Author's Note: OK, so people have been complaining that Tartarus and Gaia did not have an adversarial relationship. This opinion fails to take into account how screwed up the Greek Pantheon is. Ouranos was backstabbed by Gaia and his son Kronos. Kronos was in turn betrayed again by his own son Zeus and his mother, Gaia. The Earth Mother then took a snit with Zeus and created the Giants by joining with Tartarus. Who is to say that things didn't continue after that? Seriously, the interfamilial wars of the Greek Gods, Titans and Primordials makes the characters of a soap opera look mild by comparison, which takes some doing!

Disclaimer: I do not own DXD.

"Let's go!" - Regular Speech

'Oppai!' - Thoughts

[BOOST!] - Sacred Gear/Ddraig Speech

Chapter 3: Ratted Out

That Night

Entrance to the Ratman Den

Rias Gremory wrinkled her nose as she stared at the opening in the wall that was hidden by a basic glamour. She and the rest of her Peerage were clustered around the doorway.

"Koneko-chan, can you sense anything in there?" she asked her [Rook]. The reincarnated Nekomata paused for a moment before shaking her head.

"Nothing alive." she said bluntly.

This made the Gremory Heiress frown. She had detected unusual magical emanations coming from this location earlier on today and she'd come here hoping to find a new Sacred Gear wielder or something, not a doorway that shouldn't be there.

"Kiba, take the lead." she directed her [Knight], "Akeno and I will follow, with Koneko taking the rear."

"Hai, Buchou." the blond boy nodded. He concentrated and a Demonic Sword erupted from the ground in front of him. He drew it and led the way through the doorway.

The group of Devils assembled at the bottom of the stairs and stared silently at the skeleton draped over the chest in horror.

"There are teeth-marks on the bones." Kiba said in a subdued voice, "Something…ate this man alive."

"Such a thing…" Rias shook her head with a shudder, "Be careful. Whoever or whatever did this may still be around."

As they started to explore the underground maze, it was with shock that they discovered the corpse of the first Ratman not far away from the entry area. Kiba, despite his distaste for the smell of the thing, examined the body.

"No supernatural race that I've ever seen." he said with a frown, "Someone killed this…thing…with a rather clumsy sword thrust to the chest. After cutting off its tail."

The further in they went, the more corpses they found. Kiba looked puzzled at one point, when they discovered eight ratmen slain in close proximity to one another.

"Whoever did this got verifiably better since the last lot." he said with a frown, "Before this group, the swordplay, judging by the cuts and other wounds, shows that it was an amateur who killed them. This group were killed by someone who was familiar and comfortable with the sword. Still not very skilled, but marginally more so than before."

"Who could change from unskilled to marginally skilled between groups?" Akeno wondered.

"A robot?" Koneko deadpanned.

Rias chuckled as she beckoned her group onwards. Finally, the only area they hadn't checked yet was hidden behind a set of heavy stone doors.

"Koneko-chan, if you would?" Rias directed her [Rook].

The petite girl walked forward and, quite nonchalantly, kicked the doors in, the great stone blocks crumbling down, forming a no less impassable barrier in the form of a heap. Akeno used her magic to remove the stone so they could advance into the room.

Inside, the corpse of the largest ratman the group had found yet lay in the middle of the room, the remains of half a copper sword still embedded in its leg.

"Copper? Really?" Kiba shook his head in disbelief, "Who on earth uses copper for swords anymore?"

"Is it magical?" Akeno asked.

"Nope. Just an ordinary copper sword." Kiba replied, utterly mystified, "Aside from the fact someone, probably this creature here, hit it hard enough to break it in two."

"Buchou, these mannequins…" Koneko pointed at the faux Fallen, Angels and Devils scattered around the room.

"Yes…this is…unusual." the Crimson-Haired Ruin Princess nodded slowly, "Akeno, take this…ratman, I suppose we should call it…to Beelzebub-sama's local research department drop-off centre. The fact that these things were able to set up a nest in my territory without us catching so much as a hint of it is worrisome."

'Almost as worrisome as someone taking it upon themselves to massacre them in their own nest.' she added silently.

As Akeno vanished in a magic circle, taking the corpse away with her, Rias examined the mannequins with a frown. They were disgusting, filthy mockeries of the real McCoy that gave her chills up her spine for some reason.

When Akeno reappeared, Rias looked around at her beloved Peerage with a smile.

"Well, that's everything we needed to do here." she said, "Let's leave this place and seal up the entrance."

"Rias, should we keep an eye out for the magic user who did…this." Akeno asked, gesturing at the slaughtered ratmen as they walked back out of the large chamber.

"Yes…I want to have a word with them about exactly what these things are doing in my territory. And why they didn't contact me before entering my territory to deal with them." the Gremory Heiress answered with a hint of irritation in her voice.

Kuō was her territory, her responsibility. Whoever had killed these ratmen had snuck in and acted as they pleased without so much as a by-your-leave. Rias couldn't allow anyone, Yōkai, Devil or otherwise, to flaunt her authority like this.

IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII

The Next Day

With Issei

With a yawn, Issei padded down the stairs of his family home. He was still tired after he took down that ratman den the previous day, even although he had gotten plenty of sleep. Odd.

