Issei was silent as he and the others sat waiting in the Occult Research clubroom. He watched Rias take a sip of her tea. Although the crimson-haired princess exuded a relaxed demeanor, Issei could still read the small signs in her posture that made her nervousness apparent.
Today was the day that the Rating Game was to take place. Rias' servants had taken to milling about the room. Some, naturally, appeared more nervous than others. While Akeno was drinking tea in an attempt to soothe her nerves; Koneko was adjusting the straps of her fighting gloves every few minutes. Meanwhile, Kiba was polishing his sword, twitching every so often in anticipation.
All of them save Asia and Chiho were wearing their school uniforms. The blonde girl had instead chosen to wear her old nun habit while the brunette had simply worn her casual clothing.
And it was these two who were the most agitated. Asia was currently curled up in a chair, muttering small prayers to herself and flinching from the burning headache she received for her trouble. Meanwhile, Chiho was fidgeting about in her seat and glancing about the room worriedly.
It was only when the brown-haired girl began to breathe erratically that Issei finally decided to speak up. "All of you. Relax." he said firmly.
"We've only been training a week," Asia murmured. "These people have been participating in and winning Rating Games for years."
"How are we supposed to beat someone who's immortal?" Chiho asked helplessly.
"If that's your mentality going into battle, then you've already lost," Ashiya said sternly. "There is always a path to victory. This battle is no different."
"While the Phenex clan possesses near instant regeneration, it is not without its limits," Issei nodded. "There are two ways of defeating them. Rias?"
"The first would be to outlast him," the crimson-haired princess said quietly. "While he heals near instantaneously, his stamina is not limitless. If we can force him to regenerate enough times, he'll end up exhausting himself."
"That strategy is only viable if most of you survive until the very end," Issei explained. "With a barrage of attacks from multiple directions, you will be able to wear him down."
"The second method would be to break his spirit," Ashiya said. "If he doesn't have the will to keep fighting, he will be unable to regenerate. He will most likely surrender in this scenario."
"How are we supposed to break his spirit?" Asia asked quietly.
"That, I do not know." Issei admitted. "You would have to ask Rias. She knows him far better than I."
The redhead was silent as they all turned to her. After several moments, she spoke up.
"Raiser is a cold and arrogant man," Rias said softly. "The only way to break his spirit would be to utterly crush him in battle."
"So… we really only have one way to beat him," Kiba muttered. "We have to defeat his entire peerage. Survive until the very end… and defeat Raiser himself."
It seemed that the conversation had only caused the feelings of hopelessness in the room to amplify.
"You have one element in your favor," Suzuki spoke up, drawing everyone's attention to her. "The element of surprise. Raiser is, as you said, an arrogant man. He will underestimate you. You must use that to your advantage."
"You will have to defeat his forces before swiftly and decisively before they have a chance to respond." Just then, the door to the clubroom opened and two figures stepped inside.
"Sona-kaicho? Tsubaki-fukukaicho?" Chiho questioned. "What are you two doing here?"
"There's going to be a live broadcast so that our families can watch," Rias explained to her. "Sona and Tsubaki are responsible for broadcasting it."
"That, and it's Rias' first Rating Game," Sona said in an even tone. "I wouldn't miss this for anything."
"Scouting your future competition?" the redhead questioned, smirking at her. The corners of Sona's lip quirked upward, but she didn't reply.
Suddenly, a magic circle appeared on the floor, shattering the jovial atmosphere that Sona's arrival had brought. Slowly, a figure emerged from the light.
Issei's eyes widened, his jaw nearly dropping in shock. Ashiya appeared similarly stunned.
It was a young woman in her early twenties, with silver-colored hair and matching eyes. Her long hair flowed all the way down to her waist, with two braids framing either side of her face. She wore a blue and white French maid outfit, with long sleeves and a white headband.
"Lucinda?" Issei muttered in shock. The woman was taken aback by his reaction. Her surprised expression lasted only a moment before her eyes narrowed at him.
"Lucinda…?" Rias asked in confusion. "Who is that? This is Grayfia, my brother's wife and «Queen»."
"I see," the brunet murmured. He shook his head, as though to clear his head of unbidden thoughts. "I apologize. I mistook you for someone else."
The crimson-haired girl looked like she wished to inquire further, but shook her head and turned towards Grayfia once again. "It's time, then?"
The silver-haired maid broke her stare on Issei and turned to address Rias. "Yes, in a few moments, we will use this magic circle to transport you and your peerage to the battlefield."
"Ano…" Chiho began, raising her hand. "Where exactly is the battlefield?"
"It will take place in a neutral alternate space, specifically created for this Rating Game," Akeno told her. "Because it's not real, we are allowed to cause as much collateral damage as necessary. We could even burn it to the ground if we wanted to..."
'S-Scary…!' Chiho flinched, as the black-haired girl smiled with a dark gleam in her eye.
"We will be broadcasting the game from the student council room," Sona said. "We'll be cheering you on from there as well. Good luck, Rias."
"Thank you, Sona," the crimson-haired girl nodded.
"Believe in yourselves," Issei said to them, as he and his servants stood to follow them. "Trust and support one another. Cover each other's weaknesses. And above all else, never lose hope."
"We won't." Rias said firmly. "We'll see you after the game, Issei-kun."
Each of his servants gave their own parting advice to their respective pupils before following him and Sona out the door.
"Tell me, Issei-san," the glasses-wearing girl asked quietly as they began their trek towards the student council room. "Do you believe that Rias can beat Raiser?"
"Oh?" Issei questioned, a small smirk on her face. "Is that doubt I hear in your voice, Sona-senpai?" He chuckled as her face flushed momentarily. "They've come far in the week they've had. We'll have to just wait and see."
"I see…" Sona said softly as they entered the student council room. "Thank you for helping her. She's going to need all the help she can get."
"We're going to set up the broadcast now," Tsubaki told them. "You may sit wherever you like."
They did so. The student council room was much larger than the Occult Research Room, giving them plenty of room to spread out and find a good spot to watch the television, where the match would be shown.
Issei looked up at the screen. Rias and her servants were shown still sitting in the clubroom. It seemed that the game would be taking place in an exact replica of the academy.
They found the fallen angels gathered around a loveseat near the window. "I hope they haven't been giving you too much trouble," the brown-haired boy remarked as he sat down next to his girlfriend.
"Sona's made sure everyone knows we're in your custody," Calawarner explained. "Nobody wanted to challenge her authority here at the academy, so we should be fine."
Mittelt, meanwhile, raised an eyebrow. "The game's taking place here?" she questioned. "Wouldn't that give Rias a tactical advantage?"
"It was Raiser-sama's suggestion," a voice explained to them. The group turned to see Grayfia entering the room, staring at them with a stoic expression on her face.
"He said, and I quote 'I wish for her to feel at home when I utterly crush her.' Unquote."
"What a prick," Mittelt muttered.
Grayfia turned her gaze towards Issei. "You are Hyoudou Issei, correct?"
"Indeed." He nodded. "And you are Grayfia Lucifuge, the Silver-Haired Queen of Annihilation?"
"That I am," the silver-haired woman said, her eyes narrowed. "Now, tell me. How is it that you know my elder sister?"
"Hm? I don't know what you're talking about," Issei shrugged.
"Do not play games with me," Grayfia said sharply. "How is it you know the name Lucinda Lucifuge? She was banished from our clan centuries before I was born. She was erased from history - my family made sure of that. How is it you know that name?"
