And we're back. Hopefully very soon.
Dragon Rider 66: Can I just say the entire movie was my favorite moment? I can't choose one. And I didn't cry but I was left feeling empty. Like, what do I do with my life now that I've seen Endgame?
Reality Deviant: I don't know about other fics but that's exactly the angle I'm going for in this one. To the Sitris, the Gremory group is an insurmountable wall that they struggle to overcome. They came pretty close this time, though. They took out all but two of them, and of those two, one was on God mode and the other wasn't on the frontlines for the most part. Sona would have won had Akeno not pulled that water attraction trick.
ChimaTigon: I have not. I wasn't even aware that there was a new Godzilla movie relatively recently
Thanks to everyone else who has reviewed.
Well, I don't got much to say about this one that it won't itself. So here goes.
Obligatory Disclaimer: I do not own SAO or DxD
Chapter Seventy: Those Who Shine, Those Who Falter
"I really want to fight the Gremory Knight again."
"Right? He was so cool."
"That trick the Priestess pulled was pretty neat."
"If we're gonna talk about that, the Sitris pulled so many tricks and they were all really smart."
"Power versus tactics. See, Ravel-sama? The two can be separate."
"Oh, shut up, Siris."
"I underestimated the Sitri Queen. She was great throughout this Game."
The end of the game was met with chatter and discussion in the Phenex living room. Everyone pointed out a different aspect of the Game that they liked.
"Koneko-chan's really grown up, right, Ni? Sure, she got taken out taken out but that's more the Sitri Queen being even better."
"She defeated two on her own too. She's already better than both of us combined-nya."
Mihae looked at Yubelluna. "Your student got taken out," she pointed out. "Aren't you angry?"
"Not at all," Yubelluna replied. "Her opponents were simply better. She has no blame … to be honest, that's what disappoints me. The fact she's still so quick to blame herself."
"No doubt Asia is tearing herself up over this," Mihae perceptively guessed.
Yubelluna nodded. "It's regrettably likely. Ravel-sama, I'm going to be gone for a while. If need be, I'll just watch the next game there."
"Take care," Ravel replied.
"… I really want to fight the Gremory Knight again," Karlamine repeated.
"You'll lose, Karla-nee," Nel and Ile responded in sync.
Karlamine pouted as the others laughed.
"Kaichou lasted a hell of a lot longer than I thought," Kirito commented. "Even injured, she gave Buchou a pretty good fight."
"You could see their differences in how they fought," Liz commented. "Rias was pretty straightforward in her attacks, throwing around power. Sona relied on subterfuge and complexity to get around Rias."
"Still, there was a large power gap there," Suguha said. "She couldn't overcome it in her state."
"This was a fight of power against tactics. Mostly. There were outliers on both sides. Like Ruruko-chan trying to overpower Koneko-chan," Asuna observed.
"Or Kiba using his Sacred Gear in pretty cool ways," Kirito added.
"… What did Saji-senpai do, exactly?" Silica asked, her brows scrunched up. "That stream of red fire, and when he was suddenly wearing Ise-senpai's gauntlet."
"Looks like it's not just blood he learned to absorb. He absorbed Ise's fire when he shot the blade, and part of the armor when he stabbed him. I guess that's his Sacred Gear's secret: being able to reuse absorbed energy in the exact same way," Kirito deduced. "And seeing how it was both when absorbed by the dagger, I guess that's the restriction."
"Ise and Saji are alike in a lot of ways," Liz said. "Both are Pawns, both are dragons, and both have the potential to be the most dangerous in their group."
[You have a lot to live up to, Silica,] Fina remarked wryly. Silica pouted at the small dragon.
"… Who cast the illusion on the dart, though?" Suguha wondered. "It can't have been Saji-senpai. I know he's not that good."
Kirito stared at the screens, frowning in thought. "Can't have been the vice prez since she was running from Kiba then," he muttered. "And Hanakai was tied up with Gasper, but she's the only one who's good enough to … oh. Huh."
Asuna nodded. "Exactly. She's not the only one."
"What do you mean?" Silica asked.
Asuna began, "I mean that, in other words–"
"–Kusaka Reya was the MVP of this match," Azazel declared.
The Devil elders in the VIP room glanced at him in confusion. "Her?" one said. "How? She didn't take out anyone. I'd pin it as the Gremory Knight or the Sitri Queen."
"Certainly, those two were remarkable," Azazel agreed. "And you're right: Kusaka didn't personally take anyone out. However, it was with her help that almost everyone from the Gremorys was defeated."
"Elaborate," another elder said.
"Of course. First of all, the six crystals. The Teleport Crystals, the Heal Crystals that helped Sona and her Rook stay on their feet after enduring powerful attacks, and those light bombs, she made all of them. Secondly, the illusion on Saji Genshirou's dart, that was her too. And finally, with her inventory, she was able to carry around multiple objects, such as Tsubaki's replacement naginata. She wasn't involved in any direct fight, but her role as their support was crucial," Azazel explained.
"… There's one other thing too," Falbium spoke up. "It was her. She was the one who knew exactly where each of the Gremorys were. That's how they were able to plan accordingly."
Azazel grimaced. "Yeah, there's that, too. Although I have no idea how. Did her Tracking evolve that much?"
"Ah," Ajuka made a sound like he had just recalled something. "No, that's not it. Kusaka Reya has an ability to map closed spaces. I forgot to mention that."
"You forgot? Ajuka, are you getting old?" Falbium teased.
