Chapter 3 - A Devil's Worry
The moment he realised that he had been staring at the small blond girl, he blushed, berating himself for losing his cool. He needed to hide his emotions better. That lesson was one of the last he had received from Old Man Zangetsu, before his access to his inner world was blocked off. Actually, he should probably try getting back there some time.
Issei took a step forward and held his hand out to the girl, looking off to the side while waiting for his small blush to leave.
"U-Um, are you okay?" he asked as he pulled her up. Once again the feeling of Orihime washes into his senses, but this time he manages to hide it.
"Thank you" she replied, holding on to the offered hand us she came up to her feet. As soon as she is up a sudden gust of wind comes breezing through, pulling off her white hood that had previously shadowed her features.
This time he was mesmerized by the innocent look in her eyes, the exact same look that Orihime had before her capture by the hands of Aizen. The memories of his lost friend nearly bring tears to his eyes. But he held them back, he couldn't cry now. He didn't deserve a chance to cry, not after he had failed them.
"U-um…" came her awkward mumble. Only then did he remember that he still had hold of her hand. He let go and brought it behind him, trying to act as casual as possible.
"Sorry" he said, "Are you alright?"
"Yes, thank you very much!" she had a large smile adorning her face as she said this.
"It's fine, as long as you are okay."
"U-um" she mumbled once again, "I got lost and need help".
Issei did think he could take much more of the similarities. Even the shy way they spoke was similar, but he had to push through, if only for Orihime.
With a small smile, he gestured for her to follow, before continuing his way through the park.
"Are you taking a vacation or something?" he asked, trying to lead into the conversation of where she wish to get to.
"Oh, no" she replied, "I was appointed to this town's church."
At least he now had a direction to walk in.
"Are you some sort of nun? I mean, it explains your clothes."
"I'm really glad to have met someone as kind as you. It must be divine guidance."
Issei blushed at the compliment, scratching his cheek to hide it.
"May I ask you a question?" she said, looking up at him with wide eyes, pleading for him to say yes.
"Sure" he muttered, barely audible as it was.
"Are you religious of some kind, those star pendants look really nice"
Issei's mood turned somber, as he reached over and stroked Karin's cross, "They are sort of from a religion, in an odd way around it. These come from my mother's side of the family. You could say that the things they believed in were… different."
"They are really pretty!" she exclaimed.
Issei smiled sadly, "They belonged to my sister's".
The blonde nun picked up the hidden meaning and faced forward to continue walking.
They were distracted once again by the cries of a child. Looking over, Issei saw a young boy sitting on the ground, a bleeding scrape on his knee showed them why he was crying. Without a second thought, the nun ran to the boy, placing down her luggage before kneeling beside him.
She stroked the boy's head as she spoke kindly, "Don't cry; it's just a scrape. You're a boy after all."
Issei walked forward to stand beside the nun, curious as to what she had come to do. He was not disappointed with his decision. The nun hovered her hands above the scrape and a green glow shone from them, or from her ring in particular. Within seconds the scrape had disappeared, as if it had never even existed.
Issei in particular was shocked. That ability had been similar to Orihime's own! Is it a healer thing? He quickly blinked to clear the memory of Orihime.
"Look! your wounds gone! It's all right now." the nun spoke to the small child, before turning to face Issei, "Sorry, force of habit." before sticking her tongue out, a cute thing Hime used to do as well.
They continued their walk towards the church, and Issei thought over the nuns ability.
"That was pretty neat just now" he says, "That power was pretty awesome".
"It's an amazing gift given by God" she smiled as she spoke, before hiding her face with her hood. It was only due to his new increased hearing that he heard her next words, spoken in a mournful way, "Yes, a wonderful power…"
It was at this time that they finally reached the bottom of the hill that the church sat on. Issei himself froze as soon as the noticed the presences of multiple Fallen Angels coming from within. He was almost tempted to try and stop the nun from heading there, fearing for whatever could happen to her.
"Oh, that must be the place" she said, pausing alongside him to look up at the looming church that sat upon the hilltop.
"It's the only church in Kuou, so it's hard to mistake it for anywhere else." he mumbled half heartedly, still stuck in his own internal debate.
"Thank you so much!" said the girl, giving him a quick bow of thanks.