Floating above his bed had been a screen telling him that his HP and MP had been restored for sleeping in a proper bed, which was useful information.

"Morning, Kaa-san." he greeted his mother as he entered the kitchen.

"Good morning, Issei." his mother replied as she dished up breakfast.

"Where's Otou-san?" he asked as he sat down at his seat.

"He got called in to work early." his mother replied with a sigh, "Apparently there's a flu going around and a lot of people in his office have caught it, so he's going to be working overtime until everyone's well again."

"Poor dad." Issei commented as he tucked in.

As he ate, Issei snuck a look at the words floating over his mother's head.

Hyōdō Yukariko LV10

[Housewife]

So his mother was four Levels higher than he was. Considering she was an adult, that seemed a bit low, but then again, she didn't kill monsters for large whacks of EXP, so maybe it was average.

Whatever the case may be, he had to get stronger in order to better protect his family from the Purifiers…whoever they were.

The fact that he was legitimately under threat of being murdered by a secret organisation that seemed to have a chip on their shoulders regarding supernaturals was like something out of a manga. Issei wished it wasn't the case, but what could he do?

After finishing his breakfast, Issei headed back up to his room and opened his Status Screen.

Name: Hyōdō Issei

Class: The Gamer

Level: 6| Next Level: 2000 EXP

Title: Oppai Baka

HP: 300/300

MP: 125/125

STR: 35

STA: 31

DEX: 36

INT: 9

WIS: 9

LUK: ?

CHA: 11

Attribute Points: 5

¥: 14712

Issei blinked at the state of his STR, STA and DEX, but then remembered his trait as an [Awakened Sekiryūtei], which added ten points to those three stats every time he levelled up, and he had levelled up twice yesterday. [Lesser Draconic Charisma] accounted for the increase in his CHA score for similar reasons.

Deciding that he could afford to spend the points on his mental stats now, he put two into INT, two into WIS and then tried to put the last point into CHA, which he presumed stood for charisma, but a screen popped up when he tried.

[Charisma can only be raised either by undertaking quests that specifically raise charisma as a reward or by skills.]

Very irritating. He flipped a coin and put the last point into WIS. Issei then checked the two skills that levelled up yesterday, [Lesser Draconic Charisma] and [Basic Swordsmanship].

[Lesser Draconic Charisma] (Passive) [LV2, 31.01EXP)

Dragons are massive creatures, able to do a great many things, one of them being transformation into other beings. But regardless of what form they take, all dragons have a natural air of charisma about them that draws people to them. As someone who bears a Dragon-type Sacred Gear, you have inherited a small portion of this charisma.

- Grants you the Charisma stat once this entry has been read.

- Automatically adds 6 Charisma each level.

- As one who bears the [Boosted Gear], you gain a 50% EXP boost with this skill as this is a [Draconic] skill.

[Basic Swordsmanship] (Passive) [LV2, 01.25]

Throughout the entirety of the world, the one weapon that is used the most often, barring the human body itself, is the sword. No matter what kind of sword it is, from Rapiers to Broadswords, from Dao to Katana, the sword has rightly earned its name as the Queen of Weapons throughout humanity's long and bloody history. Basic Swordsmanship is, as the title suggests, very basic thrusts and cuts.

- Grants the user the ability to carry a sword with ease.

- Passively grants the user +2 to [Slashing] Attacks.

- Passively grants the user +1 to [Piercing] Attacks.

Not a large improvement, but still better than nothing.

Reaching into his inventory, Issei pulled out the skill book he received for completing the main quest yesterday.

[You have received the 'Mental Mapping' skill book]

Do you wish to learn this?

Y/N

"What the heck is Mental Mapping?" Issei wondered. As he'd expected, a window popped up.

[Mental Mapping is the ability to create a map in the mind of the user of every location that they have been to.]

"Huh…sounds useful." He said with a shrug, "Let's go for it."

Pressing the 'Y' button, he saw the book dissolve into blue light, which flew into his chest. A moment later, a screen popped up.

You have learned the skill [Mental Mapping]!

[Mental Mapping] (Passive/Active) [LV1, 00.00EXP]

Mental Mapping is a skill that allows the user to create a map in their mind of any location they enter. At low levels, it is restricted to buildings and dungeons, but once you reach higher levels, it can and will function in the outdoors as well.

- Actively allows the creation of mental maps of locations.

- Passively increases WIS by 5.

- Costs 5MP per minute to use.

- Passively allows the user to recall any map created in exacting detail.

"Cool." Issei said before he noticed another window appear.

[Do you wish [Mental Mapping] to scan your memory for any locations that it can create maps for you?]

[Warning: Costs 50 MP]

Y/N

The Sekiryūtei cocked one eyebrow. It could do that? If it could, then it'd save him an awful lot of time walking all over places he already knew like the back of his hand to get a mental map. He hit 'Y' at once.

[Working…

working…

working…

Done!]

Map: Hyōdō Residence: Fully Complete!

Map: Kuō Academy (Main Building): 45% Complete!

Map: Kuō Academy Kendo Club Hall: 60% Complete!

Map: Kuō City Indoor Shopping Arcade: 70% Complete!

