Foreword: For those who haven't read any of my other stories, at the end of the chapter I typically respond to any and all reviews (at least the ones that ask questions or ones I can respond to with more than a 'thank you') as well as clarify or commiserate about parts of the story. Enjoy ch 2!
Ch 2: So Here's What We Do…
"I understand your point, Hycal, but just by pure weight of proof and past experience, it was, without a doubt, a Sacred Gear user that destroyed the Jabberwocky!"
"And why couldn't it have been another type of Magic, Johan? There are other types of powers out there. Summoning techniques could very well have been the cause of the creatures demise, as well as explain why the three fighters disappeared once the battle was over."
"What form of summoning could have called three such powerful figures and not have been noticed by anybody else present? There are Avatar-type Sacred Gears in existence, perhaps this is just one more variety of them!"
"Please, the only kind of Sacred Gear that could call upon that kind of power at will is a previously unknown Longinus! Considering no faction has stepped forward to claim ownership of such a valuable asset, the only likely explanation is that said wielder belongs to the Hero Faction and why would they work against themselves?"
I mute the TV and reflect that that's a very good question indeed.
Although I will admit it's a bit of a novelty to watch the news and not know what's going on behind the scenes. After all, as Maou a great deal of events that can't exactly be talked about publicly make their way to my desk, somewhat diminishing the mystery of figuring out what exactly is going on…
"You all set to visit a certain Bonehead, Sirzechs?"
I glance behind me as Azazel walks in, snorting at his description of Hades.
"Ready when you are. Let's make this quick if we can, being in a position where we can't act makes me nervous."
The Fallen chuckles and playfully retorts, "Careful there, Red. A leader can't afford to admit he's something as normal as nervous."
"He can among others just like him."
My counterpart just good naturedly rolls his eyes...but there's plenty of truth to what I just said.
Still, it could be worse. Originally he and I were going to sequester ourselves away in the Death God's territory and ensure that he couldn't interfere in any further capacity...especially after that stunt he pulled with Samael.
That plan had been delayed after those mystery warriors showed up and thoroughly destroyed the Jabberwocky, allowing my Peerage and the majority of our allied forces to turn their attention to the rest of Bandersnatch and rebelling Old Satan Faction forces, crushing them in short order and restoring order within three days.
What had been an occupation is now just a...friendly, visit.
"Any news from Slash Dog on finding our mystery allies?"
Azazel shrugs and languidly replies, "No dice. While I'm just as interested as you are I don't think we're going to be getting any answers anytime soon, we've got nothing to go on aside from that one Devil's vague description and some scattered news footage."
Unfortunately precious little had actually been recorded of the three unknown warriors' battle against the Jabberwocky, most of the aerial news craft had been trying to stay out of the crossfire and been unable to get more than brief snippets of the displayed powers and blurred images of the three.
Even more frustrating, apparently the only Devil who had personally met them was knocked out and couldn't remember anything more specific than meeting a man who had held some kind of authority over the three who had fought.
Like the Fallen Progenitor said, not much to go on.
"Brother, you're leaving already?"
I turn and smile at the sight of my wife, little sister and it's-just-a-matter-of-time-Brother-in-law entering the room.
"Sorry, Rias...but the sooner we convince Hades to keep his nose-"
"Which doesn't exist, mind you..."
I ignore Azazel's editorial and continue with, "-out of our business the better for all involved. He caused no shortage of trouble in releasing Samael and is no doubt plotting further."
I cast a sad glance at my potential Brother.
"We came dangerously close to losing Issei because of that. I have no intention of letting that meddler get away with this."
The Red Dragon Emperor sheepishly rubs the back of his head with his free hand, the other possessively clutched between my adorable sister's arms, as if she's afraid he'll disappear if she lets go.
...Which is perfectly understandable. It had been a miracle that the young Devil managed to return to his Master, only the intervention of the Dragon Gods allowing him to do so.
"Very well, Brother. But promise me that...you'll..."
I frown as I notice both my cute little sister and her Pawn staring wide-eyed at the television, looking as if they've seen ghosts. Grayfia notices as well and carefully asks, "Lady Rias? Master Hyoudou? Is something the matter?"
Swallowing thickly the Dragon Emperor stutters out, "U-um, President? T-that's the Gate of Babylon, right? I'm not just, uhh...imagining things?"
...They recognize those powers?
Looking more than a little shocked herself Rias shakily responds, "N-no, that is indeed the Gate of Babylon. And I may just be seeing things...but isn't that Atilla the Hun and Scáthach?"
...Wait, the Human King of the Huns? Grayfia and Azazel also seem lost and I carefully ask, "You two sound like you know of these...beings."
Issei gives a slightly disturbed giggle and says, "Well, this may sound a little crazy...but those abilities are, uh...fictional?"
"...That doesn't really explain things."
Rias heaves out a sigh and spends a few seconds bringing up something on her phone...before showing me a picture and article of something called the 'Gate of Babylon'...that looks very similar to the golden portals that had shot forth weapons of incredible power without apparent limit.
Looking more than a little embarrassed Rias explains, "There's a fictional universe called Fate that has been made into a few different mediums. Games, visual novels, anime...those abilities, as well as their users, look like exact replicas of some of the characters and concepts shown in the universe."
The Red Dragon Emperor enthusiastically nods and brings out his own phone, showing off something called, Fate Grand Order, what looks like a mobile game of all things…
"It's true, those two who were using the red spears and rainbow sword are characters in this game! And let me tell you, they are babes. Atilla may not have much in the way of boobs, but those clothes and adorable personality...but if it's boobs you're looking for, Scáthach is the way to-OW!"
He rubs his cheek where Rias pinched him and sheepishly adds, "Er, sorry Rias...anyway those three are Gilgamesh, Atilla the Hun and Scáthach or my name isn't Issei!"
I look at the proffered 'proof' and can't help but still feel skeptical.
"I'll admit that the 'evidence' certainly matches what we're seeing...but what makes you so certain these are the ones from that Fate universe? And why are you only pointing this out now?"
My precious little sister looks ashamed before quietly explaining, "...My apologies, Big Brother. But after Issei, well...died, I wasn't paying much attention to the news...that was a blunder on my part and I apologize for my abdication of responsibility."
