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Greetings, everyone! It's ya boy back at it with yet another update.

How've you been? I hope you've been faring well in those difficult times. As for myself, I'm doing okay. Not bad, not perfect, just okay.

After (almost) a year, I have emerged back into the realm of the living to deliver you a (hopefully) highly anticipated update to a story that I myself grew a bit too attached to.

With that said, any and all announcements, side banters and reviews will be at the bottom A/Ns, so if you're interested in whatever it is that I have to say – stick around once you're done reading.

Without further ado, chapter 28. I hope you enjoy it!



‚Sacred Gears, Magical items, Group/Organization name, Nicknames, etc.'



[Ddraig talking out loud]

[Ddraig thinking]

[Ddraig talking to Issei in Issei's mind]

[Figure name]

(Author remarks, rant, whatever)

{[Flashback/Dream Start/End]}

{[Scene Break/Start/End]}

Disclaimer: I don't nor will I ever own Highschool DxD or its characters. It belongs to Ichiei Ishibumi.


{[Scene Start]}

Issei expected a lot of things to happen at the party. He expected to see a lot of things and meet a lot of people during it, as well. However, whatever his expectations were, the current situation he found himself in was definitely not one of them.

Seeing Koneko leave and following her outside the building and into the forest was already as odd as is, but seeing the reason for her odd behavior was, for the lack of a better word, absolutely shocking.

To say that him and Rias were surprised was an understatement. Indeed, she was the last person they expected to see. And yet, there she was. Before Koneko stood her sister, the SS-ranked criminal Kuroka, sitting on a tree branch and smiling mischievously as her younger sister.

A small black cat was snuggled next to Koneko's older sister, Kuroka.

"Onee-chan is very impressed that you came this far following after this black cat that sneaked into the party-nya~" Kuroka smirked as she spoke.

'So that's why she left…' realization suddenly struck Issei as he heard the black-haired Nekoshou's words.

Koneko didn't even bother responding to her sister. Instead, she asked her a question. "…Nee-sama… what is this about?" her fists clenched and her whole body shook violently as she asked.

"Don't make such a scary face." Kuroka smiled mischievously. "I just had some minor business to take care of. I heard that the Devils were holding a big party here, you know? That's why I was a little interested. Nyan "

As she said that, Kuroka waved her hand like a cat and winked cutely at her little sister. Despite it, Koneko's stiff stance and expression didn't change.

"Hey, Kuroka!" a familiar male voice shouted from behind the black-haired woman.

"What is it, Bikou?" asked Kuroka as she looked over her shoulder slightly. The moment she replied, a staff-wielding man emerged from behind the trees, standing tall behind Kuroka.

'That guy is…' the Nekoshou-Dragon hybrid narrowed his eyes at the man. 'Son Gokú, right?'

"If this is the one that we came all the way out here for, let's just grab her and get out of here," Bikou advised her as he looked up at her.

"Now, now, Bikou," the black-haired Nekoshou sat up on the branch. "Let me talk with her for a bit first. It's been so long since we've seen each other after all-nya~"

Koneko remained quiet, still shaking violently. The younger girl's gaze remained on her sister.

"There will be plenty of time for that at the base," Bikou argued. "We don't want to make Vali look for us, you know?"

'Vali?' Issei's brow rose at the mention of the Hakuryuukou's name. 'Don't tell me… is she with Khaos Brigade?'

"Aaaw, but you know Vali is no fun," pouted the kimono-clad Nekoshou.

"…Nee-sama, why?" Koneko finally spoke up, albeit with her voice shaky.

"Isn't it obvious?" smiled Kuroka. "You're my little sister-nya~. The exact same power flows within both of us-nya~" Koneko didn't respond. Instead, she only continued to tremble, unable to move. "Knowing this, Ophis and Vali will gladly take you in," Kuroka further explained. "And once they do, we'll be together once more-nya~! We'll no longer have to be apart-nyan "

"…I am a part of Rias Gremory's family," Koneko responded.

"I'm not giving you to a High-Class Devil like her-nya~" Kuroka shook her head. The smile on her lips twitched before she resumed, "It's true that in my haste to get away, I forgot to take you so you ended up with her, but our bond is much stronger than that, Shirone~."

"…Don't call me that!" Koneko's body shook even more violently as she took a step back. "…I am Toujou Koneko, [Rook] of Rias Gremory-sama!"

Taken aback by Koneko's sudden outburst, Kuroka blinked a couple of times, unable to respond immediately to her younger sister's statement. As she sat on the branch with her eyes widened from surprise, Bikou suddenly spoke up. "Forget that, Kuroka," He sighed, looking up at his accomplice. "Let's just snatch her and go home. Doesn't seem like there's anything else we can do." Bikou took a step towards Koneko, who in turn took a step backwards. "C'mon now, it's not in our interest to hurt you, but if you resist too much, then-"

A huge fireball flew in his direction, causing him to quickly jump away from his position in order to dodge the blast. Within seconds, the blast hit the trees that Bikou was previously standing on before, incinerating several of them in its path, removing any trace that they had ever been there.

"Bikou!" Kuroka called out to him as the fire blast passed by her.

"Well, well, fancy meeting you here!" Bikou smirked as he looked towards the spot where the fireball was launched from.

"I could say the same thing," said Issei, walking out from behind the tree he was hiding behind, followed closely by Rias.

Hearing Issei's voice, Koneko immediately turned her head towards him, surprise written all over her face. "…Issei-senpai, Buchou…" she quietly called out to them.

"Yo, Monkey-san! Is Vali doing well?" Issei asked as he approached. Eventually, he was right beside Koneko.

"Hahahaha, pretty much!" Bikou laughed lightly. "As for you, I can tell you've become stronger too, huh?"

"I might've," shrugged the Neko Dragon. "I guess the only way you can know is by testing me out."

"Not quite," smirked the monkey descendant. "I have an interest in senjutsu, so I know the flow of your spirit to a degree. The volume of aura that covers you has risen since we last met."

"I see, so that's how you found out." Issei tilted his head slightly, narrowing his eyes. "I guess that's Son Gokú for you."

"Speaking of which, I'm surprised that neither Kuroka nor myself were able to sense your and Rias Gremory's presences." Bikou cupped his chin as he smiled in amusement. "I guess you do know your way around senjutsu, Hyoudou Issei."

"As dangerous as it is, it's a nifty thing to control." replied Issei.

"Bikou, who is this boy?" Kuroka turned towards her comrade and pointed at Issei.

"This generation's Sekiryuutei." Bikou replied, not even bothering to look up at the black-haired Nekomata.

"Really-nyan?" Kuroka's eyes widened as she heard Bikou's response. "Heh~. So, this is the current 'unique' Sekiryuutei who repelled Vali recently."

"Kuroka~, let's go back." Bikou then yawned audibly as he stretched his arms. "Since we can't participate in that party anyway, it's a waste to stay here."

"Yeah, let's return," Kuroka nodded, turning her head towards Koneko. "But, I'll take Shirone with me-nyan, since I didn't bring her with me that time "

"Well, as long as you're sure Vali won't get angry at you for acting so freely," shrugged Bikou.

"When they know that the same power as mine flows within her, both Ophis and Vali will be convinced, no?" Kuroka smirked as she kept staring into Koneko's eyes.

"Well, that may be so." Son Gokú's descendant rubbed his chin at the Nekoshou's reasoning.

Koneko's body kept shivering more and more with each passing second. Naturally, this didn't go unnoticed by Issei, prompting him to step in once again. "Are you out of your minds?" Issei asked the Khaos Brigade Members as he stepped forward. "I am not handing Koneko-chan to either of you."

"…Eh?" Kuroka blinked several times, dumbfounded by Issei's words. "What are you saying-nyan? This is my little sister, you know."

"Koneko is my precious servant." Rias stepped forward with an angered expression. "I won't let you put even a single finger on her."

"Ara-ara-ara-ara, what are you saying-nya?" Kuroka glared at the Gremory heiress. Her playful demeanor was nowhere to be found.. "As I said, she's my little sister. I have the right to love her and be with her. A High-Class Devil like you doesn't have such privilege."

"I don't care about your beliefs." Issei stepped forward once more. "As I said, Koneko-chan isn't going anywhere—unless she wills it."

"You intend to keep her away from her older sister-nyan?" Kuroka glared at Issei with a murderous intent. "What gives you this right-nyan?"

"My right?." Issei narrowed his eyes in return, glaring at Kuroka as well. "Koneko-chan doesn't even look like she wants to go with you, 'Nee-san'"

When Kuroka went to respond, Bikou took a battle stance, smirked at the white-haired boy and then called him out, "Well, if nothing else, a little resistance will make things here a bit more entertaining." Accompanying his words, his staff's size extended.

"To think this would be so troublesome…" sighed Kuroka as she rubbed her forehead. "Since this is the case, I'll just kill you-nyan " Immediately after she said that, the air around the area Issei and the others were located in seemed to change. Despite the scenery not changing in the slightest, the feeling of the space around them had shifted. It was as if they were transported to a different place entirely.

"…Kuroka, so you learned not only Senjutsu, Youjutsu and Devil magic, but also to control space?" asked Rias as she made a sour face.

"I didn't go as far as learning how to control time, sadly," The black-haired woman teased, "but I can control space a fair bit-nya. Using techniques not too different from barrier ones, it's quite easy, you see? I covered this entire forest with a barrier and isolated it from the outside world-nyan." Kuroka jumped down from the tree branch and walked over next to Bikou.

"So, in a sense, you've trapped us here, then?" asked Issei as he kept glaring at her.

"Indeed, Sekiryuutei-nyan~" Kuroka winked seductively at Issei. "That's why even if we do flashy things here, it won't leak outside and devils from outside won't come in. You're going to get pleasantly killed here by us and say goodbye-nya "

Before anyone else could speak up, a deep, gruff voice echoed from the skies above them. "Such dark auras... These visitors aren't suitable for this party," it said.

Looking up, Issei was quick to identify the owner of the voice and immediately called out to him. "Tannin-sama!"

"When I received information that Rias-dono and Hyoudou Issei had come to this forest, I quickly came to take a look." Tannin explained as he hovered in the air above the clearing Issei and the rest were in. "But, to think I would be sealed in by a barrier…"

"Oh, oh, oh! If it isn't the Former Dragon King, 'The Blaze Meteor Dragon' Tannin!" Bikou exclaimed as he looked at the dragon in the sky, the tone in his voice surprisingly delightful. "So you came! This is already a big problem, Kuroka! We have no choice but to fight now!"