Map: Motohama Residence: Fully Complete!

Map: Matsuda Residence: Fully Complete!

Map: Den of the Ratlord: Fully Complete!

You gain 50 EXP per completed map!

"Nice!" Issei grinned. An extra 200 EXP wasn't something to sneeze at.

Question was, what to do now? He had no idea. Check the map for the nearest rat den?

Shrugging again, he reached into his still open inventory and pulled out the map of Kuō he had taken from the secret room at the back of the dungeon the previous day and opened it out. It took Issei a moment to find the rough location of his house on the map.

"Ok, so my house is here…" he muttered, "The den was a fifteen-minute walk away…ah, this one over here…hello, what's this then?"

Next to the rat's head symbol was a set of odd lines. 'VII'

"The roman numerals for seven?" he said in bafflement. He only knew about that because he had played Final Fantasy VII a few times. Who was it that said that playing video games never taught you anything again?

Examining the other rat's heads, Issei noticed that they all had numerals of some sort next to them. None of which were higher than seven. A hint to go after the nests in descending numerical order, perhaps?

You gain +1 INT for correct deductive reasoning!

Shush!

Deciding that it was as good an idea as any to start off with, Issei searched and found the den with the number six next to it. It was, oddly enough, on the riverbank, near the bridge.

"Time to have a walk." he muttered.

Issei got dressed, in casual clothes this time, although they honestly weren't too different from his school uniform; black trousers, a red t-shirt, white running shoes and a white shirt over the top to finish the look.

"Kaa-san, I'm going out for a walk!" he called as he came down the stairs.

"Another one?" his mother asked as she came into the hallway, "What's brought this on?"

"I'm still a bit nervous…you know…after what happened." Issei replied awkwardly. It was true, up to a point anyway.

His mother's eyes softened as she drew Issei into a gentle hug. "Oh, now Issei. You should have told me you were feeling uneasy about this whole thing. I am sorry it happened but hopefully it'll never happen again."

You gain +100 Relationship with Hyōdō Yukariko!

His mother sent him on his way with a wave and an admonishment to be back in time for lunch.

As he closed the door behind him, Issei found himself confronted by a large screen.

[Do you wish to be directed to one of the Ratman Dens?]

[If so, kindly indicate which den you would like to go to.]

- Den I

- Den II

- Den III

- Den IV

- Den V

- Den VI

- No

"This is convenient." Issei remarked as he hit the button for Den number six and saw the blue path light up and head down the street.

Walking along, Issei had to wonder what he would find at the rest of the Dens. More powerful versions of the last opponents? Magic users? Giant rat monsters? He wasn't all that up on what ratmen members were available in fantasy games beyond the low level trash-mobs. He'd have to do some research to combat that lack of knowledge.

At length, he reached the riverbank, but frowned as the path still went on, under the bridge even. Issei trotted over to the concrete and found, as expected, a blue screen over a door shaped section of concrete. He reached out and touched it, making it flare to life.

[Warning!]

You are about to enter the dungeon [Lair of the Rat Beast] (LV6)

Once you enter this dungeon, you must clear it before exiting.

Do you wish to enter?

Y/N

"Great, a rat beast this time." Issei grumbled, "Kami help me."

He pressed the 'Y' button and the door vanished just like at the last place. What was different about this entrance was what lay on the other side of the door; a long pole descending down into the darkness.

Seeing what he was supposed to do here, Issei sighed and did it. He jumped onto the pole and started to slide down it. It was only a couple of minutes later that he touched down on the ground, in a circular room built of stone, lit by braziers and with a single doorway leading on.

Drawing the [Rapscallion Wave Blade] from his inventory, Issei advanced through the doorway, only to be confronted by a familiar sight…a skeleton leaning over a chest.

"OK…let's see what we have here." he muttered as he opened the chest.

Folded up neatly in the chest was a pile of red cloth. When Issei picked it up and unfolded it, the cloth was revealed to be a ragged hooded cloak, with a blank circular buckle at the throat.

You have acquired the [Cloak of Obfuscation]!

Do you wish to equip this item? Y/N

Hitting yes, he opened his equipment menu so he could get a description of the cloak.

[Cloak of Obfuscation]

A cloak made from the woven hairs of several magical beasts that use chameleon-like abilities to hunt. It makes the wearer very hard to notice to mundane methods and even provides some degree of camouflage to supernatural detection methods, but it isn't absolute.

- Provides 5 armour to all covered locations.

- While the hood is up, grants the skills [Mundane Detection Nullity] and [Magical Detection Resistance] to the user.

- While the hood is up, the wearer's face is obscured into darkness.

- Combat impossible while concealed with this item.

"Whew…useful." Issei whistled. He pulled the hood up and immediately noticed that his body seemed to be drained of colour, to the point that he looked transparent.

Moving through the next room, Issei spotted what had to be the largest mass of enemies he had ever seen. They were a bunch of rats the size of spaniels, with red eyes, frothing mouths and whip-like tails. At the back stood a ratman armed with a whip and a crude-looking dagger thrust into its belt.