...I'm sorry, little Rias! Big Brother didn't mean to make you sad! Please don't make that face!
To my intense relief she pulls herself together-sparing my heart in the process-and says, "As for why I think those are the same people as in the other universe? Well, as insane as this sounds...the Fate universe plays heavily with the idea of parallel worlds, in fact one of the characters travels between them quite frequently. While I'm not sure why they ended up here...it's by no means impossible. We know the Dimensional Gap connects to many realms on it's own."
I can't believe I'm actually believing this.
"Master Hyoudou, may I see your phone for a moment?"
"Huh? Oh, sure..."
I barely notice Grayfia examining the Red Dragon Emperor's device, lost in my own thoughts.
...Well, assuming these 'Fate' characters have come into our universe...what do they hope to accomplish? Not knowing their motives is a huge danger…
I know that tone.
"I can't help but notice that this Grand Order game has options to buy 'in-game currency'. And that the offers are in increments often expensed to the Gremory family under the category, 'business'. Am I mistaken?"
...Rias' face pales and she nervously swallows, Issei suddenly standing very still and trying not to make any sudden movements.
Sorry Little Sis...I love you and all, but not enough to get in the way of Grayfia when she's angry.
"W-well the drop rates in the game are awful! And the deals aren't very good and it's one of the few games I play, so...you know..."
"The money allowed to you by your parents is not meant to be frivolously spent on a phone game, Lady Rias. I'm disappointed in you. I think it's time someone went over your expense reports a bit more...carefully."
Rias looks like she was just sentenced to the gallows and I decide now is a good time to come to the rescue like the awesome Big Brother that I am.
"Rias, can you maybe tell us more about these people? About their powers and how much of a threat they might be?"
Gathering herself she taps in a few things on her phone and replies, "I just sent you a link to the website that can hopefully explain things in more depth than I can...but as for how dangerous they are?"
She looks at the TV, now silently displaying the end of the Jabberwocky, the creature born of Annihilation Maker being consumed in a starburst of crimson light before taking a shaky breath.
"Those three, if they are who I'm assuming they are, are three of the stronger-if not strongest-beings that were Human in existence. Even if it was you or any of the other Satans attempting to stop them..."
She fixes me with a wary look and quietly intones, "...I would give an advantage to the beings known as Heroic Spirits. Not a certain result...but not one I can predict with any confidence."
...I feel my pride briefly rankle at the idea of me, Ajuka, Serafall and Falbium being inferior to an unknown-
-before reality reasserts itself and I calmly take stock of the situation. Rias wouldn't undersell me without good reason...and quite frankly I don'tknow the first thing about these 'Heroic Spirits', or the specifics of their skillset.
So instead I put on a brave smile and tell the two younger Devils, "Alright, I'll keep all of this in mind. Azazel and I shouldn't be gone for long and we'll revisit this once we get back. In the meantime take a well deserved rest, I'll have some of my subordinates take a close look at this 'Fate' universe...as strange as that all sounds."
"So what are we going to do about this?"
Azazel looks at me out of the corner of his eyes and dryly says, "Hell if I know! I've seen some weird stuff during my time...but this is definitely one of the stranger."
"Assuming those people are indeed from another universe..."
He chuckles at that.
"Well, it certainly fits the known facts...and boy does that sound odd to say aloud. Shit, I better let Tobio know about this, it'll probably help him in his search a crap ton."
I just idly nod before letting out a massive sigh.
"Be honest with me, Azazel."
"Have I ever not been?"
"I'm not gracing that with an answer. Do you think those 'Heroic Spirits' will be a threat to us?"
He ponders that for a moment before shrugging.
"Hope for the best and plan for the worst, as the saying goes. And you didn't mention anything about the guy who was involved with those three powerhouses to the kids."
"They have enough on their plate as is, they deserve at least a few days to relax, especially since a comrade they thought dead has now returned to them."
The Fallen nods and murmurs, "Fair enough..."
We continue on in companionable silence until a snort of amusement makes it's way past my lips.
"You should have seen the look on my subordinates faces when I told them their number one priority was to scan through wikipedia for the entire day, reading up on a fictional universe's many bits of trivia."
Azazel laughs at that even as we step into the Transportation Circle, seconds away from making the jump.
"Never a boring day to be had in the Supernatural Intelligence community, is there?"
I've faced down other slaves fighting to the death before Aurelian himself, stood toe-to-toe against Dead Apostles and seen some of the most dangerous Phantasmal Beasts to roam the planet...and I've never been this nervous before.
"Horatius, relax, would you? You're going to wear a groove in the floor..."
I glance at Kishcur, the Vampire grinding up yet another one of his jewels and carefully scattering the remains across the summoning circle he's got set up across the floor.
"Easy for you to say...what if something goes wrong and the ritual fails? Or what if the Heroic Spirit isn't one-"
"Ok, gonna stop you right there. 'If the ritual fails'? Are you mistaking me for some wet behind the ears Magus that doesn't even know which end of a protractor to use? And you can't summon a Heroic Spirit that isn't suited to you, not with the connection you have through Irappu."
Irritation is evident in his body language as he growls out, "So relax already. You're gonna turn my hair grey at this rate. Well, greyer."
I force myself to take a deep breath and gratefully reply, "Thanks, Kischur. Beats me what I'd do without you..."
"Probably hang yourself in a closet or something along those lines. And don't go thanking me until we're sure this actually works."
"...I though you said-"
"Cram it, nothing in life is guaranteed. And with that said I think we're all set to go, whenever you're ready."
...Moment of truth.
I gulp down one last shuddering breath and step forward, opening my Circuits as wide as they can possibly go and channeling as much Mana as I can without combusting.
"Throne of Heroes, Gaia, Alaya...I need to borrow something."
At my improvised aria that I didn't really need to say aloud the circle flashes, greedily devouring the supplied energy and with a flash that blinds me and noise that sounds like someone just set off a few pounds of dynamite-
-A figure manifests amidst the magical residue, indistinct through the red, green and blue clouds that now coat the basement we used as our workshop.
