Option 2: Incarnation

-With his connection to both the Great Red and Ophis Caine's soul passes directly into the Ouroboros' control, the Primordial being unsure of what to do with the thing.

-In the Underworld Vallia and her allies are locked in a battle that, over the past twelve years since Caine's death, has only gotten worse. While the Outside Powers were initially dealt with and the portals they originated from closed in a sweeping campaign spanning the realm's length a few holdouts from the OSF and Beast of the Earth's camp hid a few of the tears in reality, allowing a selection of the creatures to burst through when least expected.

-Dealing with them cost precious time and resources, enough for more and more of the rifts in reality to be opened as the severity of the threat is only driven home as the years and casualties pile on. When even a single Outside Power can engage a God given the right circumstances and dozens—if not hundreds—of them are roaming the lands with more on the way it becomes grimly obvious to many how other realms might have fallen before their might.

-It's Vallia's actions and those of her Peerage that provide a great deal of morale boosting to the people of the Underworld, her successful campaigns against the Powers earning her the title Eminence of Victory, even thought the reality is that they're now on the losing side...a situation made all the clearer as none other than Satan falls in battle against a group of the same Outside Powers that killed Gabriel and Athena during the siege of Lilith, much of the Underworld being seized by a sense of slowly encroaching dread.

-Vallia begins a campaign to end the approaching threat, gathering one of the largest forces to date among the Supernatural as they march. The assault ends in a stalemate before the Outside Powers begin to push back, the five humanoid Powers carving a path through their forces until Vallia goes to slow their advance, knowing that's likely a one way trip as she doesn't tell anyone she's departing.

-While she manages to accomplish her goal and allow their gathered forces to retreat she's unable to destroy the five Powers or the collection of portals they continue to spill forth from, the young woman resigned to having done her best, lamenting that the world Caine sacrificed himself for didn't even get to be realized.

Caine

When I expected to wake up—okay, that's a lie, I never expected to wake up in the first place—I sure as Hell wasn't expecting it to be in the middle of a fucking candy store.

The afterlife—assuming that's where I am—is pretty damn strange.

"Sooooo...I'm assuming St. Peter is gonna be manning the cash register?"

"Incorrect, monkey."

I almost jump out of my skin as none other than Ophis strides on by, eyeing the various shelves with a keen eye and still in its utterly androgynous attire.

"This is my own realm. Congratulations, you are the first monkey in the history of existence to be brought to this place."

That takes a second to register, a second longer for me to set aside the question of how I'm even aware of my sense of self.

"I'm flattered? Seriously, you've never brought anyone else along for the ride?"

"No other monkey had circumstances quite like yours. While the universe is indeed infinite it is infinite in small, manageable chunks. The odds of such an occurrence are not quite as skewed as your tiny brain no doubt thinks they are."

Yeah, the mortal brain isn't quite ready to take this primordial bullshit and comprehend it without a blood vessel or three popping.

"So why am I here? I thought that was the end of my existence."

"As did I. And yet your monkey soul clung on to my presence, like a thrown piece of feces."

"Hearing one of the primordial forces of reality refer to me as a piece of shit is existentially damaging, you know."

Completely ignoring my comment Ophis snags a bag of M&M's from one of the countless racks, tearing the package open and eating each individual piece with clear relish.

"So...is this place, well, real? Or some kind of weird limbo state?"

It points out one of the store's windows as my eye follows the Dragon's finger-

-and I have to take a deep breath before letting it out slowly, stomach heaving with nausea before I master myself.

"Ah. The Dimensional Gap."

Staring into the twisting and chaotic skeins of the space between realities is NEVER good for an individual's health. I should just be glad I'm not spewing all over the floor…

"Yes. This place is my sanctuary, one of the few tangible locations within its confines."

"An infinite candy shop, eh? Can't say it's conventional but there are worse locales to chill out in."

A look of displeasure crosses Ophis' expression.

"Not infinite."

A plain lollipop drops into my lap, the Ouroboros' unspoken order to try it coinciding with me unwrapping the treat and popping it into my mouth...before spitting it out with a disappointed expression.