"In my defense, it hasn't even been mentioned since chapter thirty five!" Ajuka retorted. "Even the author forgot!"
"…Huh?" Serafall said in total confusion.
"What I mean is, I'm not infallible. With so many extraordinary individuals gathered in one room, one or two things could have slipped my mind."
"Did it evolve, maybe?" Azazel took it in stride and suggested. "From being able to know where everything was to being able to tell where everyone is within that space? Or maybe it's an application of that ability combined with her Tracking Skill?"
"Whatever the case, it's an extremely powerful ability," Sirzechs said. "Knowing exactly where your enemies are and being able to plan around it so well … Sona's brilliant mind is an excellent match for it."
"And I even made her that armband," Azazel chuckled, pointing at the blue armband Kusaka wore in a replay, like a soccer captain wore. "I knew she wouldn't do it, just like how I knew Gasper wouldn't try to use Forbidden Balor View, but I had to make that for her to limit the range of her Teleport Crystals to within the Rating Game space."
"This ability would make it rather easy for the Sitri Peerage to fight indoors," a Devil elder said.
Azazel shook his head. "It's more than that. Technically, aren't all Rating Game fields closed spaces?" he pointed. "That ability is busted, plain and simple. It's going to have to be banned."
"You shouldn't discount So-tan's achievements either," Serafall protested. "Sure, Reya-chan told her where everyone was but she was the one who came up with everything."
"I have a question," an elder began. "The light crystals … where did they get those? Devils cannot handle holy energy, normally," he added, since there were quite a few in that generation who could. "I do not recall anyone among the Sitris who can."
"True, but you can generate demonic energy," Azazel pointed out.
"I see. Reverse," Sirzechs said, comprehending.
Azazel nodded. "We saw them prepare that in the beginning. Hollow crystals formed by, again, Kusaka, were filled with raw demonic energy, which was then Reversed, forming densely packed light grenades. Sona really went all out on using those gloves. I'm sure my subordinates will be overjoyed from having this much data."
"And that's not all," Falbium added. "The rope net, the cloth and paint to color it, the markers needed to draw the various magic circles. They obtained all of those from within the Rating Game field. And then the tactics with the cars in the garage, and all the other things we saw them prepare but never get to use. It's safe to say that when it comes to making the most of their surroundings, the Sitri team did far better."
"The Gremory side won," an elder said. "However, they also caused the most property destruction, so it's not a clean win. Granted, it's still minimal, so they still deserve the win."
"True … but I don't think Rias sees this as a win," Sirzechs muttered. A few Devils turned questioning gazes at him and he smirked humorlessly. "Would you, if you had to lose six of your members along the way? Were this a real fight…" he trailed off. "I'm worried about how she is taking it."
"Don't worry. So-tan is there. She'll make sure Rias-chan doesn't spiral," Serafall reassured. She turned to look at the elders. "Do you still want to laugh at Sona-chan?"
Her voice was dangerously edged. Even Azazel felt the threat. The elders looked nervously at each other. "We … accept that she's serious," one said, carefully and grudgingly. "But as for the feasibility of it … we are still not convinced."
That was the safest near-lie those prideful Devils could say. They still weren't quite taking the idea seriously, but they were smart enough not to get on the bad side of a deceptively volatile Maou. Azazel, Serafall, everyone in the room knew it. Serafall didn't say anything, however, only narrowed her eyes and looked away.
"Azazel," Odin suddenly called. He pointed at one of the screens. "There. That boy. What was his name?"
Azazel glanced over to a replay of Ise fighting – or rather, curb stomping – Saji. "That would be Hyoudou Issei, the current Sekiryuutei."
"No, I know him. The other one. The Sitri Pawn. He was one of the Devils who wasn't frozen at the Peace Treaty."
Azazel raised an eyebrow. "That would be the wielder of Absorption Line, a Vritra-type Sacred Gear. Saji Genshirou."
"Look after that one," Odin advised. "That's a good Devil in the making."
"… Well, I won't question your wisdom," Azazel acquiesced. "Saji, huh … maybe I should give the Sitris more attention…"
"How do you feel?"
"Like a dehydrated vampire."
"Okay, I'm gonna go get Gasper. Maybe his cross-dressing will help with that."
"Alright, that makes zero sense."
Argo and I stared at each other for a second before we both laughed. "Okay, seriously, how do you feel?" Argo repeated.
"You know the word, congratulations."
I gave her a dry look and continued, "They replenished my lost blood quickly enough, but want me to rest a little while longer."
"And the stab wound?"
I waved my arm. "Good as new. Did you just come down?"
Argo shook her head. "I was in Gasper's room after he got taken out. Almost missed the end of your fight, but saw through it and stayed with Gasper until the Game ended. Gasper kept insisting I go to your side after you got taken out."
"What, were you worried?" I teased.
Argo huffed. "Of course I was! You'd lost so much blood! Even for a tactic, that was cold."
"It was effective," I argued. "And even though he did that, Gen still tried to defeat me the normal way."
Argo stared. "You're gonna talk to him, right? Want me to stay and assist?"
"No, thanks. We'll have to talk it out ourselves."
Argo sighed. "To think that this over-sympathetic idiot was a paranoid pervert once…"
"I was a pervert, 'once'?"
"Wait, no, I'm taking that back. You're still a Pervert."
"How the heck did you capitalize that?"
"Just your imagination, Pervert … so you're not mad at the Sitris?"