Giant Rat LV5

Packmaster LV5

[Spawn Eater]

'Shit, there's over twenty of those rat-dog things!' Issei cursed. He reached into his inventory and took out his bronze sword. Against the sheer number of enemies he was facing, he couldn't just charge in and cut them to pieces as he would prefer to do, as one thing rats and ratmen had very commonly was a debuff effect attached to their fangs or claws, usually poison.

So then, he would have to be cunning.

He observed the movements of the rat pack, which seemed to involve the dog-sized rats seething and running about within a certain area, which was about the length of the Packmaster's whip. None of the rats seemed to want to get behind the Packmaster either. If he could sneak around, disengage his camouflage, kill the Packmaster and then retreat, it could make the rats scatter and become easier targets.

Alternatively, it could make them swarm him, but he didn't have a clue what else to do other than a frontal assault. So he went with his plan, but noted the need to develop long-ranged skills at some point.

Carefully manoeuvring himself as quietly as possible around the horde of rats, Issei barely managed to avoid standing on one rat's tail before finally getting to the back of the Packmaster. Releasing a sigh of relief, he considered how best to do this before reaching up with his bronze sword and flicking the hood off his head.

Almost immediately, a rat-dog spotted him and opened its mouth to shriek, but Issei cut the head off the Packmaster with one clean cut of his steel sword before it could so much as twitch.

The effect on the pack was rather interesting; they scattered and fled into cracks in the wall that he didn't think rats of their size should be able to squeeze through.

You have slain a Packmaster! You earn 75 EXP!

By assassinating the Packmaster, you have scattered a pack of Giant Rats! You earn 100 EXP!

When the option whether or not to loot the body came up, Issei hit the 'Y' key.

- Filthy Robe X1

- Ragged Whip X1

- Crude Iron Knife X1

- ¥500

He sold the whip and robe (¥100 each), but kept the dagger, as it was a damn better one than the flint crap he had in his inventory.

Considering the fact that no special clearing conditions had appeared, Issei took it to mean that it was a very basic kill-the-boss type dungeon as he wandered down the corridor. Quite why this hadn't been the case for the last dungeon was a bit confusing, but he guessed it was generated at random by his [Gamer] ability.

On his way down the corridor, Issei had to deal with two more packs of Giant Rats. The first he dealt with in a similar way to the initial pack and netting similar rewards.

The second, however, was a pain in the backside. The ratman standing behind the pack had some kind of glowing crystal in place of one of its eyes and spotted him even with the hood of his cloak up.

"Man-Thing! Kill-Kill!" it squeaked before lashing out with its whip, egging its charges on to attack Issei.

"Crap on a stick!" Issei cursed as he flipped his hood down and readied his swords as the wave of dog-sized rats descended upon him. He bisected the first one to reach him before he had to leap back to avoid the ravening maw of another one.

The next few minutes were tense as Issei cut a swath through the rats. Individually, they weren't close to being a match for him. As they came at him in a large mob, however, he had accumulated a small number of cuts and a bite mark, losing fifty HP altogether.

"OW!" he shouted in pain as yet another rat bit him on his right arm, "Gerroff!"

-35 HP!

Issei stabbed the rat with his bronze sword several times before it died and released his arm. He made short work of the remaining three Giant Rats before turning his attention to the Packmaster, who backed off nervously, whip held at the ready.

"Die-Die!" it shrieked before drawing the whip back in preparation to strike. Issei leapt in close and severed the hand holding the weapon, making the Packmaster let out a shrill screech of pain.

Dispassionately, Issei finished the ratman off with a thrust to the chest.

You have slain X20 Giant Rats! You earn 400 EXP!

You have slain a Packmaster! You earn 75 EXP!

Do you wish to loot the bodies? Y/N

Impatiently, Issei hit yes.

- Giant Rat Teeth X15

- Ragged Giant Rat Pelt X10

- Giant Rat Pelt X5

- Unknown Magical Device (False Eye) X1

- Enchanted Whip (Unknown Enchantment) X1

- Ragged Robe X1

- Crude Iron Dagger X1

- ¥1000

Marking the robe for disposal (¥100), Issei kept everything else. He wondered what he was going to do with all of the crap he had in his inventory? He'd checked the previous night and all of the armour, including the helmets, were too small for him. The flint knives were tiny little things the length of his pinkie and were almost all chipped and ready to break. The only usable spoils were the copper swords.

Shrugging again, Issei pulled his hood up and advanced down the corridor again. At the end of the corridor was a large circular room with three doors leading in different directions. A screen popped up.

[Choose a door to advance]

"That's all the clues I'm getting?" Issei complained. He examined the doors for any hints. Nope. Three plain doors with three identical levers next to them, no hint as to what was behind them.

"OK, I'll just pick at random then." he stated. Selecting the one on the right, he pulled the lever down, triggering the clanking of gears as the door sank down.

A loud roar emerged from behind it and Issei leapt back, holding his swords at the ready. What emerged from the tunnel made his jaw drop.

It was a massive rat, far larger than Byral Warfang had been. Hell, it towered two feet over Issei's head! Large muscle rippled across its chest and arms, the massive head twitched and jerked spasmodically as the glowing red eyes locked onto Issei. Two large clawed arms dragged along the ground as it thumped out of what Issei could see was a holding cell. Attached to the monster's back was an odd machine that glowed green and had several tubes and wires leading into the flesh of the monster. Drool fell from the gaping fanged maw of the ogre as it breathed.