It...it worked...I can feel the connection between us, somewhat similar to my one with Irappu but more...alive.
"Huh. Well how about that, Horatius. Did it work or did it work-"
A sudden SNAP-HISS noise silences Kischur as an intolerably bright bar of light springs to life, shifting patterns of color in the shape of a sword clearly visible even through the slowly dissipating wisps of smoke and dust.
"Ki...Ki vagy te?"
The voice, a distinctly female one, sends shivers down my spine. Husky, with a Eurasian lilt to it...but the unmistakable hint of femininity and softness that's exclusive to the fairer sex is unmistakable.
The smoke clears and I feel my eyes widen as I recognize this person.
Crimson eyes that focus on me with single-minded intensity, dusky skin adorned with lines of power and surprisingly soft and beautiful features, despite her chilling gaze.
A simple piece of white, embroidered cloth with black and red trimming that covers her chest and groin, two extensions flaring out and covering her thighs like a skirt.
A metal choker and diadem encrusted with red, green and blue gemstones that shimmer in the reflected light, creating an odd light flare that forces me to squint.
But it's the weapon and veil that I recognize the most.
Modeled similarly to a modern day wedding adornment, the veil drops to her knees and softly twists and turns with even the most minute of breezes...or it could thrash about wildly as it's wearer rides her horse into phalanxes of Palatini, slaughtering them and staining the snow-white cloth with the ash of their disintegrated corpses.
And that blade...the Photon Ray.
A relic of the God Mars, wielded by the progeny of the being that wreaked untold havoc on the planet more than ten millennia ago, mechanical in nature rather than esoteric...but none the less deadly for it.
Several hundred-if not thousand-Roman soldiers could attest to that fact.
Attila the Hun, in the flesh.
The irony of the King who once came close to bringing my homeland to it's knees being the one who answered my call is practically palpable.
"Ismét megkérdezem. Ki vagy te? Hol...Hol vagyok?"
Her voice rapidly losing it's aggressiveness and sounding more than a little bewildered, she lowers the glowing weapon a fraction and fixes the two of us with a mildly puzzled glare.
Apparently that signaled Kischur that it's alright to come out from behind me, now that she's no longer ready to stab anything.
The big damn chicken…
I take a steadying breath and calmly walk forward, barely unable to contain my rising excitement.
I come to a stop a meter away from Attila, the Photon Ray now mostly pointed at the ground...and extend my hand.
"Helló, Attila. A nevem Horatio."
I wake up to the feeling of reclining on something soft and...nice smelling.
Like crushed herbs and a burning campfire…
"You are awake, Master?"
Letting my eyes slowly open I find Altera staring down at me with her usual nearly imperceptible smile, tribal cloths exchanged in favor of a simple white dress that goes down to her knees, upper thighs when sitting.
...Something I enjoy, seeing as that something soft I'm reclining on is her legs.
"Yeah, I'm up. How long was I asleep?"
"Only a few hours. You dozed off while reading."
I glance down at my chest and find a text labeled, Geography of the Underworld splayed out in a spread of paper.
"...So it would seem."
I let my head fall back and heave an exhausted sigh, smiling in contentment as my first lifelong companion gently runs her fingers across my scalp and hair, quietly asking, "What were you dreaming of? You were smiling the whole time."
Chuckling, I gently brush her arm with my hand, enjoying the quiet moment of companionship.
"...It was one I'll never get tired of revisiting. When you and I first met."
Nothing more needs to be said.
...Unfortunately, there's still a daunting list of things that I need to take care of. Regretfully sighing I swing my legs off to the side and stand up, stretching out my back and neck while Altera gracefully rises to her feet.
"So where are the other two?"
"Scáthach is inquiring what time breakfast is served."
A contemplative expression crosses her features.
"I'm not sure where the Queen of Heroes is."
A sigh I have no control over escapes my throat as I mutter, "Well, let's just hope she's not off conquering the universe or something along those lines...And you know I get all awkward when you call me 'Master' when it's just the two of us."
She adorably blushes and quietly murmurs, "Ah, my mistake...Horatius. It's a habit I'm not sure I'll ever grow out of. I was used to being a tool for so long...it feels strange to call you anything other than 'Master'."
"Well, we have no shortage of time to fix it. Although you'd think after a century or so of practice it'd be easier..."
Displaying a rare bit of embarrassment she demurely replies, "I will try, Ma-Horatius."
"And trying is half the battle."
"What are we going to do about being stranded here?"
My open palm meets my face and I wryly reply, "No idea. The Second Magic is definitely not my area of expertise. Fucking Vampire...I hope we aren't lost in another world until the end of time just because he pulled the comedic equivalent of a putting a sticky note that says 'kick me' on my back..."
"Very true. If only you hadn't lost the jewel the Wizard Marshall gave us we wouldn't be in this predicament."
I blankly stare at her, an action she reciprocates...until I break out chuckling at her words.
"You've been spending too much time with the Queen of Ulster, Altera. Her brand of awful humor is rubbing off on you."
"Oh? She says I'm learning the basics of humor quite well..."
I gather her lithe frame in my arms, the Heroic Spirit leaning into me, and plant a kiss on her head before amusedly saying, "Well, it's a start. Give me a moment to wash my face and we'll see what Scáthach's found in the way of food."
"Alright, here's the rundown of where we stand."
Altera, Scáthach, Gilgamesh and I had convened in one of the meeting rooms the hotel we're staying at has to offer, a simple room with a table that could comfortably seat eight with a few couches set up alongside the walls and a projector that I would be using if it wasn't for the minor inconvenience of not having a single electronic device to my name.
While I'm not like most Magus who deride the use of modern tech, I hadn't really bothered to bring anything with me when I figured it would be more of an extermination mission than it would be an extended 'vacation'. Thus, I'd been relegated to using the whiteboard and markers like some kind of techno-barbarian.
"Well, long story short, we seem to have been transported to a world where every single myth, legend and ghost story is real. Different realms, different Gods, different Magics...it's a melting pot of epic proportions."
"And now the question becomes sorting out which one is actually our foe."
I glance up at Scáthach, the warrior queen seated on one of the table's chairs and possessively cradling Altera on her lap, her usual attire substituted for a simple pair of jeans and dark red t-shirt.
