Obligatory Disclaimer: I do not own SAO or DxD

*~B~*

Chapter Sixty-Nine: Rating Game – Gremory v Sitri, Part 2

"Hey, dude, can I borrow your homework?"

"Seriously, again?" Saji Genshirou sighed but he was already taking his notebook out.

His classmate clapped his hands together in apology. "Sorry! But in my defense, I did do it this time! Just that your notes are always so good that I actually get what I'm doing, y'know? Seriously, man, it all sounds so easy when you explain it."

"If you were our teacher, Saji, we'd actually like class," another commented.

"Alright, now, I'm not that good," Saji said sheepishly.

"Sure you're not. On that note, there's a bit here that I'm having trouble with."

"Lemme see … oh, in this case just think of it like this…"

Kusaka Reya, Hanakai Momo and Meguri Tomoe watched this scene play out for the umpteenth time.

"He denies it, but he really likes teaching," Hanakai said.

"Saji-kun should just become a teacher then," Meguri commented.

"Can you do that?" Kusaka asked. "You know, with our, um, circumstances, would we end up in normal jobs?"

"It's not like it's impossible," Hanakai answered. "My family is totally ordinary but they've been working for the Sitris for generations. I mean, sure, more often than not jobs up here will end up as a front, but there's the same jobs down below too."

"Even we have to make a living somehow," Meguri added. "Contracts aren't gonna cut it for everyone. I know it doesn't for me!"

"Do you have something in mind then, Meguri-san?"

"To-mo-e, Reya-san. But no, not really. I just know that contracts are bo-ring!"

The girls fell silent as they watched more of their classmates gather around Saji. "He really should consider it," Hanakai said. "Saji-kun is great at it. But enough about that. Reya-chan, Tomoe-chan, did you have any plans for summer?"

*~Ise~*

Five minutes since the game began, and me and Koneko were still cautiously making our way forward.

Truthfully, I was a bit worried. If Reya-san's Tracking somehow picks me up then they'll come straight for me. Or at least, that's what Buchou theorized since to the Sitri side I'm the most dangerous opponent.

To that I say that they've probably never seen Akeno-san in an S mood. Or Kiba at his trickiest.

"… There's two – no, three people up ahead," Koneko-chan announced. She had her cat ears and tail out. Her ears were twitching like they were picking up the smallest sounds. "We'll encounter them in around ten minutes."

"Ddraig, start the countdown," I said. The timer to Balance Breaker began.

Alright, that's all well and good, now can you explain how I'm supposed to focus when you look so goddamn adorable?!

Okay, alright, no. This is not the time for delusions, me. Get a grip. It's not life-or-death, but it's pretty damn important here.

Alright. Deep breaths. You got this. Remember how you felt in the Phenex game. Bring that confidence back.

Just because Vali wrecked me once doesn't mean I can't be confident again.

Koneko-chan glanced at me. "… It's rare to see you so serious," she said.

I blinked. "Really? I've been dead serious quite a few times."

"I wasn't there to see it most times and one of the two times I was …"

"You were too worried about Kirito to think about anything else," I deduced.

Hesitantly she nodded. "… I hate it when he gets hurt. He's promised me he won't get hurt again but things always end up really bad for him."

"He's got that kind of luck," I said, mentally making a note to punch Kirito because no one should make Koneko-chan look sad like that. "On the flipside, he's got an awesome wife," I added. Also the start of a harem, that damn eroge protagonist. "And two cute juniors who look up to him. Fair trade, I'd say." Also I'm jealous. Lucky bastard.

Koneko-chan pouted and someone somewhere just had a heart attack. "Please don't go saying the same things. Kirito-senpai made light of the situation just like that."

"Kirito's smart. He calls it as he sees it."

"Are you also going to say you're not scared of me because of something like that?"

"Please tell me how in the world I am supposed to be scared of someone as cute as you."

"I'm getting so much déjà vu right now," she grumbled in response. "I'm being serious, Ise-senpai. What if I end up like nee-sama?"

"You won't," I replied immediately. "Your sister is your sister, and you're you. You can't become someone that's not yourself."

"… And if I do?"

"I'll bring you back. Hell, I won't be alone either. Not by a long shot. So you've got nothing to worry about … well, except Matsuda."

"… You and Kirito-senpai are really two of a kind," Koneko-chan said.

"I'll take that as a compliment, seeing how an idiot like me is being likened to a smart guy."

"You're both idiots."

"Ouch, no hesitation, huh? Oh well, since you're the future hellcat, I'll let it slide."

Koneko-chan stopped walking and stared in confusion. "Hell … cat?" she repeated.

"Yeah, that was supposed to be a cooler way of saying 'cat of the Underworld'," I explained sheepishly and grimaced. "It sounded a lot better in my head so please forget I said anything."

"No, it's fine … hellcat … I like it," she said. She likes it? Huh. Guess I can say something good once in a while.

Suddenly, Koneko-chan stared ahead with narrowed eyes. "One of them just split off and is heading back," she informed. "And – senpai, dodge!"

I ducked instinctively before I saw the small bullet-like objects darting towards us. It was only after two had missed and two had struck true did I see what they were.

Gen's darts. His Absorption Line sub-species that could fire energy-sucking darts that were extremely difficult to physically remove. He'd shot four of them: one at Koneko, which she dodged, and three at me. I dodged one, but the other two had hit: one near my left shoulder and one between it and my throat.

I'd seen and even experienced first-hand what these were capable of. Futilely I tried to brush them off. My hand passed straight through.

"I'm sorry. I should have sensed those coming," Koneko-chan apologized.

"Don't be," I said, staring straight ahead. "I'm impressed that you could detect these at all."

And given that these were Gen's darts, that meant that up ahead –

Yep. There they were, walking toward us with their guards up. Gen and Ruruko.

"There's our fight," I said conversationally, while doing my best to think about the situation.

[Partner, we have a problem.]

What is it?

[Those darts are stealing your power, meaning you have to remove them as fast as possible. Given their intangibility, your best bet would be to blow them away with the shockwave from Balance Breaker. And there's the problem: those darts aren't only absorbing your regular power, they're also hampering the charge needed for Balance Breaker. You started the countdown quite a while back, but … I can't tell how long it will take to reach Balance Breaker.]

Well, that's just great.

Koneko-chan and I both stayed where we were as the two Sitri Pawns approached. They stopped several yards from us.

I eyed Absorption Line, which looked a bit different. The skeletal framework of the gauntlet on his left hand had morphed into a sleek scaly black glove. There was an identical glove on his right hand. Before, the coiling lines that wrapped his arms ended in extendable ends he held in his hands, but now they vanished into his forearm. I guess he could just summon them as needed now? "New look?" I asked.