"I must ask you to refrain from speaking to our master that way," Tamamo said coolly.
Grayfia glanced at the girl, her fox ears in particular, before looking back at Issei. "Who are you…?" she questioned, her voice considerably calmer. "To have gathered legends into your service? You have fallen angels serving under you. Even Maou-sama speaks highly of you. I can only wonder… why is that?"
"Let's just say that Sirzechs and I have quite a history together," Issei said dismissively. "Now, don't you have a Rating Game to referee? It looks like they've already finished discussing their battle strategy. They're waiting for you to announce the start of the match."
Grayfia glanced up at the screen to see Rias, Raiser, and their respective peerages waiting impatiently for the game to start. She looked back at Issei with an expression that clearly said 'this isn't over'.
The silver-haired woman walked over to a nearby intercom and began to speaking into it. Meanwhile, Tamamo turned to Issei, a single eyebrow raised.
"Lucinda Lucifuge?" she questioned.
"Who is she?" Mordred demanded. Issei ignored them, instead sharing a concerned look with Ashiya.
"Issei-sama," he began. "Do you think she...?"
The brunet boy shook his head.. "We'll talk about it later," he said, his mouth set into a thin line. His servants gave him one last look before turning back to the television screen.
"I apologize for the delay." Grayfia's voice spoke over intercom. "This is an unofficial Rating Game between Raiser Phenex and Rias Gremory."
"Looks like they're finally ready to start," Rias muttered. "I wonder what took so long."
"As you can see, the battlefield for this game will be an exact replica of Kuoh Academy, a private school in Japan. Rias Gremory will be based at the Occult Research Clubroom in the old school building. Raiser Phenex will be based at the principal's office in the new school building. The game will end when a «King» is either defeated or surrenders. Devils, prepare yourselves! The Rating Game starts now!"
"This is it," Rias said, standing up. She looked at each and every one of her servants. "Issei-kun and his allies spent an entire week making us stronger. We're not going to disappoint them."
"You all know the plan, now let's go and win!"
"Interesting…" Ashiya murmured as they watched several of Raisers «Pawns» rapidly approaching a waiting Kiba, Koneko and Akeno. "She intends to lure them into a trap?"
"A logical plan," Issei said. "Normally, someone with as few servants as Rias would be unwilling to risk so many pieces this early on in the game. Raiser will not be expecting such a strong opposition."
'Let's just hope that they can keep this up.'
"Raiser Phenex's three «Pawns» have retired." Grayfia's voice said coolly over the intercom.
"Excellent," Rias nodded. She turned towards Chiho and nodded. "You're up next, Chiho. Koneko will meet you in the gym."
"Okay," the brunette girl said quietly. Rias watched her slowly stand up, her legs noticeably shaking. Rias frowned at her.
"Chiho," the redhead said firmly, causing the younger girl to flinch. The Gremory heiress stood from her desk and strode over to her. Chiho flinched once again as Rias raised her arms…
…and pulled her into a hug. "Everything will be fine," Rias said softly. "Believe in yourself." She raised one of her hands and waved it over Chiho's head while murmuring something indiscernible.
The shorter girl gasped as she felt a surge of power coursing throughout her body. "W-Wha…?"
"You feel it, right?" the redhead asked with a small smile. "When you first activated your Sacred Gear, I had to seal away a great portion of your power because your body was unable to endure that much stress. That spell was me unsealing a portion of it."
"T-This is… amazing…" Chiho whispered, invigorated by this new strength.
"Now, go," Rias commanded.
"Y-Yes, Buchou…!" the brown-haired girl stuttered before finally being released. She bowed once and made her exit.
"Looks like they've finished protecting their flank," Tamamo noted as Koneko, Kiba and Akeno split up in different directions.
"It seems our lecture on the first day struck a chord with her," Issei smiled. "Rias wants no surprises. That includes «Pawns» sneaking into their base and promoting to «Queen»."
"It looks like the white-haired brat and the top-heavy-shrimp are headed towards the gym now," Mordred said.
"Indeed," Ashiya nodded. "The gymnasium stands at the center of the school. Whomever controls it will have a significant tactical advantage over the battlefield."
"But can they gain control over it?"
"Oh, I think we're in for a real shock," Issei smiled mischievously.
"I-It's pretty dark in here…" Chiho murmured as she entered the gym behind Koneko.
"Scared?" the white-haired girl asked. Chiho shook her head.
"No… I'm just having flashbacks to that time with that exorcist," she whispered.
"It's okay," Koneko said quietly. "I'll protect you."
"Hey, now," the brunette quipped. "It's my job to protect you!"
The nekomata glanced back at her, a single eyebrow raised. "You're weak." She said bluntly.
Chiho fell over. "I know…" she muttered as she picked herself back up. "But, you're my kohai. And as your senpai, it's my job to help and protect you in any way I can."
"I… see," The corner of Koneko's mouth quirked upwards slightly. "Then, I'm in your care, senpai."
"Yosh!" Chiho grinned.
"Oi! Gremory servants!" a voice called out to them. "You're being awfully noisy. In the time you spent chatting, we could have killed you five different ways. Why don't you come out and face us?"
The gymnasium lights suddenly sparked to life, illuminating the entire room. Chiho and Koneko glanced up to see four enemy servants staring at them from across the room, all of them female.
"Hmm," the tallest girl, wearing a Chinese qipao, hummed. "Looks like we've caught two shrimp. What a shame! I was hoping to fight the Lightning Miko or that blond cutie!" She smirked at them. "Well, nice to meet you! My name is Xuelan, Raiser-sama's «Rook»."
A girl with blue hair in pigtails nodded at them. "Mira. I'm a «Pawn»."
"We're Ile and Nel!" two green-haired twins said cheerfully. "We're «Pawns», too!"
"That «Rook»…" Koneko murmured. "Her power is very high. I think she could fight on par with a «Queen»."
"Seriously?" Chiho squeaked. "We really are at a disadvantage, aren't we?"
"Chiho-senpai," the white-haired girl said, as she began tightening her gloves. "Do you think you can keep those «Pawns» busy while I take on that «Rook»?"
"Alright," Chiho nodded, as Boosted Gear appeared on her left arm.
"Stay on your toes, you two," a girl with long black hair called towards her two companions as they walked through the small copse of trees towards the Occult Research Clubroom. "Those brats managed to take out Marion, Bürent and Shuriya. Don't let your guard down."
"Oh, come on, Siris!" one of the girls behind her giggled. She had blue hair and sported a pair of cat ears. "Do you honestly believe they pose that big of a threat to us, nya?"
"Nyahaha!" another girl with red hair and ears cackled. "I'd like to see them try!"
Siris was about to retort, when a familiar sound reached her ears. "Magic circle!" she roared. From behind the trees, a myriad of magic circles had activated, sending bolts of electricity towards them. "Get out of the way!"
"Nya!" one of the girls cried, as she was struck.
"Ni!" her twin shouted, reaching a hand towards her.
"No, you idiot!" Siris screamed from where she had leapt to avoid the lightning strikes. But it was too late. Both girls had left themselves wide open for an attack.
A mere moment later, they were both impaled by a sword. "Sorry about that," Kiba smiled. "But you've gotta do what you've gotta do."
"Raiser Phenex's two «Pawns» have retired."
"Really?" Siris scowled. "How in the hell did those two make it into Raiser-sama's peerage?"