"Aye, that's the rub. And, unfortunately, there's quite the list of potential troublemakers."
"You worry too much, Gladiator. It matters not what strength our foes possess, they will bow to our might all the same."
I flick my eyes over to where Gilgamesh is sprawled across one of the couches, gently swirling a glass of wine while several half-drunk bottles litter the floor next to her, her golden hair cascading over the edges like someone spilled a silk spool across the upholstery.
She's forgone her armor in favor of a simple white dress that looks like the precursor to a Toga...evidently unconcerned with the fact that she's flashing us with the way she's laid out.
Interesting fact, the Queen of Uruk apparently doesn't believe in the concept of underwear, but does in shaving.
Scáthach doesn't, while Altera is just naturally smooth-skinned.
Whatever, I'm getting off topic here.
"Quick overview then. The Underworld is where we're currently located, a realm that's often thought of as Hell. But instead of burning pits of lava and general unpleasantness, it's a world fairly similar to Earth, with architecture and geography not too far removed from it's more 'mundane' counterpart. The residents, mainly Devils and Fallen Angels alongside like a bajillion other species, command powers that range from the mildly supernatural to completely batshit insane. And I say that as someone who's been around the proverbial block quite a few times. Thankfully they seem to be more or less on the level, borrowing much of their culture and power from Humans. Most recently, they seem to have reached some sort of peace accord with other major Supernatural powers."
I pause before letting out an exhausted sigh.
"...That's the heavily abridged version though. Three days isn't really enough to do more than scratch the surface of what's recorded in some of the public libraries. Anything on your end?"
Scáthach shrugs and explains, "I looked up the term 'Longinus' and it's indeed named after the very same spear that killed Yahweh's favored son. But there's more to it. There are several things called 'Sacred Gears' and of the hundreds of varieties, the most powerful are referred to as 'Longinus'. Sacred Gears-and by extension Longinus-seem to operate similarly to Mystic Codes and Noble Phantasms. Powers, techniques and abilities that are exclusive to each Gear and are intrinsically tied with their host, activated by both the user's will and strength. The Longinus are said to be named such since they are capable of killing gods."
...Huh. Well isn't that interesting?
Not done, she continues with, "One of the Longinus I found quite interesting, one called the Sephiroth Graal. Or, more accurately, the Holy Grail."
That causes me to snort in amusement.
Seems the Holy Grail is a constant no matter what universe you end up in…
"Apparently this Longinus is capable of connecting to the very root of life itself, examining and communicating at will, along with a host of other powers. If we were to track down this user, we may be able to convince them to provide us with a list of potentially dangerous and active creatures."
I consider that before shrugging.
"Definitely an option, but doing so might draw attention to us when we don't necessarily need it. We'll table it for now. Altera? What have you got?"
The dark-skinned woman appears thoughtful for a moment, Scáthach leaning her head forward to rest on the her friend's shoulder before replying, "I watched most of the news reports on many different channels. They all seem to be saying the same thing. Something called an 'Old Satan Faction', alongside a 'Khaos Brigade' and 'Hero Faction' attacked the Devils and their allies using a Sacred Gear Longinus called Annihilation Maker to spearhead the assault. We intervened and allowed the Devils and their allies to crush the other attacks since the 'Jabberwocky' was dead. No one seems to know who the three of us are, there were no clear pictures or videos, and there was no mention of you at all, Master. Other than that there was little useful information pertaining to our mission."
"Alright, that's not bad news at all. Chances are good we won't have local law enforcement-or their equivalent-kicking down our door anytime soon."
Scarcely able to believe I'm about to ask this I turn to the Queen of Heroes and inquire, "Well? I don't suppose you found anything useful, Golden Queen?"
Distractedly swirling the glass of alcohol she replies, "I discovered disappointment. While made with a variety of fruits that simply did not exist in my world, the taste is decidedly...average."
I try to think of a diplomatic way to put this.
To my surprise the Queen just scoffs before idly replying, "You need not be so morose, Gladiator. I did some investigation of my own. It just so happened that I did so while finding a source of entertainment, as fleeting as it was."
Balancing her glass on a single finger, the wine within gently sloshing as she makes it eddy back and forth, Gilgamesh explains, "I met a rather ancient fellow at one of the wineries I visited, one who has been alive for quite some time and held no shortage of interesting stories to be told...a pity his life experience didn't transfer over to his knowledge of wines."
She stops spinning the glass and instead meets my gaze.
"There is a realm between the realms, a place this universe's denizens refer to as, 'The Dimensional Gap'. The way the gentleman explained it to me, it is a chaotic place that connects to a great many other worlds, quite potentially our own."
I feel my mood instantly brighten at that.
"Ah, so there might be a road we can follow home. That's a pretty damn good find, Queen of Heroes."
A haughty smirk is my only reply and her voice is nothing if not smug as she replies, "But of course. Albeit, there is a caveat to this tale, one that perhaps may pose a suitable challenge..."
I notice Scáthach eagerly perk up at that.
"Legend and myth has it that the Dimensional Gap is guarded by two beings of immeasurable power, ones that do not hail from this world. Great Red, a Dragon that draws it's strength from the hopes and dreams of uncountable living creatures...and the Ouroboros, yet another Dragon that is lent it's power by the void itself, fed by the universes that collapse after time immemorial has passed and they die a true death. Quite interesting foes, wouldn't you agree?"
"Abjectly terrifying is the word I would use, but then again I'm no Heroic Spirit..."
The Queen of Heroes snorts at that and reclines yet again onto the couch while I'm lost in thought.
Huh...I wonder if this Great Red or Ouroboros are the creatures that caused that black warning. It certainly fits the criteria, especially that bit where they apparently aren't from this world…
Well, for now let's just put them on the 'maybe' list.
I turn my attention back to Altera and Scáthach, asking, "So do you two have anything else to add?"
Scáthach shrugs indifferently while Altera quietly replies, "None, Master."
"Alright, let's take one more day to look around for info, specifically on whatever we can find about this Dimensional Gap thing. We'll figure out what to do after that."
