, since I was more comfortable using my dominant hand. A wild, unfocused energy surrounded the blade. I lessened the flow of reiryoku into Zangetsu and tried to mold the reiryoku into the shape of a sword. I succeeded somewhat, but the shape was unstable and looked like it could fall apart at any moment.
"No, it's fine. You can work on it later, but this will be enough. This is the first form of the Absolute Blade Arts: Violet Lightning. It's a downward strike at high speed, perfect for the current situation. Shunpo past him, but cut him as you pass."
A sword strike while in the middle of Shunpo? That's a first for me, but I guess it's worth a try.
Vali shot an array of weapons at me, which I used Shunpo to maneuver around. With the unstable reiryoku around Zangetsu, I can't use it to defend. And with this many attacks at once, I can't possibly defend myself with only the Vorpal Sword. I waited for the instant that Vali's assault ended and shot at him.
"Hm? A frontal attack while I'm using Juggernaut Drive? A foolish attem-Gh!?"
He didn't get a chance to finish as the front of his armor was cleaved open and a thin red line extended along his torso. Pieces of the broken armor fell to the ground, losing their radiance. However, the armor started regenerating immediately and Vali's armor was pristine once more.
"Hahahahaha! Incredible, even while I'm using Juggernaut Drive, you managed to break through my armor! You really are the best!"
"Tch, so that was all the damage I could do!?"
"It can't be helped. The energy blade wasn't sharp enough to leave any serious wounds after cutting through that armor. But…this is pretty bad."
"That kind of opponent is the type that won't fall for the same trick twice. Even if you use Violet Lightning again, he'll defend against it, or move away as fast as he can the moment you start moving towards him. Violet Lightning won't be as effective against him anymore."
"Are there any more techniques in the Absolute Blade Arts that you can teach me!?"
"None that can be taught under the current circumstances. They're too complicated."
"Damn, now what!? I'm completely out of trump cards to use…"
At that moment I happened to look down and saw one of the blue jewels of Vali's armor among the shattered pieces. Then, an idea popped into my head, one that might be able to win me this fight.
"Say Ddraige, you said Sacred Gears responded to their possessor's desire, right?"
[…? That's right, but why are you bringing that up now? Shouldn't you be focusing on your opponent?]
"Well, just listen to this crazy idea of mine." I told him the gist of what I wanted to do.
[Heh…HAHAHAHAHA! Interesting! If it's you, you might just be able to do it! But, you'll have to go through a hell of a lot of pain to do this! Are you prepared?]
"Of course! I'm no stranger to pain, and I need an upper hand!"
[Hahahahaha! Fine, if you're that resolved, I guess I'll have to prepare myself too! Let's conquer this hurdle together, partner! No, Kurosaki Ichigo!]
The moment he finished speaking, the jewel embedded in my right gauntlet shattered, leaving an empty slot. I stabbed the Vorpal Sword into the ground and picked up the blue jewel on the ground.
"What are you planning to do with that?" Vali stopped attacking me and asked, apparently interested in what I was planning.
"Vanishing Dragon Albion and Hakuryuukou Vali Lucifer! I'll be taking your power!"
I slammed the blue jewel into the empty slot and was immediately overcome by unimaginable pain.
Fuck, this hurts like hell! Being stabbed by holy weapons is nothing compared to this!
"…! Y-You're trying to assimilate my power!?"
Even the normally composed Vali couldn't seem to believe what I was doing.
[What a reckless course of action. Ddraige, you and I are complete opposites of each other. Trying to assimilate my power, even just a tiny fragment, will result in your own destruction. Are you trying to kill yourself?]
Albion commented impassively.
Ddraige was screaming in agony along with me, but his scream of pain was also mixed with laughter.
[HAHAHAHAHA! Albion, you're as inflexible as ever! Over eons, we've passed from host to host and continued our unending fight! Time and time again, it's basically been a repeat of the same thing!]