Though Issei was only half listening to her. With great care he was scanning the church with his Spirit Energy trying to figure out what made it feel so different. Soon enough he found it. The Reishi around the church felt… Pure? He felt that it was an appropriate word. It contrasted the energy around Kuou academy, which felt, Dark, in a way. He found it hard to describe.
"I'd like to return the favor, so would you like to accompany me?" she asked him.
He quickly turned her down, "Sorry, but I really should be getting to school"
"Oh" she said, "I'm sorry for keeping you. My name is Asia Argento. Please call me Asia!"
Issei smile down at her, but inside he was once again berating himself. He should have introduced himself long ago.
"Nice to meet you Asia, my name is…" he paused for a moment, before deciding to go with his idea, "You know what, just call me Ichigo"
"Ichigo, I'm so happy to have met someone as kind as you so quickly after arriving here. Please visit the church when you get the time. Promise me!"
Issei hesitated for a moment, before finally giving a short, "Okay".
He turned and began to walk off towards the school, waving at Asia over his shoulder, "Later".
"Bye Bye Ichigo"
The moment he stepped into the school gates he knew he was being watched. But honestly, he did not care. The entire reason he even came to school still was in an attempt to at least show a hand of peace. He may hate the devils at the moment, but he was not stupid enough to start a losing battle. His powers were still weak. Painfully so. He would not make any stupid moves until absolutely necessary under these circumstances. He had learned not to be a impulsive during the War.
But then again, he also had another goal. He needed to get reacquainted with battle. And one on the best ways to do that was in this school, the Kendo and Karate Clubs.
Issei spent the day on the roof in silence, only ruined by the annoying presence of his follower. Seriously, they did not have to follow him for the entire day. He sighs at the conviction these devils had at keeping tabs on him.
Once the final bell of the day had rung, he headed towards his planned destination.
The Kendo hall was rather large, and it held a beauty that only those who liked medieval japan, could enjoy. It's shiny tile roof and sturdy wooden walls were reminiscent of Soul Society in a way. Great, another somber thought.
Without a single knock he opened the door and walked straight inside. Just like whenever he walked into his classroom, silence took hold. A large group of few boys and lots of girls stood in the centre of the room, eyeing him with nervous, questioning looks. To the side of the room stood Kiba, standing beside a rather tall third year girl with curly brown hair tied up in a pony tail, and large blue eyes. Both of them wore the clubs 'Hakama', their 'Men' held in their arms and 'Shinai' leaning against the wall.
After a short pause, Issei began to walk towards Kiba, who shuffled nervously as he approached. Kiba grew confused when Issei gave a short wave, "Sup, Kiba" Issei said.
Kiba was absolutely confused now. Why had Issei come here? Was there something he needed? Or had he somehow figured out that he was being followed by Akeno?
Kiba gave a smile, faked under his nervousness, "Hello, Issei. What can I do for you?"
Issei smiled, at least Kiba seemed to be fine with talking to him.
"Could you tell me who the leader of the kendo club is?" Issei asked.
The girl beside Kiba cleared her voice, "U-um, that would be me" she said, her voice nearly a whisper. She was shy, why wouldn't she be, when the coolest boy in the school had come around asking for her. This was also the first time she had seen a smile of any kind on Issei's face, and she was loving it.
Issei turned to the girl, still flashing his smile, using it to try and appear inviting.
"I was wondering if you could allow me to join this club?" He spoke steadily, and with conviction.
Everyone was shocked, no one would have suspected Issei would actually want to join a club. Not when he was as antisocial as he usually is.
The silence held for but a few seconds before the club leader took charge, now in a semi business mode.
"Um, we would first need to test you to see what skill you have." she said a bit nervously.
"That would be fine" Issei said, "But ah, sorry, I don't know your name"
The girl jumped slightly before giving a quick bow, "M-my name is Asume Takami"
"Asume, sorry, I may be a bit rusty. I haven't actually touched a Zan… A sword for quite a while." Issei was sweating for almost saying Zanpakuto, that was way too close.
"T-that's fine Hyoudou, u-um, Kiba could you please have a practice spar with Hyoudou" said Asume in a hurry.
Issei did not miss the way Kiba froze for a second before putting on a fake smile and answering with a short, "Of Course".
It didn't take Issei that long to get into his own gear in preparation for the spar. His only annoyance was that all the Shinai were the same size but felt too short for him. Oh well.
By the time he was done he walked the the centre of the hall where a area was opened up for the spar, all the other students surrounding to watch. Kiba was already waiting for him.