"Well, I trained like hell and it changed to that," Gen answered casually. "Yours hasn't had any visible changes, but it'd be right to guess that you've achieved a stable Balance Breaker, right?"

"Maybe, maybe not," I said evasively. Ddraig, can you estimate how long it'll take for the timer now?

[… At least one more minute.]

Then I've just gotta survive one minute.

I'd improved my Balance Breaker a whole lot over the training period. From the initial one minute to thirty whole minutes of runtime. Azazel-sensei and Tannin both theorized that it was due to my Salamander side that I improved so much in so little time.

If I could just make it through the next minute, I'd be fine. Balance Breaker was that much of a game changer.

"I'll be troubled if you ignore me, Ise-senpai," Ruruko said. "I've improved too."

"Probably more than any of us," Gen added.

"Not the time, Gen."

"I'll take Nimura-san," Koneko-chan offered.

I nodded. "Alright. I'll leave it to you." Both of us got into stances, and our opponents followed suit.

I jumped at Gen with a fist at the ready. At the same time, Koneko-chan moved forward to intercept Ruruko, who'd led with a Sword Skill – a glowing flying kick.

Gen dodged and swept his knife in a wide arc. I arched my back to dodge. A black line shot out of his right palm. I quickly used Relief Strike to bat it away and jumped back.

"Right. Close combat won't work with you," I muttered.

"Gotta try harder than that, Ise," Gen taunted. The black line extended from his right palm again and he forcefully swung his arm downwards, forcing me to jump to my left. Gen was quick to follow up and a line from his left palm shot directly at me. I tried to dodge but it changed course connected with one of the darts.

Crap, I need to get it off! My bladed gauntlet glowed and I ripped the line in two with a Sword Skill.

Tch. For all the shit people give me for my cheat of an ability, Gen's Absorption Line is the real cheat thanks to its crazy versatility. The right line was more solid so he could use it like a whip, but the left one was way more dangerous because not only did it absorb power, it was also nigh-intangible, and I needed nothing less than the power of a Sword Skill to get it off.

And then there's the dagger and darts. The former had crazy absorption to make up for its short range and the latter was even more intangible.

Unless I could use the immense strength of Balance Breaker, fighting Gen straightforward would be suicide.

Koneko forced Ruruko back thanks to being physically stronger. All four of us then regrouped at opposing sides.

"Did you get her?" I asked in a low voice as Koneko-chan came up beside me.

"I couldn't get a clean hit for my senjutsu to work … senpai, there's a limit to how many Sword Skills an SAO Survivor can use, right?"

"There is, why?"

Before Koneko could answer, Grayfia-san's voice echoed through the corridor.

[One of Rias-sama's Knights retire. Sona-sama's Knight retires.]

Damn! Did we lose Kiba or Xenovia?

"Meguri-senpai…" Ruruko muttered.

"We should probably speed up," Gen said tersely.

"Sorry, but we'll be the ones speeding up," I said, raising my arms. "Koneko-chan, stick with me. Going at it together will be better than fighting separately." Koneko nodded her assent.

"Sorry, but it's better to fight a house divided, right?" Gen countered coolly. "We can't let you repeat that teamwork you used against the Phenex."

"And how do you plan to do that?"

"Let me ask you something: did you forget the other thing that my darts can do?"

What…? Oh, shit!

"Detonate."

One of the darts stuck on me exploded. It knocked me off my feet and threw me back several feet. If not for my Salamander side, that might have seriously injured me.

Gen and Ruruko acted together. Ruruko leapt at Koneko with another glowing flying kick as Gen swung his whip at me.

I rolled to a side at the last second, kicking off the ground further back to avoid his follow-up. "Screw it, here goes…!" I muttered, aiming my right arm at him.

The blade shot out, wreathed in flames. He parried it with his dagger and as I watched, the energy in my blade vanished as it clattered to the ground.

"Right. The dagger is super-dangerous," I reminded myself. I looked to where Ruruko and Koneko were fighting and my eyes widened.

Koneko tried to punch and Ruruko retaliated with a roundhouse that forced Koneko to dodge. She didn't let up, turning on a dime to spin full 360, unfurling her wings for a second to strike again, forcing Koneko back. Landing, she put that foot down and struck out with a back kick, and when Koneko avoided that she feinted with her other leg and went for a punch.

Why was Koneko dodging everything and not attempting to block? Those were all Sword Skills. She was using Sword Skills one after another to keep Koneko on edge without giving her a moment to retaliate.

How? No way is her limit so high that she can just keep using them.

Move after move Koneko had to dodge because they were all Sword Skills.

And then I remembered I was just standing there like an idiot. I need to move! And –

[One of Sona-sama's Bishops retire. One of Rias-sama's Bishops retire.]

Again?! Who was it?!

I saw Ruruko's eyes narrow. "We're taking too long! Now, Gen!" she yelled, leaping back.

Gen aimed his left arm at Koneko, palm facing her. From the lizard-like face tattoo, a concentrated stream of red fire was ejected like a high-pressure water hose.

Not any red fire. My red fire.

He'd shot it at such an angle that Koneko had to dodge to her left. That put her between Gen's attack and the wall. I was on the other side of the fire laser and I dashed at Gen. With his left hand busy he can't use his knife…!

Anticipating an attack Koneko leapt upwards but Ruruko had predicted. She jumped and there was a magnitude more strength in it.

At the moment of her leap, I saw it. Deep, vibrant lines of light covering her entire body like visible veins. She leapt towards Koneko faster than I could see and –

BOOM!

A loud sound like the crack of the sound barrier and before I realized what had happened Koneko was gone. There was a loud crash behind me. It was all so unexpected that I did the stupid thing and broke off from my attack and stopped to look back, and saw a broken storefront.

Ruruko landed, panting. "What was that?" I asked.

"I'll … explain later…"

"You alright?" Gen asked.

"Actually … no," Ruruko said. "It's draining as it is, but she got me at the last second, even as I hit her…"

Ruruko's knees gave out and she fell on her hands. "Sorry, Gen … I'm done."

Ruruko closed her eyes and lost consciousness. Moments after she fell, the retiring light covered her.

[One of Sona-sama's Pawns retire.]

Gen frowned. "Damn. That means…" he trailed off and looked past me.

Koneko was slowly making her way out of the rubble. She was pretty badly bruised, especially in the stomach where she'd been hit hard enough to tear her uniform, but she was still conscious.