[That's right, Ddraige. That is our destiny. Even if our hosts differ in personality, the way we fight has always remained the same. You increase power, I steal power. The host who uses the Sacred Gear more effectively wins and our fight ends until new hosts are chosen. That's how it always had been, and that's it always will be.]
[Yeah, I used to think so as well. However, after meeting this new host, Kurosaki Ichigo, I've learned something! Anything is possible through sheer will!]
"Haaaaaaaaaa…!" The pain seemed to increase, but I forced it down. I felt my reserves being drained rapidly to supplement the assimilation process.
Then, the pain ended abruptly.
[Vanishing Dragon Power is taken!]
At the same time that Ddraige announced the unfamiliar command, my right gauntlet turned white.
"Heh, it worked." At the cost of around half of my reserves.
[Impossible! This is impossible!]
Albion recovered from his shock enough to shout his disbelief.
"No, it's possible, even if the chances are incredibly slim. After all, Yuuto was able to fuse the Holy and Dark elements to create a Holy-Demonic Sword. This phenomenon is possible due to the collapse of the world's balance caused by the absence of the Biblical God. Didn't Azazel say it? Errors and bugs have appeared in the world's system. I just manipulated that to my advantage."
[…You're saying you nudged the imperfections in the Sacred Gear system in order to achieve this result? No, even if the Biblical God is gone, something like this shouldn't even possible! Ddraige and I are powerful Dragons whose powers exceed even Gods! Trying to fuse our opposing powers, no matter how small the fragment of my power was, should have resulted in your death!]
"Yeah, after going through all of that, I realized I should have died. But I didn't."
[Hmph. It truly is impressive you didn't have to sacrifice any life force to do this, though you have drained a good portion of your reserves.]
"Hey king! Warn us the next time you try something like that, will ya!? We had a freaking earthquake in here!"
My inner Hollow yelled at me, giving me a slight headache.
"Sorry, was the damage bad?"
"It's not that bad. Some of the windows are broken, the animals are spooked, and there's a white pillar sticking out of the ground, but that's about it."
"I see. The damage will probably fix itself over time. Right now…Ow!"
Once again, as I picked up the Vorpal Sword, it sent a jolt of pain through my arm.
"Don't ever do that again! Do you have any idea how worried I was when you suddenly started screaming!?"
Restia's angry voice projected in my head.
"Sorry. And don't worry, I'm not too keen on experiencing pain like that again."
"Now then, it's time to turn the tides!"
[Boost Boost Boost Boost Boost Boost Boost Boost Boost Boost Boost!]
I increased my power and shot at Vali, who could not react in time before I reached him and rammed him in the chest with my right elbow that was covered in the false Devine Dividing.
The moment I hit him with his own technique, his incredible power dropped, passing to me, and his armor's radiance heavily faded away. He stumbled from the sudden loss of his incredible power, opening himself up for a flurry of attacks.
Before he could recover, I slammed Zangetsu into his stomach, breaking his torso armor and sending him flying. As he went flying through the air, I chased after him and slammed him back into the ground.
"Black thunder that incinerates even souls to nothing - «Hell Blast»! Getsuga Tensho!" I struck him with a wide-area annihilation spell and a Getsuga, but right before they reached him…
Albion announced an unfamiliar command and a bolt of black lightning along with a beam of red light were sent back at me, which I barely dodged in time.
"What was that!?"
[Reflect is Divine Dividing's secondary ability, basically what Transfer is to Boosted Gear. It's just as it sounds, an ability that can reflect attacks. Of course, if the attack is too strong, it cannot be completely reflected. Look, even though he reflected some of the attack back at you, he was still hit, right?]
I looked back down to see that Vali's armor was indeed shattered or scorched in various places. Just as Ddraige said, he couldn't completely knock my attacks back at me.
"Does that mean this one can use it too?" I asked Ddraige, referring to the false Divine Dividing on my right hand.
[Hm…you probably could, but since you only possess a fragment of Albion's power, it'll cost a lot of your energy to use.]
"…I see. I've already used a lot of energy, so I guess using it right now is a bad idea. I'll just rely on my other techniques."