"Why does it taste like a third of a lollipop? Or in other words kinda shit?"

"While creation is counted among my many abilities as a creature of the void and entropy, aforementioned creations are naturally lacking in...flavor. I must constantly replenish this stock with trips to your realm. And to that we arrive at the crux of this issue."

I let loose a sigh, nodding in agreement.

"Why am I even here? I was dead, Ophis. And while you said my soul was sticking around I can't imagine any reason you would want to...I dunno, do whatever this is. I don't have anything to offer you."

The sexless face smirks.

"That, monkey, is where you are wrong. Your death brought your realm a few years respite, true...but those clamoring Outside Powers are not a foe so easily done away with. Once they have found a realm to consume it is as if a fire is lit, drawing them in from the furthest reaches of the boundaries of reality. No world has yet to survive such an invasion and I imagine yours is not far behind."

A moment of silence passes between us...and a shaking hand pinches the tip of my nose.

"Heh...go fucking figure, even in death my failures-"

"Oh spare me the pity fest, monkey. The terms of this deal I approach you with now are simple. I afford you the power to return and fight for your home, to live a second life and you ensure that I may restock my preferred brands at my leisure."

Huh?

"Wait, let me get this straight...you're going to revive me back into my world to fight against the Outside Powers, spitting in the face of almost every rule we know about death and its consequences...just because you want my realm's candy? I know you said the universe is infinite in small parcels but are there seriously no Kit-Kats in other realities?"

A look of supreme irritation appears on Ophis' features, tone condescending as it states, "Oh, how foolish of me, of course the monkey would know better than I, the Ouroboros, how to go about solving this issue."

"..."

"..."

"Right. I'll shut up now."

"A wonderful idea, monkey."

I shift uneasily, apprehension, hope and wariness battling for supremacy as I take a deep breath, asking, "I appreciate the offer, Ophis, I really do...but how am I supposed to keep my realm intact? The means in which I obtained such power are what ultimately killed me, I'm not going to be able to single-handedly fight off the Outside Powers."

"As you were before? Certainly. But thankfully I am not as stupid as a monkey."

Before I can ask what that means the shop suddenly darkens, shadows growing snake heads and serpent tails as they begin to crawl towards me...and it's only now that I realize I'm actually quite naked, bare ass shifting uncomfortably on the cool tile.

"Umm...what is this-"

"You're unique situation also provides a unique solution to my problem. I offer you this boon on a whim, monkey. A convergence of circumstance and little else. Do not mistake my intentions as being that of mercy."

With lightning-fast motions the snakes bite into my flesh, crawl into my orifices (every single one of them, the less said about that the better) and just as I'm about to enter full blown panic mode I realize that it doesn't really hurt. Instead it feels empowering, like a stream of molten magma flowing into veins of pure metal.

"You carry within the powers of both the DxD and Ouroboros. Your physical body and soul could not withstand that strain and you returned to us...except the Red still slumbers, thus leaving me with your whole and intact soul, free to do with it as I please."

A demon's grin splits the creature's face.

"I will grant you my power, monkey. Enough so that you may fight for your home and ensure it's continued existence without fear of wasting away...my own Outside Power, a being of the Dimensional Gap and beholden only to it and it alone. I need not even remake your form from scratch, merely strengthen what already exists, so perfectly entombed and preserved by your fellow monkeys."

My old armor snaps into place around my body, the lion's helm sealing my face away from the outside world as my body—crushed and debased when I passed away—is now back to its prime, strong and healthy and seemingly pulsing with power, spine itching madly before fourteen wings that snap and writhe like the snakes Ophis commands burst from my back, flexing and shivering with renewed vitality.

"Hmm...not bad for a monkey. Your empty shall residing within that dismal city will assume this form, as I intended."

Scarcely able to believe this is all happening I slowly open and close my fingers, luxuriating in the feel of skin, muscle and bone acting in concert as I murmur, "Is...is this a dre-"

"No, it is not a dream, monkey. Do not waste my generosity with inane questions and denials of reality."