I stared down at my hands. "… To be honest, when I came to, I was pretty miffed. But I realize I can't blame them for trying it," I said.
"You should take it as a compliment. You were so powerful they had to find a way around it."
I glanced at the door and raised an eyebrow. The person there – Kirito's sister – raised her hand. "Before you ask, everyone came here," she said. "Onii-chan went to check on Koneko and Gasper, Asuna-san went to check on Xenovia-san and so on."
"And you're here?" I asked.
"I felt sorry for you," she sarcastically said. "I thought Argo-san was still with Gasper, so that left you all alone." She walked in and sat on a visitor's chair. "Also I'm curious. What was that Double thing?"
"Oh yeah, there is that," Argo hummed. "Did you unlock a new ability? Is that the thing Beelzebub-sama talked about?"
"The answer to your question costs ten thousand yen," I replied.
Argo turned to Kirigaya. "Sugu-chan, could you make me a pillow to throw at him?" she asked without missing a beat.
"Hey now, conserve your energy. You guys have a fight in less than thirty minutes," I reminded.
"Get back on track, senpai," Kirigaya retorted. "Also do you really think generating a pillow would really affect my reserves?"
"Yes," I lied. A pillow from nowhere was thrown at my face and dematerialized a second later. "I had that coming."
"Anyway, you were saying?" Argo prodded.
"Right, right. You remember that one ability of Vali's? Called Half Dimension?"
"The way you described it, he can halve physical objects, and also space," Kirigaya recalled.
"I'm guessing he can't use it on sentient things cause he never used it on me, but anyways. I was thinking about how to counter that when it hit me. We're supposed to be opposites, right? So maybe I could figure out how to reverse his broken ability. Hence, Double: exactly what it sounds like. I can double the matter of any non-living thing," I explained.
"Day by day, you get more overpowered than you already were," Argo marveled.
"Requirements? Drawbacks and limitations?" Kirigaya asked.
"You won't let me sound cool for even a second…" I grumbled. "Well, the biggest limitation right now is that I can only use it in Balance Breaker state."
"An ability that lets you make pillars out of the ground, and you can only use it in your fully armored form," Argo summarized and then grinned cheekily. "Once Kii-bou figures it out, he's not gonna stop calling you Alphonse."
"Ah, shut up. Don't you guys have to get ready and stuff?"
"We'll be fine. You gonna watch it from here?"
"Watching from a comfy bed. Tempting. But nah, I'll be up in a bit."
"I-I'm sorry! Even – even though you taught me s-so much…!"
"There, there. It's okay, Tomoe-chan."
I walked past a door behind which I heard sobbing and someone comforting that person. I recognized the voices, understood what was happening, realized it wasn't my place to overhear it, and kept walking.
Last time we had a Rating Game we weren't sent to this place after most of us were retired. It looked a lot like a modern hospital hallway in the human world. A long white hallway with doors on the sides leading to individual rooms.
Heck I actually don't know what the rest of the place looks like. We got here via magic circle.
Fortunately the doors all had the names of their patients on them so I didn't have to check every one. I'd gone to Gasper's first since his was closest, but he wasn't there. I guessed that he'd gone to someone else's room and kept walking.
Eventually I arrived at Koneko's room. The door was open. Maybe it was a bit rude not to announce myself, but hey, open door means free entry, right? I walked in, and neither of the occupants noticed me.
"Maybe – maybe if I hadn't gotten taken out I could have stopped Shinra-senpai."
"Gya-kun, that doesn't even make sense. Don't worry about it."
There's Koneko sitting up on her bed and Gasper fretting on a chair nearby.
What's with this role reversal?
"Shouldn't the person in bed normally be comforted by the one outside?" I observed, and the two turned to look at me. "C'mon, Gasper. How come you're the one who looks frustrated?"
"I thought you had watched enough shows to know that this is normal, senpai," Koneko teased.
"I'm asking him because you look very chill."
"… I was frustrated enough this past month. I even lashed out at you. I don't want to repeat that," Koneko admitted. "… But I am frustrated. Even though I promised you, I was defeated."
"What are you even talking about?" I refuted flatly. "You took out two of them on your own. For one of those, you made their own trick backfire on them. And for the other, you reacted and countered so fast that if I didn't know better, I'd have thought you were a Knight. Take it from me, you did great."
"… Thanks." That was followed by a bit of awkward staring. It stretched for a few seconds until I finally figured it out and put my hand on her head.
Koneko made a tiny smile in response. "Just so you know, that's lethal," I pointed out.
"… You deserve it. Ah, I – I don't mean the lethality, but–"
"I wish I'd done something worth praising," Gasper muttered. Koneko glared at Gasper for a moment, but I had no idea why.
I raised an eyebrow at that. "But you did. They tried to trap you, but in the end, you figured it all out and threw it in their face." I said.
"I still lost," Gasper argued. "And … I think I made Asia-senpai depressed."
"Not you, but yeah," I frowned. "Hopefully once Ise is back on his feet he'll go talk her out of it." And Raynare already went there. Much as I don't like her, Asia does. At least she'll appreciate that murderess's company.
"If it's Ise-senpai, she'll be fine," Koneko said. "Kirito-senpai, isn't your game soon?"
"Soon, but still like twenty minutes away."
"You should go get ready then. We'll make sure to watch it."
"Alright. Guess it's my turn to show off."
Asuna stared curiously at Xenovia. "You seem … unperturbed."
Xenovia shrugged. "I lost this time, so I just have to win next time, right?"