"It goes to show that quantity isn't always better than quality," Kiba chuckled.
"Ara, ara," a sensual voice called out. "You can handle this yourself, right, Kiba-kun?"
"Indeed," the blond boy smiled. "I look forward to seeing how far I've come."
"Ha!" Siris grinned, as she drew her Zweihänder. "Don't get cocky, brat."
"I wouldn't dream of it!"
"Raiser Phenex's two «Pawns» have retired."
"Are you kidding me?" Xuelan growled as she kicked Koneko in the chest, sending the smaller girl skidding away. "Ni and Li lost?"
"Looks like Raiser Phenex's peerage isn't all that it's cracked up to be," the white-haired girl said monotonously, as she dusted herself off.
The Chinese girl scoffed. "Please, those two were only recent additions,"
"And the three «Pawns»before that?" Koneko asked, raising an eyebrow. Xuelan twitched.
"Oh, shut up!" she growled as the two clashed once more.
Across the room Chiho was busy 'handling' the opposing «Pawns».
"Stop running!" one of the green-haired twins shouted, as they chased after the brunette girl with chainsaws.
"Yeah, we just wanna cut you up a little!" her sister agreed.
"You people are insane!" Chiho screamed as she ducked beneath a slash from one of the twins. "Stay away from me!"
"Don't be such a pussy!" one of them shouted. "Mira, stop her!"
Chiho barely had time to react, as the blue-haired girl suddenly appeared in front of her with a bō staff in her hands. "Crap!" Just as Mira thrust her staff at her, Chiho leapt high into the air, far higher than any normal human would have been capable of.
"No way," Mira muttered in shock. "Raiser-sama said that she became a devil less than a month ago… That shouldn't be possible…!"
Chiho herself was similarly shocked. 'I-I guess that hellish training with Suzuki-senpai really paid off!'
As she landed, she immediately glanced behind her to see her opponents lining up before her. "Shit, we've got to end this now!" one of the twins exclaimed.
"Or Raiser-sama will be mega-pissed!"
As one, the three «Pawns» raised their weapons and engulfed them in magical flames. Chiho's eyes dilated in fear.
Meanwhile, Koneko grunted, as she barely ducked beneath one of Xuelan's kicks. 'She's fast…!'
"You're pretty good," the Chinese girl complimented her. "But I'm afraid that the games end here."
In an instant, the taller girl crouched down and swept the white-haired girl's feet from under her. Koneko's eyes widened.
It was the same move Morgiana had pulled on her back during their training. But this time, she was prepared. Leaning backwards, she allowed the momentum to carry her farther than her opponent had intended. She then threw both hands in front of her and used that same momentum to flip away from the taller girl.
"Wow, you are pretty good," Xuelan remarked. "What's your name?"
"Toujou Koneko," the white-haired girl replied evenly. "You're pretty good yourself…" She lowered herself into a stance. "But fortunately for me, you're not as good as Morgiana-senpai."
Xuelan didn't reply. She instead charged at the younger girl, leapt into the air and launched a flying kick. Koneko saw this coming, however, and caught the older girl, tossing her across the room.
"And you're not nearly as fast, either," Koneko finished.
"Ha!" the Chinese girl chuckled, as she regained her balance. "You're not exactly a speeding train either, shrimp."
Koneko's eyes narrowed. "We'll see about that," the she muttered, allowing her eyes to flutter shut.
"Oi, what the hell are you doing?" Xuelan's indignant voice was ignored, as the nekomata began focusing.
'Feel the flow of energy… allow it to pool around me…'
"You should never take your eyes off your opponent, shrimp!"
'Then, release it all at once!'
It happened so quickly. Xuelan didn't even see her move. Her only warning was a sound akin to a sonic boom before her stomach erupted in pain. One moment, the white-haired girl was standing across the room; then the next, she was burying her fist into the taller girl's abdomen.
Blood spouted from the Chinese girl's mouth, as she was sent hurtling across the room and clear through the wall of the gymnasium.
Koneko's eyes widened upon seeing this. "Crap!" she exclaimed. "We were supposed to keep them inside!"
However, as she made to go retrieve the taller girl, she suddenly collapsed. Koneko let out a shriek of pain, as she felt the muscles in her legs being torn to shreds.
"What the hell happened?!" Mittelt asked in shock, as they watched Koneko writhing in agony on the television screen.
"That idiot…!" Tamamo whispered. Her hand was covering her mouth as she watched with horrified eyes. "I told her she wasn't ready to try Prana Burst, yet! Her muscles aren't used to being saturated with that much chakra!"
"You had an entire week!" Mordred growled. "Did you spend it twiddling your thumbs or something?" The kitsune glared at her murderously.
"She wasn't comfortable enough to start practicing until two days before the game," Tamamo snapped. "I know you're unfamiliar with this concept, but there's something called 'consideration towards others'."
"Enough," Ashiya broke in. "What's done is done. Getting angry won't solve anything."
Issei placed a hand on Tamamo's shoulder and began rubbing circles with his thumb in an attempt to calm her. "I know you're worried about her," he said softly. "But just wait for the time being. We'll go and see her after the match ends."
The fox-girl sighed, but leaned into his touch nonetheless. "Yes, Master."
"Koneko-chan!" Chiho shouted, as she saw the younger girl collapse.
"Keep your eyes on your opponent!" Mira exclaimed, as she swung at the brunette with her flaming staff.
'Damn it!' Chiho thought furiously. 'I need to take these three out! But how?!'
Suddenly, a thought came to her. "But… can I do it…?"
"Can you do what?" one of the twins asked, revving her chainsaw.
"Give up? 'Cause that would be the best option at this point!" the other twin mocked.
Chiho ignored their insults and instead began focusing her energy. 'Just imagine energy being pulled from my core…'
"Then, imagine what I want to happen…" she murmured. "Concentrate… concentrate…!"
"Crap, I think she's gonna use magic!" one of the twins shouted.
"We've gotta take her out now!" the other agreed. As one, all three «Pawns» began charging at her, their weapons raised high.
"Concentrate…" Chiho whispered, as the image of a powerful wind slamming the three girls into the wall surfaced in her mind. "Now!"
She lashed her arms forward.
In an instant, a powerful gust came forth, shredding the three girls' clothing, leaving them stark naked in the middle of the school gym.
Chiho watched numbly, as the enemy «Pawns» shrieked in unison. They each fell into a squatting position in an attempt to cover themselves up.
"T-T-This is what you wanted?!" Mira demanded.
"Are you a lezzy?!" one of the twins shrieked.
"Don't they call it 'yuri' here?" the other questioned.
"N-No!" Chiho shouted, waving her arms frantically. "I'm not like that! I'm not into breasts!"
"So you're a pedo-lezzy?!" the first twin was in hysterics at this point. "That's even worse!"
"Stay away from us!" They shouted in unison.
"N-No…" Chiho cried, looking to be on the verge of tears. She glanced to the side and saw Koneko glaring at her, even through her pain. The white-haired girl covered her chest with her arms.
"Yuri-senpai…" the white-haired girl muttered. Chiho twitched, but moved to help her fallen teammate regardless.
"Koneko-chan, are you okay?" Chiho exclaimed, as she lifted the smaller girl's upper body into her arms, being sure to cradle her head carefully. "What happened?"