They both nod and I'm about to haul my lazy ass out of the room and get back to reading-
-When all of the sudden the Queen of Heroes starts laughing.
And not some kind of condescending, arrogant laugh.
It's the laugh of someone caught off guard by such a spontaneous bit of hilarity that all they can do is break down in unrestrained mirth, the laugh of a child seeing such a novel bit of amusement that they don't know how else to react.
...It sure as Hell catches me off guard, unable to stop the small smile that crosses my face as the Queen of Heroes starts coughing, obviously having trouble getting enough air.
Must be that Divine level of charisma.
...Makes me wonder which memory of mine she just ran across.
Scáthach shakes her head in bemusement and says, "You'll have to explain what has you in such good humor, Queen of Heroes. You appear one step shy of, as Horatius puts it, 'throwing up a lung'."
Taking a shuddering breath Gilgamesh manages to mostly wheeze out, "T-they actually did it! What else can I do but laugh, Guardian? They did it and so much faster than I, their custodian, had possibly ever imagined! Ha!"
Another bewildered glance between the three of us.
"Who did what?"
Finally seeming to get some measure of control over herself the Golden Queen amusedly replies, "Humanity. They have achieved the ability to travel among the stars, one short step away from achieving Çatalhöyük's fondest wish. A trait that not even the Gods had been capable of. The Gods! Beings of divine providence and who's very whims could shape the face of the planet! Humanity, once no more than slaves to the whim of Divine Spirits, now surpass the very powers who once lorded over them! And in no more than four-and-a-half thousand years after my death, after I paved the way for their ascension! What more can I do but laugh in both joy and amusement?"
...Yeah, this is getting kinda weird.
"Queen of Heroes, if you don't mind me asking...why are you so, well...different than the King of Heroes? Aren't you technically the same person?"
Instead of being offended she seems to find my question priceless, gleefully staring at me and playfully admonishing, "Come now, Gladiator. I've seen your memories and you have all the answers at your disposal, you need only put them together."
I decide to take her word for it and lean back in my seat, running through what I do know of the Holy Grail, mostly pieced together through Kischur's occasional insights and my own limited understanding of the Grail's founding.
...For starters this Gilgamesh is more...well, basically she's not an asshole, from what little I've seen. Imperious and occasionally arrogant, sure, but she seems completely content in cracking jokes and helping us out, the complete opposite of what her male counterpart would have likely done.
In brief, she really does seem like someone who would have once ruled the world, and brought Uruk and her kingdom to a point of incredible prosperity.
...So what's the difference?
I mean, the Grail was corrupted, sure...but Heroic Spirits wouldn't be instinctively evil unless they were influenced in some-
Gilgamesh must have seen the moment of revelation on my face as she smirks and graciously announces, "Precisely. Unless your memories of the specifics of this 'Holy Grail' of yours are irrevocably incorrect...it's actually quite simple to understand why my counterpart was such a pathetic imitation."
Ouch. I can only imagine what it would be like to hear your own clone call you a 'pathetic imitation'.
"This Grail of yours, in order to facilitate the summoning of something as powerful as a Heroic Spirit, cut many corners and made many concessions in the process. Classes, Command Seals, a mandatory fifty year break in between wars...but it's the processes designed to help the Spirit that caused the most damage. First, the information 'provided' to the Spirit."
She sneers, obviously unimpressed.
"What a joke. A uniform, impartial, unfeeling covering of the events that define 'modern' society. And a diatribe that was created by Magi, at that. Do you think they had a positive outlook on the rise of technology, of the decline of Mystery? Preposterous! Small wonder my counterpart was summoned with such a dim, materialistic and antagonistic attitude towards the world. And those ten years in which he wandered? No doubt he only found what he expected to see."
She chuckles and takes a sip of wine.
"Only a man could be so shortsighted and emotional as to ignore their duty. Or perhaps he was just offended at being incarnated as something as limiting as an Archer. Honestly! Me! A Bow Wielder!"
She lets out a hearty laugh while I just try not to feel offended at her slight towards creatures with an XY chromosome.
Then again, in her universe Ishtar would have been a man...so I can see where that bias comes from.
"But you, Gladiator...you provided something very different."
Her crimson gaze becomes mildly uncomfortable in it's intensity, not helped at all by the friendly grin she's wearing.
"You have provided context. Context that spans thousands of years. From the invasion of Hannibal to the striking of the Pontifex Maximus, from the building of the Great Wall to the crucifixion of Yahweh's prophet, from the burning of Jerusalem to the rebellion of the Goths. The building of Woodhenge and the beginning of Fimbulwinter, the First Crusade to the campaign of Genghis Khan. The signing of the Magna Carta and the Black Plague, Johann Gutenberg's inventions to Vasco Da Gama's sailing to India. The funding of the VOC and the settlement of the 'New World'. The writings of Isaac Newton and countless others, all the way to the creation of an artificial sun weapon that rivaled that of the Gods and so many others. You. Were. There."
She stands up, regally strides on bare feet to no more than half-a-meter in front of me...and pokes me in the chest with one perfectly formed and manicured fingernail, a spirited smile upon her face.
"You saw the results of these history defining moments, saw the people who made them and talked to the commoners who were affected by them. You saw that for every villain, worthless plebeian, cowardly warrior and unintelligent fool there was one Hero, hardworking farmer, brave sentinel and genius inventor. You saw progress. You saw it's inevitable, unstoppable march..."
I feel more than a little nervous and confused as she suddenly leans forward and places a kiss on my forehead, leaning back with a soft look to her features.
"But most of all, you have confirmed to me that my rule wasn't for naught, that it had meaning. My life's purpose wasn't betrayed by the people I led and governed. Rather, Humanity has exceeded my wildest expectations. That is a boon I had never been so optimistic as to expect."
She straightens her back and her peaceful expression is instead replaced by a proud one.
"My garden no longer requires one to cull and plant...it merely needs one to guard against the weeds and pests."
With a bow of head that somehow manages to seamlessly mix honesty, playfulness and mockery she delightfully announces, "To that end, I would be most pleased if you were to aid me in my quest."