"That's almost as carefree as Kirito-kun."
"Maybe he rubbed off on me."
Asuna smiled and walked up to the bed. "How are you feeling?"
"A bit tired and sore, but otherwise healthy. They told me that I should stay and rest a while longer since I got hit by a powerful holy attack. They won't let me leave before then, otherwise I'd already be in the waiting room. I'm actually impressed by the Sitri Rook. Yura, was it? It might have been reversed, but a wave from Durandal is still powerful, but she endured it."
"When you threw Durandal, you also gave Yuuto-kun temporary leave to wield it," Asuna guessed. "That's how he was able to summon it later."
Xenovia nodded. "It's something Azazel-sensei suggested when he came by two weeks in. I can even let Kirito hold it for around a minute."
"And he has no element to wield it," Asuna muttered. "That's a considerable upgrade to your versatility. You can even play as support like that."
"I prefer fighting directly."
"The exact opposite of Yuuto-kun."
"He should've just used Durandal from the start," Xenovia huffed indignantly. "He wouldn't have needed to use all those tricks then."
"Seems like he wanted to show off. Kirito-kun must have rubbed off on him too. Well, take your time resting. I'll go and prepare now."
"Have you seen Buchou?" Xenovia suddenly asked. "She hasn't come by yet."
Asuna frowned. "I haven't, no. You're taking the loss rather well, but I don't think Rias is. To be honest, I am worried … but Sitri-san will be there, I'm sure."
Kiba chuckled as Tosca nearly slammed the door open. "I'm fine, Tosca."
"But you were hurt!" she insisted.
"I was, yes. Not anymore, see?" He pointed to his previously injured shoulder.
Tosca. "That was so scary … thank God – oh, um, sorry."
Kiba received a mild headache but waved it off. "It's fine. Were you waiting long?"
"They told me they had to treat you first. Even after I said I was your sister, they didn't listen to me!" Tosca huffed childishly. "Geez, you weren't even unconscious, but they made me wait."
"I apologize. Did I worry you?"
"A whole lot! I wanted to run here the moment the cars blew up. But then you kept going. You were really cool, Isaiah. Really, really cool."
"I was pushed to my limits," Kiba replied modestly.
Tosca shook her head. "You were awesome, Isaiah. I'm sure that … I'm sure that our brothers and sisters would be just as proud."
Kiba nodded solemnly. "I hope I have made them proud with who I've become."
"I guarantee it. After all, I'm proud," Tosca said, smiling widely.
There was a knock on the door, drawing their attention. "Yes?" Kiba called politely.
"Kiba Yuuto. May I enter?"
Kiba's eyebrows rose in surprise. The vice president? "Please, go ahead."
The door opened slowly, revealing Shinra Tsubaki. Her uniform had been replaced with a new one, however she wasn't wearing new glasses.
"What can I do for you, fukukaichou?" Kiba asked.
Shinra raised a hand. "Please. Shinra is fine."
She nodded hesitantly. "Firstly, I would like to congratulate you. Your performance in this Game was incredible."
"I wasn't that–" Kiba tried to say.
"Secondly," Shinra said before bowing low. "I would like to apologize. We severely underestimated you, and that led to our loss."
"You don't need to apologize for that," he tried.
"I must," Shinra insisted. "We thought so little of you, when you were the strongest player of the Gremory group. That is an insult to you. We failed to see your true worth."
"I don't mind being underestimated," Kiba said. "I prefer not having too much attention on me. It's quite refreshing."
"And also," Kiba continued. "Please don't think so highly of me. Fukukaichou … Shinra-senpai. My performance was due to trying to keep up with you. Your skill with both the naginata and your Sacred Gear was very impressive."
"Oh no, it wasn't anything compared to your ingenuity with Sword Birth."
"It was you who pushed me to my limits every time."
"Shinra-senpai," Kiba interrupted. "If you want me to accept your compliments then please accept mine as well."
Shinra looked up and met Kiba's gaze. Was it just his imagination that she reddened slightly? "O-Of course. Thank you."
"If I may, there is a curiosity I have had," Kiba said, as a thought struck him. "I've never seen you use a naginata before. You must have had an exceptional teacher to bring you this far in a month."
"Not quite. Usage of the naginata was traditionally taught in the Shinra family, but until last month, it had been years since I last held one. Not since I left the house, in fact. This past month, I merely practiced what I was taught all those years ago. I still have a long way to go."
"Nobody who's seen you fight would think you hadn't held the weapon in years," Kiba remarked, genuinely impressed. "So that was all self-taught? That's very impressive, Shinra-senpai."
"Thank you," this time she accepted the compliment without hesitation and smiled lightly. "I hope I can get better."
A thought struck Kiba. "I wonder if Master Okita knows any naginata techniques," he thought out loud. "If you came this far on your own, no doubt an incredible teacher will take you even further."
"… Okita? As in, Okita Souji? The Okita Souji?!" Shinra exclaimed.
"The very same."
"Your teacher is the Okita Souji?! No wonder!"
"I have a long, long way to go before I can even think about reaching Master's level. He is in a different plane. Ah, would you like me to introduce you to him?"
"You'd–?! Ahem," Shinra coughed to recompose herself. "You would do that for me?"
"It is no problem. I'm sure Master would be pleased to meet someone as talented as you," he answered frankly.
"… Thank you. Really, I'm very grateful."
Unbeknownst to both of them Tosca was curiously looking from one to the other.
Slowly the dots began to connect, but the picture it formed was still only a suspicion.