The nekomata sighed. "I was an idiot…" she said softly. "Tamamo-nee warned me, but I did it anyway…" She shook her head. "You have to go after Xuelan. I accidentally punched her through the wall."
"I'm not leaving you here," the brunette said firmly.
"Go!" Koneko snapped. "I'm just dead weight like this! Our goal is to beat Raiser Phenex. That's all that matters. We need to stick to the plan!"
"No!" Chiho shouted in return, causing the white-haired girl to flinch and look up at her in surprise. "I'm not leaving you behind!"
Koneko stared at her. "…Why?" she asked after a while.
Chiho was silent for several moments before sighing. "It… It's has something to do with my training..."
The brown-haired girl collapsed to her hands and knees, covered in dirt and gasping for breath. A stoic Suzuki stood before her, not a speck of dust on the black-haired girl's clothes.
"W-Why… am I doing this again…?" Chiho coughed, as she resisted the urge to pass out right then and there.
"To make you stronger," Suzuki said coolly. "As you are now, even a fresh genin straight out of the academy could destroy you in a fight."
"Well, sorry for not being some super-ninja," the brunette muttered bitterly.
"Ha!" the raven-haired girl scoffed, crossing her arms. "You think I was any different than you are when I first started? I'll be honest with you, I was probably even worse off than you are right now. But I changed that with hard work and determination."
Chiho looked up at her strangely. "Why?" she asked, after a while.
"Why?" Suzuki repeated, raising an eyebrow. Slowly, a small, almost imperceptible smile made its way to her face. "So that I could protect someone important to me."
"Eh?" the younger girl questioned with a shocked expression on her face.
"Why so surprised?" the kunoichi asked with a bemused smirk.
"Well, I just never pictured ninjas to be like that," Chiho said honestly. "I've always thought of them as cold-hearted killers. And… well…"
"I don't exactly seem like the 'warm and fuzzy' type?" Suzuki finished her statement, a full-blown smirk on her face now. "You'd think that about shinobi these days, wouldn't you? But even among assassins, there is a certain sense of honor; especially in my village."
Suzuki was silent. She seemed to be reminiscing; on a different place… a different time. Finally, after several moments of silence, Suzuki turned to face her. The normally aloof girl's face had become serious… stern, almost..
"Listen, brat," she said. "In my village, there was a single principle held above all else. The Hokage - the leader of my village - made sure to drill it into all of our heads early on in our training."
The black-haired girl stooped down to look her in the eye. "So, if there's one thing I want you to learn from me; it's this," she said. "Those who break the rules are trash, but those who abandon their comrades are worse than trash."
"Suzuki! Chiho!" a voice called out to them. "It's time for dinner! Let's go!"
"Never forget that." The black-haired girl stood and began walking away, leaving a stunned Chiho staring after her.
"Those who break the rules are trash," Chiho repeated firmly, as she hefted Koneko onto her back. "But those who abandon their comrades are worse than trash."
Koneko sighed, but a small smile made its way onto her face. "…fine…" she said as Chiho began half-carrying, half-dragging her out of the gym.
When the two of them were far enough away from the building, they looked up to see Akeno flying high in above it. An enormous magic circle appeared below her, causing a massive bolt of lightning to strike the building. The result was a massive explosion that could be seen for miles.
"Raiser Phenex's three «Pawns» have retired."
"We need to get you back to Asia," Chiho smiled. "Then, we can-"
"Senpai!" Koneko suddenly shouted, her eyes widening. "Watch out!"
"Huh? Wha-" She was cut off, as the tiny girl used her immense upper body strength to hurl her across the schoolyard.
Just as Chiho hit the ground, she heard and felt a large explosion several yards away from her; right where Koneko had been moments earlier.
"Koneko-chan!" Chiho cried out in shock. She rushed towards the newly formed crater and saw the white-haired girl lying motionless amid the rubble. Chiho slid down the small slope and gently lifted the tiny girl in her arms.
"Chiho… senpai…" Koneko murmured, a small smile making its way to her face. "You're a good senpai… and a good friend…"
"Koneko-chan…" Chiho whispered, tears welling up in her eyes.
"Win." The white-haired girl said simply, as her body began to disperse into particles of light.
"Rias Gremory's one «Rook» has retired."
"Ufufu," a voice chuckled from above her. "Queen takes rook."
Chiho numbly tilted her head upward to see a beautiful violet-haired woman floating above her, a staff in her hands.
"Queen takes pawn," she said, pointing her staff directly at Chiho. It seemed that she had frozen up, as simply continued to stare up at her numbly. "Goodbye, «Pawn» of the Gremory."
Unfortunately for her, whatever spell she was planning to cast was cut off, since a bolt of lightning aimed at her chest forced her to dodge.
"Ara, ara," Akeno muttered, as she floated down and glanced at Chiho worriedly. "Are you alright, Chi-chan?"
"Akeno… senpai…" Chiho whispered, her body beginning to shake uncontrollably.
"Chiho!" Rias' voice reverberated through her mind. 'Now's not the time to be freezing up!'
"But… Buchou…" the brunette said, still trembling. "Koneko-chan…"
"Whenever a piece retires from the game, they're transported to the medical ward," Rias said calmly. "Koneko will be fine. You need to focus!"
"Just leave this to me, Chiho-chan," Akeno smiled at her reassuringly.
"Raiser Phenex's one «Knight» has retired."
"It seems that Kiba-kun has finished up on his end. He'll be meeting up with you farther ahead." The black-haired girl winked at her. "Better get going!"
Chiho nodded silently and shakily began running towards the inner courtyard. Akeno watched her go for a moment before returning her attention to her new opponent.
"Ufufu," the violet-haired woman chuckled as fire began dancing within the palm of her hand. "I've wanted to fight you for a long time, Lightning Miko."
"Ara, ara," Akeno giggled as electricity began crackling around her body. "I'm honored you feel that way… Yubelluna… the Bomb Queen."
"Raiser has lost nine servants," Ashiya murmured. "One «Knight» and all of his «Pawns». Whereas Rias has lost one «Rook»."
"That means she's winning, right?" Mittelt questioned.
"If they had started with an even amount of servants, yes," Calawarner said. "But Raiser has so many servants; he can afford to sacrifice them, whereas even one loss for Rias can be devastating."
"I hope Koneko is okay," Yuuma piped in worriedly. Issei glanced at the door. Tamamo had left the moment Koneko retired from the game. Morgiana had followed her at a more sedate pace.
"Toujou-san is being attended to by the best healers from the Gremory and Phenex clans," Grayfia told them from where she was sitting at the intercom.
"And besides, the fox is with her," Mordred said offhandedly. "She's the best healer there is."
"Oh, this is odd," Issei couldn't resist teasing her. "You're complimenting Tamamo, Mordred?"
"Has anyone seen any aerially inclined pigs recently?" Suzuki questioned.
"It was unseasonably cool the last time we visited the Underworld," Ashiya quipped.
Mordred's face flushed as everyone turned on her. "Well, it's not like I hate her," the blonde knight said defensively, before pausing. "Well, maybe just a little bit…" she admitted. "But it's a friendly kind of hate, y'know?"
"That made no sense whatsoever," Mittelt deadpanned.
Issei chuckled slightly as the small group continued their relentless teasing. He glanced up at the screen to see Chiho meeting up with Kiba.
"Kiba-san," Chiho muttered as two met in the inner courtyard. They slowed down to a brisk walk. "Koneko-chan…"
"I know," Kiba said with a grimace. "I heard the announcement. This will really mess up Buchou's plan. But I know we can pull through. Buchou will come up with something."