"You guys are on another level," Gen chuckled humorlessly. "We throw our biggest guns at you and you just shrug it off. Kaichou was right. You're all a tier above the rest of us."

"What, you jealous?" I said.

"Kind of, yeah," he admitted, surprisingly.

I blinked and brushed it off. "Nah, we're not that far ahead of the curve. And we only got so far due to a lot of hard work."

[I have good news,] Ddraig suddenly said.

What is it?

[Of the two darts, it appears only one was absorbing the charge. And that one was detonated. Meaning your Balance Breaker is now ready.]

… Yeah, that's definitely good news.

I have to finish this fast. Asia or Gasper, Kiba or Xenovia, I need to find out who's still in the game and who's not. Koneko-chan and I need to regroup with the others.

"Sorry, Gen," I said. "But it looks like I'm going to finish this. Balance Break!"

*~B~*

"I wish to build a school."

Everyone blinked. "… Um, do you mean a Devil school, or…" Hanakai said.

"A school for Devil children, yes. That's what I want to do. I wish to build a school that teaches fundamentals all Devils should know – the Evil Piece system and its traits, help them nurture their talents and eventually teach them about Rating Games."

"… I thought there's already a Rating Game school in the Underworld," Raynare pointed out. "Is making some sort of rival school your dream?"

"There is one," Sona confirmed. "For High-Class Devils. No such school exists for the common Devils. That is my goal: a school where all Devils regardless of nobility or status can learn equally."

"Correct me if I'm wrong, Kaichou," Ruruko began. "But isn't the Underworld a very, um … snobby place? There's a lot of nobility perks and nothing for commoners."

"Correct. This idea has been before met with outright derision from the average High-Class Devil, and will no doubt continue to meet resistance. I'm sure at the meeting with the elders after we arrive in the Underworld, they will laugh at it and mock it, and if anyone takes me seriously, they will order me to get off this path. That's how the Underworld is; they're far too comfortable with things as they are now. They actively resist change. Sometimes I wonder how Beelzebub-sama was able to modernize the Underworld."

"But you're still set on it?" Kusaka asked.

"I am. Does it not sound wonderful? A school where children can have equal opportunities and privileges regardless of whether they have blue blood. Most schools in the human world are like that. It is high time the Underworld has one too."

"…That's an amazing dream, Kaichou," Lint spoke up. "I may not be a Devil, but I can imagine the hardships you will face on the way to such a beautiful dream. I'm not part of your Peerage, but you have my support."

"Just like that, huh?" Raynare muttered. "Well, I've got nothing to say. It's a decision you made yourself. You know exactly what you're getting into and clearly that's not gonna deter you. I guess I'll work harder if it helps." A grudging approval like that was the best anyone would get from the Fallen Angel. Recognizing that, Sona nodded.

"Thank you," she said to Raynare and Lint. "Even though you're not a part of my Peerage, to have your support is reassuring. What of the rest of you, then?"

"I'm in," Yura instantly replied. "It's not an exaggeration to say I owe you everything. So I'll help you realize that dream, whatever it takes."

"I owe you my life. Literally," Meguri followed up. "I'm behind you all the way."

"You know my answer already," Hanakai said. "It's interesting, and so I'm in."

Sona nodded appreciatively and turned to her three newest members. Kusaka glanced around, pondering. "… It's a little relieving, to be honest," she finally said. "Knowing that you have something so, um … normal you want to do. It's easier to understand. Um, sorry," she apologized. "That sounded better in my head, but you know what I mean."

"It sounds like a human goal, and not some outlandish Devil dream," Sona perceptively guessed.

"I mean, when you put it like that, it doesn't sound very nice."

"Don't worry; no offense taken."

"Sorry anyway. What I'm trying to say is … I think it sounds great. I'll be happy to help you achieve it."

"Thank you. And–"

She was interrupted by the door to the student council room opening. "I apologize for the interruption," Tsubaki began as she stepped in. "Kaichou, the kendo club is being very vocal about their dislike for their budget cut. They've gotten their advisor involved and want to speak directly to you."

Sona sighed tiredly. "I should have expected that," she muttered. "All of you, back to work. I want to see at least half done by the time I return."

After she'd left, the ones very honest about their work – Yura, Hanakai, Kusaka and Lint – immediately began poring over the stacks of pages in front of them.

"It's kind of nice to see that she's loosened up," Ruruko commented as she picked up a leaflet and began perusing it.

"Hmm? Oh yeah, Kaichou's like that," Yura replied. "She keeps up that strict image nearly all the time to newbies for a while. But yeah, she's relaxed a lot this year."

"What was she like before?" Kusaka asked.

"Hm … I'd go as far as to say she was cold once. But, y'know, well-meaning. Always to the point and everything. She didn't like small talk back then."

"She still doesn't much," Raynare added. "Still pretty business-minded … oi, sole male of this room, don't black out on us now."

Ruruko looked at Gen. "You've been very quiet, Genshirou-senpai," she said.

"Drop the '-senpai'," he automatically retorted. Sighing, he moved his stack of papers closer. "Sorry. All this talk about schools left me thinking."

"What exactly?" Ruruko prodded.

"Eh, lots of stuff … if it's a school Kaichou wants to make, she'll need teachers."

"You could do that," Hanakai suggested. "You're good at it."

"Maybe. But I'm not so sure I have the right motivations."

"What do you mean?" Ruruko asked.

"Tell you later," he waved off, grabbing a pen. "Right, let's get started…"

He didn't feel comfortable talking about it with anyone other than Ruruko, and he'd attempted to signal as much. A quick glance showed that Ruruko understood and didn't prod there. The room went silent except for the sound of writing. It gave Gen time to think, but he didn't quite want to think about it at the moment.

All he knew for certain was, envy was not a good drive for a teacher.

*~B~*

It was over.

Gen watched the burst of energy with a bitter smile. He watched as the red armor materialized and covered Ise from head to toe. The appearance alone was a clear signal – he wouldn't be able to even scratch him anymore.

Behind Ise, Koneko was slowly approaching as well. As if his chances weren't bad already. Two on one and all his tricks wouldn't be enough.

The burst died down. Ise paused to stare at the last dart. Even the shockwave from the activation of Balance Breaker hadn't dislodged it.

Ise whistled. "What'd you make this one out of?" he commented.

"Can't answer that, sorry," Gen replied.

"Alright. Let's finish this."

Gen didn't even have time to get into a stance.

Ise crouched down into a sprinter's pose. A moment later –

BOOM!

A sound akin to the crack of the sound barrier. A tremendous impact on his ribcage, and a force like being rammed by a train.