"...Right. Sorry."

Squaring my shoulders I suck in a calming breath, murmuring, "This is going to be an...adjustment. Shit, how am I going to explain my return?"

"If you do not move quickly there will not be many left to explain to...that Dragoness of yours seems to be in quite the bind."

Wariness and a strange sense of un-reality are immediately shunted aside, blood boiling at the idea that Val is in danger.

I didn't get to say goodbye to her last time...I'm sure as Hell not going to let that happen again.

"Right, do what you need, Ophis. Guess the explanations about my sudden Jesus act will have to wait."

A odd snicker leaves the primordial entity, my eyes going dark as its voice caresses my ears with a final uttering of, "You assume much of an explanation will be needed at all. Did you not hear what I told you, Valefor? True Legends never die..."


The Underworld had been possessed by a strange sort of wary and apprehensive calm, attempting to deny the slowly growing dread of eventual defeat from an uncaring and unstoppable foe by pretending that it didn't exist, that their friends, comrades and loved ones weren't fighting for their lives at this very moment.

Kalichi weathered this tense situation better than most other cities, seeing as how death, stress and the constant need to look over one's shoulder were a daily occurrence rather than the exception. It was such a marked change from most other locales in the Underworld that many visitors—wishing to see the place the famed Last Lion had spoken of so often—found themselves quickly turning around and instead visiting the far safer and more public city of Lilith.

But within it resided islands of calm, of respect. One of those very same locations was an old, abandoned and destroyed church that held within it the burial site of Kalichi's most famous son, none other than the Lion himself.

While it received a fairly steady stream of city locals either using the venue to socialize and interact or pay their respects today only two were in attendance, none other than Galeran and Aino.

"You know it's probably for the best that the Boss died and doesn't have to see how everything played out afterwards...probably would have killed him to see his sacrifice didn't do much in the long run. Except he's already dead so it wouldn't have actually killed him but you know what I'm saying."

The Harpy nodded with a bird-like dip of her head, eyes questioning her lover alongside a tilt of her neck.

"What exactly am I supposed to do, huh? Those things are the kinda foe the Boss used to struggle against, ain't nothing we can do. In the meantime we'll just wait for the Bossette to do her thing and follow her orders in the interim."

A ruffling of bright plink plumage.

"No...I'm not quite that optimistic. It sucks, but I guess all we can do is wait for a miracle. Guess I just wanted to come and visit the boss one last time, before the cards fall where they will."

Sighing to himself the hybrid rose to his feet, making his way towards the exit of the church as his partner perched on his shoulder with a sympathetic pat on the head with her wing-

SNAP!

The duo jerked, a sudden shift in balance and reality causing them to stumble as their ears rang with a fading pain, as if a static shock had been applied directly to their eardrums.

"What the fuck was that-"

BANG!

Both Galeran and Aino whirled around as a sudden detonation of earth, wood and splinters lacerated the interior of the building with fresh shrapnel, a shadowy figure appearing silhouetted amidst the dust and debris before the flare of a teleportation circle illuminated the building, all remaining silent for a few bewildered seconds as quiet reigned...and a few members of the Griffons burst through the main doors, shouting, "Boss, you okay?! What happened, was there...the fuck?"

They all blinked at the state of the church, of the clearly disturbed grave...and their laughing leader, the hybrid doubled over and hysterically cackling while even Aino seemed put off by his reaction.

"Boss? What's up, did you get hit with laughing gas or something?"

"No...no. Just thought it was fucking funny, that's all."

The man strode to the edge of where the Lion had been buried, looking down into depths of the grave...where there was a suspiciously absent corpse.

"I talk about needing a miracle and boom! Miracle. Let's get back to business, boys!"

The gang members seemed completely at a loss as to why their leader was acting so mercurial until he strode past them, ecstatic smile on his features.

"We've got an old friend to roll out the red carpet for."


The skies two hundred kilometers east of the nearest allied city were ablaze with battle, one rainbow light dancing and darting like a shooting star as every conceivable phenomenon known to man flew in every direction from prismatic wings.