Rat Ogre LV6

[Mad Beast]

"Hell." Issei cursed mildly as his [Gamer's Mind] kicked in and calmed him down from his rising panic.

With another loud roar, the Rat Ogre leapt at Issei with both arms extended, attempting to grab him. With a curse, Issei leapt to the side and lashed out with his bronze sword at the arm of the Rat Ogre. It bounced off the skin of the monster like it was steel.

"Bloody bastard hell!" he cursed before dodging another swipe of a clawed paw. Those claws were the same size as carving knives and looked just as sharp, if not sharper.

This time he attacked with the steel sword he had taken from Byral, scoring a hit down the monster's right underarm. Then, to Issei's surprise, it just regenerated the wound in seconds.

"…you have got to be freaking kidding me!" Issei yelped as he dodged another clumsy swipe from the Rat Ogre, "It's strong, fast AND it regenerates?! C'mon, gimme a break here!"

An idea came to mind. Issei returned the bronze sword to his inventory and drew out one of the Iron Daggers he had taken from the Packmasters. He held it clumsily and threw the knife at the Rat Ogre's face, scoring a hit just below the eye that made the monster recoil and cover its face with one massive paw.

Quickly, Issei ran around to the back of the Ogre, leapt into the air, drew back his sword and brought it smashing down on the machinery attached to its back with a yell. The steel blade cleaved the machinery in half and set off an explosion that sent Issei flying back into a wall.

-60 HP!

You have crippled the Rat Ogre! -70% Movement!

"Ow…!" Issei moaned as he shook his head to clear it. The Rat Ogre was slumped over, twitching, where it had fallen. The arcane device on its back was a melted hunk of melted scrap metal and plastic tubing.

Staggering to his feet, Issei walked over to it and looked down at the struggling monster before raising his blade and ending it by decapitation.

You have slain a Rat Ogre! You gain 380 EXP!

Issei cocked an eyebrow when no offer to loot came up. After recovering the dagger and stowing it in his inventory, he peered back into the Rat Ogre's former cage and spotted a chest, similar to the one at the entryway. Opening it, he beheld a circular item that looked suspiciously like it should fit the clasp of his cloak. He picked it up and placed it into the slot, making a screen pop up.

[Do you wish to add the [Eye of Obscurity] to the [Cloak of Obfuscation]?]

Y/N

"What does it do?" Issei asked plaintively.

[A part of the Unknown Set. Adds the ability to muffle sound to the cloak. (Does not include voice)]

"Better." Issei said with a nod as he hit the 'Y' key.

Effect added to [Cloak of Obfuscation]!

- Suppresses all sound from the user by 50%. (User voice exempted).

"Useful."

With that, Issei turned to the other two doors. He did not want to have to fight another Rat Ogre, even although he now knew how to fight the bastards. He was down by 145 HP as it was. He had to be careful as he only had 155 left!

"Let's see here…" Issei looked between the door on the left and the middle door, "The obvious location for a door to go onwards is the middle one, which is a clue that it isn't the way. So, left it is."

Thankfully, as the left-hand door clanked open, there was a conspicuous lack of Rat Ogre behind it, much to Issei's relief. He pulled his hood up and ran down the corridor, which was weird because his footsteps made no sound whatsoever. Talk about freaky.

Issei slowed down when the stone bricks around him turned into rock abruptly. This was obviously an older part of the dungeon.

Looking around, Issei spotted two more chests, on either side of a large stone door with the face of a large horned rat carved into it. Moving to the chest on the right, he opened it to find a plain steel short sword, basically the same design as his bronze sword. Hastily equipping it, he pulled up its stats.

[Steel Short Sword]

A short sword forged from steel. It bears no makers mark, but is in excellent condition.

Short Sword

Slashing Damage: S+18

Piercing Damage: S+14

Rather pleased with this prize, Issei moved onto the last chest. Opening it, he blinked as a pair of arm bracers, made of some kind of red metal, appeared.

Equipping them, he once again accessed his equipment screen in order to find out what it did.

[Bloodmetal Bracers]

Light armour made from Bloodmetal, the name given to steel that has been anointed with willingly gifted dragon blood and enchanted by a powerful magician. It offers decent protection for the forearms, but its true value comes from the effect it has on draconic abilities.

Light Armour

- Grants 15 Armour to covered locations.

- All [Draconic] skills gain +5 to their effects and gain 25% more experience while these bracers are worn.

"Nice!" Issei grinned, before a frown came upon him. If he was getting not one, but two cool pieces of equipment, that almost had to mean that the boss was behind that door. There was no such thing as a freebie in a dungeon, after all.

Drawing both of his swords, he approached the door cautiously and examined it for a way to open it. Seeing that there was a raised button in the centre of the muzzle, he pushed it with the butt of his sword until he heard a 'click' sound.

Issei jumped back as the entire carving of the horned rat leapt free of the door and spun around once, twice and thrice before sinking back into the door. The eyes glowed a crimson red before the door sunk into the ground.