A single tackle sent him flying down the corridor, before he could react. Gen landed hard, the breath knocked out of him and in immense pain. He bit down a yell of pain, hard enough that his lip bled. Just a single tackle had left him reeling, barely able to move.

Still, he stood up. It took a lot of will to force himself through the pain but he barely managed it. "Try … harder," he panted.

Ise stared quietly and got into a runner's crouch again.

BANG!

Another battering ram of an attack and once again Saji was sent flying several feet back, landing hard.

"Don't get up. Please," he heard Ise say. "I don't like doing this but we have to win."

"So … do I," Gen coughed, struggling to stand back up.

Another's runner's crouch, and another explosive impact sent him back.

Still, he stood up again.

Sona's voice came through the transceiver. [Saji! You've done your part! Fall back now! That's an order!]

"No can do, Kaichou," he muttered. A shaky hand reached behind him and he pulled out a Teleport Crystal.

Ise almost charged him again the instant he saw the blue object but stopped when Gen tossed it to the side without looking.

"… What are you doing?" Ise asked.

"Minimizing my options. Getting rid of temptation. I don't want there to be any other choice except fighting to the end."

"…Ise-senpai, let's team up like before," Koneko said. "We can't waste time here."

"No," Saji interrupted. "Sorry to make a request as an enemy, but can you leave this to us? Whether I win or lose, it'll be at Ise's hands."

"… You're serious?" Ise asked.

"Very. I … want to beat the Sekiryuutei. No, that's not it. Hyoudou Issei, I'm going to beat you."

His declaration made Ise go quiet. He raised a hand to stop Koneko from approaching further.

"It's kind of funny. We started in the same place. We should have reached the same point after we went through the same things. Sword Art Online, becoming a Devil … heck we even both have Sacred Gears," Gen said. "Isn't it funny how you're so far ahead of me?"

Ise didn't reply.

"We're both SAO Survivors, but you got a Unique Skill. We're both Devil Pawns but you're worth three more Pieces than me. We both even have dragon-type Sacred Gears, but yours is a freaking overpowered Longinus! We started in the same place, but no matter what I do … I can't leave your shadow!

"It's not just hard work that brought you this far. Luck. Destiny. You're destined to be a worldwide superpower, and everything I am is just second rate to you. And you know the worst part? I can't even hate you for it! You're one of my closest friends, so I couldn't hate you over something that petty. So all that's left there is jealousy. I envy you, Ise. You were blessed with everything I don't have.

"Kaichou wants to build a school. She'll need teachers for that. Everyone – including you – always said that I was good at it. And you're right – I like teaching! I like studying! Kaichou wants to prove she's not kidding around with this game, so that's what I'll do! It might be selfish of me to say it, but I'm gonna take that dream for my own! I will be a teacher! Because I like it! And because I'll finally have something against you!"

Ise didn't reply for several seconds. Finally, he spoke up, "Koneko-chan, please stay back. I'll handle this."

Hesitantly, she nodded and stepped back. Ise sighed, his shoulders sagging. He looked at Gen, his faceplate dropping down.

"… I didn't know you felt like that way," Ise began. "And I can't say I like it. All that destiny crap …I'd rather not have anything to do with that. I hate that I'm basically being forced into this position … but I guess I have to accept it. I can't do anything to deny it. Hell, Ddraig and Tannin both said the same thing: just because I'm the Sekiryuutei, I'll be challenged over and over again. I don't like it. I'd rather live in peace … but I can't keep denying it. I have to be prepared for everything this destined life throws at me. And for that, I got stronger. I'll keep getting stronger. Maybe it only deepens the shadow I cast on you, but I don't have a choice. I have to keep getting stronger, and not just for my own sake.

"You guys are fighting for a dream. That's great; that's an amazing dream. I'll admit, I don't have any personal goals like you do. I don't have anything I'm aiming for … All I have is a promise, and I intend to keep it."

He lowered himself to a crouch again. "I can't lose here, and neither should you. I'm going to win, and someday I'm going to find what I want to do … You're ahead of me there. So you gotta keep that lead."

"I knew that," Gen retorted, getting into a stance as best he could.

"The promise I made is as important to me as your dream is to you," Ise declared. "So I can't lose to you. Give it your best shot, Gen, and I'll give it mine."

"Shut up and attack already," Gen said.

Ise smirked humorlessly. The faceplate closed again.

Another tackle? I can take it if that's his best. And when he gets close, my dagger will do the trick. It should go straight through his armor.

"You're not the only one who's found new abilities."

[Double!]

A red light suffused a section of the ground between him and Ise. A moment later, a pillar rose out of it at blinding speed.

SMACK!

It collided with his face like a hammer. Gen's neck whipped back.

Not yet…!

He stamped a foot behind him and managed to stay standing.

Ise ran up the pillar and leapt forward, a downward punch aimed at Gen. Gen yelled and thrust his dagger forward.

Both attacks connected. Ise's punch landed square in his face. His dagger went straight through Ise's armor as he instinctively guarded with his left arm. The armor on the forearm disappeared like it had been absorbed by the dagger, whose blade dug deeply into that arm.

Gen let go of the dagger as he was punched back. He fell clumsily, driven by sheer adrenaline and brought up his left arm to guard. Ise pulled the dagger out of his arm and threw it to a side. But since it was still attached to Gen's left hand by a line, he was able to call it back.

Ise quickly dashed forward with an uppercut. Gen moved his left arm to block.

CLANG!

An armored red fist met identical red armor on Gen's forearm. Gen swept his right arm inwards, to wrap his whip around Ise.

A geyser of fire erupted around the armored Devil. It threw Gen back again. Just as he barely recovered once more by stomping a foot behind him, Ise followed up with a haymaker straight to his face with his left hand – the hand in which the power of his bequeathed dragon-slayer sword, Ascalon, resided.

A punch combining Sekiryuutei strength, holy energy and dragon-slaying power connected and this time it finished the job. Gen's vision went dark as he fell backwards.

"This … is really … unfair …" he muttered as he lost consciousness.

It was inevitable.

He'd lost.

*~B~*

[Sona-sama's Pawn retires.]

Ise didn't say a word, staring silently at the spot where Saji had fallen.

After a few seconds, he sighed. "Well. This sucks," he said. "Beating down a friend does not feel good."

He raised his left arm. The armor had been replenished, but Koneko knew the deep wound below it was still there. Ise turned his gaze to the dart, which still hadn't disappeared even though Saji was out. "Weird. But it doesn't look or feel like it's doing anything."