I dived down at Vali with my right fist raised. Vali had already recovered and had reeled back his own fist as well.
The shockwave from the collision rocked the school.
[Divide! Divide! Divide Divide! Divide!]
Both of us had the same idea and started Dividing each other's power, but as expected of the original, his Dividing speed still exceeded mine. I pulled away before he could take any more of my power and blasted him point blank with a Getsuga.
"Nuoooooooooooooh!" Vali cried out as he was engulfed by the red beam. However, the red beam slowly began to falter and ultimately dissipate when Vali used his pure physical strength to rip it apart and reach me.
"Gh!" I grunted as Vali punched me in the gut. I retaliated with a headbutt that shattered both of our helmets, revealing both of our exhausted faces, I being heavily drained by the effort of assimilating Albion's power and continuously using both Divide and Boost, and his stamina and reserves being drained by Juggernaut Drive and continuous use of his superior Divide. Neither of us would last much longer and both of us knew it. We had to settle this quickly.
I made the first move by moving next to Vali with Shunpo.
Once again, I transferred power to Ascalon, and the Dragon Slaying aura returned in full force, surrounding my body and my two swords, and I cleaved Vali's armor open with them. Blood sprayed from the X-shaped wound on his chest, and Vali stumbled back, trying to get away, but not before I managed to nail him in the gut with the back of Zangetsu's blade.
Vali dropped to his knees, the pain caused by the Dragon Slayer beginning to overwhelm him. But he refused to go down so easily. He launched a spear from one of his jewels at me, driving it past my armor and my Blut Vene, deep into my shoulder.
"Urgh…!" I moved back and wrenched the spear out of my shoulder, blood pouring out of the wound. How does he keep piercing my Blut Vene so easily? The spear was launched with considerable force, enough to break through the Scale Mail, but it shouldn't have been enough to pierce my Blut Vene…
I got my answer as I closely examined the tip of the spear. The tip was glowing white, most likely imbued with the power of Dividing. Not enough to weaken me as a whole, but enough to weaken Blut Vene when it came in contact with my skin. I can't believe I didn't notice it before.
Still, even knowing that, there was little I could do, except avoid them, seeing as how both of us were already exhausted.
I paused when my Scale Mail's jewels started glowing faintly.
"What's going on?"
[Tch, continuously using Albion's power has drained your stamina almost completely. The Scale Mail won't last much longer. You have to hurry and finish this.]
"Dammit, what shitty timing."
[Not entirely. Your opponent looks like he's about to drop dead too. He might be even worse off than you.]
Ddraige was right. Vali's armor had lost almost all of its original radiance. It was cracked and shattered in several places with no sign of regeneration. He was beginning to reach his limit. I had to finish this now.
I raised Zangetsu above my head, pouring reiryoku in preparation for a Getsuga. At this range, he can't use Divide effectively, and Reflect cannot stop the full force of the attack.
Vali caught on and tried to open up a greater distance between us, but with his stamina rapidly dropping, his speed had also dropped. He wouldn't get away in time.
I swung Zangetsu down and a red flash of light filled my vision.
"Uooooooooooooooooooooooh!" I heard Vali's scream of pain as my Getsuga hit him dead on. The light died down as I finally fell to a knee, my body running on fumes at this point.
The entire courtyard had been devasted, the ground gouged out and forming a deep crater. At the center of the crater was Vali, his armor mostly shattered.
I noticed that both of us were breathing heavily, though Vali's was more ragged than mine, almost bordering on erratic. He had obviously hit his limit, as had I.
The remnants of Vali's armor had completely its radiance. The weapons that were growing out of the jewels, along with the claws and fangs, had disappeared. Vali had finally reached Juggernaut Drive's time limit and returned back to his normal Balance Breaker that also shattered the next instant without any signs of regeneration.
[Vali, this is bad. Juggernaut Drive sapped your stamina and reserves faster than I expected. We cannot win in our current state. Let's retreat and get stronger before fighting Kurosaki Ichigo and Ddraige again.]