"Ominous…" Issei muttered as he advanced into the room beyond the doorway, which made him gape as he caught the whole scope of it.

It was a goddamn mini arena, with numerous tattered banners hanging around the seats that surrounded the arena floor…where Issei was standing.

"Oh crap." he sighed as a high-pitched cackle arose from the large box at the opposite side of the arena from where Issei stood. Standing in it was the fattest ratman he had ever seen. It had a potbelly that made it look as if it was heavily and obesely pregnant. It also had four arms, both carrying whips, with the original two grasping the small barrier in front of it.

"Welcome, man-thing, to my arena!" it squeaked at him in a high-pitched voice at odds with its size, "Your death here will mean plenty of tasty data! AND your corpse will be an interesting dissection!"

Farsqueaker, the Grand Packmaster LV8

[Insane Genius/Cruel Experimenter]

"You can talk tough, just like Byral Warfang did." Issei remarked, "Can you match it though? He couldn't."

"Fool-fool!" jeered Farsqueaker, "Unlike that incompetent fool Byral, I take the leader's position in the rear! Face my pets!"

One hand reached out and pulled a lever hidden from Issei's sight, which made several pits open up in the floor even as elevators clanked their way to the top, revealing three Rat Ogres, each as large as the one he had defeated previously, roaring in bestial rage and smacking their talons against the cages that held them captive.

As Farsqueaker pulled yet another lever to release the monstrous trio, Issei was planning what to do. He had to destroy the machines that the three Rat Ogres had attached to their backs; otherwise they'd just regenerate all of his attacks. Problem was, he only had three daggers that he knew could pierce the thick hides of the Rat Ogres. After he had thrown those at the beasts, he was down to the flint daggers that could barely cut damp paper.

Ironically, he had at least ten of them, so they were a lot more expendable thanks to those two factors.

"Kill-kill!" the fat rat shrieked at his pets. They roared again and started stomping over to Issei.

'Why do these ratmen always have to repeat words?' Issei wondered absently as he flopped his hood down and took up a stance with his swords.

As the lead Rat Ogre leapt at him, Issei dodged to the side and slashed with both swords at the trailing arm, making a large wound that spat black blood out in a broad spray. Using the time that the monster took to howl in pain, Issei ghosted around its sides and smashed the machine on its back, jumping back immediately so that the explosion didn't knock him on his ass like it had the first time.

You have crippled the Rat Ogre! -70% Movement!

Instead of immediately finishing off the downed monster, Issei turned around to face the other two, who were now regarding him with something approaching wariness in their bestial eyes as they approached him. It would be tougher now because he had been moved from 'weak prey' to 'prey that has a strong bite' in their minds.

After enduring a staring contest for a couple of minutes, Issei decided to see how these things handled being on the receiving end for a change. He charged at the one on his right.

It roared and lashed out with its claws in an attempt to eviscerate him, but he was able to dodge most of them and block with the bracers that which he couldn't avoid. Sadly, it still managed to get through somehow and made him lose HP.

-45 HP!

Shit. That was him down to 110 HP now!

He lashed out with one sword and scored a cut down the Rat Ogre's flank, eliciting yet another ear-piercing shriek from the monstrosity. Issei dealt the crippling blow to the monster and it collapsed to the ground, leaving the last Rat Ogre to face him.

As expected, it decided to act exactly as its two comrades had and attacked with its claws and gaping maw, allowing Issei to cripple it in much the same way as he had the three previous Rat Ogres. He then killed the monsters by decapitating them.

You have slain a Rat Ogre! You gain 380 EXP!

You have slain a Rat Ogre! You gain 380 EXP!

You have levelled up! LV6-LV7!

You have 5 Attribute Points to spend.

[Short Sword Mastery] has levelled up! LV1-LV2!

You have slain a Rat Ogre! You gain 380 EXP!

"NO!" Farsqueaker screamed in denial as it stared down at the rapidly cooling corpses of its so-called 'pets,' "No! My best little pets!"

"Those are your best?" Issei called up at him, resting his blades on his shoulders comfortably, "Better see if you can do any better, eh?"

"You…!" Farsqueaker growled, "I will show you why no one mocks me!"

The ratman pulled yet another lever, which made him vanish from sight. Issei looked around nervously until he spotted a larger elevator being moved up on the other side of the arena.

"Oh c'mon! Not the old 'monster-from-the-floor' routine!" he groaned, "What now?!"

What emerged, seemingly in response to his question, was a Rat Ogre that made the four Issei had faced up till this point look like underfed runts by comparison. It was at least half again the height of the last one and the same wide. The muscles on the thing bulged like melons and one of the arms had been crudely replaced with a large lump of steel with one side sharpened into a blade. The head was grotesque, half of the skin and muscle were hanging off it, but the teeth inside the maw looked as sharp as swords and were the same size as daggers. Sitting atop it in a saddle/harness contraption was Farsqueaker, looking very smug.

Boneripper LV8

[Specimen 5584v1.0]

"Behold! My greatest creation…Boneripper!" the fat ratman declared squeakily, "He shall tear you to pieces! Die-Die!"