"You seem happy, Monkey-san." Kuroka pointed out as she rose her brow. "Very well. If we take down two necks that are above Dragon King class, Ophis will also be silent on the matter."

"Kintoun!" shouted Bikou, ignoring Kuroka's remark.

Beneath Bikou's feet, a golden cloud formed. The Chinese Youkai rode it into the sky quickly approaching the 'Blaze Meteor Dragon.' Without a second thought, he readied an attack.

"Exteeeeeeend! Nyoi-Bo!" shouted Bikou as his staff extended, aiming at Tannin in an attempt to land a hit on the enormous dragon. Tannin, however, dodged Bikou's pole with a speed that didn't fit his huge figure.

"Once more!" Bikou moved the extended staff horizontally and chased after Tannin.

Skillfully using his wings, Tannin rotated in mid-air, avoiding Bikou's attack once more. While rotating, he opened his mouth and blew out an enormous wave of fire, attempting to incinerate the flying Khaos Brigade member.

Fire covered the night sky as Tannin flew around, continuously releasing more and more fire. Eventually, the mass of fire faded away and Bikou's form emitting smoke from his entire body appeared in the air.

"Ahaha!" the excited Buddha descendant laughed atop the golden cloud. "Not bad, Former Dragon King!"

"Hmph! I was wondering what kind of person this 'new' Sun Wukong was!" Tannin followed after Bikou, amusement evident in his tone. "You seem quite happy to have received an attack from me: Tannin!"

"The name's Bikou!" exclaimed the Sun Wukong, introducing himself to the Dragon King. "Nice to meet you, Dragon Boss!"

"Kukukuku. You talk like a true monkey." the 'Former Dragon King' laughed. "Do you really understand who you have made your opponent right now?"

"I'm also descended from a legendary demon, you know? I can't afford to lose so quickly." Bikou attempted to once again hit Tannin with the dragon dodging the attack for the third time.

"In any case, I'll be your opponent, monkey!" Tannin roared.

"Hahahah! You've really gone out big! I'm fine just by myself!" Bikou laughed as he once again attempted to strike at the dragon.

"Don't speak so arrogantly, monkey. You're just a single monkey. You won't be any trouble! Besides, what happened to the pig and demon sage? Did you break up with them?" inquired Tannin as he continuously dodged Bikou's strikes.

"You mean the descendants of Hakkai and Gojou? Hahahaha! They, including the people of my family, are all conservatives! Every last one of them is satisfied with the current state of things! However, I love things that are fun!" Bikou explained, evading Tannin's fire blast. "That's why I happily accepted the invitation to join the Khaos Brigade and now act together with the Hakuryuukou Vali!"

"Hmph! Your temperament may be closer to the first Sun Wukong, but what are you scheming with the Hakuryuukou? According to rumor, only your unit is permitted to move separately from the rest! I also heard that you're the only team that didn't accept Ophis' snake!"

"If you'd like to know, beat me!" Bikou provoked him as they kept flying around.

"Watch what you say, damn monkey! This place is the Hellish Underworld, called the 'World of the Dead'! Know that this is the best place for small fry like you people to repent!" Tannin roared once again.

The fight between the two quickly escalated and their attacks became more frequent and fiercer. The shockwaves emitted from their clashes were powerful enough to be felt by Issei and everyone else who was standing beneath the two opponents.

"Son Gokú and a dragon. Well, that's a fitting pair." Kuroka observed the battle taking place above her. She then turned to Rias and spoke up again. "Anyways, will you hand my little sister over already? If you don't, I'll kill you here and now."

Both Issei and Rias took a defensive stance, ready to guard themselves and Koneko in case the enemy Nekoshou was to attack. As they readied themselves however, something unexpected happened.

"…Nee-sama, I'll go with you," Koneko suddenly blurted out as she took a step forward.

'Huh?!' Issei's eyes widened. "What are you saying, Koneko-chan?"

"…So please let the two of them go…" Koneko's voice wavered pleadingly.

Issei was about to speak up once more, but Rias beat him to it. "Koneko! You're a servant of my Peerage! I won't allow you to do as you please!"

"…Nee-sama's power…Only I understand Nee-sama's power." Koneko shook her head as her body kept trembling. "Nee-sama's power rivals that of an Ultimate-Class devil. For Buchou and Issei-senpai… Even with the power of a Former Dragon King, I don't think you can capture my sister who excels in both Genjutsu and Senjutsu…"

"Don't worry." Rias softly started, approaching Koneko from behind and hugged her gently. "I will protect you." It was one that was all too familiar for the pair. It was one that had kept the younger girl company through the years. Despite that familiar hold, the white-haired girl didn't fall for the comfort this time.

"Kehehe, I understand Shirone's power more than someone like you." The black Youkai smirked at Rias, calling out to Koneko immediately afterwards. "Come here, Shirone. I'll turn you into a top-class Senjutsu user."

"…No… I don't need that kind of power…" Koneko's tears now threatened to fall from her eyes. "…I don't need a dark power like that…I don't need a power that brings misfortune to people like that…"

"Kuroka…You, who had been blinded by power, left a scar on my family member's heart." Rias tightened her hug. "After you killed your master and left, this girl saw true hell. When I first met her, there were no feelings left in her. Koneko was betrayed by her only family to her, gave up on life, and was despised and abused by other Devils, to the point where she was going to be disposed of…!" The idea of the latter made the purebred devil's blood boil.

Koneko began to quietly sob as tears began to fall from her eyes, streaming down her pretty, pale face.

"She saw many harsh things…" Rias started softly before mustering her resolve, "That's why I will show her many fun things! This girl is Toujou Koneko, [Rook] of Rias Gremory's group! My important servant Devil! I won't let you put even a single finger on her!"

That resolve flowed into Koneko like a bursting dam. "…I don't want to go… I am Toujou Koneko!" The usually apathetic girl cried out as long-held tears rained from her feline eyes. "Kuroka-neesama, I don't want to go with you! I want to live with Rias-buchou, Issei-senpai and everyone else! To live!"

Issei silently nodded his head. Without a single word, he stepped in between Koneko and Kuroka. As if inspired by their determination, he spoke out firmly. "I will protect Koneko-chan and Buchou."

Hearing Koneko's speech, Kuroka briefly showed a bitter smile, followed by a derisive laugh that seemed to send a chill down everyone's spine.

"Then, die." with these words, thin mist-like substance sprung out from Kuroka. It gradually advanced forward and reached Issei and the two girls behind him. However, it didn't stop there. It continued to spread until it covered the whole forest within the barrier.

"—Ah." Rias gasped, kneeling down behind Issei. He, on the other hand, was quick to turn and notice her on the ground, keeping herself from collapsing on the ground by using her hands. They were weakening in their endeavor to hold her.

"…This is—" Koneko was the next to drop down on her knees while covering her mouth.

It didn't take long for Issei to feel the effects of the fog as well. His legs suddenly became a bit shaky, but not enough for him to be thrown off-balance. He felt as if a small fraction of his power was being suppressed, namely the abilities he could use as a half-Nekoshou.

'This is just like one of mom's attacks…' Issei narrowed his eyes as he turned around to face Kuroka.

"Hmm, so this mist doesn't work on you because you're the Sekiryuutei, huh?" Kuroka put a slender finger on her lower lip as her head tilted slightly. "It's a poison mist, which only works on Devils and Youkai-nyan. Because the poison is thin, one suffers a little while it spreads throughout the body. I won't kill you quickly. I'll kill you all gradually-nyan "

'Right, that's definitely a technique that mom uses.' Issei's train of thoughts continued. 'It's a good thing she made me work on my resistance against it all those years ago.'

"As long as I'm still standing, you won't get close to either of them." sparks began to fly around Issei as he spoke to the woman before him. Some of his pure white hair's streaks began to change their color to crimson. His eyes' color changed to hazel, and his pupils became slit. The energy around Issei shifted significantly as he exposed his dragon traits. His very presence became much more intimidating, causing Kuroka to shiver slightly. She tried her best to not show any signs of it, though.

With the little strength she had, Rias began firing magic bullets at Kuroka. The bullet quickly made its way towards Kuroka It eventually hit her and destroyed her entire body with just one hit.

"That was a good attack." Kuroka's voice echoed through the forest. "But it's useless, useless-nya. I can easily make a clone of myself with the essentials of Genjutsu."

As she said that, several silhouettes appeared within the mist. Every single one of them was an exact copy of Kuroka. Not only was their appearance similar to Kuroka's, but so were their expressions. All of them stared at Issei and smirked, eager to see his reaction.

'How would he feel to know he was powerless to protect Shirone?'

Issei, however, didn't even flinch. While impressive, her trick was nothing he hadn't seen before. His mother was definitely the most talented user of Senjutsu, Youjutsu and Genjutsu he'd ever known, after all. In short, Kuroka's tricks were nothing but tricks compared to what he had seen.

"Relying on numbers won't do you any good." Issei said as he finally spread his red dragon wings.

"Heeeeh, no wonder my spell doesn't work against you-nyan." Each Kuroka cupped their chin as her voice rebreated through each clone in a dreadful symphony of voices. "I guess dragons are a bit too resistant to it-nyan."

"Oh, trust me, it is working." smirked the Neko-Dragon as two white cat ears appeared on top of his head, followed by a long white tail coming out of his back.

"Nyan?" Kuroka's eyes widened slightly. "A dragon and a cat? You're definitely a rare one-nyan~"

"That's one way of putting it." Issei gritted his teeth, trying to hide the fact the mist was affecting him now that his Nekomata traits were out in the open. He would have to put up with it for a while longer, however. There was something he had to make sure of.

"Hmmmm, maybe if you weren't being a hindrance right now, I would've asked you to help me out with a certain matter-nyan~" Kuroka winked seductively at Issei as she spoke. "Or maybe, I'll have you accompany me and Shirone once I defeat you-nyan~." The thoughts of it made her speech patterns to seep with more of her feral nature. It accompanied the slit of her eyes narrowing, and her furry ears and tails to flutter about. She couldn't help it after many years of holding back.

"You're not taking Koneko-chan anywhere, Kuroka-neesan." Issei spoke out, emphasizing the honorifics he had just used. Kuroka's eyes widened for a split second before she took a step backwards, narrowing her eyes at the white-haired boy before her. The rest of the clones in the forest did the same.