"It won't matter what she comes up with," a voice called out to them. They turned to see a brown-haired girl wearing an assortment of armor approaching them. "For we will defeat you here. I am the «Knight» that serves Raiser-sama. I am Karlamine!"
Kiba smiled and drew his sword. "I am a «Knight» of the Gremory, Kiba Yuuto."
Karlamine returned his smile. "I am glad you have the courage to face me head-on, Kiba Yuuto," her smile turned into a frown. "However, you have been injured, correct?"
"Kiba-san?" Chiho asked in surprised. The blond boy merely smiled once again.
"That other Phenex «Knight» was a real handful," he said. "She managed to get in a few good shots on my legs before I defeated her."
"I see," Karlamine sighed. "It would be a shame to fight a crippled opponent…"
"Oh, don't hold back for my sake," Kiba's smile turned fierce. "I may just surprise you."
"Ha!" Karlamine laughed as she drew her own sword. "I like you, Kiba Yuuto! Let us cross blades as proper «Knights»!" And with that the two charged at each other, clashing in the center of the courtyard.
Chiho watched this in slight exasperation.
"How annoying, right?" a voice called out, nearly causing the brunette to squeak in surprise. "That Karlamine is a real battle maniac. It's really uncool."
The brown-haired girl turned to see an older brunette woman standing next to her, a deadpan expression on her face. Or at least, what was visible of her face, since she wore a white opera mask on the right side of it.
"…You're not one of those Phantom of the Opera fan-girls, are you?" Chiho asked warily. The older woman growled.
"No," she snapped. "Why does everyone ask me that?!"
"It's because of that ridiculous mask you wear, Isabela," another voice called out to them. Chiho's eyes widened and she glanced to her left to see a blonde girl with drill-like hair approaching her. "Right, Mihae?"
"Indeed, ojou-sama," yet another voice called out. Chiho slowly turned, a sense of dread forming in the pit of her stomach as she saw a black-haired girl in a kimono step out from behind a nearby pillar.
"There's nothing wrong with my mask!" the first girl growled.
Chiho meanwhile, let out a small gulp. She had been surrounded by three of Raiser's servants. If she recalled correctly the current standings correctly, they had to be his two «Bishops» and one «Rook».
The brunette girl vaguely registered the sound of someone grunting, as Kiba was forced to leap back, and landed next to her.
"It seems we're outnumbered," the blond boy murmured, as he gingerly felt his injured leg.
"And outclassed," Chiho whispered in return. A flash of movement in the corner of her eye caught her attention and she turned to see Akeno and Yubelluna still clashing in the sky. "…But… maybe I can even the odds…"
"You have something in mind?" Kiba questioned. The girl nodded.
"I'm going to help Akeno-senpai," Chiho said. Kiba looked at her in surprise.
"I don't think these girls are going to just let you go to her aid, Chiho-san," the «Knight» said.
"That's where you come in," she replied, staring a hole into the back of Yubelluna's head. "Can you keep them busy for me?"
"For a short time, yes," the blond muttered. "No more than five minutes."
Chiho grinned. "That's plenty of time."
"Argh!" Akeno cried out in pain, as she felt another explosion penetrate her shield. She quickly flapped her wings and flew backwards in an attempt to avoid the brunt of the damage.
Once the majority of the blast had been avoided, the black-haired girl took a moment to glare up at her opponent, as she used one of her arms to keep her tattered clothing from falling off.
"Ufufu," Yubelluna chuckled wearily, as she gazed down at the younger girl. Her own clothing was in just as bad shape as Akeno's. Both girls had an assortment of scratches and burns marring their once flawless skin.
"I wasn't expecting you to pose this much of a challenge, miko," the violet-haired woman stated, giving the young priestess an appraising look. "You would make a fine addition to Raiser-sama's peerage."
"I'd rather stab myself with a Holy Sword than serve that pig," Akeno replied disdainfully.
"That can certainly be arranged," Yubelluna smirked. "Word has it you're quite the masochist. Raiser-sama has been searching for one to add to his harem."
"Let me restate that," the black-haired girl muttered, cold fury building up in her voice. "Raiser Phenex will never come within ten feet of me. And after we defeat him, I'll personally ensure that he is never within the same dimension as buchou!"
"You talk big," the older woman said, watching carefully as Akeno's breathing became more labored the longer their battle dragged on. "But you don't seem to be in any shape to back those words up."
"Ha," Akeno scoffed. "You're hardly one to talk."
"Oh, but aren't I?" Yubelluna's smirk turned ice cold, before she reached into the gap between her breasts and pulled out a small vial. Akeno's eyes widened upon catching sight of it. "You know what this is, don't you?"
"…Phoenix Tears…" the girl whispered.
"I'm sorry, miko," the woman said a smirk still plastered onto her face. "But the games end now-AAARGGH!" Yubelluna cut herself off with a shriek of agony, as something embedded itself into her hand, forcing her to drop the vial.
"No!" she shrieked, as she reached for the falling container…
Only for another hand to deftly snatch it out of her grasp.
"Ara ara," Akeno purred, as she fingered the vial's stopper, a sadistic grin on her face. "You should take better care of your possessions, Bomb Queen."
"Y-You… but… how…?" Yubelluna finally looked to see what had forced her to drop the vial.
It was an arrow, penetrating through her hand completely and emerging on the other side.
"It seems that you've forgotten," Akeno giggled, as she uncorked the vial of Phoenix Tears and downed the liquid inside with a single gulp. She turned her gaze to the courtyard below and smiled warmly. "That this battle is a team effort."
Yubelluna followed her gaze to see Sasaki Chiho, glaring at her furiously. A Japanese bow was in her hand, the string still vibrating from her first shot.
"That girl?!" the woman shouted incredulously. "Sh-She's an archer?!" She immediately attempted to fly out of range, only to find herself stuck in an ironclad grip.
"Ara ara," Akeno smiled a deceptively sweet smile. "Did you think I was going to let you escape?"
Down in the courtyard, Chiho was preparing for another shot.
"That one was for hurting Akeno-senpai," the girl murmured, as she reached back and drew an arrow from her quiver.
Suddenly, her left hand, which was still clasped around her bow, began to glow with a bright green light as Boosted Gear materialized on her arm.
"Remember the steps of kyūdō…" Chiho whispered to herself. "Yugamae… the readying of the bow."
"Uchiokoshi… the raising of the bow…"
"Hikiwake… drawing of the arrow."
[Boost!] [Boost!][ Boost!]
"Shit!" Isabela roared as she charged at the girl. "We've gotta stop her!"
"I don't think so," Kiba intercepted her fist with the flat of his blade.
"Now, Karlamine!" the brunette shouted, prompting the brown-haired swordswoman to begin her own assault. However, Kiba foresaw this and immediately removed the pressure from Isabela's fist, surprising her and causing the brunette to lurch forward.
The blond boy then raised his leg and kicked her in the stomach, forcing her away before pivoting on his heel and intercepting Karlamine's blade with his own, all within a split second of time.
"W-What…?!" the brown-haired swordswoman uttered in shock. "How could you move that fast with your injuries?"
"I just spent the better part of the week getting the utter shit beaten out of me by some of the greatest swordsmen in history," Kiba remarked, with a dangerous smile on his face. "These injuries are nothing." He forced her blade away and resumed his guard on Chiho, his gaze growing fierce.