"I don't feel that it's absorbing any energy either," Koneko confirmed.

"Hmm. So probably a dud that stopped working when Gen got taken out. I'll just let it be then. So, what now?" he asked.

"… Buchou?" Koneko called over the transceiver. "What should we do?

[Koneko? Are you and Ise alright?]

"We can still fight. But …" she was about to mention Ise's injury when he shook his head. Koneko looked at him curiously but did as he said. "…No, it's nothing. Buchou, one person had split off from the group that we met."

[Can you still track her?]

Koneko extended her senses and her eyes widened in surprise. "I don't know if that person is with them, but, Buchou. There's two of them in the central plaza. And one of them is Kaichou."

[… Sona is out in the open? This has to be a trap … but we have no choice but to walk right in. This is the final battle. The rest of us are moving towards it as well. Meet us there.]

"Understood."

Once the conversation ended, Koneko looked back at Ise with an unspoken question. "I know, I know," he said. "It's stupid, but … I don't want to heal this just yet. I'll make it through this whole game with that injury. Unless I don't have a choice … I'm keeping it."

"… Asia-senpai might get mad at you for it," Koneko pointed out. "Buchou, too."

"Probably, yeah," he agreed, but said no more on that subject. He gestured ahead. "Lead the way."

Koneko relented and did as told. She walked through the labyrinthine mall, making her way through passages. Ise followed without a word. Eventually, they were out of the corridors. From there it was a straight path.

Koneko noticed the others walking. Asia was yet to arrive, but Yuuto had made it back. "They're waiting for us," Koneko informed.

"How bold," Akeno commented. She glanced back as Asia approached.

"You're sure there's only two people here?" Rias asked.

Koneko nodded. "Positive. Nobody's hiding to ambush us as far as I can tell."

"They're planning something," Yuuto said. "It's too obviously a trap."

"I agree," Rias replied. "But right now we outnumber them three to one. I'm sure Sona has a trick up her sleeve, but I think this is a desperate last resort. I think she was trying to completely whittle down our numbers with the earlier skirmishes."

"The exact people to counter Xenovia-san and I, to counter Asia-san and Gasper-kun, and I think Koneko-chan and Ise-kun too?" Yuuto listed. "It feels strange to me."

"Something's fishy," Ise agreed.

"They have some way of knowing exactly where each of us are, how we are moving," Akeno deduced.

"In which case it would be better to move in a group," Rias decided. "Stay close, everyone. Let's go."

The remainder of the Gremory Peerage began to move towards the central plaza.

"You okay?" Koneko heard Ise ask in a low voice.

"Y-Yes," came Asia's reply. It sounder more timid than usual to Koneko.

She'd have to ponder it later. They had arrived.

There was a central open plaza in the Kuou mall. A small tower at the center had large clocks on all four sides. Benches circles it, meant as a place where tired shop-goers could rest their feet.

Standing near a bench, facing them, were two people: Sona Sitri and Shinra Tsubaki. The King and Queen of the Sitris. The Sitris' two strongest players.

Koneko double-checked with her senses that no one was nearby and eyed the strange black glove Sona wore on her left hand.

"That's the glove. Reverse," Yuuto said quietly. Rias nodded and walked to the front of their group, Akeno walking up beside her.

"It's strange to see you out in the open," Rias said as a greeting.

"I could say the same to you, Rias," Sona replied. "This should be the final battle. I see we both understand that."

"You're planning something," Rias bluntly stated.

Sona made no effort to deny it. "I am."

"Whatever game you're playing, it won't work," Rias promised. "You're outnumbered three to one. Not even you can defeat all six of us."

"I know. It's not just Hyoudou Issei; all of you are powerful. That said, the Sekiryuutei is still a pivotal force. As long as he's here, I can't touch you."

"Ise, stay alert. She'll try something," Rias warned.

"… I think … she already did…"

Koneko's eyes widened when she heard how weak his voice had gotten and she wheeled around, just to see him sink to the floor and onto his hands.

"I-Ise?!" Rias exclaimed, rushing to him. "What's wrong?"

"I feel … kinda … weak …"

"Koneko-chan, anything?" Akeno asked.

Koneko shook her head. "Nothing! I didn't sense anything!"

"You are strong, Hyoudou Issei," Sona said. "Not only are you the Sekiryuutei but you possess immense determination. In a straight fight, my entire Peerage fighting together may not be able to defeat you. Therefore with that option off the table, we had to resort to something else."

The dart that was still on Ise blurred like a mirage. It faded and what replaced the illusion was a dart with a pulsing bulb the size of a baseball.

"You've gone through many changes. You became a Devil, gained draconic features and even transformed into a Salamander. All strong beings, yet they are all humanoid. And they all have the same weakness."

Rias tried to grab the dart and her hand passed straight through. When it came out of the dart it was covered in a deep red liquid. She stared at it in horror before making the connection and turning her shocked stare to the dart. "That's not…!"

"It is. What's in that dart is Hyoudou Issei's blood. I had Saji practice absorbing material objects this past month, all for this. It's much slower, but he managed to make his darts absorb blood. And since it's not his energy, Toujou Koneko couldn't detect it."

Asia stared, still as a statue, almost catatonic.

"… So he was … stalling! That … whole time …" Ise ground out.

"Not quite. He could have retreated right at the start, but he chose to stay, He truly wanted to defeat you, Hyoudou Issei. He wanted to fight to the end to beat you personally, but in case he couldn't, there was this. Admittedly, it took longer than expected, but remember: the one who beat you is Saji Genshirou."

"Mirror Alice!"

Shinra Tsubaki's ornate mirror appeared before Sona and blocked Akeno's sudden attack. It split the thunderbolt she'd used into two, one reflecting back at Akeno and the other aiming for Rias. Both of them were forced to dodge as those were lightning blasts, infused with Akeno's holy powers.

Unperturbed, Sona looked at the bulb, whose pulsing had sped up. "Looks like it's about time. So since Saji is not here, I'll say it for him: Detonate."

The dart exploded in a shower of red that splattered everyone nearby. Blood tainted the floor and splashed the horrified faces of those nearby.

"No … NOO!" Asia screamed, running to Ise and generated as much of Twilight Healing's green healing aura as she could.

Sona didn't raise an arm. Within moments an orb of water materialized in her left hand and shot towards Asia and Ise like a bullet. Rias shot it down with a destruction orb, but missed the second one that had been shot moments after.

"Asia, dodge!" Rias shouted, but the orb of water had already struck. For a moment all the Gremorys stared in confusion as the water bullet seemed to splash harmlessly against Asia's torso. Then they noticed that Sona was no longer wearing the glove.