"Neesan?! What is this about?!" demanded the Nekoshou. "What do you mean with that?!"

"I see… so you don't remember either, after all." sighed Issei as his cat ears and tail disappeared.

'Still, I had to make sure…' thought Issei as he looked at Kuroka who was staring back, dumbfounded and confused. Truth be told, he expected her not to remember him. After all, both his mother and father had explained the situation, or at least what they thought was the case with Koneko and her sister.

It wasn't like he didn't trust them, but he had to check for himself if Kuroka truly didn't remember him. Showing both his dragon side and Nekomata side seemed like a good course of action, given that she had seen him in such a form as a child. Although, it didn't have any effect on her, confirming his parents' suspicions that someone had deliberately tampered with both Koneko and Kuroka's memories long ago.

He had hoped that if she was to remember him, she would back down and retreat from the confrontation, but his hopes were pretty much crushed at this point. As much as he didn't want to face off against her, his options were limited. After all, Koneko was at stake in this situation. And Koneko was someone he didn't want to part with ever again.

"Nyan, is this some trick that's meant to distract me?" asked Kuroka. Issei only sighed in response. "Well, regardless of what you are or what tricks you're trying to use, dragging this on makes your situation even worse-nyan "

"Yeah, I'm aware…" raising his right hand, Issei balled it into a fist and closed his eyes. Sparks of yellow electricity flared around him, eventually coming together and piling up into his balled fist. "—Which is why I intend to get this over with quickly!"

Snapping his eyes open, he jumped up and brought his fist down to the ground. Several 'Magic Circles' opened around him as yellow thunderbolts came out of them, quickly making their way to the several Kurokas around him. Where several Kurokas stood, only one remained that had now jumped atop a large branch, dodging Issei's attack at the last second.

Issei disallowed her to get any rest, though. He stomped on the ground with his foot, causing the trees surrounding him to momentarily start moving in an attempt to trap Kuroka with their roots and branches. Kuroka's agility proved to be a challenge however, managing to just evade the trees' attempt to trap her. She eventually landed back down on the ground in front of Issei, staring at him in awe and anger.

"Just who are you exactly?!" Kuroka asked angrily with gritted teeth.

"Stick around and find out," started Issei as a small fireball appeared over his open palm. "Unless, you're afraid?"

A blue energy orb then formed in Kuroka's hand. "Show me what I should be afraid of, Sekiryuutei-nyan~!" Wasting no time, she threw the orb at Issei, aiming at his chest. Issei quickly deflected it by shooting out the fireball that he had created, effectively destroying the energy orb upon collision with the fireball.

Kuroka jumped up and began to fire energy orbs at Issei one after another in an effort to overwhelm him and not give him a chance to counterattack. This seemed to be futile however, as he put his dragon wings to a good use and shielded himself and the two girls behind him.

Eventually, Kuroka's barrage of attacks stopped and she landed on a nearby tree branch, observing Issei who once again spread his wings, deflecting the energy orbs in several directions, damaging some of the nearby trees in the process.

"Hmmm, quite intriguing~" hummed the kimono-clad Nekoshou. "Most of my opponents would be at my feet by now-nyan~."

"…Ungh–" Koneko's near-mute grunt was heard. The girl cut herself off, mentally berating herself for slipping up. It also reminded Issei that he had to take care of Kuroka and her mist field as soon as possible.

The Sekiryuutei felt the urge to pat her head for being strong but fought it down for now. "Please, hang on a little longer, Koneko-chan…" Issei spoke quietly as he turned towards her. "I'll be done with this in a second, I promi-"

A direct hit to his back interrupted him, knocking him off-balance for a moment. Taking a step forward in an attempt to restore his balance, he nearly tripped on his own foot, but managed to remain on his feet. A second hit followed, dealing damage at the same spot as the previous one.

"…Issei-senpai!" Koneko called out to him, concern evident in her voice. He didn't respond, however. He remained completely still with his front bangs covering his eyes, making it impossible for Koneko to read his emotions.

"How stupid do you have to be to turn your back on your opponent mid-battle-nyan~?" Kuroka snickered as she jumped on the ground from the tree branch. "If all it takes is an attack in the back, then allow me to shoot some more-nyan!"

Kuroka began to launch attack after attack on Issei with him barely reacting, let alone trying to retaliate. The shirt he had on was blown away by the blasts, revealing the skin on his back. However, despite him being attacked from behind, there was no blood, let alone bruises anywhere to be seen.

"…Nee-sama, please stop!" Koneko pleaded with a whimpering voice. "…Please-" She fought against her cough, "don't hurt Issei-senpai anymore!" The white-hair girl stopped speaking, else she absorb even more of Kuroka's poison.

Needless to say, her pleadings fell on deaf ears as Kuroka kept blasting orb after orb at Issei, who didn't seem to even flinch. Koneko kept staring into Issei's face, still unable to read his emotions due to his hair covering his eyes. Her concerns grew and tears began to well up in her eyes.

She hadn't felt this powerless in a long time.

"Don't worry about me, Koneko-chan," Issei suddenly spoke out, surprising both Koneko and her sister. He shook his head slightly, brushing away the bangs that were covering his eyes and looked at Koneko. There was no pain in his eyes. Rather, they were filled with comforting warmth and …love?

"…Issei-senpai…?" Koneko whispered his name as she stared back into his eyes through her tears.

"I appreciate your concern, but believe me…" Issei closed his eyes and in one swift movement turned towards Kuroka, facing her once again. "—this amount of damage is NOTHING FOR ME!" Although not too loud, his shout made Kuroka flinch, take a step backwards, and her eyes slightly widened. "I'm putting an end to this. Here, and now!" exclaimed Issei as he spread his wings as wide as he could, putting them up as a shield for Koneko and Rias. "Let's finish this, Ddraig!"

*[Welsh Dragon – Balance Breaker!]* announced Ddraig as Issei's 'Boosted Gears' appeared on his hands, followed by the red dragon armor covering the rest of his body. Kuroka, as well as Rias and Koneko, all shielded their eyes from the sudden red light emitted by Issei as he summoned his armor.

"Let's take care of this barrier." Issei said as the armor fully materialized and the light died down. *[BOOST! x2]* the 'Boosted Gears' announced as a red orb of light appeared between Issei's hands. "Dragon Shot!" he roared, firing the shot of wild dragon energy. It completely bypassed Kuroka and soaring far into the forest.

What followed was a bright red flash in the distance, followed by a deafening explosion that echoed through the forest. It's blast travelled all the way back to Issei, dispersing the mist and its dreadful effects.

"Nice shot, Hyoudou Issei!" roared Tannin from the sky above him. "An entire mountain far away from here completely vanished just now! The barrier covering this area has been blown off as well!"

"Hey, focus on me, Dragon Boss!" yelled out Bikou as he attempted to hit Tannin again.

Issei smirked to himself, although nobody could tell through the helmet of his armor. He cracked his knuckles while staring at Kuroka, whose face was difficult to read at the moment. Which is exactly why what she did next surprised him.

"Nyahahahaha!" she began laughing heartily. "How interesting! Then, I'll show you a mixed shot of Youjutsu and Senjutsu!" Saying that, the black-haired Nekoshou began shooting two different kinds of surges from both of her hands, firing them consecutively.

Issei didn't even bother moving, taking Kuroka's attacks head-on. As the attacks collided with him, smoke rose from the impacts, completely concealing Issei and hiding him from sight temporarily.
Assuming that she had defeated him, Kuroka smirked in satisfaction. However, satisfaction was short-lived.

"Is that all?" came Issei's voice as the smoke cleared, revealing him still clad in his 'Balance Breaker' armor that didn't have as much as a scratch on it. Seeing she hadn't done anything to his armor, Kuroka's eyes widened in shock.

"It didn't work!?" she yelled out in disbelief. "No way. Nya built up a considerable amount of spiritual power!"

Wasting no time, Issei vigorously leaped forward with his fist, shortening the distance between him and Kuroka almost in an instant. Although still shocked, Kuroka didn't stay idly.

"Don't get carried away!" Koneko's sister yelled out as she fired countless more of the energy surges at Issei, who was closing down the distance between them quicker than she expected. To her dismay, the surges were barely doing anything, if at all, to Issei and his armor, since he seemed to simply flick them away without any sort of difficulty.

The distance between the two kept decreasing and just as Issei was about to punch Kuroka right in her face—

He stopped.

Dead in his tracks, he stopped with his fist still extended and only a couple of centimeters away from her nose. The surrounding air trembled from the aftershocks of him stopping his fist so suddenly, and the surrounding plants shook greatly.

"Don't make my Koneko-chan cry ever again." said Issei through gritted teeth to Kuroka, who looked frightened by his attack. Met with silence, he continued. "If you aim at my Koneko-chan again, I won't stop my attack next time. You may be a woman and Koneko-chan's onee-san, but you're my enemy!"

Issei then pulled his fist back with Kuroka immediately springing back into action and jumping back a couple of meters, putting some distance between her and Issei. "…You damn brat!" she cursed at Issei, fear still clearly evident in her eyes. Taking a closer look at her, Issei was able to tell that she was shaking slightly, perhaps out of fear.

"Hyahahahahahahaha!" Bikou's laughter was suddenly heard from the skies above them. "This is really interesting! Now, there are two dragon bosses! It'd be a lie to say I'm not enjoying this!" Twirling his Nyoi-Bo staff around, Bikou showed his intention to continue fighting Tannin, who seemingly had no issue with that.

With Kuroka's poison mist cleared up, Issei felt its effects disappearing as he no longer felt his Nekomata side being suppressed by it. Behind him, Rias and Koneko seemed to be recovering slowly as well.

Still, Issei didn't let his guard down. He was glaring at Kuroka through his armor's helmet, ready to spring into action should the situation demand it. Before the situation could escalate further however, a tear suddenly appeared in the space before Issei, catching him by surprise. "What the—" he jumped back slightly as the tear increased its size.

Soon after, a human came out of it, holding a sword in his hand.

The human in question was a bespectacled young man with blond hair and blue eyes, wearing a black business suit. In his hand sat a sword, which released a dizzying amount of holy aura, easily giving away the fact that it was a 'Holy Sword'.

"That's far enough, Bikou, Kuroka." the man said as he stepped out of the tear in the space. "The Devils have noticed." As it seemed, the man was a comrade of the two 'Khaos Brigade' members. Hearing his voice, Bikou was quick to descend from the skies and land next to the blond man.