She would have to wait and see.
Never before had Asia felt so miserable, and it was all her fault.
Her magic hurt Gasper. Her healing powers took out Ise.
It was all because she overstepped her bounds. All because she'd been too overeager. If she'd just known her place, none of this would have happened.
Raynare had come by a few minutes ago. According to her, Rias had ultimately won. Asia had flatly asked who had lost along the way and Raynare had reluctantly answered: Kiba and Rias were the only ones who had remained standing.
Raynare had later left to get Asia a drink, leaving her alone again in her room. Not like it made any difference: she remained miserable whether there was anyone else in the room or not.
It was all her fault. Her fault that Gasper was defeated. Her fault that Ise was defeated.
Were this a real fight, they would have died, all because of her. Asia balled the bed-sheets in her fists.
Eventually Rias and the others would realize this and she would get the blame she deserved –
"I knew it. You're sulking."
Asia looked up in surprise. Standing in the doorway was …
"Yubelluna-sensei…" she muttered.
"I won't ask how you're feeling, because that's quite obvious," she said. Her voice seemed to lack its usual sharpness, but that had to be Asia's imagination.
"… I'm sorry, sensei," Asia said morosely, looking down at her balled up fists again. "I shouldn't have gotten so eager. I've been a terrible student. I … eh?"
At some point, Asia felt arms embracing her. She looked up and found Yubelluna very close by.
"It's okay now, Asia," she heard Yubelluna say soothingly. "It's okay."
"It must have been agonizing. You're very frustrated, and angry. I understand. So just let it all out."
"It's okay. Let it all out, Asia."
Asia struggled to keep the dam up. She didn't want to feel frustrated. Guilt should have been the only thing she was feeling.
And yet, when Yubelluna told her so, she knew right away that she was correct, and it became impossible to hold it back any longer.
The dam broke.
"I – I'm sorry!" she cried, unable to hold her tears back. They flowed out freely as she sobbed. "I – I tried my best!"
"And even though I did, I only made things worse!"
"That you didn't do. That's not your fault, Asia."
"B-But my magic! And my healing! I hurt my friends with them, even though wanting to help them was why I got better!"
"You did no such thing. Your opponents countered you. Nothing you did was wrong."
"You wasted so much time teaching me, and I–"
"Look at me, Asia," Yubelluna interrupted in a firm voice. Hesitantly, Asia looked up to see Yubelluna's stern visage.
"I wasted no time," Yubelluna said clearly. "You are an exceptionally talented girl, and I am proud to have taught you. What happened today was not your fault. I know it feels terrible to have your own strengths turned on your allies. Believe me, I know. But you're not to blame for that, understand? You carry no blame for your opponent's trickery."
"B-But…" Asia began. Yubelluna interrupted her with a raised hand.
"I meant what I said. You are exceptionally talented, and a very hard worker. You've come very far in merely a few weeks. Of course, there's always room for improvement. All you have to do now is become even better, so that you won't regret anything in the future."
"… You won't say to – hic – never lose again?"
"Of course not. You can't win everything. There will be times when you are defeated again. The only thing you have to do is ensure that you have no regrets, regardless of the outcome. You couldn't have known that your powers would have been countered like that."
Asia said nothing, burying her face in Yubelluna's shoulder, body still vibrating with silent sobs. "… I – I could have been better…" she whispered.
"You will be," Yubelluna promised. "Don't feel discouraged. This is only your beginning. I promise you, you will never forget the joy of victory."
"… Will I ever win? A screw-up like me?"
"Of course. It may be hard, just as hard as today was, but I can guarantee that there will come a day where you will know how winning feels. Who knows, that day may be sooner than you think. Also, you're not a screw-up. You've only failed once. Next time will be different."
"… How do you know that?"
"I don't. What I do know is that you're more than strong enough not to give up just from this," Yubelluna said. "You've never given up through the terrible life you had, so you won't give up now. I know how strong you are, Asia. I didn't accept you as my student because of your talent. Well, that was a part, but more importantly, I could tell how strong you are. I knew that you wouldn't give up no matter what challenges you face. That's why, I know that you can come back from this."
Asia sniffled. "… Okay. I'll try."
"Good," Yubelluna said approvingly. "That's all I wanted to hear."
Asia hesitantly met the older woman's gaze again. Her eyes shifted to a shoulder. "… I'm sorry about your dress," she said, noticing the stain from her tears.
"It's just a dress," Yubelluna said dismissively. "I have more than enough of them, and once Riser-sama gets off his sorry ass, he'll make an unnecessary fuss and get me a new one."
Asia blinked and then stared at Yubelluna in wide-eyed surprise. Yubelluna smirked impishly. "You didn't hear that from me. Really, it's unsightly how much he's sulking. Look at you, you're already back on your feet."
Asia stared quietly, still wide-eyed. "What? You didn't think I was capable of badmouthing him, only endless praise? Ah, Riser-sama is the most gallant there is!" Yubelluna mocked, self-aware.
Asia giggled, and it was very relieving to herself.
Raynare smiled as she heard the conversation inside.
She was honestly glad that Asia was feeling better. Comforting someone wasn't her forte; she had no idea what to say.
She'd seen a Devil woman she didn't know enter on the way back and stopped, leaning with her back to the wall of beside Asia's door. She didn't quite know why she was being so sneaky; she just didn't want to interrupt.
At any rate, it was for the best that Asia was feeling better. Alright, so now what? Should I just walk in now or wait till that person leaves?