"Come and try me!" he snarled.
"Kai…" Chiho whispered. "Drawing the arrow across the bow to its fullest extent…"
"This can't seriously be happening…" the drill-haired girl muttered as she stared at Chiho incredulously.
"No!" Yubelluna shrieked, as she began to violently struggle against Akeno, but the black-haired girl's grip remained steadfast. "NO!"
Chiho glared up at the violet-haired woman, her body trembling uncontrollably from the sheer amount of power being contained within her small frame.
"This one is for Koneko, you bitch!" she snarled.
"NOOOOOOOOO!" the violet-haired woman shrieked as Chiho let the arrow fly. With a booming roar, the small projectile suddenly became a whirlwind of red energy as it hurdled at terrifying speed towards the woman.
Akeno barely had enough time to escape being caught up in the blast. All she heard was the purple-haired woman shriek in utter agony. Both sides could only look on in awe as Yubelluna was engulfed in a flurry of draconic energies.
Finally, when the light died down, they watched in stunned silence as the violet-haired woman's defeated form fell to the ground in an undignified heap.
"Ara ara," Akeno smiled, floating down to the broken body of Yubelluna, who stared at her through bleary eyes. "I'm impressed you managed to survive that, Bomb Queen. I thought you would have died for sure."
"I can't… believe it…" the older woman muttered, as her body began to disperse into particles of light. "Pawn takes Queen…? Just… who… was that…?"
"That was Sasaki Chiho, second year high school student," Akeno giggled. "And the current Sekiryuutei."
"The Red Dragon Emperor…?" Yubelluna coughed. "You had… someone like that… all along?"
"Indeed," Akeno smiled. "You could say she was our secret weapon."
"Hah…" the woman muttered. Her body had almost completely faded away now. "It matters not… You cannot defeat Raiser-sama…"
Akeno's eyes narrowed at her. "We'll see about that, Bomb Queen…"
"Raiser Phenex's «Queen» has retired."
"We'll see about that…
Back in the Student Council Room, the spectators were in a frenzy of excitement. "Who knew the brat had it in her?" Mordred let out a loud laugh.
"She never mentioned that she practiced kyūdō," Calawarner stated, amazement in her voice.
"Oh, yes," Issei said, a triumphant smile on his face. "She's actually quite talented. Unfortunately, several years of being unable to win the national kyūdō championships have left her insecure about her own talents."
"Indeed," the brunet nodded. "She's come in 2nd place three years in a row. Apparently she keeps getting beaten by someone from Fuyuki City. The name escapes me…"
"Truly?" Ashiya murmured. "That person must be a prodigy of sorts. Chiho-kun's form is impeccable."
"Maybe," Mordred grunted, leaning back in her seat. "But it looks like all that boosting really took it out of her."
Indeed. On the screen, Chiho appeared to be barely able to keep herself from collapsing from sheer exhaustion.
"Hmm…" Issei muttered quietly. "This could pose a problem…"
Asia perked up upon hearing the latest announcement over the intercom. "They defeated the enemy «Queen»?" she asked in surprise.
"But of course," Rias smiled, a triumphant look in her eyes. "With the Sekiryuutei on our side, victory is practically assured." The crimson-haired girl stood, causing the younger blond to turn to her in surprise.
Rias turned to her, a new gleam in her eyes. "Let's go, Asia." She commanded. "We strike while the iron is hot. It's time we show Raiser his place."
"A-Are you sure, Buchou?" Asia questioned uneasily. "Raiser still has some of his most powerful pieces on the field."
"And they will fall," the redhead said, her voice absolute. "Now, let's go."
Chiho took a deep, gasping breath as she slowly sank to her knees. Her body still shook from the strain of accumulating so much power within such a short amount of time.
"Quickly, take her out!" the blonde girl shouted. "Now!"
Surprisingly, Karlamine was quick to obey her. "Hai, ojou-sama!"
The female «Knight» quickly charged at the incapacitated girl, only to be intercepted once again by Kiba. The blonde boy grunted as his injured leg was jostled from the clash, but held firm regardless. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Isabela flanking him to reach Chiho.
From across the courtyard, he saw Mihae murmuring under her breath, water magic beginning to gather and flow around her.
'Not good,' Kiba thought frantically to himself.
However, the Phenex «Bishop» was forced to abandon her spell and erect a barrier around herself, as a bolt of lightning suddenly came crashing down from above. Without Mihae to worry about, Kiba was left free to maneuver himself to intercept the oncoming «Rook».
"Ara ara," a familiar, sensual voice giggled from high above them. "It seems you girls have been bullying two of my cute, little kohai."
Kiba shoved the enemy servants away and glanced up to see Akeno descending towards them. "Glad to see you unharmed, Akeno-senpai."
"Ufufu," the black-haired girl giggled and winked at the brunette still catching her breath beside them. "It's all thanks to Chi-chan here. Who knew she had that in her?"
"Certainly not I," the blond smiled. "You were fantastic, Chiho-san."
"T-Thanks," the brown-haired girl muttered. "Now, if you'll excuse me. I think I'll just take a nap now…"
However, Akeno suddenly froze, a frown taking shape on her lovely face. "I'm afraid you'll have to wait for that nap, Chi-chan." She said, as Rias spoke to her through her magic earpiece.
"Eh…?" Chiho questioned, glancing up at her tiredly.
"It seems that Buchou is making her move," the ponytailed «Queen» said quietly. "And she's asked that you join her."
"M-Me?" the brunette gasped. "B-But, why me?"
"She believes that you've earned the right to be at her side when she defeats Raiser," Akeno winked at her. "You put on quite the performance today. You've exceeded all of our expectations."
"B-But I can't just leave you two alone out here!"
"There's no need to worry about us, Chiho-san," Kiba smiled his 'prince' smile. "With Akeno-senpai, cleaning up the remaining servants will be relatively simple."
"Yes," Akeno said, as her eyes gained a strange gleam. Chiho visibly shuddered as she felt a cold chill ride up her spine. The black-haired girl licked her lips as she surveyed her new opponents with barely contained glee. "You go aid Buchou. Leave these lowly servants to me."
"Y-Yes, Akeno-senpai…" Chiho muttered, as she slowly stood and began stumbling her way towards the rooftops, where Rias awaited her.
"Lowly…?" the drill-haired girl repeated, her expression turning dark.
"Ara ara," Akeno giggled. "Did I stutter?"
"You truly have no idea who you're dealing with, do you?" the girl questioned, her face going blank. Her comrades seemed to shuffle about awkwardly as they glanced at one another with nervous expressions on each of their faces.
"Truthfully, no," Kiba said, raising his sword once again.
"But nor do we care." Akeno finished, lightning crackling at her fingertips.
"I see," the blonde girl sighed. "Then you're even bigger fools than I first took you for. Karlamine, Isabela, Mihae. Kill them. I'd rather not get their blood on my dress."
"As you wish, ojou-sama." The three older girls said in near unison.
"I-I'm here, Buchou…" Chiho said, as she stepped out onto the school roof. Before her, were Rias and Asia, with their backs turned towards her. Glancing over their shoulders, Chiho saw Raiser Phenex standing across from them.
However, his once overbearingly arrogant sneer had been replaced with an intrigued expression as he stared them down; Chiho in particular.