"Aren't you Vali's attendant?" asked Bikou as he landed.

"Since Kuroka was being slow, I came to check up on her." the man pushed up his glasses as he spoke. "Even you're here, Bikou. Geez, what are you two doing?" the man sighed.

"Everyone, don't get near that guy!" Tannin suddenly shouted while still hovering in the sky. "The thing he's holding in his hand is really troublesome!"

"What's wrong, Tannin-sama?" Issei looked up at the dragon above them. "Is it about the sword he's holding?"

"Indeed. The holy king sword Collbrande. Also known as Caliburn." Tannin explained as he continued hovering above Issei. "For Caliburn, called the 'Beyond Strongest Holy Sword', to be with the Hakuryuukou is…"
Tannin didn't finish his thought. Instead, he laughed bitterly.

"'Beyond Strongest Holy Sword'?" Issei rose his brow at Tannin's statement as he took a good look at the sword in the man's hand. "I see. That's why you told us to stay back, huh? Regardless of whether you're a Devil or not, a single hit from that would be lethal, wouldn't it?"

"Exactly." Tannin spoke out, turning to the mysterious man immediately afterwards. "Tell me, why two swords? The one that's in a sheath is also a 'Holy Sword', isn't it?"

"I assume you mean this one?" the man pointed at the sheathed sword on his back, earning a nod from the former 'Great Dragon King'. "This is the final Excalibur that was recently found, the strongest of the seven Excaliburs: 'Excalibur Ruler'."

"To be talking like that, you're pretty calm, aren't you?" Kuroka suddenly asked as she stood next to the blond man.

"Indeed." the man nodded at the kimono-clad Nekshou. "The truth is that I also have a lot of interest in the comrades of these guys." he then turned towards Issei and spoke out. "Sekiryuutei-dono, could you please give my greetings to the 'Holy-Demonic Sword' user and the 'Holy Sword Durandal' user? I'd like to face them some time as fellow swordsmen—you know?"

A bit surprised at the man's audacious attitude, the Nekomta-Dragon hybrid could do nothing but nod at the man, not uttering a single word.

Earning no audible response, the man cleared his throat and turned towards his comrades once more. "Now then, let's retreat." turning around and cutting the air with the Caliburn sword, another spatial tear appeared and spread out, big enough for several people to pass through. As he was about to enter the tear, the man turned his head towards Issei one last time. "Goodbye, Sekiryuutei."

With those words, he disappeared into the tear, closely followed by Bikou. Kuroka too looked back, taking one last look at Koneko before sighing silently and disappearing through the tear just like her comrades. The tear behind her closed itself and dematerialized as if it had never been there.

Issei's armor dissolved as Tannin landed softly on the ground next to him. The Sekiryuutei was quick to go check in on Rias and Koneko, breathing out a sigh of relief upon the realization that the poison was wearing off and that they supposedly felt alright.

Having heard the loud noises caused by Issei destroying Kuroka's barrier, all of the nearby Devils, who had detected trouble, were quick to arrive to the forest clearing where Issei and the rest were, offering their help in escorting them back to the hotel.

Needless to say, when it was realized that 'Khaos Brigade' had silently made their way dangerously close to the hotel, the Maou-sponsored party was quickly cut short, with all the attendees being escorted to their respective homes.

{[Scene Break]}

With the party canceled and all attendees escorted back, Rias and Sona's Peerages swiftly returned to the residences they were currently occupying, as well. Although confused at the sudden order issued by the Maous at first, they were quickly explained the situation, with Rias staying behind in order to discuss the matter with her older brother.

Back at the Gremory Residence, all of the female members of Rias' Peerage, excluding Rias herself, as well as Raynare, were in the large indoor bath, trying their best to relax after such a long, difficult day. Needless to say, it wasn't easy.

"It was a crazy day," sighed Xenovia as she immersed herself into the hot water. "Relaxing like this seems almost unreal."

"I'm just glad Issei-san, Buchou, and Koneko-chan are alright," Asia spoke, sitting right next to Xenovia. "To think that someone would try something so awful…"

While the two ex-nuns chatted at one end of the bath, Koneko and Akeno were sitting on the opposite side of it, seemingly lost in thought.

"How sad." Akeno suddenly spoke out while looking before her, even though nothing was there. "Your sister has become your—our enemy."

"…I can't erase a bond made of blood." Koneko shook her head as she responded.

"That's true…" Akeno nodded sadly and closed her eyes, seemingly agreeing with the girl sitting next to her. Koneko didn't stop there, though.

"…That's why…" the white-haired Nekoshou began, effectively gaining Akeno's attention. "…I've decided to try and not worry about it anymore. I'll also become much stronger…!"

Hearing the eagerness in the young girl's voice, Akeno could do nothing but smile, putting a hand to her cheek. "Ara, ara, that's very reassuring." Her smile was, sadly, short-lived. She peered down at the water she was currently soaking in, staring at her reflection, deep in thought. Evidently, unlike Koneko, there was something weighing heavily on the mind of the 'Priestess of Thunder' all the while.

{[Scene Break]}

After returning to the Gremory Residence, taking a shower and getting examined for any sorts of wounds, Issei retreated to his room and plopped down on the enormous bed almost immediately.

Ever since he got the memories of his childhood with Koneko and Kuroka back, he had imagined many times what it would be like to reunite with Kuroka once again. According to his memories, he had spent a lot of time with the both of them in the past. They were both his friends and, in a sense, a part of his family.

He never imagined that meeting Kuroka once again would be under such odd circumstances. He never imagined her trying to kidnap her own sister. He never imagined that he'd have to fight her either.

The moment he saw her emerging from the shadows kept replaying over and over in his head, more and more memories surfacing with each replay. Still, he was aware that even if he could now remember her, she couldn't remember him or how they used to be in the past. This fact saddened him, but alas, there was nothing he could do.

An idea then hit him. Though It was true that he couldn't do anything about Kuroka's case, but there was someone that could. In fact, two of them.

Sitting up on his bed, Issei closed his eyes and focused. A second later, a small 'Magic Circle' appeared on his bed, displaying a small holographic screen. As soon as the screen appeared, a voice was heard.

"Issei? Is that you?" a male voice was heard as the screen showed the face of a middle-aged man with red hair.

"Hi, dad." Issei waved slowly as he looked at the small holographic screen. "You can hear me, right?"

"Loud and clear." the man, Ryuu, replied with a nod. "I assume you're using that little trick your mom showed you, huh?"

"Yeah, I figured the Underworld's cell phone signal would be kind of bad." smirked the Neko-Dragon. "I figured this was better."

"Well, you would be correct." Ryuu grinned at his son while scratching his chin. "You're behaving yourself on there, aren't you? You know your mom would go crazy if you start any trouble."

"Of course I am. Though, I'm sure you already know that, there's no way Sirzechs-sama isn't keeping in touch with you." Issei scratched the back of his head.

"Yes, both him and Zeoticus make sure to inform us about anything going on with your stay in the Underworld. I hear that the etiquette classes are going well?" Ryuu smirked slightly as he asked.

"I assume so," sighed Ryuu's son. "Dad, as much as I'd like to discuss what we're doing and all that, there'd be plenty of time for that once I come back home," Issei interrupted as he leaned in closer to the screen. "Is mom over there with you?"

"Yes, she is," nodded Ryuu, turning his head immediately afterwards and calling out. "Hikari, Issei wants to speak with you!"

Not even a second later, Ryuu disappeared from view and in his place stood a middle-aged, white-haired, cat-eared woman with gleaming eyes and a smile that should've been too big for her face by all means.

"Issei!" exclaimed the woman as she came into view. "My baby boy! It's been so long! How are you?!"

"M-Mom, please, I spoke with you the other day." blushing, Issei scratched his cheek. "B-Besides, I'm not a baby anymore!"

"No, no, you will always be a baby for me!" Issei's mom, Hikari, wagged her finger at him, a smug expression on her face.

"Listen, mom, that aside, I have… a problem, per say." the white-haired boy said as he cleared his throat. Dropping her playful demeanor, Hikari immediately got even closer to the screen, staring at Issei with worry written all over her face.

"What's wrong? Did Tannin go too rough on you? Did he burn you?!" her usual barrage of questions followed, causing Issei to blink rapidly for several seconds. "If he did something bad to you, I will make him pay, believe me!"

"Hi-Hikari, let him speak, please." Ryuu's voice was heard, albeit much quieter than usual.

"R-Right, mom, please, it's not related to my training." Issei put his hands up, trying to calm his mother down.

"Oh, it isn't?" Hikari backed away from the screen slightly, no longer having her face take the entirety of it. "What's wrong then?"

"Well… you're sitting down, right?" Issei scratched the back of his head once more as he looked away from the screen for a second.

"Yes, we're in the living room." Hikari tilted her head slightly. "Why? What's wrong?"

"Well, you see, the truth is…" hesitating for a second, Issei took a deep breath and continued. "I met Kuroka-neesan today."

A short silence followed Issei's statement. Neither of his parents could immediately react to the news he had just relayed. Both of them simply stared at him with their eyes widened and their mouths agape. The silence was finally broken as Hikari finally came to her senses and yelled out—

"WHAAAAAT?!" in one swift motion, her face was once again taking the entirety of the screen, her eyes welling up with tears. "YOU MET KUROKA-CHAN?!"

"Y-Yeah, I did." Issei nodded slowly.

"WHERE?! WHEN?! WHY?! DIDSHERECOGNIZEYOU?!" Hikari asked question after question, not even bothering to make pauses or take breathes in-between questions. "WHATHAPPENED?!"

"Hi-Hikari, calm down!" Ryuu cried out as he grasped Hikari's shoulders from behind, pulling her away from the screen and holding her close to his own body. "Let Issei speak, okay honey?"

The tears that had welled up in the Nekoshou mother's eyes began to trickle down her cheek, leaving wet marks behind them. Her shoulders trembled slightly as her husband tightened his hold of her, bringing her even closer to his body.

"I-I'm sorry, I'm just—" a sniffle interrupted Hikari as she spoke. "I'm just so glad to hear Kuroka-chan is alive!"

"I know, I know, I am too." the dragon stroked the Nekoshou's head gently, trying to calm her down to the best of his abilities. Although he didn't show it, there were some tears in his eyes as well.