As they stood facing each other Asume came up from the side, all nervousness now gone as if she was now in her own zone as she spoke,
"I will be the Judge for this bout. This session will be five sets of three minutes each. Start on my count".
Kiba held his Shinai in the classic two handed stance in front of him, eyes carefully watching Issei, prepared to search for any holes in whatever stance he took. But to everyone's surprise, the stance that Issei took was abnormal to a high level.
Issei's had angled his body with his left shoulder and foot pointing straight at his opponent, his shinai faced behind him in his right hand, making it hidden from Kiba's view.
Some of the students in the background sniggered, thinking Issei's stance completely stupid.
Only Kiba and Asume realised the truth, to the point that Kiba was even sweating under his Men. Issei had left the perfect amount of space between himself and Kiba to move the shinai in any way he wanted before Kiba could reach Issei.
Asume watched with focused eyes as she held her hand up before swinging it down saying, "Begin".
Kiba took a quick step forward and swung the Shinai in a downwards strike, intent on testing Issei's fighting style.
The next second happened in a blur that only Kiba could truly follow.
Issei's Shinai swung around from underneath towards Kiba's own Shinai, giving the impression of a block. At the last moment before the blades stuck Issei spun his wrist, knocking Kiba's Shinai an inch to the right.
Kiba felt confused as Issei's right arm once again started going behind him leaving Issei open. But he felt his heart stop once he realised, 'The Shinai is no longer in Issei's right hand'.
A resounding crack echoed in the hall from a strike against Kiba's Men, shoking everyone in the hall as the watched. They had believed that this would have been an easy victory for Kiba, but now they realised just how crazy Issei's style was.
Asume herself had frozen in shock from the fact that it had been less than three seconds before the match had started and that she had barely seen them move.
'Fast' She thought.
Kiba stumbled backwards from the impact against the front of his Men and looked at Issei in shock. Issei's right hand was empty and hanging down against Issei's side while his left hand now held the Shinai diagonally.
"You're ambidextrous?" Kiba asked, once again taking a ready stance.
"Yup" Issei answered casually, this time taking a new stance by standing side on and hold the Shinai up like an english knight would hold his blade, again making Kiba nervous.
"Shall we continue?" Issei asked.
Kiba gulped down his nervousness and built up his excitement, finding anticipation and challenge in his new opponent.
"Yes" he answered.
Issei sat on his bed taking in all the information he could from his duel with Kiba that day.
After the first duel, Kiba quickly became serious, surprising Issei in the fact that he was much faster than Issei thought. It was to the point that Kiba could actually run circles around him in his weakened state. Luckily Kiba's speed was countered by the fact that Issei's fighting style was so unpredictable that Kiba had to stay on the defensive just to make sure he didn't lose again.
The second duel ended up lasting a full twenty minutes with neither one gaining the upper hand until Asume called the duel off to end training session.
Issei had gladly been accepted into the club, with Asume helping him to fill out the clubs paperwork before she sent him on his way.
The good thing about the duel was that he felt himself becoming accustomed to fighting in this body, which of course was slightly different to the one in his last life.
He derailed his thoughts and began what he had come to his room to do in the first place.
Settling himself into a Seiza position atop his bed, he let his mind calm, focusing his attention to his inner world.
As he relaxed, his mind slowly began its inner search, trying once again to get inside.
Darkness greeted him as he opened his eyes much to his surprise.
This… was not what he remembered.
'Where were the buildings that covered the land?' he thought as his body swiveled around to search. Or whatever was meant to be his body anyway. His body was a strange makeup of a raw mass of energy, energy that glowed many different colours. Again he looked around for answers, any answer would do at this point. All he felt that he had been doing recently was searching for answers, and he was getting sick of it.
His Inner world was changed by too much in the war, but not to this degree where it was pitch black.
'Where were the storms that represented his pain?' was his next thought. The pain of all the wounds he had taken. The pain of watching the innocent dying. The pain of watching his loved ones torn apart.
'Where was the destruction that was his image of war?'.
The destruction that showed him the effects war could have on the landscape, with broken buildings laying all over the place. The destruction that left everything desolate and empty, like none had ever lived or could ever live, there.
Near the end of the war he hard to harden himself, to become cold emotionally, just to be able to push on and commit the sins he needed just to win the war. That coldness and will for sinning had created a large silver and crimson flame that became the only light source in his inner world, but now even that had disappeared into the darkness.