A door opened to her far left. Raynare glanced around and did a double take as she saw Tsubaki exit a room?
Shinra? What was she doing in that room? Isn't that…?
A look at the door told her that it was indeed that Knight boy's room. Kiba. Curious, Raynare continued to watch.
Tsubaki seemed to have not noticed Raynare was behind her. She took a few steps down the hallway, away from Raynare and stopped. The Fallen Angel's curiosity doubled.
Tsubaki's right arm rose slowly and she placed her hand over her heart. Raynare's eyebrow rose automatically. And is it just me or are the tips of her ears kinda red…?
Slowly, Tsubaki walked off again. Raynare glanced at her retreating back, stared at the door she had come out of and looked at her again.
You've gotta be kidding me…
"You know how there's a weird demerit for Devils using Sword Skills, right?" Ruruko began. She and Silica were walking down the hallway, having just left Ruruko's room and going to Saji's. Fina was on Silica's shoulder as usual.
Silica nodded. "It's really weirdly costly," Silica recalled.
"Right. That always felt a little off to me. Like, if it costs so much, where does all that energy go? So I tested with Gen for a bit, and we discovered it: like energy wasted as heat from a light bulb, a lot of it uselessly dissipates into the surroundings."
[How's you figure it out?] Fina asked.
"I stood inside a circle made with Gen's Absorption Line, and he checked to see if he was absorbing anything. It took a while, since he had to get good enough with it to absorb stuff right from the space around me, but eventually it worked. Well, that only told us where it was normally going. The next part was the harder one."
"Reabsorbing it?" Silica guessed.
"Yup. That took so many days. And it's not perfect yet."
"What do you mean?"
"I can't completely take the energy back. I have to keep it at surface level and use it in the next few minutes or it gets turned to heat and well … you can probably guess what happens if your body overheats."
[So wait, those glowing lines all over you … ah, you hid them with an illusion so as to not tip them off until you attacked. Smart,] Fina deduced.
"Pretty much, yeah," Ruruko agreed. "So there you have it. Recycling wasted Sword Skill energy is my trick."
[… I don't think that's all,] Fina privately thought.
Not all? Silica asked.
[Absorbing raw energy from the air around her, even if it's densely packed for a while due to just being discharged, isn't something most people can do. She probably thinks it's all, but there's definitely more to it.]
[…This is all going over your head, isn't it, Sillyca?]
No … yes.
Fina laughed mentally
They saw two others walking to them from the opposite direction. "Hi, Ise-senpai. Argo-senpai," Ruruko greeted. "Are you here for Gen, too?"
"I was actually going to Reya's," Argo replied. "We stopped by Gen-kun's room," pointing behind them with a thumb, "but well, he wasn't there, so Ise came with me."
Ruruko raised an eyebrow. "Not there?" she asked, following them into Kusaka's room.
She wasn't alone. Saji was there, sitting on a visitor chair. "Yo," he greeted.
"Why are you here? You shouldn't be up, should you?" Ruruko asked skeptically.
"I did hit you pretty hard," Ise added.
"Thank you for the reminder of my loss," he retorted sarcastically. "I'm fine. Better off than getting zapped by a holy thunderstorm," he said, looking at Kusaka.
Argo had wasted no time in going up to her and hugging her tight. "Right when I wasn't looking, you, you became an amazingly strong person," Argo said with a smile.
"I'm nothing like Ise-san or Kirito-san," Kusaka waved off sheepishly.
"I don't mean strong like those two idiots."
"Ouch," Ise muttered.
"You still haven't answered why you're here," Ruruko repeated to Saji.
"I don't feel like I did anything to deserve it, but the two of us are gonna be awarded as the best players of the game," Saji revealed. "We were discussing that. We'll officially get them after the next game."
"Wait, really? That's great!" Ruruko exclaimed.
"Both of you?" Argo repeated, surprised. She looked back at Kusaka and grinned. "Look at you, getting fancy awards now."
"Oh, shut up."
"Congrats. Both of you," Ise said honestly.
"Thanks, Ise-san," Kusaka replied.
Saji nodded. He and Ise stared awkwardly at each other for several seconds. "I said some pretty weird shit at the end back there," Saji commented.
"Yeah, kinda," replied Ise. He glanced around the room. "Uh…"
There was a single knock on the door before it opened. "There's a lot of you here," Hanakai mused as she looked in. "Well, easier like this. The next game is starting soon. Gokou-san, Keiko-chan, you should get ready."
… And I'm nervous again, Silica complained.
[Come on, you're an SAO Survivor,] Fina reminded. [Buck up.]
This is my first fight not in a virtual world!
Saji glanced at the room's clock. "Later, then?" he asked.
"Later," Ise agreed.
"Go get ready, Arisa," Kusaka said. "Time for you to show off how much you've grown."
"Yeah, yeah, I'll try."
"Great," Hanakai said. "Well, then, Gokou-san, Keiko-chan, see you on the monitors. Hyoudou-san, Ruruko-chan, Reya-chan, Gen-chan, see you later."
"… wait, what?"
Hanakai had already disappeared from the doorway. "… Was I hearing things?" Saji asked the room at large.
"It does flow off the tongue better," Argo said. "Less syllables."
Ruruko stared at the door in mild horror. "Oh no…" she whispered.
"Oh no what?" Saji asked.
"Nothing you should worry about … Gen-chan," Kusaka teased. Saji turned to look at her in confusion. "Arisa's right. It does flow better."