Tidal waves of flame created superheated walls that blocked the light's flanks, contrails of jagged ice trailed in the wing's wake and hampered pursuit, shimmering waves of compressed wind created detonations and hurricanes that uprooted even solid earth while snarls of lightning struck at whatever the light deemed a fitting target with the fury of a thousand pounds of conventional explosives.

It was a fearsome display, made all the more impressive by the occasional flash of blue light that altered the fabric of reality, distances between objects halving themselves while twisting serpents of wood and purifying light danced and darted with sinuous motions.

And through it all the rainbow light wielded two blades, one glowing with a strange illumination that seemed to make blackness itself shine with an inner strength, the other unadorned and simple steel that nonetheless managed to stand strong against blows that would have shattered mountains.

It was a display of skill, strength and raw instinct that had captured the hearts and minds of countless individuals the realms over during the last few years, the name Vallia Lucina Lucifer quickly coming to match and even eclipse that of the Last Lion.

The Underworld had come to admire the Eminence of Victory, of her presence and ability to change the tide of seemingly hopeless situations with nothing but her strength of arms and indomitable will.

And right now—as she strove against five twisted and daemonic creatures that took her best and threw it right back at her—Vallia had to accept the fact that against these foes she was finally, after years upon years of upset victories and narrow escapes, well and truly outmatched.

The humanoid and seemingly unmatched Outside Powers that had quickly become the true terrors amidst the myriad monsters that plagued their realms—titled 'Subjugators' in a fitting use of language—were unequivocal masters of warfare, possessing raw power and impeccable skill in equal measure.

And, as one of their jagged blades came crashing down on her upraised weapons before sending her into the ground hard enough to kick up an impact crater the size of a skyscraper, she began to feel the first hints of desperation.

Hissing in pain as she forced her broken and battered body to rise—healing was an expensive endeavor to invest in, even with her prodigious reserves—Vallia spat out a globule of blood, glaring up at the hovering Subjugators as they leered down at her with jeering maws of teeth and fire...and felt a weariness settle in her bones.

(TTS OST - Chairbound Prankster)

"Shit...after all that...and everything we did this is how it ends, huh?"

Unable to help the bitter tears that fell from her eyes Vallia nonetheless forced herself to stand straight, to raise her swords into a guarded position and face the five Outside Powers directly.

It was a fruitless, hopeless and meaningless gesture to everyone but her. If all of her lost friends and family had sacrificed their lives for nothing, then the least she could do was honor them by selling her failure as expensively as possible.

"Heh...looks like I'll be seeing you again real soon, Caine."

The five Subjugators landed on the ground with confident and arrogant motions as they began to encircle her-

SNAP!

-and all present stumbled, a wave of some kind of foreign energy washing over them and causing them to jerk and twist, balance lost as eyes flew wide in blatant shock.

"W-what? The Hell was that..."

Vallia twisted her head to-and-fro, familiar enough with what felt like a twist or alteration in reality to understand the sensation as the Subjugators reciprocated the action, tectonic rumbles and growls emanating from their throats as they communicated and scanned the horizon.

...And then she felt it, the King piece within her chest growing strangely warm as it reacted to some long lost friend or lover-

-and the girl suddenly felt a surge of hope and disbelief soar through her chest at what that meant, the artifact practically longing to return to some distant individual.

"No...it can't be..."

Her attention shifted back to the Subjugator's as they continued to aimlessly observe their surroundings-

-and like a bloodhound catching scent of its prey their gazes shifted to the horizon, snouts flaring...but unlike a dog excitement was the furthest possible reaction they exhibited.

Instead they showed fear.

Teeth peeled back from serrated fangs, growls of alarm shook the ground and taloned hands tightened around their weapons as their postures became hunched and panicked, gazes ratcheting towards Vallia as she belatedly realized she was still very much in the middle of a battle to the death.

With a commanding roar they leapt at her with enough speed that the air itself shattered, debris flying in every direction as Vallia forced her tired body to defend, knowing that this might very well be her end or at least crippling-

CLANG!