But worst of all 'Where were the dead bodies that remained as the memories of all those that he had failed?!'. The bodies of his family, no longer there. The bodies of his friends, gone. The bodies of his comrades, missing.
His panic was reaching new heights. It was like he had lost everything that he was, just by seeing this empty… nothingness.
Despair began to fill him as he floated around. Why had it all changed?! What happened to cause this?! Where had it all gone?!
As tears streamed down his face, his worst thought hit him like a Cero Oscuras to the chest.
"ZANGETSU! WHERE ARE YOU!" he screamed into his surroundings. He was scared. Had he lost the very part of him that he had hoped was with him this entire time. It was as if the peace he was living with all this time was but a lie, just to keep him sane.
Was he fated to lose everything he held dear from the start.
A sound came to him just as he felt he was about to completely lose himself to his broken heart, to his fear, to his despair, to his madness.
He heard it again as a peaceful feeling came over him. It was a feeling that was familiar to him, as a part of him should be. He could finally feel them. He could sense the presence of Zangetsu. Before he could try and trace the presence, it disappeared, but that did not matter right now. All he cared about was that they were still with him, that they had never left him.
He let himself drift back to reality and into the depths of sleep.
Rias was panicking.
At first everything was fine, or as fine as it could be with her pawn running around rouge. While she had been pondering about what to do with Issei, a message had come to them from the Archbishop to exterminate a Stray Devil that had entered their territory.
The mission itself was easy. The Stray was but a smallfry that had easily been defeated by them. But what had arrived afterwards made everything grow strange.
The world around them grew cold and displaced, completely different to the magic they and the Fallen Angels use to keep humans away from their fights.
"Kiba, Koneko, Group up, Akeno prepare an exit for us" she spoke, eyes leaping around the deserted factory that they had just killed the Stray Devil in.
"Yes Bouchou" they simultaneously replied while mimicking her actions of watching the surroundings.
A chill permeated their bones as Akeno quickly attempted to create the portal, fear settling in instead of the previous joy of the completed mission.
The hairs on the back of her neck stood on end as a dull hum of energy filled the air.
"SCATTER!" she yelled as she leapt away from the group. The rest of her peerage followed her lead just in time.
The scream of space itself tearing filled their surroundings as a beam of crimson energy passed through where they had been standing. Her heart raced while the final flickering sparks of the attack floated passed them and out of the other side of the building, which now was missing its entire wall in the aftermath.
Her ears were ringing as her mind tried it's hardest to find out what had just happened. Rias spun around the room, making sure that none of her dear friends had been harmed. To her joy and luck she found them unharmed other that a few scrapes and bruises from their escape.
That joy quickly turned to horror when behind Koneko a massive humanoid creature melted out of the shadows. And how a bone white creature can melt into shadows she will never understand.
"Koneko run!" she yelled to the shortest member of the group. Koneko, quickly realising the danger she was in put up a hasty defense to try and block the attack that the creature swung her way.
An explosion of power went off as the beasts tail smashed into the girl, followed by her scream of pain when she was sent flying towards the Crimson haired girl. Rias tried to catch the small girl that had been sent her way, only to widen her eyes in surprise as she was sent flying as well from the force behind the impact.
After ten meters of sliding along the ground their momentum finally halted. In Rias's arms Koneko coughed and a large amount of blood flew out of her mouth, before the poor girl fell into unconsciousness.
Feeling rage at the injury her rook had taken Rias looked up at the monster that was now being pestered by that speedy Knight.
It was easily three times the height of a human, bone white armor was covering its strange lizard legs. A thick tail with a mace like ball at the end stuck out behind it, obviously the weapon that had hurt Koneko so much. Its upper body was as thick as an apes, with oddly skinny blade like arms that should have belonged on a Pray Mantis. Upon its head were black patches of hair, and a mask. The mask looked like a dog that had its snout cut off leaving a grotesque mix of snarling teeth on its face and bony muscles. In the middle of it's chest was a hole, right where the heart lay. How a being could live with an empty chest was anyone's guess, Rias just didn't have the time to figure anything out. Everything on the beast was white except for it hair.
"What is that thing?" asked Akeno as she ran to Rias's side, all the while preparing for if she needed to assist Kiba.
"I do not know, but that thing has hurt Koneko, so it deserves no mercy" Rias growled her answer, letting her anger get the better of her.