Albion urged Vali to fall back.
"Tch, it's not a good feeling, running away like a coward. But, I cannot die until I kill that man! I will retreat…is what I would like to say, but it doesn't look like I have a way out." Vali said as his eyes shifted to the side. Everyone else had already finished crushing the rest of the magicians and were approaching now that Vali was as good as defeated.
"Oh, how the tables have turned, eh Vali? We'll be questioning you quite thoroughly on Khaos Brigade's operations and sympathizers within our ranks." Azazel laughed at the defeated Vali, who simply smirked in return.
"I wonder about that."
The next instant, the space around Vali rippled and tore open.
"I'm here to pick you up, Vali." A blonde, bespectacled man with regal European features appeared in the spatial rift with a golden western sword that gave off a dangerous reiatsu in his hand.
"Arthur? I thought they were sending Bikou?" Vali seemed surprised to see him, and from their conversation, it seemed that someone else was supposed to help Vali escape from here if things went south.
"It was deemed too dangerous for Bikou to come to pick you up considering the number of enemies, so they sent me instead."
"Ah geez, Caliburn is also in the hands of the enemy? It's just one bad thing after another. You must the descendant of King Arthur, right?"
What!? This guy is the descendant of the most famous king in the world!?
"Correct. I am Arthur Pendragon, the descendant of the Exalted King Arthur of Camelot."
Vali was pulled to his feet by the blonde man, Arthur Pendragon. Slowly, the rift began to close around them.
"Hey, wait-" I rose to my feet and tried to approach but Azazel stopped me.
"Stop, if you get any closer, you'll be pulled into the rift as well. It's probably connected to Khaos Brigade's headquarters, so unless you want to try fighting the Ouroboros Dragon, I suggest you stay back."
…Dammit. I knew that I wouldn't stand a chance in my weakened state, and judging by how everyone's been talking about this Ophis, I wouldn't stand a chance even at my best. It was mortifying, but we had to let them escape.
The rift closed around them, and the two vanished from view. However, Vali's voice reverberated throughout the campus even after he had vanished from sight.
"This time, I'll acknowledge this as my loss. However, I will get stronger. Be prepared, Kurosaki Ichigo, I will defeat the next time we meet. So, don't lose to anyone else before that."
"…When you return, I'll be ready. The one who will win is me."
I had no idea if he heard me, and frankly, I didn't have the energy to care. I dismissed the Scale Mail, not wanting to keep it on any longer in my current state lest it began to adversely affect my body.
I tried to get up, but immediately fell over and would have hit the ground face-first if Yuuto hadn't caught me.
"Yo, good work."
"You too. All the magicians have been successfully repelled?"
"Yeah. Miraculously, there was no damage to the outside, so after we clean up the mess we made here, we're good."
"Yeah, that really is nothing short of a miracle."
As I took a rest from that hectic battle, everyone else started removing the enemy corpses that piled up during the battle and repairing the damage to the school.
"Azazel, I meant to ask you earlier, what happened to your arm?" Sirzechs-san asked as he repaired the holes I made when I crashed through the new school building. He gestured for Asia to come over to heal Azazel. Asia placed her hands over Azazel's stump and the familiar green light closed the wound, but failed to restore the arm itself.
"This? Cattleya tried to kill me with a kamikaze attack, so I had to cut it off."
"I see…The Old Maou faction is a problem on our side. I'll find a way to make up for that wound."
Sirzechs-san bowed in apology and suggested a form of compensation, but Azazel waved it off.
"You don't have to. Vali on my side also caused a lot of trouble. Geez, I seriously didn't think that guy would pull out Juggernaut Drive so soon."
"…So the Hakuryuukou is now a member of Khaos Brigade."
"Well, in the first place, that guy is someone who is obsessed with power. I should have seen it coming from the beginning, since I know him best. It's my responsibility that he ended up making such a mess of the conference." Azazel shook his head with an expression of regret on his face. So, he and Vali were close?