"Good luck, Ruruko," Ise said sympathetically.
"What are you all talking about?"
"Not a great show."
"Why, thank you."
Akeno looked at Liz with some mild irritation. "Come to boast that you'll do better in yours?"
"Won't be hard. You did get done in. Guess I'll have to show you how a Queen does it. Oh, wait, Shinra already did."
Akeno sighed and levelled a mild glare at her. "You know I didn't hold back," she said coolly.
"No you didn't," Liz agreed. "But they still got you. So get them back next time."
Akeno stared at her quietly for a few seconds. "Your consolation speeches need work," she finally said, exasperated.
"That wasn't a consolation speech, that was plain honesty."
"Your honesty also needs work."
There was a knock on the door. It opened slightly and Yura poked her head in. "Hey," she greeted. "You two seen Kaichou?"
"Neither her nor Rias," Liz answered. "I guess they're together, wherever they are."
"I know where they are," Akeno said, drawing their attention. "Well, I don't know for sure," she corrected and continued, "but seeing Rias most likely doesn't see this as a win, I have a good guess. And I'm sure Sona is there, too."
"… Why wouldn't she see it as a win?" Yura asked curiously.
"Losing six of your eight allies isn't a win," Lizbeth explained. "So she's where exactly?"
Akeno answered, "Back home."
Rias closed the door behind her and took a few steps forward.
There was a special room at every Gremory mansion. The walls were thick enough to be soundproof so as to not disturb others with the noise produced within it. It was a bit unnecessary as the mansions were vast and spacious enough that no sound would disturb others unless they were walking nearby.
Regardless, it was a room at the end of a corridor on the ground floor. What filled it included chairs and tables, but these were old and stacked together. There were also old cabinets, dressers, and other unused furniture. Decayed canvas frames were lined up along a far wall, and there were boxes full of unused cutlery and plates stacked along another. A tall mirror that had been replaced long ago was propped up in a corner.
These rooms were added shortly after Rias's mother married into the Gremory family. Venelana's tempers were infamous, so in order to give her a chance to vent her anger on unneeded objects, these otherwise empty rooms were repurposed.
Simply put, they were destruction rooms. And it was for that purpose exactly that Rias was there.
The mirror in the far corner reflected her image as she raised an arm towards it. It reflected her blank face as she levelled an orb of her power at it.
"I have had it! Akeno, we're going after them! I've had enough of playing safe!"
Rias saw her eyes narrow and discharged the orb. It collided with the mirror and blew a hole through. The glass shattered, shards flying everywhere.
"Not even you can defeat all six of us."
Rias grit her teeth and aimed at a box of plates. The crash from the crate falling apart wasn't satisfactory enough. Neither were the sounds of the shards falling to and further breaking against the ground.
"I've lost to you every time in chess, but you've never once beaten me in a fight."
Three orbs of power smashed a cabinet to pieces. It wasn't enough.
[One of Rias-sama's Knights retire.]
Half a dozen old picture frames had large holes shot into them.
[One of Rias-sama's Bishops retire.]
More boxes were smashed. Shards of glass flew everywhere.
[Rias-sama's Bishop and Pawn retire.]
Rias didn't have to worry about her attacks damaging the walls of the mansion. Like many in the Underworld, they were either built or reinforced in a time of war. They were sturdy enough that even her brother would require considerable effort to break one if he wanted.
[Rias-sama's Rook retires.]
A volley of destruction orbs reduced a dozen glass goblets on top of a cabinet to nothing. There was little sound as small shards fell on top of said cabinet.
It wasn't enough.
[Rias-sama's Queen retires.]
It wasn't nearly cathartic enough.
"Let's all get stronger together.'
Rias let out a wordless, frustrated cry as she threw the last orb like a baseball. It destroyed the bottom piece of a high stack of tables and chairs, unbalancing it. They crashed and broke further as they fell.
Rias exhaled as she watched dust clouds rise and fade from the crash. "I'm all talk," she said bitterly. "I haven't advanced a single step."
After she'd so proudly told Akeno and Koneko that they'd progress together, she herself was the only one who failed to live up to her word. Everyone had made progress in leaps and bounds. Everyone had gotten stronger, better, more skilled.
Everyone except her.
All of her servants had basically carried her through the game. Let alone doing something noteworthy, she'd done nothing at all until the very end.
Rias had felt the same frustration after the Rating Game against the Phenex, where things had gone similarly. The frustration back then had been washed away by the catharsis of defeating Riser with her own hands and the sheer relief from knowing that she wouldn't have to marry that arrogant chicken.
But even then, was it really by her own hands? Was it, when Ise and Koneko worked together to wear him down, and Ise still had to empower her so that she could win?
Nothing at all had changed. She did nothing to help her servants win their various fights. She did nothing worth mentioning to save them. She only fought Sona after Akeno had weakened her and saved Rias from Sona's trump card.
What kind of King was she, that her servants had to do everything for her? What kind of leader was she, that she couldn't do anything for them in return?
"I'm a coward. A failure," Rias said angrily.
Rias generated more orbs from her power of destruction and shot them wildly. They crashed into several locations. They made more holes and toppled more things.
It was too clean. Her power of destruction wasn't flashy enough that random trashing could be cathartic enough. Irritated, Rias aimed for low points on any stacks she saw, so that the rest of the objects could crash to the floor.
It still wasn't enough.
Rias heard the door open. She didn't turn around, but she knew who it was from the sound of her footsteps.