Akeno gave a short nod before lightning covered her arms. With a flash, blasts of lightning shot from her palms to the monster that was still distracted, as it tried swatting the apparent fly that was in the shape of Kiba. The monster froze up from the flashes of electricity blaring through it just before it could take another swipe. The knight, who finally found a chance, dashed to its masked face with his sword in hand, and took a swing.
Kiba's eyes bulged out when he realised that his sword had passed through thin air, not knowing how his target had escaped his perception.
Sadly Akeno and Rias knew exactly what happened to the creature. Just as Kiba's sword was to finish it off, the creature disappeared in a static boom, before reappearing… right in front of them. The girls once again scattered as the beasts arm lashed down. Rias held tightly to the girl in her arms while she ran, an explosion behind her telling that the beasts strike had caused the ground the explode from its strength. She took a quick glimpse behind her before freezing in horror once again. Inside of the beasts mouth was an obvious ball of crimson energy, charged up and pointing in her direction.
As fast as she could she fired a ball of her Power of Destruction at the beast mouth, detonating the energy ball before it could fire.
The area lit up from the resulting explosion and the shockwave blasted them all backwards. Rias got hit by the worst of the impact and flew with immense force through a tree, shattering the trunk. While dazed her eyes slowly gazed up to the angry eyes of the beast, who ran towards her.
And just as she thought that her life would end… IT happened.
A weight unlike anything she had felt before fell onto her shoulders, crushing her to the ground. Her peerage and the beast were all in the same position as her. But the thing that struck her the hardest, was the pain.
It wasn't a physical pain, but mental. The raw unadulterated torment, the screams that followed, the absolute fear, and the horrifying pit of helplessness seeped into her. It felt like forever before the sensation vanished, leaving behind all of its emotions upon its helpless victims.
When Rias finally notice the presence was gone she took took a choking, sobbing breath. She knew that for the whole duration that she had been crying, but it should be fully understandable. Those emotions it had left on her were just too painful, like a knife cutting her open just to twist her guts around. Even Koneko who was still unconscious had tears rolling from her eyes.
Her eyes shakily scrolled around the warehouse, now a mess of broken ground and sobbing Devil's, with no sight of the creature that had attacked them. Whatever that thing was had probably been scared off by that presence.
Her attention was pulled by the approaching wobbling Akeno who held an unconscious Kiba in her unsteady arms. The knight probably couldn't stand the strength of the presence and had been knocked unconscious.
Rias sighed as she looked at Akeno who was already putting together a teleportation magic circle to bring them back to the club room. At this point, all Rias wanted to do with sleep.
"Akeno, let's g-get back to the club room. A-all this bullshit can be dealt with tomorrow"
Kalawana slowly pulled herself from the ground, using her sleeve to wipe the tears from her face unsuccessfully. She was confused, immensely so. What had just happened was new, even for her. That presence, it let off a ridiculous amount of aura of pain that any normal person that owned it would easily be psychotic, or at the very least mentally unstable. And anyone with a mind that unhinged would be leaking out that aura permanently. And yet it felt like it had both been released and sealed up. Whoever owns it must have a ridiculous amount of control over their power, and she did NOT want to meet them...
No wait... That presence was definitely something she had felt before, she just could not for the life of her remember where.
"Well what in fucks name was all that crazy shit!" came a voice from behind her. She let out a sigh as she faced towards Freed. She had always disliked him, he was by far too annoying for her tastes. But this time what he said was exactly what she was thinking.
"Do you think another Devil has come to town?" spoke Donnasiege from the doorway that he was using to hold himself up. Unluckily for him he had been in the air at the time the presence hit them, so his landing on the ground was bound to have hurt.
Kalawana just winced at the possibility before brushing it off and spoke, "Devil may feel sinful, but they don't feel like… That!" as she pointed outside the church.
"We may need to change our plans depending on if we can find the source" spoke Donnasiege.
"Well Whoop'de'fucking'do, I'm just going to go out and look for this fucking bitch because this shit has me hyped!", at his last words Freed ran out of the church.
The church was silent for a moment before Donnasiege brought up a question.
"He isn't going to piss off whatever that thing is, is he?"
Kalawana gave gave him a short deadpan stare, before turning around and walking out of the church to begin her own investigation. Donnasiege followed with a simple, "Yeah, I think he will too".