I don't bother hiding my eye roll, now understanding that minor digs and jokes won't end up with me impaled on the end of a Noble Phantasm (probably) while Altera and Scáthach just smile in their own unique ways, the Hunnic King only bearing a slight upturning of her lips while the Queen of Ulster gives a throaty chuckle, happily replying, "But of course we would be delighted to join your crusade, Queen of Heroes. Welcome to our lovely flokkr."
With an unnervingly intense gaze and oddly excited smirk Gilgamesh huskily retorts, "The honor is mine, Lord of Spirits."
Is it hot in here, or is that just me?
I don't get the chance to ask that question as Gilgamesh proudly manifests a Gate of Babylon, what looks like rather large finger or knucklebones falling out of them into her waiting grasp.
Decorated with ancient hieroglyphics depicting horses, sheep, goats and camels the world's oldest Queen regally announces, "Then as an aliat-as the Gladiator would put it-allow me to yet again contribute to the cause and provide guidance."
She casts the bones onto the meeting table with a loud clatter, her lips curving upwards as she graciously informs us, "The knucklebones of a Dragon, decorated in the finest of paints and inscribed with Runes likely forgotten to time. These are no charlatans tricks, they will shed light on the path we should take."
"...Can they show the winning lotto numbers?"
Three pairs of eyes swivel towards mine, Altera and Scáthach looking exasperated while Gilgamesh can't seem to decide whether she should laugh or be offended.
"...You wish for my treasure, which can interpret and translate the very forces of fate itself, to impart to you the winning conditions of a gambling competition?"
"How do you think I paid for this hotel? Hypnotizing doesn't seem to work all that great on Devils, I had to think on my feet and use a bit of Structural Analysis and Gradation Air to forge some bills. Although with no equivalent of Alaya or Gaia in this world, never mind all the ambient mana, I don't think they'll be going anywhere anytime soon. But that opens up a new problem. The IRS. Those people are like mundane Counter Guardians, just slightly more lethal and terrifying."
Gilgamesh doesn't seem able to figure out whether I'm being serious or not and instead turns to the fortune telling devices, me following suit.
Huh, now that's interesting. The convex Horse is pointed towards Scáthach while the convex Sheep is directed towards the room's whiteboard where I'd written down most of the species who inhabit these worlds...at least until I'd realized there was something along the lines of hundreds and had quickly given up.
...But it's pointing towards my clearly labeled writing of 'Vampire'.
How about that?
The other two, the concave Goat and Camel, had fallen onto an open phone book when Altera had been debating whether to order takeout or not.
...The sign for great fortune. I've got no complaints, and even better…
"Well look at this, Queen of Heroes...it seems your fortune telling device took my side after all."
"Don't be ridiculous, Gladiator. The stream of fate wouldn't deign itself to answer your-"
Her jaw abruptly snaps shut and her eyes widen an almost imperceptible fraction as she notices what the Goat and Camel are pointing to.
Specifically, a telephone number that reads (666-195-4567).
Numbers that, with a little rearranging, could be the winning lotto ticket.
...I pretend not to notice the Queen of Heroes' narrowed eyes or downturned lips, only relaxing once she heaves a disgruntled sigh and dispels the bones with a wave of her hand, muttering something that sounds suspiciously like, 'Enkidu all over again...'.
I grin like a loon and openly suggest, "Ok, they were pointing towards 'Vampire' and Scáthach spent a lot of time researching Longinus, more specifically that one Grail type that could give us a hint. Taking into account the reading for 'Great Fortune' I think it's safe to assume we can head on out tomorrow for the Vampire's homeland."
Altera cocks her head and asks, "Master, we do not know where these Vampires are located, nor of how to leave this realm in the first place. How are we to do so without further study?"
I give the Queen of Heroes a winning smile, the golden-haired Woman merely crossing her arms and shooting me an irritated scowl as I happily reply, "We'll leave it up to fate, obviously. Especially since she seems to have taken a shine to me."
Scáthach laughs, gleefully saying, "Trying to rile up the Queen of Heroes? Horatius, I never knew you had it in you..."
"Ugh, remind me again why we have to go all the way to some hotel in the middle of this huge freaking city?! Tokyo was never this bad!"
I have to hold back my audible sigh as Sae continues to grumble about our newest change in plans, unwilling to actually abandon the assignment but still wanting to vent about it.
And, of course, that means I'm the only one around to listen to her.
"Come on, Sae...Azazel-sama wouldn't send us on some wild goose chase unless it was important."
She gives me a deadpan expression.
"He totally would."
"...Yeah, I suppose he has done that in the past..."
Jin just gives a small bark of confirmation, my ever steadfast partner in his miniaturized form so as to avoid worrying the local population.
Most wouldn't be much at ease if they saw his far larger, more intimidating form stalking down the streets…
"See, Tobio?! Even Jin-kun agrees! And I bet Leo would if I could bring him out without freaking everyone out..."
"Ok, ok...I see your point."
Years of working alongside my oldest friend-who just recently became my girlfriend after an embarrassing set of events involving the rest of Slash Dog, the Grigori and Grauzauberer-has conditioned me to just roll with the punches.
It's certainly helped keep me sane over the years.
"...Anyway, why is our meeting place in a hotel of all places? Shouldn't it be, I dunno, some kind of back alley or something? With lots of smoke, card games and gruff characters?"
"Even spies need a soft bed once in a while. And who would look for a spy in the most obvious of places, in broad daylight? Well, whatever passes for daylight down here, at least."
Sae falls silent at that but pouts regardless, resigned to our mission.
...She has a point though. The Devil capital city, Lilith, is rather large. And matters aren't helped by the Marriott hotel we're meeting at being close to the epicenter of the place.
At least the city isn't fully occupied right now, the Bandersnatch attack caused most to evacuate and only now are the buildings being repopulated with their prior residents.
"Well...we're here. Think we'll find anything useful from this person?"
"Who knows? Those three unknown people certainly didn't leave much behind in the way of evidence."
Sae shifts uncomfortably and hesitantly asks, "You...you don't think they're like the Four Fiends, do you?"
I tamp down on the brief flash of anger that arises at the memories of that incident, instead sighing and reassuring her with, "I don't think so, Sae. And besides, even if they are Avatar-type Sacred Gears, they might be just like us."