The black glove that had been carried by the second water bullet.

"Reverse," said Sona.

Twilight Healing's green aura turned purple. Its healing energy was turned lethal. And it had been shrouding both Ise and Asia.

Asia didn't even have time to react. Twilight Healing was very powerful. Reversed, it was instantly lethal to both a weakened Ise and herself.

Both were retired immediately. [Rias-sama's Bishop and Pawn retire.]

"Koneko-chan, with me!" Yuuto ordered, dashing at Sona. Shinra intercepted him.

"Now!" Sona shouted, kicking something at her feet to a fast-approaching Koneko. It was a piece of cloth, painted to look like the mall floor.

And it had been hiding a magic circle. One that Sona quickly stepped onto as it glowed.

Castling, Koneko recognized in the split second before Sona was teleported away. She was replaced with the Sitri Rook, Yura.

"Reverse!" Yura shouted and blocked Koneko's punch with both hands. The impact caused a small shockwave to spread from between them.

Yura grinned confidently – and then suddenly coughed up blood. "Wh-What…?"

"I knew you'd do that," Koneko said, glaring. "Destructive ki that causes internal damage, or healing ki that can fix it, senjutsu can do both. I knew what you would do the moment I recognized Castling, so I used healing ki. And you Reversed it into harmful ki."

"Damn … you got me …"

Yura crumpled and fell back, the retiring light covered her and she disappeared. [Sona-sama's Rook retires.]

"I have had it!" Rias exclaimed. "Akeno, we're going after them! I've had enough of playing safe! Koneko, stay here and support Yuuto!"

"Understood!" she replied. Without another word, Rias and Akeno flew off.

Yuuto and Shinra were locked in a fierce duel. Yuuto was faster and more skilled, but much like Kirito, Shinra used the strength of her Rook traits to keep him off-balance.

Koneko dove in to do something about. She and Yuuto teamed up on Shinra, but she was careful. Using her Rook strength to keep Yuuto away and her Knight speed to avoid all of Koneko's attacks.

Clearly she was mindful enough to not allow Koneko to land a single good hit so she couldn't apply her senjutsu. And while she wasn't particularly specialized in any of the three traits she was skilled enough in all of them to keep specialists like Yuuto and Koneko at bay.

They exchanged blows, pushing Shinra to a bench. She jumped and backflipped over it, kicking Yuuto upside the chin with enough strength to knock him back. Using her naginata as leverage, she propelled herself to the small tower, momentarily standing on its side as she kicked off, thrusting her naginata at Koneko.

Koneko caught the blade between an elbow and knee, before noticing Shinra had taken one hand off the naginata during her attack. She reached behind her, into a pocket, and faster than Koneko could react, extracted a crystal.

The shape was similar to the one Saji had thrown away, but the color was different. It was yellow-white, but the color looked like that of a substance within than the color of the crystal itself. Like a colored drink in a glass versus a colored glass.

With her Rook strength Shinra squeezed the crystal and made it crack.

The next second it glowed and then exploded into two opposing beams of light. One burned through Shinra's hand and shot to the other side, and the other pierced Koneko's chest.

"Koneko-chan!"

Koneko made a small gagging sound, choking back a cry of pain seeing Shinra limiting her own reaction to her hand being blown to hell to a pained wince.

Not a moment later, she lost consciousness.

*~B~*

[Rias-sama's Rook retires.]

"They're coming straight for us!" Kusaka announced.

"Acknowledged. Keep moving!" Sona ordered.

Kusaka hadn't yet gotten the hang of flying, so they had to move on foot. And Sona didn't think she had much chance outnumbered one to two so she couldn't just leave Kusaka behind.

Sona didn't know how they knew where she was, but since they did, she didn't have to worry about giving herself away by retaliating. She left traps as she ran: blades of water that fell on them as they passed, various watery animals that would attack them on sight. It wouldn't hurt them, but she hoped it would slow them down.

"They're catching up!" Kusaka cried.

"Keep moving!" Sona repeated. We can't outrun them.

Sona was out of plans. Her intention was to circle back to Tsubaki from where she had Castled to. She had hoped that herself, Kusaka, Tsubaki and Tsubasa working together would go better than if they fought separately.

Unfortunately, that wasn't going as well. Tsubasa had been taken out almost instantly, and though Tsubaki had defeated Toujou, Kiba was still in the game. Her only hope had been to regroup, but Rias and Akeno were too fast. They had almost caught.

"They're close!" Kusaka announced. "And – they've … stopped?"

"How far are they?" Sona asked urgently.

Kusaka looked back. "A hundred feet? And around that corner," she answered, pointing at the corner they had passed seconds ago.

A hundred – we're in range!

No sooner had she thought that, there was a sound like multiple thunderclaps at once. Knowing what was coming, Sona projected a shell of water, but it wasn't of much use.

The torrent of lightning came raging down the corridor. It charred the walls as it passed, which would cost them some points. Sona's barrier held up to it for all of one second before succumbing and the river of lightning struck them.

Kusaka cried out in pain as the deluge struck. Sona bit her lip hard enough to draw blood. Endure … endure it!

The assault subsided. Sona leaned against a wall for support and did her best to keep Kusaka from falling. She exhaled hard and looked back down the way the lightning came from. "They're not rushing anymore, are they? They're coming at a less hasty pace," she said shakily.

Kusaka nodded weakly. "Is … this it…?" she asked weakly.

"So it seems," Sona answered.

"… Well … maybe for me …"

Sona turned to stare at Kusaka. "What are you…?" she trailed off when she saw the pink crystal materialize in Kusaka's hands

"Meguri-san isn't the only one who owes you her life … you saved me too, so I should do the same."

"Wait – your limit, it's five and this is–"

"I know. I overextended myself but … I'm not fighting anymore, am I? This is it for me … but not for you."

She pressed the crystal to Sona. "Being part of the student council … I've never been part of a group so … lovely. Before I met all of you, I only had two friends. Now, thanks to you…"

"Kusaka, this won't change anything. I can't defeat them on my own. I'll still lose," Sona protested.

"Maybe so…" Kusaka looked up and tried to smile. "But you can decide how you lose, right?"

Sona didn't have an answer to that.

"And that's why … Heal."

The crystal shattered into pink light. Kusaka's SAO items worked their magic at amazing speed. Already Sona could see her skin returning to normal and felt the pain disappearing.

"… Thank you, Reya."

Kusaka Reya smiled again. "Do your best, Kaichou."