-and instead of cruel blades tearing her flesh from her bones there was a flash of light, rush of wind and sound of metal striking metal loud enough to leave her reinforced ears ringing, Vallia flapping her wings to clear way the roiling dust in order to see what just happened...and froze, feeling as if she had suddenly stumbled into some kind of distant fantasy.

Midnight armor geared towards flexibility, leaving joints and portions of the body largely bare. A furred undercoat reminiscent of a lion's mane while hardy fabric with dark green highlights rested beneath the masterfully crafted metal. The stylized helmet in the shape of a snarling great cat, features hidden from view. A towering, athletic form that stood high above her and held the Subjugators at bay through sheer strength and countless strands of inky shadow alone, blades stopped dead on his upraised arms while tendrils of midnight slowly but inexorably yanked the weapons away, the Outside Powers staring in disbelief at the individual's sudden appearance.

"Holding the line all by yourself against enemies clearly stronger than you are? Val, you've learnt some pretty bad habits from yours truly, haven't you?"

Rainbow eyes gazed upwards as a noble and elegant jaw hung open, working soundlessly as a trembling hand tenderly grabbed the lapel of the man's coat, fearing that the slightest of physical contact would cause him to dissipate like a fleeting illusion.

"...Caine?"

The helm disappeared with a flash of light, Vallia staring into the features of a ghost. A ghost with countless scars and bags under his dual eyes of red and black, short hair of midnight adorned with a single streak of blonde.

The face of a man she thought dead.

"How you been, Val? Miss me?"

-Gifted with the strength of the Ouroboros and DxD without fear of aforementioned powers overwhelming and subsequently killing him Caine—with Vallia's help—is able to destroy the Subjugators, the pair quickly moving to shut the variety of rifts that had allowed the Powers to slip through in the first place. Once that task is finished they finally address the topic of how Caine was able to return.

Caine

Okay, now that the rush of the moment and my revival has ended things are...pretty awkward. To say the least.

Fuck, how do I even go about settling this? And apologizing for what I did to her?

Not that Val seems in any hurry to broach the topic, just staring at me with some kind of unidentifiable emotion, even her body markings subdued and not giving me any hint as to her potential mental state.

"So...what's-"

WHAM!

Oh, right.

When angry, Val hits things. More specifically, when she's angry at me I get hit. Hard.

Hard enough that I'm now kissing dirt.

"Okay, that one I deserved-GRK?!"

A savage kick to my gut clues me in that maybe I've really gone and pissed her off this time.

"W-wait a moment, I can explain-HRK?!"

Slim fingers not large enough to wrap around my neck instead settle for driving their thumbs into my throat, Val sporting an expression of absolute fury and grief as she violently snarls, "You...YOU!"

Am I going to die barely an hour after being revived? Because that is going to suck hard.

"After everything you did...NOW you decide it's alright to return like nothing happened?!"

I'm snapped out of my ruminations as something wet and warm drips onto my face, eyes focusing on the lovely woman straddling my bruised waist, esoteric markings now wildly oscillating through a dozen different colors every second as tears stream down her dirty and battered skin, face a rictus of fury and grief.

"I...I...I can't-"

Her words are halted as if her voice simply failed in that very moment, death grip on my throat loosening and instead cupping my cheeks as I carefully suck down a breath.

"Is...is it really you?"

The sheer, fragile hope in her whisper reminds me of just how ugly of a thing it was I did before I died, not so much as a note or letter left behind for my Empress as I gingerly wipe away her tears.

That just form right over again but dammit I'm trying.

"Yeah, Val. It's me. Carl the Janitor rose from an evidently shallow grave."

A tense moment passes as she gazes down on me-

-and familiar lips smash against mine with enough force that my teeth clack against hers and it's generally not the most enjoyable of actions...but I can't bring myself to care, the simple taste and smell of my Vallia creating a lurch within my chest as my arms automatically wrap around her trim waist, holding the girl tight.