She chuckles and intertwines her fingers with my own.
"We don't exactly have the best track record when it comes to Avatar-type Sacred Gear users, Tobio."
"True, but people with ill intentions likely wouldn't have bothered to interfere against the Jabberwocky in the first place."
She nods in acceptance before we put on our business faces, walking past the hotel's front doors and ignoring the receptionist's brief glance before she goes back to what she was doing.
Another minute of walking has us strolling into a common room of sorts, a large TV still displaying footage of the Bandersnatch's assault and the subsequent intervention by those mysterious warriors.
They certainly made an entrance…
"Oi, Slash Dog! Over here!"
Both Sae and I wince as our codename is practically shouted across half of the room, a pale faced man with effeminate features seated at a table not too far away.
Ok, I get that there's only one other person in the room, a tanned male with dark curly hair, but did he really need to announce our presence like that?
Sae no doubt agrees as she annoyedly pulls out a seat and hisses, "What the Hell kind of underground cop shouts out his confidants identities like that?! Are you insane?!"
The man, who I'm assuming is a Vampire or possibly Dhampire-if the pointed ears and sharpened fangs are any indicators-just smirks and idly replies, "The kind that's good at what they do. And don't worry about tall dark and handsome over there, he's clueless."
To my embarrassment the man hears that and shoots back, "While I'm flattered, I have to decline your interest, being an almost married man. And there has to be a more polite way of saying that I'm new around these parts, other than implying I'm out of my depth."
Our contact just chuckles and more cautiously says, "See? No problem, he's been reading a book on Devil Culture and has almost no Magical signature whatsoever, probably just a Magician visiting the city for the first time on a pilgrimage or something."
...I want to say that's a little bit of an optimistic assumption to make...but I'm no spy.
Although it's interesting that the man spoke Japanese, even if it was with a heavy accent...
Instead I ask, "Our mutual benefactor wants to know if you have any information on our newest guests, they're our primary focus right now. So much so that they more or less kicked me out of the house to track down leads..."
The man snorts and replies, "You kidding me? I'm no miracle worker, Slash Dog. Three days to gather any sort of meaningful info is too much to ask when there's practically nothing to go on. You're better off getting in touch with others if you want to know about them...instead, I've got a different brand of unpleasantness to tell you about."
His face loses most of it's joviality and his words are now whispered.
"The Tepes and Carmilla Vampire factions are now entering a state of Civil War. On it's own, that wouldn't be too bad...but the Tepes faction faction was recently visited by someone we weren't expecting. Rizevim Lucifer."
My shock must have shown on my face because the informant grimly nods, elaborating with, "I almost missed him but he must have been in a hurry, maybe it has to do with how quickly Bandersnatch was dealt with, I don't know. But he's been meeting with Marius Tepes behind closed doors...and I think it has to do with the Sephiroth Graal holder that they're now boasting about, one Valerie Tepes."
"And you're certain of this?"
"As certain as can be. I dunno what your Grigori masters want to do about this, but it's better that it get done as soon as possible. I have to get back, security is extra tight right now for obvious reasons and I can't be missed."
I barely have the presence of mind to nod distractedly, the man quickly leaving without a backward glance as I digest this latest bit of news.
...Vali is not going to be happy about this.
Or maybe he will be, it's hard to predict what that battle-loving maniac will do sometimes.
Regardless, that leaves us in something of a tight spot.
"We have to do something about this immediately. That's what you're going to say, right?"
I sheepishly grin at Sae, resignation plainly etched across her beautiful features.
"Well, this is rather serious. Serious enough that the three unknown warriors can wait. Sae, try to track down Azazel-sama and Lucifer-sama before they leave and tell them about what's happening. I'm going to depart for Romania immediately."
She immediately scowls and I shrink back in my seat a little, Jin running behind my ankles and curling up into a ball.
"You think I'm just going to let you go and do this all on your own? Forget it, Tobio. I'm coming with you."
"But our opponent is a Super Devil-"
"Who can cancel the effects of Sacred Gears, so you're not going to be of much more use in a fight against that Lucifer than I will, remember? I'll send Brave Leo to track down our boss while we head out, got it?"
...I know a losing battle when I see it.
Ignoring me, Sae manifests her new Sacred Gear, Brave Leo. A product of Grigori research and a replacement for her previous Leo after Jin and I destroyed it, it was built specifically for Sae's use and has many of the same characteristics as her old one...but instead of pitch black fur it has pure white, a change I approve of, it providing a nice contrast to Jin and I.
Her Avatar jumping out of the manifested Magic Circle, it's appearance shrunken much like Jin's and faithfully resting on it's paws, begins waiting for Sae's orders.
Quickly scribbling on a piece of paper Sae hands it to the beast and says, "Leo, take this to Azazel-sama and then return as quickly as you can, alright?"
The miniature lion nods and disappears once more into a Magic Circle, leaving just the three of us to begin our task.
"Ok, let's swing by Grigori headquarters and-"
"Um, excuse me? Sorry to interrupt, but could you listen to a request of mine?"
Both Sae and I look around in surprise at the sudden question.
The man who had been speaking to our informant scratches the side of his cheek in a sheepish manner before saying, "Sorry, but I couldn't help but overhear you might be planning on heading over to meet with the Vampires. This is probably gonna sound a little strange, but do you think I could come along with you?"
We're both instantly suspicious, Sae being the one to vocalize it with an incredulous, "Uh, ok, just who the Hell are you?"
"Oh, my apologies! My name is Horatio, I'm a traveling Mage on something of a pilgrimage. I've been meaning to travel to Romania and observe Vampires and their powers for quite some time now, but could never quite find the opportunity to do so. If you're not adverse to it, may I accompany you? I'd be more than happy to pay and I'm certainly no traveling slouch, if that's a concern of yours."
...We have a great many concerns, but none of them are those.
Sae merely scoffs and retorts, "Look, since you were clearly listening in on us-"
"To be fair, you weren't exactly being quiet. Or subtle."
"-you should know Romania might not exactly be the safest of places to visit."