"Sona," she greeted curtly.
"Rias," Sona replied. Rias heard the door close. "It's a good thing you were here. I was dreading having to search every one of your mansions."
"I knew I should've gone somewhere else," Rias said, smiling mirthlessly. "I wanted to be left alone."
Sona didn't immediately reply. Rias chanced a glance back to see Sona looking around at the destruction Rias had wrought.
Finally, Sona spoke, "Next time, I will win."
Rias laughed humorlessly. "What are you talking about? You as good as won this."
"A loss is a loss."
"Maybe, but I didn't win either," Rias said, walking towards a wall. She picked up a picture frame and balanced it atop another and stepped back. "It's almost as if you knew my Peerage better than I myself did," she continued, raising an arm.
"Nonsense," Sona refuted. "They're your servants, not mine. There's no way I could know them better than you."
"You exploited Asia's reflexive urge to help others and took out both her and Ise together," Rias pointed out. "You used Akeno's caution against her and nearly defeated me." She shot an orb at the lower picture frame. It collapsed from the hole blasted in it and the one above toppled over, crashing to the ground. "Damn, I wish I could make these explode," Rias muttered. She looked back when she didn't hear Sona respond.
Sona was staring at the broken mirror, but she wasn't really looking at it. "… People praise me all the time for my planning," she began. "They tell me it's my strongest skill. But most people don't realize something: strategizing is all well and good, but the best plans in the world can only take you so far if you don't have allies who can carry them out. I'm lucky; I have a great Peerage who puts their faith in me. They trust me. I could plan all I want but without people like them who can execute them flawlessly, it means nothing."
Rias chuckled. "I suppose that makes two of us. We're nothing without our servants."
"For now," Sona corrected. "Isn't it our duty to become Kings worthy of our servants' trust?"
"… I'm far from that ideal," Rias confessed. "And I don't know anymore. What should I do to move forward? Every time I've fought, I lost unless there was someone with me. I'm constantly relying on my friends and family, but I'm not someone they can rely on."
"Strength isn't everything," Sona said. "It was you who gave Kiba Yuuto a second chance. It was you who gave Toujou Koneko a family. You who saved Akeno from persecution. Everyone in your Peerage was saved by you in some manner."
"You did that too."
"Yes, but it's not a competition. You're a good person, Rias. That's your strength. You didn't save them because you wanted something in return. You didn't save them to compete with someone. That's your strength; that's what makes your servants – your family – loyal to you. You're already someone worthy of your servants."
"In that case, so are you," Rias added.
"And neither of us are satisfied with just being worthy. We want to be better, so we will. It doesn't matter how long it takes. And that's why I declared to you: next time, I will win. And you?"
Rias was silent for a while. Sona was right; she couldn't let one game bring her down. She would keep trying and trying.
Today's victory meant nothing to her. It was hollow, unrewarding. Therefore, the only thing she could do was become better, aiming for that perfect victory.
She wasn't perfect; she knew that. But she could improve herself, become something close to it.
"… Absolutely not," she retorted with a smirk. "You've beaten me 400 times in chess. Hell will freeze over before you beat me in a Rating Game."
"That's more like the usual you," Sona said, smirking back. "Now then, come on. We have a Game to watch first. We can discuss our issues after."
"You're right. Let's hope Asuna gets that perfect victory I couldn't," Rias replied, walking to the door.
"I'd much rather watch her struggle," Sona said, following.
"Her opponent is Zephyrdoll. I'll be very surprised if she struggles."
"You never know."
"Wow, you really know how to hold a grudge."
"It's just us, is it?" Ajuka asked as he came back to the VIP room.
Aside from the four Maou, Azazel, and Odin, the room was empty. All the other Devil elders had left.
"Looks like it," Azazel replied. "Man, your big-shots are really cold to the poor girl. Doesn't help that Zephyrdoll himself doesn't have the best reputation either."
"I would hope that at least a few of the elders left due to peer pressure, or to keep up appearances," Sirzechs suggested. "Maybe they're watching from the comfort of their homes."
"Is this one being broadcast too?" Odin asked.
"I had to pull some strings to ensure it was fair. Although this way Kirito-kun's privacy will be shot."
"Everyone will know that the Hero of Aincrad is in the Yuuki Peerage," Azazel commented. "That alone might be good for Asuna's reputation. Also, isn't her Bishop your bodyguard's student?" he asked Odin.
"The first former representative of myself to become a Devil," Odin added and chuckled. "The young heiress has quite a lot going for her, politically."
"Who cares about all that?" Serafall said. "It's just us now, so we can sit back and relax! Have fun, talk casually and all that! And I'm finally back in normal clothing!"
By normal, she meant her magical girl outfit. Azazel had no idea when exactly she'd changed into it.
"I didn't think you were one to care about appearances, Serafall," Azazel teased. She stuck out her tongue at him.
"It's starting," Falbium announced. They turned to the screens as the Yuukis teleported in.
The second Rating Game was beginning.
This was … twice as long as I expected. And it should've been earlier, but outing after outing ate up my time.
I'm not too confident about it, but this chapter was necessary, character-wise. If there's questions that this one doesn't answer, feel free to ask them
Some issues are still not resolved, as you can see. That'll be later. Now for climax 2.
Next time: Rating Game – Yuuki v Glasya-Labolas.
See you with at the very least this one next month.
Punitor567 out. El Psy Congroo.
I am so gonna make fourth-wall breaking Ajuka a thing.