...Not that it helps my guilt one fucking bit as she breaks the lip lock, burying her face into the crook of my neck and begins to tremble like a windblown leaf, sobbing and hiccuping as her arms lock around my neck, squeezing hard enough that I'm actually sorta worried she's going to break something.

"It...it hurt, when I saw you lying there. Dead. And I...I couldn't even say goodbye..."

Ah shit...and here I thought my return would be all flowers and kittens. Now that I think about it I did kinda leave on sort of a sour, ambiguous note, even if my Peerage got something of an explanation.

I instead run my hand through her matted and tangled hair, gently working out the kinks with the aid of my Shades as I heave out a sigh, responding, "Yeah. I fucked up big time, those last couple years. But I'm here now and this time I can make things right. Can NOT be a colossal dipshit."

A bleat of amusement leaves Vallia, her teeth briefly nipping at my neck before speaking up with a muffled, "Yeah, right. That'll be the day."

That one bit of sass causes me to break out into a wide, unstoppable grin as, for the first time since this whole reunion took place, I can feel a real sense of familiarity and peace.

"C'mon, there's probably a whole line of people that want to play 'punch dipshit in the face' and you already got first pickings."

"Mmm."

Her noncommittal response leaves me shrugging, rising to my feet...and she doesn't let go.

"Val? There's a person attached to this packhorse."

"No there isn't. I'm not letting go."

...I'd argue, if she still wasn't occasionally shivering, clinging to me like I could fade away at the slightest cessation of pressure.

And, you know. I'm not one to complain about someone as beautiful as Vallia hugging me close.

My wings snap outwards as I take to the air, drawing in a steadying breath as I fly towards where I can sense the largest concentration of allied presences...including more than a few passingly familiar ones.


"HALT! State your name and...purpose..."

The border of the sprawling fortress no doubt recently erected—if its gleaming construction and unbattered walls are any indication—had been covered with roving patrols as thousands moved to-and-fro, tending to injuries or resting in the aftermath of what was no doubt a hard fought battle.

Rather than try to sneak in or anything I'd simply approached one of the roving guards, Val calmly sleeping on my back.

...It speaks volumes over how exhausted she must have been, that the little bundle of bullshit power levels that is my Empress straight up conked out within seconds of flying.

That doesn't quite explain why the guard is pointing an armored finger at me, body language reeking of disbelief.

"...Stranger, remove your helmet. Please."

Shrugging at the request I do so, the Devil instantly stiffening before slowly removing his own concealing helm and I blink a few times at the vaguely familiar features.

"Hey, I think I remember you...yeah, you were the guy in Lilith who spoke up in support of Thor and Artemis. Fucking Hell, small world. How you been, man?"

His jaw works soundlessly as Val stirs, her chin coming to rest on my shoulder as she grudgingly begins to wake.

"You...Valefor? The Last Lion? How...how are you alive?"

"Well to be fair for the longest time I wasn't. Matter of fact I only popped back into existence a few hours ago. Am I cleared to go inside? Val's a little tuckered out and could use an actual bed."

The man just continues to stare at me like I'm some kind of multi-headed banana Hydra.

Thankfully relief comes in the form of several approaching figures-

-and that relief turns to apprehension as I recognize every single one of them.

Cao Cao, Ingvild, Mittelt, Ning Que, Jeanne and Frederica, all approaching at a rapid pace before coming in for a swift landing, Ingvild and Cao Cao sprinting towards me as the Leviathan descendant shouts, "Vallia! You're still alive, we were terrified that something might have happened when we couldn't reach...you...eh?"

It's only when the purple-haired young lady actually gets within a meter of me that she seems to notice I'm not just some straggler who gave the Empress a ride, orange eyes widening as she gazes up at me.

Cao Cao noticed earlier, pale as a ghost as he points a disbelieving finger in my direction.

Funny reactions...but I can't feel much humor, instead wincing at the expression of my prior Peerage members.

They're all wearing guarded expressions, hands slowly reaching towards weapons as they stare at me with neutral eyes.

"And just who are you meant to be impersonating?"

...That distrust hurts more than I'm willing to admit, even if it's absolutely warranted. I'd be suspicious too, if Val suddenly died and then some weirdo showed up wearing her skin and clothing.