"She… she didn't recognize me." Issei frowned sadly as he spoke. "I hoped that maybe, just maybe, she would recognize me, but…"

"It's only natural—" sniffling and wiping her tears away, Hikari was quick to respond. "—for her not to remember you, Issei. Sirzechs told you that both Kuroka-chan and Shirone-chan had their memories altered, perhaps even deleted because of the Devil that took them away from us, didn't he?"

"Yes, I do remember that." Hikari's son nodded sadly. "But even so, I still hoped that by some miracle she would remember who I am…"

"I'm sorry son, but it's impossible for you to do that." Ryuu shook his head. "Only myself and your mother can restore her memories. We're the only ones that have them."

"Just like your own and Shirone-chan's memories, no one else but us is able to restore hers," Hikari added as she continued wiping her tears away.

"I know that." clenching his fists, Issei looked away from the screen for a brief moment before exhaling and looking back towards it. "But still, I hoped that it will work. I needed it to work. I didn't want to fight her, after all…"

"Fight her?" Ryuu asked, dumbfounded. "Why would you fight Kuroka? Son, what happened?"

"Well, while we were at the party, I suddenly saw Koneko-chan leaving, so I followed her." Issei began his explanation. "She ended up at a clearing deep in the forest surrounding the hotel. Suddenly Kuroka-neesan appeared and revealed that she sent some of her energy for Koneko-chan to trace and find her. Then she said that she wants to take Koneko-chan away."

"Take her away?" Ryuu tilted his head slightly in confusion. "Take her where?"

Issei hesitated about replying for a bit. After taking a deep breath, he finally responded. "With her… to 'Khaos Brigade'."

As soon as he mentioned 'Khaos Brigade', both of Issei's parents gasped in shock, their eyes wider than saucer plates.

"S-So then, Kuroka-chan is…" Still trying to process the revelation, Hikari spoke out, her voice much more quiet than usual.

"I'm afraid so." Issei nodded slowly. "She is a member of 'Khaos Brigade'."

"Kuroka…" Ryuu put a hand over his forehead, shaking his head disapprovingly. "What have you gotten yourself into, Kuroka…?"

"I'm sorry that you had to learn about it this way…" a sad sigh came from Issei.

"I assume Shirone didn't want to go with her?" Ryuu asked as he once again tightened his embrace around Hikari.

"No, she didn't." a negative answer came from the Neko-Dragon as he shook his head. "She wasn't going to take no for an answer, so I stepped in. I couldn't allow her to kidnap Koneko-chan."

"Did… did she use force?" asked Hikari as she looked down at the floor, her hair concealing her eyes. To her dismay, her question was met with a positive response.

"She did. She used some sort of spell that managed to weaken both Koneko-chan and Rias to the point they could barely stay conscious," explained Issei as he recalled the weird mist that she had used. "It worked even on me, to a degree. It suppressed my Nekoshou powers, but I could still use my Dragon abilities, as well as the 'Boosted Gear'."

"I see. So, it was a spell against Yōkai and Devils, huh?" Ryuu scratched his chin, seemingly in thought. This didn't go on for long as he shook his head soon after, continuing from where he left off. "Regardless, I see that you had no problem dealing with her spell. Is Shirone okay?"

"There's something that's been bothering her, but I haven't been able to talk to her." Issei scratched the back of his head, a feeling of guilt creeping up over him. "But as far as her confrontation with Kuroka-neesan goes, she seems to be okay. She's barely wounded, if at all. The healers said that the poison couldn't do any serious damage either, so they said she'll be fine."

"I see." Ryuu nodded his head, his expression softening slightly. "That's a relief. I'm glad to hear that you protected Shirone."

"Of course, I don't want us to be apart ever again!" Issei declared, clenching his fists. A second later, his expression softened as he frowned once more. "But, Kuroka-neesan is still…"

"I believe she'll come to her senses if we restore her memories." Ryuu scratched his head, closing his eyes for a second.

"That's what I'm counting on," Issei said quietly.

"Where… where is she now?" asked Hikari, her voice barely audible.

"She escaped." Issei looked down as he responded. "A man wielding a sword called Caliburn suddenly appeared out of nowhere and took her with him to somewhere. I don't know where they are. I don't think anyone does."

"The Caliburn, huh?" seemingly deep in thought once again, Ryuu repeated the sword's name. Soon after he shook his head and cleared his throat. "Regardless of that, you're saying that Kuroka left the scene?"

"Yes, she did." Issei nodded in confirmation. "But I'm certain this won't be the last time I see her. I'm sure she'll show up again."

"If she's after Shirone, then that's given." Ryuu narrowed his eyes slightly and scratched his cheek. "But let's say she does show up again – what are you going to do?"

"I did tell her that I'll fight her should she threaten Koneko-chan again." Issei declared, his expression as serious as ever. A second later however, his expression softened and he looked away from the screen once more, both embarrassed and downtrotting at his lie. "But… given that it's Kuroka-neesan, I can't fight her seriously…"

"But she did say she'll try to take Shirone, didn't she?" Ryuu's eyes narrowed further. "You can't sit around and do nothing if that's the case, can you?"

"Of course not. If she threatened Koneko-chan in any way, then yes, I'd do what it takes to protect her." Issei spoke, still facing away from the screen. "But fighting with her beyond that… I don't know if I'm strong enough for it…"

"Fighting someone you were so close with is never easy…" a sad sigh came from Ryuu, who also looked away from the screen on his side.

"Then… I have a suggestion." Hikari's voice was suddenly heard, now much louder than it was moments ago. Both Ryuu and Issei looked at Hikari in puzzlement, wondering what would she suggest.

"What do you suggest, mom?" the Neko-Dragon hybrid asked as he tilted his head.

"Should Kuroka-chan show up once again, instead of fighting her…" still looking down at her own feet and with her hair concealing her eyes, Hikari suddenly looked up at her son, her eyes now revealing themselves. "Bring her to us!"

Hearing the commanding tone of his mother's voice, Issei's eyes widened as he gasped in surprise. Hikari's eyes were burning with a flame inside them. A flame that Issei had never seen before. As it seemed, it was one of the rare cases in which Hikari was serious and direct. He blinked several times, unable to immediately respond to his mother. After all, it was incredibly rare to see her act in such a way.

Still, he eventually responded with a curt nod. "I understand. I'll try my hardest to bring her to you."

Seemingly pleased with his response, Hikari also nodded her head as her expression softened slightly. "If you manage to bring her here, we should be able to restore her memories from the times she used to live here alongside you and Shirone-chan. Maybe then she'll return to her normal self."

"I hope that's the case, too." Issei sighed as he scratched the back of his head. "Though, if I manage to bring her to you, I'd like you to explain to me how the whole thing with our memories work... since, you know, I still don't get it."

"That's the least of your concerns for now," Ryuu spoke up this time. "Just bring her here, we'll restore her memories, give her time to take it all in, and then we'll explain anything and everything you want to know."

"Understood, thank you," Issei said, his lips curling into a slight smile. "If she shows up again, I'll try my best to bring her to you. I promise."

"Please do." Ryuu said as he and Hikari heard Issei's promise. Looking at the shaky Nekomata next to him, Ryuu continued. "Well, a lot of new information came to light tonight. I don't think your mom can take all of it at once, so how about we talk more about it some other day?"

"Yeah, I agree." Issei gave a sad smile as he looked at the state his mother was in. Though her expression was still serious and determined, her body was shaking, giving away her act. In an attempt to calm her down, Issei called out to her. "Mom, please, calm down. Everything will be okay, I promise. I'll bring Kuroka-neesan to you."

"I know you will, Issei. I know you will." Hikari sighed out sadly as he closed her eyes for a second, her body relaxing slightly, albeit still shaking. "Just… please, be careful. I don't want any harm to come to you, Shirone-chan or Kuroka-chan. Please."

"I know, don't worry. We'll keep ourselves safe." Issei reassured her with a smile. "That's another promise."

"I definitely hope so." Hikari smiled warmly in return as tears threatened to fall from her eyes once more. Sensing this, her son was quick to speak up.

"Mom, please, stay strong," Issei said, looking directly into his mother's eyes through the screen. "I don't want to see you cry. Please." He knew full well he would join her if she started.

"Of course, of course." Hikari kept smiling as she wiped the tears away, closed her eyes and took a deep breath. With a huff, she looked resolute and continued, "Well, I believe your dad is right, this evening has been quite eventful indeed."

"That's true," Issei agreed. "How about we take dad's suggestion and talk more about it some other time? I feel like all three of us had enough for one evening."

"You're right, you're right," Hikari nodded, a smile still on her face. "I'm sure you're tired too, so you should rest up."

"Yeah, going around and greeting people wore me out more than I thought it would." Issei lowered his head and looked down at his bedsheets.

"Which is all the more reason for you to go and rest up. You have to replenish your energy," came the mother's sound advice.

"I agree with you." The teen boy exhaled as he looked up, tiredness evident in his eyes. "Then, I'll call you again some other time?"

"Yes, please do!" Hikari nodded enthusiastically, making Issei smile seeing his mother's behavior returning to normal.

"Of course, I will." Issei reached towards the 'Magic Circle' with his left hand, ready to close it. "Well then, good night."

"Good night, Issei." both his parents said in unison, waving their hands at him. A second later, the 'Magic Circle' disappeared, alongside the small holographic screen.

With an audible sigh, Issei plopped himself on his bed and stared at the ceiling. Everything that happened to him earlier was finally taking its toll. If the battle with Kuroka didn't wear him down, then the introductions he had to do at the party certainly did.

In fact, the events during the day had somehow made him more exhausted than his training with Tannin on the mountain. It didn't make any sense for it to be so, but it was a fact that he couldn't entirely make sense out of.

Feeling the drowsiness growing, he got up from the bed and began undressing himself, preparing to go to sleep right away. Thankfully, he had taken a shower earlier, so there was nothing stopping him from climbing into his bed and off to Dreamland. Once he had nothing but his boxers on him, he grabbed his white T-shirt, which he used for pajamas and put it on. He released a yawn and reached for the covers of the bed, ready to slip under them.

However, just as he was about to lift the covers, a quiet knock on his door interrupted him.

"…Issei-senpai, are you awake?" a quiet voice came from the other side of the door. A voice that Issei was familiar with.