"I must return to Heaven at once to work on our plans for peace, and also countermeasures against Khaos Brigade."
"Yes, a new faction led by the Ouroboros Dragon cannot be ignored. Our forces must be bolstered immediately." Michael-san and the old man walked up to their fellow leaders and joined in the conversation.
"Sorry. I was the one who arranged the conference this time. For it to be attacked by terrorists…"
"No, Sirzechs, there's no need to apologize. I'm simply glad that the Three Factions and Soul Society have joined each other on the road to peace. With this, the meaningless squabbles between us should finally cease as well."
"Well, the ones who disagree with that will probably betray us too."
"It's inevitable. We've spent millennia despising each other. That will not change so easily. However, I believe that time will come soon. The problem now is the threat of Khaos Brigade."
"Then, let us cooperate and find a way to resolce this matter."
The other leaders nodded at Sirzech-san's words.
"Well then, I will return to Heaven. I'll try to come back as soon as possible, so let's properly form our alliance at that time."
"Michael-san, before you leave, could you hear out my request?"
"What is it, Kurosaki Ichigo-kun? If it's within my power, I'll try my best to fulfill it."
"The system that God created works in such a way that Devils like Asia and Xenovia receive damage when they pray, right?"
"Yes, that was preset in the system, so even with God gone, that still functions normally. What about it?"
"Is it possible to modify the system to allow them to pray without taking damage?"
Michael-san, Asia and Xenovia looked surprised at my words, but Michael-san chuckled.
"I understand. If it's only two, I should be able to do something. Asia, Xenovia, you two understand, right? Our Lord is gone. Even so, do you two still wish to pray?"
"Yes, even if the Lord is no more, I still wish to pray."
"Me too. I wish to give thanks to our Lord, to Michael-sama."
Michael-san smiled at their responses.
"Very well, I'll modify the system as soon as I return. Having two Devils praying to our Lord should be quite interesting."
"Alright, with this, you two can pray without any problems." Even if God is gone.
"Ichigo-san!" Asia cried as she hugged me.
"Ah, hey, I'm already about to collapse here!"
"Ichigo, thank you, really." Xenovia also expressed her gratitude with watery eyes.
"Ah geez, don't get all weepy on me." I patted both of them on their heads.
"Michael-sama, about the aforementioned matter, I trust you to keep your word." Yuuto also addressed Michael-san.
"Yes, I swear on this Holy-Demonic Sword you have gifted to us that we will never victimize anyone again in the Holy Sword Project."
So, Yuuto managed to wrangle that promise out of Michael-san? That's great. The Holy Sword Project was just too tragic to ever have a repeat.
"Michael, I'll leave the explanation to the guys from Valhalla to you, since I'm not trusted outside of the Three Factions either."
"Yes, since the words of the Governor of the Fallen Angels and a Maou have little persuasive power. I'm already accustomed to reprting to God after all."
Michael-san and the Angels vanished in a flash of light, returning to Heaven. Meanwhile, Azazel addressed his subordiantes.
"I have chosen to follow the path of peace. The Fallen Angels will no longer fight the Angels or the Devils. Those of you who are dissatisfied with this, you can leave. However, I will show you any mercy when we next meet. Only those who wish to follow me from here on out should stay."
"We live for the sake of Governor Azazel until the day we perish!"
Without any hesitation, the Fallen Angels cried out as one. Azazel responded with a smile. This guy…even though his attitude is questionable, he's an incredible leader after all.
One by one, the Fallen Angels, as well as the Devils, left via magic circles, returning to the Underworld, leaving only a few of us behind.
"I'll leave the clean up to Sirzechs and Gotei 13. I'm already tired, so I'll be taking my leave."
A magic circle appeared beneath Azazel, but he turned his head back.
"Oh yeah, Kurosaki Ichigo, I plan to stick around for a while, so I'll help the half-vampire kid control his Sacred Gear. Seeing a Sacred Gear being mishandled like that only irritates me.
"Heh, so the White desires power to destroy, and the Red desires power to protect. Both desires are so simplistic that it's shocking."