"This…might be somewhat troublesome." Issei admitted nervously.

"Boneripper! Attack!" Farsqueaker ordered, his whips lashing out to strike the Rat Ogre on its rear. With a bass growl, Boneripper started forwards.

"Crap." Issei muttered as he backed off. What to do? He squinted at the monster before he realised that it didn't have one of those machines embedded in its back. Could it not regenerate then?

'Only one way to find out.' he thought as he drew out one of the iron daggers and threw it at the encroaching Boneripper, embedding itself in the Super Rat Ogre's shoulder, making it roar in anger.

"Man-Thing, you'll have to do better than that!" Farsqueaker jeered, before he squeaked in pain as a flint dagger hit his muzzle, making it bleed.

"Looks like I just did!" Issei shouted defiantly as he threw another flint knife at the fat ratman.

"Boneripper! What are you dawdling around for!? Kill him!" Farsqueaker snarled in a rage after the Man-Thing, fortunately missed him this time.

Issei hurriedly redrew his steel short sword as the massive Rat Ogre drew closer. He dodged to the side as Farsqueaker lashed out with a whip, then he had to dodge again when Boneripper lashed out with its clawed paw, gouging a line of rock from the floor when it missed.

Issei counterattacked with several cuts from his swords on the arm that had just missed him before leaping back again to avoid another swipe from the sword-sized claws.

The Sekiryūtei grimaced as he saw that the black blood from the Rat Ogre was hissing as it hit the rock. Was it acidic enough to eat through rock? What about steel? He glanced at his swords and was relieved to see that there was no hissing going on there.

"Boneripper! KILL-KILL!" Farsqueaker roared as he attacked with his whips. Issei dodged one and cut the other down to size.

Boneripper roared, raised its massive blade arm and brought it down, aimed right at Issei. He leapt back, but the displaced air of the swipe sent him flying back.

-20 HP!

Warning! You have less than a hundred HP!

"OW! Dammit!" Issei cursed as he leapt to his feet again, "Heh…looks like you're in a bit of a pickle there."

Indeed, Boneripper's attack with its blade arm was so strong that it had gotten stuck in the rocky floor, much to the befuddlement of the dim-witted monster.

"Boneripper! Pull your arm-OW!" Farsqueaker snarled, and then yelped as another flint dagger landed accurately on his muzzle.

Issei charged in to take advantage of Boneripper's immobilisation. He hacked and slashed across its back and even cut off the beast's tail, which made a screen pop up.

You have cut off one of Boneripper's limbs! You have inflicted the [Bleeding] status on Boneripper!

With a roar of pain, Boneripper finally ripped its blade arm from the arena floor and whirled to face Issei with a growl.

'Crap. Looks like it's time to get serious.' Issei thought and called out, "[Boosted Gear]!"

[Boost!]

You have been affected by the status effect [Boost!]! Your power has been doubled!

The red fingerless gauntlet materialised and glowed red with power. Issei felt this boost more than the first two times he'd used the [Boosted Gear]. It was probably because he had far more impressive stats to double this time around. He mentally added actual jogging and weight lifting to his training schedule.

With a roar, Boneripper slashed at Issei with its blade arm. Issei ducked under it and struck at the part of its arm where the blade was connected to the stump of its shoulder with both swords in a scissor cut motion. His blades bit deep into the flesh, but Issei was forced to halt his attack prematurely in order to dodge the monster's teeth as it tried to bite him in half.

Farsqueaker lashed out with its only remaining whip, but Issei shouted, "[Parry]!" and deflected it, although it wasn't a classic parry. He then lashed out with his other sword and sliced the whip in half, leaving Farsqueaker all but defenceless.

Issei ran around the monster and cut several times with his swords, hoping to enrage the Rat Ogre to the point that it would use its massive blade-arm again. And, as expected, Boneripper roared and raised its blade-arm, bringing it down at Issei, who had already leapt back and driven his swords into the ground to not fly off like the last time.

"Boneripper! Fool-fool!" Farsqueaker raged impotently.

Issei took the chance offered and started hacking at the stuck arm with his swords, finally cutting it off in a geyser of black blood and a roar of pain and fury from Boneripper.

You have cut off one of Boneripper's limbs! You have increased the [Bleeding] Status to [Heavy Bleeding]!

Issei backed off so he could give Boneripper a once over. The monster's tail and left arm were severed, disgorging gouts of blood that was pooling around its clawed feet. The Rat Ogre was breathing heavily and was probably going into shock due to the damage Issei had inflicted and the amount of blood it had lost.

[Boost!]

You have been affected by the status effect [Boost!]! Your power has been doubled!

[Boost!] Limit Reached! Starting Countdown.

3:00...

2:59...

2:58...

"Farsqueaker! It's time to finish this!" Issei yelled once he saw the timer. He charged at Boneripper, who raiser its only remaining hand sluggishly to strike at the pesky enemy that was killing him.

The Sekiryūtei dodged the clumsy and slow attack, spinning around to drive both of his blades into the gut of the Rat Ogre, dragging them through its body before ripping them out, and disembowelling the monster in an explosion of blood.

You have fatally wounded Boneripper! He will die in 5:00!