"A-Ah, yes!" getting up from the bed, Issei walked over to the door and opened it, revealing Koneko standing behind it. Looking at her, it was evident that she was feeling a bit better, even if she still appeared to be somewhat sad. Alarmed, Issei was quick to ask, "Is everything okay, Koneko-chan?"

Looking up at Issei, she nodded her head. "…Yes, I'm feeling better now," looking away from the boy's concerned face, she continued. "…I wanted to talk to you before you fall asleep, if that's okay…"

"A-Ah, yes, of course! Please, come right in," opening the door as wide as he could, Issei moved out of the way, granting Koneko's entry to his room.

"…Please excuse my intrusion," Koneko said as she entered Issei's room with him closing the door behind her.

"Don't worry about it." Issei smiled at her. "You're free to come at any time for any reason."

Nodding in response to Issei's words, Koneko spoke up silently, "…There is… something I wanted to talk to you about…"

"I see." Issei nodded. "To be fair, I also wanted to speak with you, but with everything that happened these last few days, I just couldn't think of a way to bring it up." The Sekiryuutei walked up to his bed and sat on it, patting its covers, wordlessly inviting Koneko to sit down so that they could talk. Koneko needed no further inquiry as she sat down next to Issei, as close as she possibly could.

As they sat on the oversized bed, an awkward silence filled the room as both of them were struggling to find the proper words to initiate a conversation. Thousands of thoughts were going through both of their minds, overwhelming their already tired bodies. However, despite being unsure on how to begin, Issei decided to start the conversation off.

"Are you okay?" he turned his head towards Koneko, worry and concern evident in his expression.

"…Yes, the doctors said there's nothing wrong with me. The poison couldn't damage me, so I will be fine with some rest. So will Rias-Buchou," explained Koneko in small voice.

"I see." Issei nodded, breathing out a sigh of relief. "I'm glad to hear that, I was worried about the spell. I'm glad you and Buchou were not hurt from it, though."

"…What about you, Issei-senpai?" asked Koneko as she turned towards him. Being met with nothing but a confused gaze, she continued. "…I saw that you were straining yourself too when you revealed your Nekoshou side. …It affected you too, didn't it?"

A brief silence followed, but eventually a response came.

"Yeah, it did hurt me, somewhat. The Nekoshou part of me, at least. But it's nothing serious." Issei smiled, trying to reassure the cat-girl sitting next to him. "I was taught how to withstand such spells, so please don't worry about me."

"…I can't do that…" Koneko looked down, gripping the bed covers underneath her. "…You're someone precious to me, after all. …That's why, I…"

"I'm sorry." He reached out to Koneko, stroking her head gently. "I made you worry again, even though I promised not to. I'm sorry."

Koneko didn't respond. Instead, she kept looking down at her feet, enjoying the sensation of Issei's hand gently stroking her hair and the top of her head. It felt good. Soft. Warm. Relaxing. She missed this feeling... him.

"But you know…" Issei's hand stopped moving as he spoke up again. "I've been worried too, you know?"

Koneko looked up at Issei, seemingly concerned with what's been bothering him. Although she said nothing, the way she was looking up at Issei said enough about her curiosity regarding the issue.

"Ever since we've arrived here, you've been acting weird, Koneko-chan." The older boy stared into Koneko's eyes. "You've been unlike yourself for so long." Koneko's eyes widened slightly as she turned away from Issei, trying her hardest not to face him. "I know I should've spoken to you about it earlier. I know it's probably too late for it now." Issei reached out with his hand, grasping Koneko's hand in his own, making her jump up slightly. "Still, allow me to make it up to you."

Koneko didn't respond. She just kept looking away from Issei, trying her hardest to avoid their gazes meeting. However, as she was about to find out, this was to be a difficult task.

"Koneko-chan, I know it's been almost three weeks since we've arrived. You've been acting weird ever since we got on the train that led us here." Issei squeezed her hand as he spoke, making her jump up slightly again. "I know I should've talked with you about it earlier. Weeks earlier. But with everything that happened ever since we arrived, I've been struggling to find the right time to."

Koneko still didn't say a word. A blush had formed on her face because of Issei holding her hand, making her try even harder to hide her face from him. Issei was still not quite done, though.

"But even so, I'm still worried, Koneko-chan." Issei sighed out as he let go of her hand, much to Koneko's disappointment.

With a silent gulp, Koneko spoke up quietly. "…I've-", she began, but got interrupted by a sudden, bold action from Issei's side.

Reducing the distance between them, Issei wrapped his hands around Koneko and pushed her against his body, hugging her from behind. The sudden action made Koneko's cheeks change their color to a dark shade of red as the words that were about to leave her mouth mysteriously disappeared.

"I don't want to see you sad. Not now, not ever." Issei breathed out as he hugged her a bit tighter. "Please, tell me what's wrong."

Koneko couldn't react properly to Issei's pleas as her mind seemed to be temporarily shut down. She tried her hardest to compose herself, but being hugged by Issei made the already complex task even more difficult.

"…I-I'm f-fine, Issei-s-senpai…" her words came out in a stutter, failing to convince the white-haired boy that had his hands wrapped around her.

"Please don't lie to me, Koneko-chan." Issei pleaded. "I know something is wrong. Please, don't try to hide it."

Just as she was about to speak up again, Issei reached out to her face with his right hand and gently cupped her cheek. With minimal resistance, he forced her to face him once again as his left hand was still wrapped around her body, keeping her close to him.

"Whatever it is that's weighing you down, I will help you with it," Issei said with a nod, giving her a reassuring smile. "I promise."

Was it the smile he gave her? Was it the kindness of his that he showed to her? Was it the fact that his presence alone was so reassuring to her? Was it the fact that it was finally, finally just the two of them?

She didn't know the reason. What she knew was that she was crying. Warm liquid was streaming from her eyes and trailing down her cheeks as her vision was blurred by the tears in her eyes.

"K-Koneko-chan?!" Issei pulled himself away slightly when he saw Koneko crying. "A-Are you-"

"Issei-senpai!" Koneko didn't let him finish his sentence. She wrapped her hands around his neck, pushing him down onto the soft mattress as she began crying with her head buried in his chest.

It hurt him to see her like that. It was as if someone was reaching inside of his body with their bare hands, tugging at his heartstrings in a most painful manner. Yet, there was nothing that he could do. All he could really do was lay down and hug her while stroking her head gently as she let it all out.

"I'm here, I'm here," cooed Issei as he gently stroked Koneko's hair. "It's okay, I'm here. Let it all out."

Koneko's quiet sobs echoed through the room as she kept crying into Issei's shirt. Eventually, she calmed down, yet she didn't move from her spot as she kept laying on top of Issei. A short silence between the two followed, but it wasn't an awkward one.

"…I'm sorry." Koneko suddenly spoke out as she lifted her face from Issei's chest.

"What for?" Issei asked as he pet her head gently. "If you're talking about the shirt, it's not a problem at all. Besides, you really needed to let it out."

"…I just want to be helpful…" Koneko muttered as she gripped Issei's shirt with her hands. Despite her low voice however, Issei was still able to hear her.

"What are you talking about?" Issei rose a brow at her statement. "Koneko-chan, you've always been helpful. Your presence alone is relaxing, you're fun to be around, you're-"

"…That's not what I meant." Koneko interrupted him as she raised herself with her hands. "…I want to be useful to Issei-senpai." Issei blinked. But when he was about to say something, Koneko continued. "…Ever since I saw you fighting the Hakuryuukou, I realized just how truly useless I am." Koneko lowered her head slightly, covering her eyes with her bangs. "I could do nothing to help Issei-senpai. I couldn't do anything to help Rias-Buchou or the rest, too."

Tears began to form in Koneko's eyes once more as her shoulders began trembling. "Even against Kuroka-neesama, I could do nothing to protect Issei-senpai." a couple of tears fell on Issei's shirt. "How am I supposed to stand next to Issei-senpai when I can do nothing useful?"

"K-Koneko-chan…" Issei spoke out the girl's name in a hushed whisper as she kept on talking.

"…Despite your efforts to train me, I'm still weak. I'm still unable to do anything when it counts." Tears began to once again fall from Koneko's eyes. "…Yuuto-senpai, Xenovia-senpai, Akeno-san… even Gya-kun is improving much faster than I am…"

The sadness in Koneko's voice and the tears falling from her eyes were enough to render Issei unresponsive. All he could do was listen to her as she held herself up over him with her hands.

"…Despite my strength… despite my powers as a Nekomata… I still can't do anything of use… not for Issei-senpai… not for Buchou… not for anyone…!" Koneko cried out as her tears kept falling onto Issei's shirt and the bedsheets. "I don't want… to be useless… I don't want… to be weak…"

Seeing her in such a state was about enough to make Issei tear up as well. Yet, for what it was worth, he tried to hold it back. He tried his best to stay strong so that he could support her fully in her state.

"…I want to… be able to… stand proud… next to Issei-senpai… next to Buchou… next to everyone…" Koneko managed to say in-between her audible sobs as tears kept streaming down her face. "…But as I am… it's impossible…!"

'What a fucking fool you are, Hyoudou…' Issei mentally kicked himself as he listened to his childhood friend cry her eyes out to him. 'For real, what a fucking idiot you are…' Had he approached her earlier, had he addressed her issues earlier, had he given her the support she needed earlier… Had he done anything earlier, perhaps she wouldn't have been in the state she was currently. Perhaps the confrontation with her sister would've gone better, too.

"…I'm not worthy… to stay by… Issei-senpai's side…" Koneko choked out as she squeezed her eyes shut. "…I'm not worthy to stay by… anyone's side…"

This was about as much as Issei could take. This was about as much as he could stand to pretend being strong in her presence. Seeing and hearing her degrade and doubt herself that much was simply too much for him to take.

As her cries and sobs filled the room, Issei slowly and gently reached for her face. He began to gently caress her cheek, surprising Koneko into shutting her eyes.

"Please don't say that, Koneko-chan." Issei said silently as he kept on stroking her cheek. "Please don't ever say that again, Koneko-chan."

Sniffling once, Koneko opened her eyes and looked at Issei's face, only to see his eyes being obscured by his white bangs. Despite his eyes not being visible, she could tell that he, too, seemed saddened. She wiped her eyes with her hand, trying to clear her vision from the tears. As soon as she did, she looked down at Issei once again. His eyes were still not perfectly visible, but even so, there was one thing that she noticed about him that made her widen her eyes in surprise.