Ignoring me and muttering to himself, Azazel left via his magic circle.
Those words, they had to be jokes, right?
"And so, I'll be the teacher-in-charge of this Occult Research Club. Call me Azazel-sensei. Governor-sama works fine too."
Wearing a tacky suit, Azazel sat idly in Buchou's usual seat in the clubroom and addressed us casually as we walked in.
"…Why are you here?"
Buchou pinched her temples as she asked in a tired voice.
"Serafall's sister said it was fine, so here I am. Heh, I still got it, schoolgirls can't resist my charm."
"Nonsense! Why would Sona allow this!?"
"Well, I heard it was because Sirzechs ordered her to."
Sirzechs-san, what are you thinking!?
"…Say, how did that arm grow back?" I noticed that Azazel's cut off arm was back in place and grew curious.
"This? Nah, it's just a mechanical arm I made during my Sacred Gear research. It's outfitted with lasers and tiny missiles. I always wanted to use this, so I equipped it the moment I got back."
Azazel detached his arm that flew around the room, propelled by jet propulsion.
"Well, the conditions for letting me stay here is that I help the Sacred Gear possessors in Rias Gremory's peerage improve. Well, I am the expert on Sacred Gears after all. The power of the Welsh Dragon will be needed to battle Khaos Brigade. Plus, I'm the one who knows best how to counter the Hakuryuukou's power. According to our investigations, Vali had his own group in Khaos Brigade. It doesn't have an official name, so we're just calling them the Hakuryuukou Team, though the only confirmed members so far are Vali and Arthur Pendragon."
"Is it likely that he or the Old Maou faction will return to attack us again?"
"Probably not any time soon. The Old Maou faction failed to assassinate even one of the leaders, even though they had a golden opportunity. Now that we're aware of them, we won't be dropping our guard against them. As for Vali, you defeated him at his full power quite soundly, though you also received equally terrible injuries. You heard him yourself, right? He said he was going to train before fighting you again. I don't think I need to tell you, but if you tried fighting him in the future in your current state, you'll probably be defeated."
"…Yeah. I only won because I stole a fragment of Albion's power."
"That's one of the reasons, yes. Speaking of that, can you still use Albion's power?"
"Hm…it'll heavily drain my reserves and stamina when I summon it and drain me even more when I actually use it. The energy consumption is around thirty times that of a Getsuga Tensho."
"It can't be helped, since Albion is the source of that power, without him present, the energy consumption is much higher. There are still two more reasons why you will lose. The first is your Bankai. I notice you didn't use it during the fight with Vali. If you did, you could have won without having to resort to stealing Albion's power. But rather than you didn't, it's more likely it's that you couldn't, am I right?"
"…That's right. My current body isn't resilient enough to withstand the strain of both Bankai and Balance Breaker at the same time."
"We're going to have to work on that. Bankai will be invaluable in fighting not only Vali, but the other members of Khaos Brigade as well."
"You mentioned there's another reason?"
"Yeah. Juggernaut Drive. Vali isn't aware that you cannot control your own Juggernaut Drive due to the influence of your inner Hollow. If that's the case, he'll probably train in order to overcome even the Juggernaut Drive of the Sekiryuutei."
…Not good. It's unlikely he can reach that level in a short period of time, but if he did reach that level, I'd be killed instantly the way I was now. I need to step up my training.
"Oh yeah, if you're going to help us Sacred Gear possessors, can't you do something about Gasper? Since he has the most problematic one. That time-stopping ability is pretty useful, but it's basically useless right now because he can't control it without help."
"W-W-W-W-Wait, Senpai!? What are you saying!?" Gasper's muffled panicked voice could be heard from inside his usual cardboard box.
"I could, but it's useless if he's alone, since we don't know the capabilities of most of the members of Khaos Brigade."
That's true, Forbidden Balor View is filled with weaknesses, the main being that it can't be used if Gasper's vision is sealed.
"Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah! I'm sorry for being so useless! But, I'll get better, so please don't abandon meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!"