"Well, when I suggested this Rating Game, I certainly wasn't expecting the Sekiryuutei to be one of your servants," the blond man said smoothly. "As I'm aware, she's been a devil for less than a month, correct? The fact that she's come this far is a feat in itself."
"Why, thank you, Raiser," Rias said, with a heavily exaggerated bow. "I assure you, that your words of praise mean the world to me."
"Yes," Raiser continued as though she hadn't spoken. "It is quite extraordinary." His face took on a familiar smirk. "She will make a fine addition to my harem. As will the rest of your peerage."
Chiho visibly recoiled in disgust and Rias' face contorted in fury. "You won't lay a hand on them, Raiser," she snarled. "I'll make sure of that personally."
"Ha!" Raiser snorted. "I will be interesting to see you try. Go on, love, put on a good show for me."
"How dare you?!" Rias shrieked as a dark, muddy, aura-like energy began to radiate around her right hand. With a look of fury on her face, the crimson-haired girl hurled the gathered energy at the smug man, who simply watched it hurtle towards him.
Chiho flinched slightly, as he was engulfed in an explosion. Rias frowned tightly, as the smoke cleared. Raiser stood before them, an amused smirk on his face.
"Oh, come, Rias," the man chuckled. "Surely that isn't the best you can do?"
The Gremory heiress let out another enraged snarl as she began hurling more bolts of destruction magic at him. Some of them, Raiser blocked with magic, but most of them he allowed to strike him; only for his regenerative magic to heal him almost instantly.
"Hmm," Raiser said, dusting his clothes off after his body finished regenerating. "Perhaps… the Crimson-Haired Ruin Princess isn't all that she's cracked up to be." He gave her a critical once-over. "I have to wonder… Are you even worthy of being my wife?"
Chiho watched in growing concern as Rias seethed. She was behaving much more irrationally than she normally would. Was this because of Raiser's influence? Or the stress of the game?
"Well, if you're quite done," Raiser continued, his voice somehow becoming even more haughty than it was before. "Then I'll be making the next move."
"Kyaaa!" a high-pitched cry of pain startled both girls. Rias and Chiho both spun around to see Asia slump to the ground.
But what really caused a pit to form in Chiho's stomach was just who exactly was standing over the blonde nun's body.
"Yo," Xuelan grinned. "Did you miss me?"
"HA!" Karlamine grunted as she and Kiba crossed blades once again. The two had been going at it for several minutes now, with neither side able to gain the upperhand.
Across the courtyard, Akeno was attempting to fend off Mihae's magical attacks while dodging Isabela's physical assault.
'These two can work in astonishing harmony,' the black-haired girl thought. She quickly ducked beneath a right hook from Isabela. The «Rook» saw her opening and brought her knee up to slam it into Akeno's face…
But Rias' «Queen» had foreseen this as well. The moment she ducked, she'd also unfurled her wings and used the updraft to carry her backwards.
She heard Kiba grunt and felt him land with his back facing hers.
"Ara, they're better than I thought they'd be," Akeno murmured.
"Do you think we can defeat them?" the blond boy asked.
"Ufufu, I never said we couldn't," the girl replied, a dangerous gleam in her eye. "I just said they performed better than I expected."
"You still mock us?" Karlamine frowned.
"She's bluffing," the drill-haired girl scoffed. "She just can't accept that they've lost."
"Ohoho," Akeno giggled, but her eyes were hostile. "And what makes you say we've lost?"
The blonde girl merely smirked. "This."
"Rias Gremory's one «Bishop» has retired." Grayfia's emotionless voice said over the intercom.
"Your healer is gone," the blonde girl laughed. "And you left your «King» alone with only an exhausted «Pawn» for backup."
"Buchou…!" Akeno whispered.
"Akeno-senpai," Kiba muttered, his grip on his sword tightening. "We need to end this. Now."
"Yes…" the black-haired girl said softly. "We do. I didn't think I'd have to do it, but given the circumstances…"
"Senpai…?" the boy questioned. Akeno smiled mysteriously.
"Just stand back, Kiba-kun," she said, as she slowly began flying upward until she was several meters above ground.
"Prepare yourselves!" the blonde girl barked. Mihae, Isabela and Karlamine began spreading out in anticipation for Akeno's attack.
The black-haired miko raised her arms until they were perpendicular to her body. Her eyes slowly fluttered shut as she began murmuring under her breath. Those below watched with mounting anticipation as lightning began to amass around her body; almost like a second skin.
"Mihae!" the blonde shouted once again. "Take her out, quickly!" The kimono-clad girl nodded and raised her arms to begin channeling a spell…
Only to shriek in agony as a bolt of black lightning fell from the skies. "Mihae!" Isabela roared, but her voice was drowned out by the shrieking whine of electricity as black lightning fell off Akeno's body in waves.
Kiba had run towards a nearby stone overhang the moment Akeno asked him to stand back and could only watch the ensuing chaos in barely concealed awe.
Akeno's body had become a whirlwind of dark electric energy, with lightning erratically lashing out every which way. Those below her had no chance as the black-haired miko unleashed her ultimate attack.
Kiba covered his eyes, as a stray bolt of black lightning struck the ground, throwing an enormous amount of dust into the air. Immediately, the airborne dust was struck by lightning and created gigantic crystalline formations.
Finally, after what seemed an eternity, Akeno's attack faded away and the black-haired girl fell to the ground below.
"Akeno-senpai!" Kiba shouted as he rushed to the older girl's side, carefully weaving his way through the crystal formations.
"Ara, ara," Akeno chuckled weakly as he knelt by her side. "I guess I over did it, huh?"
"What was that?" the blond boy asked in mild awe.
"That is the ultimate technique Ashiya-sensei taught me," she smiled proudly. "The polar opposite of my father's Holy Lightning. It's called Chaos Bolt."
"It was amazing," Kiba shook his head, with a wry smile.
"Well, sensei asked that I only use it in emergencies," Akeno coughed. "As you can see, I takes up nearly all my power just to use it once. I took them out, right?"
"I think Grayfia was just about to announce it."
Right on cue, the silver-haired woman's voice spoke over the intercom.
"Raiser Phenex's one «Bishop», «Rook» and «Knight» have retired."
"Perfect," Kiba smiled. Akeno, however, frowned.
"Wait…" she whispered. "One «Bishop»? But what about-" The black-haired girl was cut off as her body was suddenly engulfed in flames.
Kiba instinctively leapt back in shock. "Akeno-senpai!" he shouted as the older girl's screams of agony slowly faded away.
"Rias Gremory's one «Queen» has retired." Grayfia's voice, somewhat strained, said over the intercom.
"Hmph," a dark voice scoffed from somewhere above Kiba. The blond boy looked towards the voice numbly. He stared in shock as the drill-haired girl flew several yards above him, wings of pure flame jutting from her shoulder blades as she stared down her nose at him.
"Y-You… but… what?" Kiba muttered, staring at her wings.
"Fool," the girl spat. "You truly have no idea who I am, do you? My name is Ravel Phenex."
"Indeed," the blonde girl smiled coldly. "I am a daughter of Clan Phenex. Did you honestly believe I would allow a lowborn monkey like her to defeat me?"
"Don't speak that way about Akeno-senapi," Kiba snarled, snapping out of his daze after hearing the insult to his comrade.
"Oh," Ravel giggled. "The monkey doesn't like it when I insult his friends? You smash me, now? Haha! How primitive."