The retiring light covered her and soon Sona was holding nothing.

[Sona-sama's Bishop retires.]

Sona took a breath to steady herself. She waited, staring down the corridor. Before long, Rias and Akeno appeared. They cautiously walked forward. Sona stood where she was and waited for them to approach.

"Rias," she greeted when they stopped a dozen yards away.

"Sona," she returned. "Out of plans?"

"All but one," she answered truthfully. At the same, she kept thinking. Her mind was the only thing which she could boast was better than the others in her generation.

Akeno cannot repeat an attack of similar scale so soon. Now's my chance.

"Just for reference, how did you find me?" Sona asked to buy time.

"You should check under your shoe," Akeno answered. "I tagged you just before you Castled. It was just a flimsy piece of paper, so it got torn up soon enough, but I knew where you'd gone."

"Had I asked Reya to make another Teleport Crystal, you would have lost me," Sona pointed out.

"A chance we were willing to take," Rias replied. "And ultimately, that would only amount to a small delay."

"Perhaps."

Sona saw Akeno make an unspoken request of Rias. And then without warning, she attacked.

A barrage of lightning bolts came Sona's way.

It's do or die!

A shield of water was generated in front of Sona. It seemed to work for a second, then the lightning passed straight through.

Sona bore the full brunt of the electricity. Once again, she grit her teeth and bit her lip hard enough to draw blood. "Kh…!"

"Come on. Scream for me," Akeno said, continuing the attack.

Almost…! Almost!

The lightning kept coming through her shield. Sona was forced to take a step back to keep herself standing.

If she was just able to endure this, she had a chance.

Sona slowly stood up, clutching the smoking hole in her gut.

"Again," she said.

Lint hesitated and lowered her gun. "Kaichou, you should that treated first before trying again."

"If I succeed in this state, I will do even better at my best. Again," she insisted.

Lint turned her troubled stare to the sidelines. Tsubaki hesitantly nodded to her.

"…Alright," Lint relented. "But you will get treated after the next one." Saying so, she raised her gun again.

Without a word, Sona generated a shield of water and waited.

After what felt like an eternity, the lightning died down. Sona was somehow still standing.

"And you say you're not a power type," Rias stated.

"I wasn't," she replied in a mutter. "But I trained too."

After being shot through her barrier over and over and over again – at her own insistence – she finally managed it. The next step in the Sitri clan's control over water.

The water that they generated was formed of demonic power. It was no ordinary water. It stood to reason, then, that it could be imbued with extraordinary properties.

Temperature was easy enough to do. A mutation of that was the origin of her sister Serafall's ice abilities.

What was harder was extending a property of water beyond what it could normally do.

For example, its use as a solvent.

The theory was simple enough. Generating water that could dissolve the incoming holy energy to turn into pseudo holy water.

In practice, it was much harder. Sona lost of how many times she had been shot – willingly, as she kept repeating to Lint – until she was finally able to do it.

And that was her final trick. Getting Akeno to attack her out of caution due to Sona's words, and dissolving the light from her holy lightning.

It went as badly as she expected. She managed to dissolve the light, sure, but the rest of Akeno's attack? Her 'shield' was meant to absorb light, not defend against heavy attacks, something she couldn't do anyway. Her plan depended on her being able to withstand the attack. It was a huge risk, but if there was no risk, it wasn't worth it.

She endured it. Her 'shield' of pseudo holy water was complete. She was ready to counter.

The 'shield' shrunk to a football sized pressurized ball and she shot it at Akeno. Akeno was very powerful, but she needed time to recover between powerful attacks. She wasn't prepared to defend so soon.

Rias attempted to intercept Sona's attack with a blast from her power of destruction. That was what Sona was waiting for. The sphere of water split into two, a slightly smaller one allowed to hit Rias's attack. The larger one veered sharply on the others' impact, masked by Rias's counter, changed directions and zipped at a surprised Rias.

Akeno's entire body crackled with electricity. Sona felt her hair stand on end for a moment and watched as her attack veered sharply again to strike Akeno.

The pseudo holy water splashed and sizzled on Akeno. She winced. "Of course," Akeno muttered in realization, falling to her knees, "that's why you took the hit."

"How did you…?" Sona asked in complete surprise.

"Seeing you bend your attack gave me an idea," Akeno said. "Isn't there a simple science experiment of bending running tap water with static electricity?" Comprehension dawned. "I only had a moment to try it, but I couldn't let you take out Rias. You looked so confident with that last attack, I knew something had to be off."

"And here I thought I had an immaculate poker face," Sona remarked dryly.

Akeno chuckled. "Oh, please. I may not have known you as long as Rias does but I know you well enough. It's all yours, Rias," she said loudly as the retiring light began to shine. "Your turn now. How did Asuna put it…?

"Switch," Rias recited.

"Yes. That."

The next second, she was gone. [Rias-sama's Queen retires.]

Rias looked at the spot where Akeno had fallen for a few seconds before sighing. "Since when can you use holy water?" she asked.

"I can't," Sona replied. "That's why I took the hit. But in any case, it's just us now. This is how it should end."

"I suppose so," Rias said, raising a hand. "I've lost to you every time in chess, but you've never once beaten me in a fight."

"I know. Even if I wasn't so badly injured, the outcome is already decided. But so what?"

Rias raised an eyebrow.

"Saji taught me that even if you know you'll lose you should still fight to the end. Reya gave me a second chance to do just that. I can't let them down."

Sona materialized various shapes of water around. "Good game, Rias."

"… Indeed," she replied and generated an orb of destruction.

The final fight began.

*~B~*

[Rias-sama's Queen retires.]

Even with one hand, Tsubaki was a match for Kiba.

Perhaps it was because it was a desperate last stand while running on adrenaline that she was able to match Kiba. Combining her Rook strength with her prowess with the naginata, she was able to keep him at bay.

In fact, now that it was one on one, they were evenly matched, pushing each other back at times.

Tsubaki parried a blow with her blade, twisted the naginata to make him fall forward due to his own blow – the technique she had seen him use earlier on Tomoe – jumped onto a nearby bench and kicked off, twirling her naginata into a backhanded grip for a powerful stab.

Kiba used the momentum of his fall to dodge by leaning to a side and accelerating his fall. He rolled to a distance and back onto his feet. Wasting no time, he went for a speedy stab.

Tsubaki dodged to the right – and just barely noticed he'd taken his left hand off his sword and materialized a dagger in it. He flicked his wrist to throw it and Tsubaki just barely deflected it so it landed in her thigh.