The mystery man only shrugs and asks, "Why exactly would it be unsafe? I'm not going there to look for trouble, just a bit of observation and friendly conversation."
...It's taking a great deal of self-control not to sigh right now.
"Perhaps you don't know this, Horatio-san, but Vampires tend to be-"
"Complete assholes, yeah?"
The look on his face after he utters those words is interesting.
He looks surprised, like he can't believe he just said that out loud. Which is more than a little strange, because it's no great secret that Vampires tend to look down on other species. Why would he so alarmed at having blurted that?
I glance down at Jin, curious what his reaction is-
-and just like that my decision is made.
"Ok, look here Mr. Mage-san, we can't just-"
"Actually, we would be happy to have you along. As long as you don't mind us attending to the occasional bit of private business, you're welcome to join."
Sae looks at me like I'm crazy while Horatio-san just grins and excitedly replies, "Conditions accepted! I appreciate this, Mr. and Mrs…?"
"Ikuse Tobio. And this is my girlfriend, Toujou Sae."
"Nice to meet you, Ikuse and Toujou-san. Meet you at the front door in an hour?"
"Excellent! See you then!"
With that he purposefully strides off...while I try to ignore the heated glare Sae is sending my way.
"Tobio-kun~? Can you kindly explain why you did that?"
...Ooh crap, I know that tone of voice.
Swallowing thickly I quickly explain, "Well there was a number of things, really...but mostly it was Jin's reaction. The entire time he wasn't growling, sleeping, or any of that. He was just watching over the guy's shoulder. Intently. Like there was something there. Something powerful."
Sae appears to consider that for a moment-
-before paling and hesitantly asking, "Y-you don't think he's..."
"The one we're looking for? All we know is that those three warriors were very powerful and disappeared without a trace after the battle was done. They had to go somewhere. And Lilith is the closest nearby inhabited city."
"Yeah...but, I mean, what are the odds we just so happened to run into the very person we were looking for? Who willingly wants to come with us?"
A nostalgic smile crosses my face.
"No less than the odds of you and me meeting after so long when I thought you were dead. No less than anything else that happened during our introduction to the Supernatural world. No less than me managing to save you..."
She falls silent a that...before gently kissing me on the cheek and cutely muttering, "Well when you put it like that..."
Jin just gives a confirming bark, causing me to smile.
"Either Horatio-san is the man we're looking for or he's something else entirely, we'll find out in the end."
"You can be rather daft sometimes, Horatius."
I pout at Scáthach's words and retort, "Now just what do you mean by that?"
"Come now, that slip about Dead Apostles being rather unpleasant company? We're fortunate that Vampires also seem to be rather impolite in this universe, or we would have raised more of their suspicions than we no doubt already have."
"Ahh, now you're just being pessimistic. We're in great shape!"
"Only by dint of great luck, Master. Are you not the one that often advises children to not approach strangers so casually? An action you just engaged in?"
"Oh c'mon, not you too, Altera..."
"They are most certainly justified in their exasperation, Gladiator. Your excuse of being a traveling Mage on a pilgrimage was laughable. What if such actions were completely unheard of or not practiced in the slightest? You would have looked foolish, which in turn reflects upon me. And I do not appreciate appearing foolish."
I heave an exasperated sigh at Gilgamesh also joining in on the fun and don't bother justifying my actions...instead I smirk and reply, "It's fine, you three. And besides...we had fortune on our side, remember?"
Only a brief moment of silence greets me before two disgusted sighs echo throughout my head, a vague feeling of quiet resignation emanating from Altera as opposed to the vocal exhalations of the other two.
Nice to see I haven't lost my touch in annoying people over the years.
"Anyway, now that we have an hour before heading out, I think I'm going to swing by the supermarket we passed earlier."
"What possible reason could you have to visit such a plebeian location mere hours before we embark on the next stage of our quest?"
I grin at the Queen of Hero's question.
"Well, obviously I'm going to buy a lotto ticket."
I can practically hear the Golden Queen grinding her teeth together.
You know, I think Kischur was right about Gilgamesh being a fun addition to our team.
Can I just say the response to this story has been totally AWESOME?
Well over a hundred follows and favorites just for one chapter, that's a pretty darn good opener by my standards.
Anyway next chapter Rizevim, Marius and the Evil Dragons are in for a surprise, and that surprise comes in the form of excessive firepower. And a dude with a Dog that's also a sword.
...Man I wish Tobio had been the protagonist of DxD instead of Issei...
Hoo boy I am just giddy over this coming bit :D
Other than that feel free to drop a review or PM with your thoughts or feelings on things as they are, til next chapter!
adislt: It's a bit after (or in between, the timeline of LN's is always a nightmare to suss out) vol 12 and 13, after Issei comes back from the shortest character death ever.
AceBlazer007 - Harudere: Appreciate your kind words! I blame my grammar on reading books like Lord of the Rings, Starship Troopers and Old Man's War during my freshman year of High School. I kinda just picked up on writing and different ways of doing so from those, at least to an extent.
prototype gear: Appreciate your insight and suggestions, definitely ones that I agree with myself. But I figure over the centuries Zelretch has mellowed out a little, typically only reverting to his ass-kicking self when the situation calls for it. Personally I think Zelretch drunk himself into oblivion when thinking of the Kaleidosticks.
"H-hey, you know what would be awesome? If...if my walking stick could talk."
Years of regret.
Guest: You nailed it. And I can't believe I forgot to specify that in the AN of the last chapter XD
Kinunatza The Eternal: Come next chapter, that question will be answered a bit more definitively :D
Gabriel790: It could be one among others, who can say? Well, I mean I can, I'm writing it...awkward silence ensues.
: My Spanish is a little shaky but currently these are the only Servants and OC's I'm adding to the DxD universe. It will be them interacting with the DxD cast and next chap will delve further in to the consequences of the actions they'll be taking.
Warlord of Chaos: Next chap will showcase that 'trouble' full stop, stay tuned :D
Fateburn: The relationship between Horatius and his previous two companions, as well as with Gilgamesh, are events that I'll be exploring bit by bit each chapter, such as the flashback of him meeting Altera in this one. Can't have such interesting personalities and not do anything fun with them!