Kiba seethed as the drill-haired girl belittled him and his precious friends. He drew his sword. "Come down here and face me, coward."
Ravel cocked her head and him. "But why would I do that?" she questioned. "This is good training for you. Once onii-sama finishes with your «King», you'll have to get accustomed to looking up at your superiors."
Kiba opened his mouth to retort, but the blonde girl merely laughed as she slowly descended to the ground. "Oh, calm down." she smirked. "I'll play with you. You'll have to get accustomed to that as well. I can't wait to put you in a dress and march you across the front lawn."
"Perhaps this won't be quite as fun as you envision it," Kiba said lowly, reaching into his pocket and retrieving a small vial. The smirk on Ravel's face didn't disappear, but it faded slightly.
"Oh, you still have your Phoenix Tears?" the blonde asked as Kiba downed the liquid in a single gulp. The blond swordsman smirked as his injuries were healed and shifted his stance.
"I'm just getting started," he growled.
"Good," Ravel said simply as her hands were enveloped in flames. "You'll need all the help you can get."
Kiba said nothing and leapt at her.
"This is bad," Calawarner muttered as they watched Kiba and Ravel clash. Yuuma and Mittelt had left several minutes ago to go see Asia in the medical ward.
"Indeed," Issei murmured. He turned to Ashiya, who simply stared at the screen blankly. "Conversely, I'm impressed that you managed to teach Akeno your Chaos Bolt in such a short amount of time."
"It's easy when the student is eager to learn," the white-haired man said softly. "When I mentioned it was the polar opposite of Baraquiel's Holy Lightning, she was extremely enthusiastic about it."
Issei could easily discern the subtle jab at Rias. "That stubborn streak seems to run in the family, doesn't it?" he asked wryly.
"Her brother was worse, if I recall," Ashiya chuckled slightly. He took a glance at the door; something Issei took note of.
"Worried about your pupil?" he asked. The white-haired man didn't respond. "Then go see her. She'll want to see a friendly face when she wakes up."
Ashiya shook his head. "My place is at your side, Issei-sama."
The brunet rolled his eyes. "Do I have to force you?" he smirked slightly. He turned and exclaimed, "Hey, Calawarner!", causing the white-haired man's eyes to widen. "Be a dear and escort Ashiya to the infirmary, would you?"
The blue-haired woman nodded. She walked over and grasped the man by the arm and began dragging him out the door. Ashiya glanced over his shoulder, throwing his master a look of betrayal before the door was shut behind him.
Issei chuckled for a moment before a glance around the room sobered him once again. Most of its occupants had cleared out to go attend to the Rating Game's casualties. The only ones left watching were himself, Mordred and Suzuki. But, then again, those two were the least likely to go check up on their pupils even if they were defeated.
Sona and Tsubaki were in a corner, speaking to each other in hushed tones and glancing at the screen every few minutes.
Grayfia was still sitting in front of the intercom, ready to announce a winner any moment now. Issei tore his gaze from her and back to the large television screen, where Rias was still bombarding Raiser in a flurry of destruction magic, only to have the man regenerate moments later.
His eyes wandered over to another screen, where Kiba was desperately dodging Ravel's fiery blasts. Finally, his eyes found the smallest screen, where Chiho was getting thrown around like a rag-doll by Xuelan.
Their chances were getting bleaker by the moment.
"This fight is over," Suzuki said in a surprisingly soft voice.
"It was over the minute Rias made her move," Mordred grunted, though it lacked any of its usual bite.
"She pressed the attack far too early," Issei agreed. "But even I wasn't expecting another Phenex to be in Raiser's peerage."
"That is Raiser-sama's younger sister, Ravel Phenex," Grayfia told them. "She is a high-class devil. Though she has little experience, her regenerative abilities and skill with pyrokinetics put her on par with Raiser's «Queen», Yubelluna."
Grayfia turned towards the screens once again and winced. "Rias Gremory's one «Knight» has retired."
"I see," Issei muttered. "A possibility we should have accounted for."
"Too late for 'should-haves'," Mordred said as she slowly stood and stretched. "It's just a matter of 'what now'?"
"Yes," Suzuki muttered. "What do we do now?"
"Nothing." Issei said softly. His servants turned to him in surprise. "Rias made a deal with the Phenex Clan. She has to uphold her end of the bargain. There's nothing more that I can do for her."
"So, that's it?" Mordred asked, crossing her arms. "You're just gonna give up?"
"Believe me, there's nothing more I would like to do than storm in there and defeat Raiser myself," he replied, his voice still muted. "But I have to consider the consequences of such actions. I've kept myself hidden for thousands of years, Mordred."
"Rias Gremory's one «Pawn» has retired."
"Is this really worth sending the Underworld, and on a greater scale, the entire world, into chaos?" Issei asked softly. "I care for Rias, but is it really worth the possibility of damning the world to save her?" His voice trailed off as Sona and Tsubaki rushed out of the room to get to the infirmary.
"Didn't stop you from saving Gabriel." Suzuki said. Issei flinched, but the black-haired girl either didn't notice or didn't care. "And it didn't stop you from saving any of us, either."
"Rias Gremory has been defeated. Raiser Phenex wins."
"I just don't know." Issei said quietly.
"Whatever you choose," a voice called out. "We'll follow you, Issei-sama."
The brown-haired boy turned to see Ashiya standing behind them. Tamamo stood at his shoulder, sending him an encouraging smile. Morgiana nodded at him solemnly. Calawarner and Mittlet stood off to the side, waiting for his response. Yumma strode over and gingerly wrapped her arms around his shoulders.
"We'll support you, too," she said once she pulled away.
Issei gazed at them all for a moment before turning to Mordred and Suzuki.
"Ugh, do you really have to ask?" the blonde knight grumbled. The ninja simply shook her head, an amused smirk on her face.
Issei chuckled for a moment. "Thank you."
"Well, isn't this a great atmosphere!" a voice Issei hadn't heard in quite a while suddenly called out. The brunet turned his gaze towards a red transportation circle as it materialized on the floor.
Grayfia immediately stood and bowed as a tall, red-haired man appeared in the circle, a bright smile on his face.
"I'm glad I chose just the right moment to show up!" he said cheerfully.
"You damn brat!" Issei growled, though his tone was affectionate. "Just had to get the last word in, didn't you?" Grayfia turned to him, her gaze livid.
"You dare…!" She was silenced, however, by the red-haired man himself. "Maou-sama?" she questioned, shocked.
Sirzechs shook his head and chuckled before turning and grinning at him cheekily. "It's been a long time, hasn't it, Sensei?"
A/N: Wow, it's been a long time, huh. I apologize for the wait. I have no excuse. This chapter should have been very quick and easy but I often found myself frustrated with it. Almost to the point of giving up entirely. For those of you who have been patiently waiting, thank you. For those of you who lost interest over the last few months, I apologize.
Thankfully, it's finally done and this rabid fan holding a gun to my head will finally let me go home. You won't believe the horrible things he's done to me. He [Message Redacted] and [Message Redacted] over and over again and [Message Redacted] me up the [Message Redacted].
About what happened this chapter... I just kinda felt like Ravel could be really badass if she wanted to be. Seriously. She's a main character and her skills are, like, never shown! And did you like Chiho's moment? I think that was my favorite part to write.
The reference site has undergone some big changes since the last time I posted. It's mostly aesthetic, though, and still functions in the same way. Just a warning in case some of you freak out over it.