Hyoudou Issei, the Sekiryuutei, the wielder of the 'Boosted Gears' on both of his hands, the descendant of Ddraig himself, the descendant of a Nekoshou, the '200%' as some called him, the Neko Dragon himself… was crying.

Koneko could only look at his face in shock. This was the first time she had ever seen him shed tears before her, excluding the one time he was crying over Asia's death in the church. Ttears were rolling down his cheeks and into the mattress beneath him. He made no noise, he simply stared up at her as his eyes trembled, partially hidden by his white bangs.

"…Issei-senpai…" Koneko whispered his name as she reached for his face with her free hand all the while supporting herself with the other one. She gently stroked his cheek as she looked at him sadly, her tears no longer trailing down her face.

"Seeing and hearing you cry is already painful enough as is, Koneko-chan." Issei said quietly. "But hearing you put yourself down in such a manner is even more painful." Koneko didn't say anything as she simply continued to stare into Issei's eyes, occasionally wiping away a stray tear or two off his cheek. "You say you're useless and that you don't deserve to be by our sides?" Issei continued as he repeated her statement. "You can't be more wrong about that. You're our friend, Koneko-chan. You're my precious friend. You're a part of my past that I lost without even realizing it."

"…And yet despite that, I'm still useless…" Koneko looked down, her supporting hand now gripping the bed's sheets tightly. "…I was unable to help Issei-senpai on several occasions… I couldn't help you against the Hakuryuukou… I couldn't help you against Kuroka-neesama… I couldn't help-"

"None of you would've been able to do anything against Vali," Issei interrupted bluntly. "He is too strong for anyone of you to take on. He was a difficult opponent even for me. I'm still not sure who won in our fight, but that's that."

Koneko blinked once as Issei spoke. Just as she was about to speak up again, Issei continued, "The thing is, Vali is powerful. I don't expect to take him on as a team. If anything, the fight between the two of us is personal." Issei explained. "And when it comes to Kuroka-neesan… well, she barely scratched me. But I wouldn't have you fighting her either. I can't have you fighting your family, Koneko-chan." Saying that, Issei propped himself up on his arms and sat up slowly, forcing Koneko to follow suit, sitting up as well. Despite it, she still made sure to claim her usual spot on his lap. To replace the sheets, she gripped his shirt with her hands.

"However, do not misunderstand me." Issei shook his head, revealing his eyes completely for Koneko to see. "I'm not protecting you because I think you're weak. I'm not protecting you because I think you can't take care of yourself." Koneko gripped his shirt harder as she shook slightly. "I'm protecting you because you're important to me. I'm protecting you because you're an important part of my life. One that I once lost, one that I never want to let go of ever again." Another tear rolled down Issei's cheek as he spoke, gently caressing Koneko's back.

Koneko's sight blurred because of the tears accumulating in her eyes.

"I noticed that you felt under the weather, and yet I didn't come to talk with you. I didn't give you the support you needed." Issei's hand shook as he kept caressing Koneko's back. "I'm sorry, Koneko-chan. I've been an awful friend."

A brief silence followed Issei's statement. Placing her free hand over his, Koneko spoke. "…That's not true, Issei-senpai. We've all had our own problems ever since we arrived here. I didn't want anyone to notice, either way. …I… wanted to become stronger all by myself… and yet…"

Her body began trembling slightly once again, prompting Issei to remove his hand from her back and wrap it around her, bringing her body closer to his.

"Even so, I should've talked to you sooner. I should've tried my hardest to help you." Issei said as he hugged her. "I should've been there for you, and I wasn't. I've been a-"

"…Don't say that, Issei-senpai!" Koneko cried out, interrupting him. "…You've done more than enough for me- no, for all of us ever since you joined! You saved Buchou from the forced marriage, you protected us from Kokabiel, you rescued me and Gya-kun from the Mages, you protected all of us when the Hakuryuukou attacked!" tears were streaming down Koneko's tears once again as her shoulders shuttered along her choked sobs, trying to keep talking. "…You saved me… from Kuroka-neesama… you did all of this… so why are you… calling yourself… awful…?"

"I couldn't… protect you when it mattered the most…" Issei looked away, unable to look at Koneko in the eyes. "I couldn't protect you… back then…"

"…Issei-senpai…" Koneko whispered his name once again.

"Back when that... bastardkidnapped you and Kuroka-neesan… back when we were but mere children…" Issei gritted his teeth, trying to choke back his sobs. "I couldn't find you… I couldn't save you… All I could do was cry and grieve, forcing mom and dad to make me forget about you and Kuroka-neesan…" He wished he was never so weak, so vulnerable, so incapable ever again.

Koneko couldn't say anything. She couldn't do anything other than shutter in Issei's lap as he poured his heart out.

"It's because of my weakness… that you and Kuroka-neesan were taken away… that you were chased by the Devils when she lost control… that you've been through Hell… that you were left alone…" Issei kept talking mid-sobs. "It's all my fault because I couldn't save you…! If there's anyone in this room that's weak… it's me. Me, and no one else."

"…No, that's not true." Koneko shook her head. "…You're not weak, Issei-senpai. …There was nothing you could do at the time. We were both kids, after all. That's why-"

"That's no excuse." Issei clenched his fists. "I'm the Sekiryuutei… I was supposed to protect you and Kuroka-neesan… yet, I couldn't… I was weak then, I'm still weak now…"

"…Don't say that, Issei-senpai." Koneko shook her head in disagreement once more. "…Was it not you that defeated Riser and the Hakuryuukou all by yourself? …Was it not you that saved us so many times from so many troubles?" she looked up at Issei. "…You're more powerful than all of us, Issei-senpai. …You're the most powerful person I know."

"Even if you say that, even with all of this power in my possession, what good is it when the ones around me keep getting hurt? What good is it when I see the ones around me crying?" Issei shut his eyes, trying to avoid making eye contact with the girl sitting on his lap. "If I can't use my powers properly, if I can't use them to protect… then I'm weak."

A brief silence followed once more. However, it didn't stand for long as Koneko's statement broke it. "…That's not true," she stated firmly.

Koneko's tone surprised Issei, forcing him to open his eyes and make eye contact with her once more. What he saw was her, looking up at him with a serious expression on her face and faint trails of the tears that were falling from her eyes moments ago. He couldn't find himself to say anything, he could only look at her eyes. To his surprise, however, Koneko continued.

"…Issei-senpai, you're not weak, not in the slightest." Koneko reaffirmed her previous statement. "…You must already know that most of the previous Sekiryuuteis were people that drowned and lost their heads in their power. …I think that they were swallowed by the enormous power they had. …Even if one has power… if they don't have kindness… they'll definitely go out of control…"

Issei could do nothing but look into Koneko's eyes as she spoke, unable to say or add anything. He just sat silently and listened to her.

"…However, Issei-senpai is a gentle Sekiryuutei… Even with all the power you have, you're still yourself… you're still gentle…" Koneko smiled gently as she kept looking up at him. "That's a wonderful thing… You're surely the first among the previous ones to be a gentle Sekiryuutei."

It wasn't often that he heard the word 'gentle' being used when describing him. Furthermore, hearing the word directly from Koneko brought him such a nice and soft feeling, he could hardly describe it.

"…That's why—Please remain as you are. …Please become a gentle Welsh Dragon." A single tear rolled down Koneko's face as she once again buried her head in Issei's chest. "…Please… always stand by my side." She pleaded as she shakily gripped Issei's shirt.

He couldn't take it. The desperation in her voice as she pleaded for him to stay with her was too much for Issei to take. On instinct, he wrapped his hands around Koneko, pulling her as close to him as it was physically possible, being careful not to hurt her.

"Always. I will never, ever, leave your side, Koneko-chan." Issei voiced out his promise as he held her tightly. "No matter what, I'll always stand with you. For as long as you need me, for as long as you want me… I'll stand by your side."

"…Yes, that's all I want." Koneko nodded with her head still buried in Issei's chest. Much like Issei, she also wrapped her hands around his back, returning his embrace as she enjoyed his warmth and closeness. "…With you by my side… I'm the strongest I've ever been… Issei-senpai."

"That's not because of me, Koneko-chan." Issei said. "It's through your own efforts and determination that you became as strong as you are. It's your own strength that took you as far as you've come."

"…But it's because of Issei-senpai that I chose to try and accept my true self, my true power," came Koneko's response. "…And yet, despite it, I-"

"Not another word, Koneko-chan." Issei pulled back from the embrace a bit, distancing himself from Koneko just enough for their eyes to meet. "You're growing stronger with each day, I can see it clearly. You're just doubting your own strength and yourself."

"…I… I just want to be strong… and useful…" Koneko looked down, but no tears fell this time. "…But, I don't want to end up like Kuroka-neesama…"

"You won't." Issei shook his head. Cupping her chin, he made her look up at him once again. As their eyes met once again, he gave her a reassuring smile. "You won't end up like Kuroka-neesan, not if my mom has a saying in it."

"…Hikari-okaasan?" Koneko's eyes widened slightly, a look of wonder on her face. "…Why her…?"

"Since my Senjutsu training sessions were not as effective as we'd hoped, I think having the strongest Nekoshou train you directly would be much better." Issei explained.

"…But, I wouldn't want to bother Hikari-okaasan…" Koneko shook her head as the expression on her face slowly shifted to a more gloom once. "…This is something that I have to-"

Just as she was about to continue, Issei pet her head. The sudden action made her stop mid-sense, effectively stopping her from saying anything further. Seeing the opportunity, Issei spoke up.

"I understand wanting to do it yourself, but sometimes you have to accept others' help." Issei said as he kept gently petting her head. "I don't want you overworking yourself again like that, I don't want you doubting yourself like that either. Mom can help with both of these things. In fact, I'm absolutely certain she'd love to help."

"…Yes," Koneko said silently with a nod. A short silence followed as she looked down before she spoke up once again. "…Hikari-okaasan… she remembers Kuroka-neesama, doesn't she?" Her question caught Issei off-guard due to how sudden it was. Nevertheless, he didn't take long to respond.

"Yes, she does. As does dad," Issei replied with a nod. "I spoke with them a little before you came to my room and I told them about what happened."

"…What did they say?" Koneko asked, still not looking up at Issei.

"They were both happy that she is alive and well, but the news about her being a part of the 'Khaos Brigade' caught them off-guard." Issei explained. "Just like you, she has some of her memories altered or erased altogether, but mom said that this can be fixed, should I bring her to them."