Gasper started crying while huddling in his box. If you want to improve, then you should start by getting out of that hikikomori phase.
"Hey, Holy-Demonic Sword kid, how long can you maintain Balance Breaker?"
"Hm? Currently, one hour is my limit."
"That's no good. You never know what kind of opponents you'll face, so you have to be able to maintain for at least three full days. Kurosaki Ichigo, what about you?"
"Huh? I never really tried to measure my time limit…Hey Ddraige, how long can I stay in Balance Breaker in my current state?"
[At full reserves and stamina, you can maintain the Scale Mail for around two months, assuming you don't use Albion's power.]
"Two months huh? Good, that's twice as long as Vali."
Vali can only sustain Balance Breaker for a month? Even though he's been training longer than me?
[Not everyone has absurdly huge reserves and stamina like you, partner.]
Next, Azazel turned to Akeno-san.
"Do you still hate us…or rather, Baraqiel?"
"I have no intention of forgiving him. It's his fault that mother is dead."
"Akeno, when you became a Devil, he didn't say anything."
"That's obvious. He doesn't have the right to say anything to me."
"That's not what I meant…No, I suppose I shouldn't be intruding on the affairs of a father and child."
"I don't acknowledge that man as my father!"
"…I see. But, I don't think it's a bad thing that you joined the Gremory Clan. If it had been any other Clan, what would Baraqiel think?"
"…" Akeno-san pursed her lips, a complicated expression on her face. I felt a bit awkward listening to their conversation, considering its personal nature.
"Oi, Kurosaki Ichigo…actually, calling you by your full name all the time is pretty tiring. You mind if just call you Ichigo? You said that you desired peace, but as long as Khaos Brigade is around, you have no choice but to fight."
"Yeah, as I much as hate to say it, I'm already used to having to fight. Though, my current level isn't good enough to take on the boss."
"Well, leaving Ophis aside, you could probably match any mortal enemy. The problem would be God-Class opponents, since we don't know if there are any Gods supporting Khaos Brigade from the shadows. But don't worry, summer vacation is coming up, so we'll use that to properly train."
Ah, now that I think about it, the first semester's almost over.
"All of us must become stronger."
"That's right. It never hurts to get stronger than you are now. By the way, I heard that there'll be a meeting between the exceptional young Devils that have yet to make their debut in the Rating Games, and that you're included." Azazel asked Buchou.
"Yes, the 72 Pillars and other Extra Clans send the promising young Devils to compete with each other in mock matches."
"Is it okay to be thinking of games when we're on the verge of war?"
"Actually, I encourage it. Battling in the matches will enable the young Devils to gain a bit of experience first before they're thrown onto a battlefield filled with an assortment of opponents. There hadn't been a good way to train young Devils until the matches were established. I have to hand it to Sirzechs and the current government, they're quite crafty."
I'm dubious as to how regulated games can prepare us for actual fights, but it's better than being thrown onto a battlefield with no experience whatsoever.
"Well, don't worry, I'll properly teach you guys how to draw out your full power. And there're plans to have matches in the middle of training. According to Sirzechs, it'll be done in a Rating Game style format. It's gonna be fun."
Why are you looking forward to it more than the rest of us are?
"Kukukuku. Boosted Gear that's undergoing an unexpected evolution, the Holy-Demonic Sword that was thought to be impossible, and the rare Forbidden Balor View, I'll make sure to bring out their full potential." Azazel laughed dangerously, evoking a sense of dread in me.
Of course, that was nothing compared to the dread I've been feeling since the conference.
"Don't resist. I'll give you all the power in the world, if you let me."
Even now, the voice I heard still haunts me. I looked at the Vorpal Sword propped up against the couch.
What on earth was that repulsive darkness?
"So that's how it is. Sorry for the trouble, Shemhaza, but it looks like I'll be staying in this town for a while."
"Understood, Azazel. However, there are some who have a similar mindset as Kokabiel. They have no desire for peace at all."