With a choking growl, its clawed paw futilely trying to keep its guts from spilling out, Boneripper collapsed onto its knees before it slammed face first onto the arena floor with a thump, spilling Farsqueaker from his perch and sending him sprawling to the floor.

"NO! Boneripper!" the fat ratman yelled in disbelief.

Issei didn't waste any more time with Boneripper and charged at Farsqueaker. The ratman came to his senses when he spotted Issei and he lashed out with what remained of his whips, but to no avail as the Sekiryūtei cut through them.

"NO! This cannot happen!" Farsqueaker shrieked in terror as he cast away his whips and drew out a steel dagger with each of his arms before attacking rabidly with them, forcing Issei onto the defensive from the ferocity of the ratman's attack.

"What's wrong? I thought you were better than Byral?" Issei taunted him as the Sekiryūtei dodged another frantic swipe of a blade, "You don't look so good by the way. Not been getting enough exercise?"

It was true. Farsqueaker was panting like a steam engine at full tilt after just a minute or so of combat. Even Issei had been better than that at first.

"SILENCE!" the ratman shrieked, "Die-die-die-die-die-die-die-die-die!"

"You first!" Issei grunted as he kicked Farsqueaker in his rotund belly, making him stagger back, then stuck his swords into the rat's body, one in the chest and one through the stomach.

"Gah…no…how…could this…" the rat rasped, "I…am a…genius! How could I…lose…to a Man-Thing?!"

With that, Farsqueaker slumped, Issei drawing his swords out to allow the body of the Grand Packmaster to fall to the floor completely. He then went over and gave Boneripper a mercy stroke, severing its head. He then dismissed the [Boosted Gear], with only seconds to spare on the timer.

You have slain Boneripper! You gain 600 EXP!

You have slain Farsqueaker, the Grand Packmaster! You gain 700 EXP!

You have acquired X4 Steel Knives!

You have acquired X2 Skill books (Unknown Skills)!

You have acquired the [Dissimulator Necklace]!

You have acquired ¥6000!

[Boost!] has levelled up! LV1-LV2!

As a result of repeated actions, the skill [Observe] has been created.

[Observe] (Active) [LV1, 00.00]

A skill that allows the user to view information about people, animals and objects that this skill is directed upon. The higher this skills level is, the more information is gathered. Five MP per use.

As a result of repeated actions, the skill [Ambidextrous] has been created.

[Ambidextrous] (Passive) [LV1, 00.00]

A skill that permit's the user to use the off-hand for tasks. The higher the level of this skill, the more skilled the user will become with all manner of tasks.

- Passively reduces the Off-Hand penalty from 95% to 80%.

As a result of repeated actions, the skill [Knife Throwing] has been created.

[Knife Throwing] (Active/Passive) [LV1, 00.00]

Although called 'knife throwing', this skill is actually for the throwing of any handheld bladed weapon. The higher the skill level, the more damage each thrown weapon will deal and the longer range you will be able to throw.

- Passively grants +5 DEX.

- Actively grants the user the ability to throw knives, with damage calculated as STR {Plus} Weapon Damage {Divided} by 2.

- Range: 8 Feet.

- Bonus Damage: 0.

"OK…that's cool." Issei said with a grin. He was curious about the necklace so he equipped it and was taken aback by the loud trumpeting that came out of nowhere.

[Congratulations!]

You have gathered the three pieces of the [Unknown] set of equipment! You gain ¥1000!

Acquiring all pieces of the [Unknown] set grants you one random lesser skill!

You gain [Lesser HP Regeneration]!

[Lesser HP Regeneration] (Passive) [LV1, 00.00]

The regeneration rate of half-devils and lesser demons.

- Regeneration Rate of 1HP every 15 Minutes.

Issei nodded happily. He'd needed something like that, since HP potions didn't seem to be forthcoming for whatever reason. He then checked out the [Dissimulator Necklace].

[Dissimulator Necklace]

Part of the Unknown set. This necklace alters the voice of the user to be utterly gender neutral and inflectionless. As a result, however, you suffer a 25% penalty to any attempt to any [Persuade] or [Seduce] actions taken while wearing this necklace.

"Really?" he said, and then paused in surprise. He really sounded different!

"Now to get outta here…" he said, only for the door to slam shut behind him. Again.

Issei shook his head in exasperation. He really should have expected that, but no, he had to open his mouth.

"Well then, if I were a way out, where would I be?" Issei muttered, his eyes locked onto the box where Farsqueaker had stood when he had initially entered the arena. Resolved, Issei jogged over to the box and used his new daggers to climb up to the box. Just as he hopped over the edge, however, the arena door cracked, crumbled and collapsed. Issei put his hood up rather hastily. Then his jaw dropped as he saw who was striding through the shattered doorway.

Rias Gremory LV40

[Heiress of the House of Gremory/Crimson-Haired Ruin Princess]

Akeno Himejima LV38

[Queen of Gremory/Priestess of Lightning]

Kiba Yuuto LV 35

[Knight of Gremory/Holy Sword Project Sole Survivor]

Tōjō Koneko LV33

[Rook of Gremory/Shirone]

"What the hell?!"

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Next Chapter: Dodging Devils

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