Once again a short silence followed as Koneko failed to meet Issei's gaze. She eventually spoke up. "…Do you think… Kuroka-neesama will turn back to how she was before if Hikari-okaasan restores her memories?"

Issei hesitated for a moment. He honestly couldn't tell what will happen should her memories return to normal. All he could do was hope. That was just how the situation was. However, was that good enough for Koneko who already has enough to worry about as is?

Clearing his throat, Issei spoke up. "I'm sure she will," Issei nodded with a smile as he pet the cute Nekoshou's head. "After all, it worked out for you and me, didn't it?"

"…Yes," a slight smile graced the lips of the Nekomata sitting in Issei's lap as she looked up at him. A smile that he was all too happy to see and receive. A rare sight, yet one he would protect without a second thought. "…I'm glad I got you back, Issei-senpai."

"I'm glad I got you back as well, Koneko-chan." Issei returned her smile with a smile of his own. "I promise to never let go of you again, ever."

"…Yes, please always stand by my side." Koneko's cheeks reddened as she repeated her plea from earlier. Except, it wasn't followed by her shakily gripping his shirt. Instead, she kept smiling at Issei.

"Always, I promise." Issei nodded, smiling back at her reassuringly.

"…With you by my side, I know I'll keep getting stronger. I know I'll never lose sight of myself," determination stemmed from Koneko's voice as she spoke. "…With you by my side, I can do anything, Issei-senpai."

"You can do anything even without me, Koneko-chan." Issei shook his head slightly as he responded. "You're strong, one of the strongest people I know. You'll keep improving more and more, getting stronger and stronger. And I'll be here to support you through all of it, to help you should you need me. That, I promise you."

Tears began to stream down Koneko's face once again. Unlike the previous times however, those were tears from happiness, given that her smile never left her lips. "…Yes!" she nodded vigorously as she reached to wipe her tears away. Once she did, she looked up at Issei again. "…Thank you, Issei-senpai!"

"Of course. Anything for you, Koneko-chan." Issei smiled back at her as he responded. Once again, a short silence followed.

"…Then, Issei-senpai…" Koneko averted her gaze again, looking down with her cheeks still red. "…M-May you please s-spoil me?"

Issei blinked, unable to respond for a second. He brought a hand under her chin and gently raised her head, forcing her to look at him. The moment their eyes met, Issei leaned down towards her and kissed her gently.

Although surprised at first, Koneko was quick to return the kiss as she closed her eyes and wrapped her hands around Issei's neck, deepening their kiss. Issei was quick to respond as well, by wrapping his arms around her waist, pulling her even closer to him, deepening the kiss even further.

Moments later, they pulled back from the kiss, gasping for air as their faces were flushed, a thin strand of saliva connecting their lips. As they recovered enough air for them to stop panting, they looked into each other's eyes lovingly.

They once again leaned into each other, resuming their kiss. Their tongues were locked in a battle for dominance, despite neither of them fighting too hard for it. Eventually, both Issei and Koneko ran out of air once again so they had to separate briefly, gasping for air much like how they were moments ago.

Before she could fully recover, Issei put one of his arms underneath Koneko's butt, lifting her off his lap and placing her onto the soft mattress in one swift motion. As soon as her back touched the mattress, Issei pinned her down underneath him, hovering above her with his arms. He was at eye level with her, looking into her feline eyes as she blushed harder and harder.

Issei brought his face to hers once again as he began to plant soft kisses on her cheeks, enjoying her tiny mewls (?) of enjoyment. With that, he continued by planting kisses on her nose, then her neck and then finally — her lips. Koneko once again wrapped her arms around his neck, deepening the kiss slightly.

Unsurprisingly, they ran out of air soon after, forcing them to break their kiss once again. Low on air, Issei allowed himself to fall on the bed on his side, ending up besides Koneko as they both gasped for air. Issei gazed lovingly at Koneko who was laying right beside him, still short on breath.

"I love you, Koneko-chan," said Issei as soon as he could breathe properly again. "I love you so much, Koneko-chan."

Koneko turned her head towards him, their gazes meeting once again. With a warm smile, she responded. "…I love you too, Issei-senpai. I love you so much."

"I'm sorry that I don't express it nearly as often and evident as I should," Issei said with slight remorse as he reached for her hand and held it. "I promise you that I'll try to correct myself."

Koneko shook her head as she turned to her side, intertwining her fingers with Issei's as she got closer. "…Don't apologize, Issei-senpai. You just showed me plenty of your love, after all."

"I can always show more." Issei brought Koneko's hand close to his lips, kissing it lightly.

"…I'm content with this… for now." Koneko smiled as she scooted closer to Issei. "…But in the near future, then…"

"Of course," Issei smirked lightly as he also scooted closer to Koneko with their bodies eventually coming into contact. "I'll spoil you as much as you want."

"…Yes, please do." Koneko got as close to Issei as she could, burying her face in his chest as she inhaled his scent. "…I love you, Issei."

"I love you too, Koneko," Issei said as he kissed the top of her head gently. He then put an arm around her waist, pulling her as close to him as possible. "I hope you don't mind, but I want to sleep with you tonight."

"…No, not at all," Koneko shook her head as she looked up at Issei. "…I'd love to sleep with Issei-senpai as well."

"I'm happy to hear that." Issei smiled as he reached for the blanket, pulling it over both of them in one quick motion.

Once they were both covered by it, Koneko released her cat ears and tail, snuggling as close to Issei as she could. Issei followed suit, releasing his own cat ears and tail, alongside his dragon wings, spreading one of them over Koneko, using it as a makeshift blanket under the one that was already covering both of them.

"…They're… beautiful." Koneko whispered as she gently touched Issei's wing, tracing her finger along it slowly from its end to his shoulder.

"Not nearly as much as you." Issei brought his face close to Koneko's, touching his forehead with hers. Satisfied by Koneko's reactive blush, he brought his face even closer, kissing her once again. Unlike the previous times however, this wasn't a deep kiss. Rather, it was a light, gentle and short one.

Breaking off their kiss, their eyes remained locked on one another for a short while. Both of them were basking in the bliss they felt in the presence of each other. A tired smile was present on both of their faces as they embraced once again, bringing their bodies as close to each other as possible.

"I love you, Koneko-chan," Issei once again said, his voice quiet and gentle.

"…I love you too, Issei-senpai," Koneko responded in kind with her smile not leaving her face even for a second.

Without another word, they both got comfortable on Issei's bed and closed their eyes, sharing the warmth and comfort of the other. Their eyes began to close as tiredness slowly overtook them, reminding them that the day's events had quite the toll on them, both physically and mentally. As soon as they closed their eyes, their consciousnesses slipped in the dream realm, granting them their much-needed rest.

Indeed, regardless of how they looked at it, it was a long and tiring day. However, at that current moment, none of it mattered. They had each other, they were together and they could rest. And for as long as that remained true, they were sure that no matter what was coming next, they would be able to face it head-on.


{[Scene End]}

Kept you waiting, huh?

Yes, yes, I have. I'm aware, and I'm sorry for that.

I know that I promised that I'll try not to take too long with the update, but life happened. Can you imagine that a year back I thought Uni will be all fun and games and I'll have time?

HAH! Hilarious!

Truth is, maybe it's possible, but I suck at time management, so there's that. I also went through a bit of a writer's block, so there's that as well. And of course, I had to focus on studies, as well as other interests that I have and… yeah, you get the picture. But hey, at least it's here, no?

Speaking of the chapter, I very much enjoyed writing it, as this was a moment that I wanted to get to the moment I began to upload it to the site. Volume 5 is among my favorite parts of the novel, simply because there's a lot of Koneko focus in it. Biased, I know, but it is what it is. Also, the final scenes were written just because I really, really wanted to progress the relationship a bit further and all that, so yeah. I apologize if it feels rushed or anything. I had a lot of fun writing it, so I hope you had fun reading it!

Now, some truth – I'm not sure that I'll be able to update faster than what I already do. The Uni lectures will surely get more frequent and the information I'll have to attain will also most likely increase, so it'll become increasingly more difficult for me to update this story frequently.

That being said, I'd like to make it clear that I am not abandoning the story, I'm simply saying that updates will likely continue to take a while.

I understand that it's annoying to wait and that there are people among my readers who eagerly await new chapter, and I immensely appreciate you guys and the support you give me, but that's just how things are. I get busier and priorities change, so I have to dedicate time on other activities as well. I apologize once again, but that's just how it is.

So, if anyone decides to just drop my story and stop caring because of my slow update speed and irregular schedule, that's fine, I completely understand and I apologize that I failed to meet expectations or that I made it tough to deal with my way of doing stuff.

However, if among anyone reading this are people who are willing to stick around and read whatever it is that I upload – please, be my guest. You have my eternal gratitude and my promise that I'll try not to let any of you down!

That's about it when it comes to 'announcements' and all that. To everyone that read my wall of text - thank you for reading my ramblings, it means a lot to me.

With that out of the way, let's answer some reviews!

Chazmania – Thank you! I'm glad to hear that others enjoyed this part of the LNs as much as I did. I hope you enjoyed the chapter!

OechsnerC – Thank you, glad you do! I hope you enjoyed!

Skull Crusher – Thank you very much! Also, for the time being, he has one.

XxDragonToothxX – Hehe, sorry, but I like to be a tease sometimes :^)

Kaijucifer – Dunno why but you made me think of Drip Issei, so thanks for that lol

Infinitearchivealpha – Thank you, and will do.

D3vilB4sket – Thank you! And… :^)

– Thank you!

OtakuCruz - :,^)

And that's it for the reviews.

Once again, I hope you enjoyed the chapter, despite the fact that it got out a lot later than it should've.

Once again, gratitudes are in order:

A massive "Thank You!" to Aerex, a good friend of mine and fellow writer on this website, who you've most likely heard of.
In case you haven't – I implore you to check him out and his stuff. His stories are great and are absolutely,
definitely, worth a read!

Thank you Aerex for Beta reading this chapter and helping me improve upon the writing again! Hopefully we'll be able to do it again soon!

Thank you to Agent of The Divine One as well, for being my second Beta for the story and making sure it's good to go one last time.

You guys are amazing and I thank you for all of your help!

Feel free to point out any typos or mistakes. You help me out greatly by doing so!

Stay safe, do your reps, have fun, and last but not least…

'Stay awesome!'
- Xeroz/Xerozzuro

- signed, Aerex

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