"It's fine. It doesn't matter. Rather, I'm worried about you. Your kid will be born soon, right?"
"Cherish that Devil wife of yours. She's a good woman, staying with you for so long despite the fact that she may be targeted. Your child will help to bridge the gap between Devils and Fallen Angels."
"It would have been fine I was the only one resented…! But, for you to be resented too…!"
"It's fine. I'm used to resentment. Tell Baraqiel I'll take care of the matter of Akeno too. I'll shoulder everything upon these twelve black wings. You just shut up and follow me like always, Shemhaza."
"…Yes, my master!"
"And that concludes the report from Michael-dono of Heaven, Odin-sama."
"Those youngsters have sprung back up. That was a bold move for Michael, pretending to be God."
"What shall we do? It was unexpected that the Biblical God is dead."
"Geez, the youngster Michael, a fake Lucifer, and the brat Azazel. It's turned into a gathering of naughty kids. Still, I suppose they'll be fine with Shigekuni around."
"Shall we show them the power of the Asgards, the true Gods?"
"Don't be foolish. Shigekuni is not someone I can defeat with my rickety old body. And I'm not suited for war anymore. Still, the earnestness of the young Devils is quite interesting. Perhaps I'll go watch one of their Rating Games."
"It does seem quite interesting, doesn't it?"
"It does seem fun. The struggling of the kids who have lost their God…I wonder how they'll turn out."
The day before summer vacation officially began, right after the closing ceremony for the first semester, I returned to the apartment to find a big surprise.
"We'll be imposing on you from today onwards."
Akeno-san and Xenovia were outside the door, luggage in their hands.
"Ichigo-kun, I, Akeno, have arrived to your side!" Akeno-san clung tightly to me, refusing to let go.
"A-Akeno-san…!" I protested to no avail as she continued to hug me tightly. Behind me, Buchou and Asia were looking at us with scary expressions. Buchou shook her head.
"It's Onii-sama's orders. Akeno, Yuuto, Koneko, Xenovia and Gasper will be living with us from now on. Yuuto, Koneko and Gasper will come later once they've packed their belongings."
Apparently, Sirzechs-san suggested this for the purpose of improving the relationship between the members of the peerage. Buchou protested, but Sirzechs-san was adamant about this.
"Ufufufu, Ichigo-kun, I'll be joining you in bed tonight. There are a lot of things I want to do with you."
"Asia, is it fine if I share a room with you?" Xenovia asked Asia, who was too busy glaring at us with watery eyes to answer.
"That's not possible, Akeno-san. The right to sleep with Ichigo belongs to me." Restia said as she pulled my ear.
"Ufufufu. I see, it appears that I'll have to fight you for it." Akeno-san generated lightning in her hands.
"Fufufu, as you wish." Restia created a sword of darkness in her hand in response.
"Will all of you just sleep in your own beds and let me sleep in peace for once!?"
My scream echoed through the apartment, though it didn't appear that anyone was listening.
I just want my peaceful life back…
…At that time, I wished for peace. I was too naïve after all. I had no idea that another was brewing, and that all of us were about to be dragged into it.
(In Hueco Mundo)
"Well, how do you feel, Ulquiorra Cifer? Has the stiffness in your body disappeared?"
"No answer? That's fine with me. I did not summon you for meaningless banter. I have a task for you."
"Head for the human world and launch an attack on Kurosaki Ichigo. Kill him if you want…or rather, if you can."
"Hmph, still resenting the idea of serving me, is he? That's fine. Our millennia-old plan will finally come to fruition tonight. I wonder how you will react to my return, Yamamoto Shigekuni?"
And I'm done!
I was somewhat okay with this chapter, except for the fact that I couldn't give Gotei 13 much of a role here. Oh well, that's what the original arc coming up next is for.
I honestly have no idea how many chapters the next arc will take up, but it will be split into three parts: the first attack, the second attack and the final battle. I suppose the first attack won't take too long, but you never know.
Next update is for Black Joker.
That's all for now. As always, please read and review.