It slowed her down just a little but it was enough. Kiba took his chance and threw aside all idea of defense to keep making strikes one after another. Again and again he struck, and he would have been too fast to keep up with, if not for Tsubaki attempting to unbalance him every parry with her Rook strength.

Tsubaki didn't know how long they were locked in that position, but at the end of it she made a misstep. Kiba didn't miss it. Sword in his left hand, it glowed red.

With a sound like a jet engine roar the sword was thrust forward at tremendous speed.

"Mirror Alice!" Tsubaki cried. Her Sacred Gear appeared before her once more, Kiba's jab passing straight into the mirror. A ghostly reflection emerged from the mirror at the same speed and though Kiba attempted to shift his body, it went through his shoulder.

The mirror, Kiba's sword and its reflection all dispersed. Tsubaki drew her arm back, preparing to stab him. His right hand was free, but she could retaliate before he did –

What appeared above his right hand shocked her enough that she hesitated for a moment too long.

A gap in space, from which he pulled out a behemoth of a sword, its blade blue with golden edges. The hilt was long enough that it was meant to be wielded with both hands.

"Durandal?!" she exclaimed, hastily trying to block. It was futile. Durandal was just too powerful.

A single vertical slash snapped her replacement naginata in two as well and landed a clean hit down the middle of her torso. "Gh!" she uttered stumbling back a few steps. The halves of the naginata dropped from her hand and clattered to the ground. Tsubaki managed to keep her footing on shaky legs.

"…Why didn't you lead with that?" she said.

"I couldn't be sure you wouldn't find a way around it," Kiba replied, breathing hard. "I had to make you use your Sacred Gear before I used it, so that I wouldn't have to worry about you countering."

"You succeeded," Tsubaki acknowledged. "But so did I."

Kiba looked confused for a moment before he noticed the object on Tsubaki's person and his eyes widened.

Hidden under her torn uniform, lodged between her breasts was a second yellow crystal. Another of the same, light-filled kind that she had used to take out Toujou.

And Kiba's final slash with Durandal had cracked it.

It exploded into twin opposing beams of light. One drilled through Tsubaki and out her back, while the shot straight for Kiba.

At the moment it exploded, Kiba instinctively buckled his knees. The beam aiming for him would miss, and at worst pass through his already injured left shoulder.

But Tsubaki wasn't done.

"Mirror Alice!"

Mirror Alice was her own Sacred Gear. She'd trained it enough to control how it appeared, to be able to materialize it at an angle such that a reflected attack would go in the exact direction she wanted.

This needed quick thinking and predictive ability on the user's part. Tsubaki possessed both.

The ornate mirror appeared behind her just as the second beam struck it. It was then reflected at an angle such that it pierced through Tsubaki again, lower than it originally had.

The lower angle meant that even though Kiba had lowered himself to dodge the first beam, the second would still strike.

And it did. Yet…

"Sword Birth!"

The beam hit an unbalanced Kiba with enough force that he was knocked several feet away.

"That … shouldn't have happened…" Tsubaki muttered as she sank to her knees, watching where Kiba lay prone on his back, groaning.

Slowly, he sat up. "That was close," he uttered, putting a hand to where the beam had struck.

Tsubaki saw the small bladeless hilt before it disappeared. She saw the tiny wisps of shadowy energy and put two and two together.

"Holy Eraser," she said in amazement. "Your sword that absorbs holy power. You materialized one on your shirt, the size of a brooch, the moment before the beam hit you. You came up with such a counter within moments of facing an attack that you couldn't have seen coming. That's … incredible," Tsubaki breathed in wonder. "Truly, truly incredible."

"As you saw yourself … I couldn't completely stop it," Kiba replied modestly.

Tsubaki shook her head slowly as the retiring light covered her. "Three times we tried to take you out, and three times you survived. We underestimated you. You, Kiba Yuuto … you were the true ace of the Gremorys…"

*~B~*

[Sona-sama's Queen retires.]

*~B~*

[Sona Sitri-sama retires. Rias Gremory-sama wins the Rating Game.]

*~B~*

Avengers: Endgame ruined me.

As I expected, for the whole last week of April, I couldn't focus on anything except FGO. By then I had made very good progress, so I wanted to return to this.

But then on the 30th I got to watch Endgame.

I spent three days after just lying in my bed contemplating the historical phenomenon I had witnessed. I couldn't think about anything else.

And for the rest of May, I kept rewatching most of the MCU over and over and over again. I think I've watched Thor: Ragnarok like 15 times by now.

And I still can't stop. I don't think I will be able to stop until the blurays for Endgame go online and I can rewatch it a dozen more times.

That's how good Endgame was. It wasn't until this last week that I was able to bring myself to write again, and I finished more than half this chapter in that timeframe.

So, well. This is it. The end of the Rating Game. I'm sure you all have questions. I hope the next chapter can answer them.

I just want to talk about one thing and a few characters.

The one thing I tried my best to do was make this game an even match. I didn't want the Gremorys to steamroll the Sitris with only three losses like in canon. As much as Sona thought of a smart and deadly way to bring down Ise, the big picture doesn't show her team very favorably. They're the rivals. At least right now, they should be on equal footing.

Ise got punk'd. No two ways about it. Without Pailingual, this wasn't his arc to shine. His role here was basically the juggernaut, the antagonist for the Sitris to overcome. This was their arc.

I'm not too confident that I did Gen justice. It's just … his powers are creative enough to have fun writing, but him personally, not so much. I was stuck at his fight for the most part.

Being Asia is suffering. First her magic gets turned on Gasper, then her healing powers get used to take out herself and Ise.

Kiba was a beast throughout this, and really got to show off the versatility of Sword Birth. How did he get healed between this chapter and the last where cars exploded in his face? Phoenix Tears, just like Tsubaki.

And speaking of Tsubaki I really enjoyed writing her. Mirror Alice is just fun to use. I kept seeing it as a Stand ability activating, so I kept having her shout the name. What's more, it was fun making her actually Queen level in a different way from Akeno and Liz. How did she learn Kirito's tactic? From watching the Phenex Rating Game. She used Kiba's diverting counter against him too. She learns fast, but she's not infallible.

I can talk about others but that will probably be redundant with next chapter. Next chapter will also explain the Sitris' numerous tactics, among other things, and serve as a small intermission before the second Rating Game.

A lot of things in the last act don't make too much scientific sense. Good thing I'm playing with magic and shit.

I'll stop typing here for now. Just one last thing:

Who wins or loses isn't as important as the character development that results from it.

Punitor567 out. El Psy Congroo.

Next time: Those Who Shine, Those Who Falter.