"Umm...hi, guys."

The silence stretches, my features twisting in displeasure at the idiotic statement.

"Wow. Sign me up for worst greetings ever-"

|It's him!|

Frederica—in her giant Dragoon form—leaps forward and bowls me over, Val grunting as she's crushed underneath as the metallic monster begins frantically licking me from head to toe.

|The stupid jokes, the smell...it's him, it's really him~!|

The sheer joy radiating from my former pawn is enough to bring a smile to my face...for a time.

Dragoon saliva is no bushel of roses.

"Okay, okay! Fred, stop licking me, I'm happy to see you too, alright?!"

The massive beast leaps backwards, tail lashing and wagging like an excited dog's as she pants with unadulterated glee, the other three slowly approaching with now disbelieving expressions.

"Caine?"

"Yup...the one and only."

Jeanne and Ning Que halt barely a scant few centimeters distant as I discretely use a bit of my power to wipe away the Dragoon spit, staring into the eyes of my former Knights as Val quietly slips off my back.

"...I should have known. I really should have known you would somehow return. Weren't you the one always capable of doing the impossible?"

Ning's words are resigned, even as he grins unrepentantly.

And no sooner do I open my mouth to reply does the pair wrap me in a desperate hug, squeezing the life out of me as I return the embrace, eyes flicking towards Mittelt as she purses her lips, the beginnings of tears gathering in the corner of lovely sky-blue orbs.

"Just an fyi, blondie...Val already beat the shit out of me."

"That's fine, I'll get my pound of flesh later."

Ten midnight wings sprout from her back and launch her at my upper half, Shades immediately catching her as she presser her lips against mine. No tongue or anything adventurous, just a heartfelt welcome home as Frederica rests her metallic head atop of ours, a trembling sigh leaving me as Mittelt buries her head in my shoulder.

Yeah...I'm home.

(Ivan Torrent - Afterlife)

"C'mon, we can catch up later. Gorset, spread the word!"

A feral smile peels at Val's lips.

"The Last Lion is back."

The previously unnamed Devil snaps a salute, fist bouncing off his chestplate as he shouts, "At once, Empress!"

With a powerful flap of his wings the man is gone, a raised eyebrow being sent in Vallia's direction as she merely smirks at my questioning glance.

"The past few years have been rough...having you stir the hearts of the crowd will be a boon more precious than any monetary value."

"Am I still that famous? I figured the next big thing would have come along by now..."

Ning punches me in the side, the Practitioner seemingly unable to stop grinning as he comments, "You went through all that shit in order to be the biggest deal possible and you're surprised you stuck around in the cultural zeitgeist? Guess you aren't as smart as we thought you were and trust me, that bar-"

"-was pretty low."

His and Jeanne's teasing causes me to roll my eyes, dully responding, "Yeah yeah, pick on the short bus kid. Way to be welcomed back to the land of the living."

Val offers up a musical laugh, lacing her arm through my own as she drags me towards Frederica, the Dragoon eagerly holding out a claw for us to climb which we do, the metallic beast depositing us on her back as everyone else takes up flanking positions.

"Really gonna go through with this whole dog and pony show, huh?"

"Pfft, you say that like you didn't do the exact thing during your climb through the Rating Games."

"Fair point."

Smirking at my capitulation Val seats herself at the base of Frederica's neck as I sit cross-legged next to her, my Empress still refusing to let go of my limb with giddy motions.

That kind of happiness is infectious, to say the least. At least until we crest a slight rise and the true scale of the gathered army is revealed to me, what I had thought was thousands actually more along the line of tens of thousands, a sea of armor and banners from every faction and pantheon spreading outwards like a colorful coral reef on the dull landscape of the Underworld.

"...Val, I think I'm out of practice when it comes to playing the crowd. This is making me nervous."

"Just do what comes naturally, I'm sure you'll manage."

The dragon girl's playful tone does nothing to reassure me, a brief swallow not helping my dry throat as the nearest groups watch us with fierce whispers and wild gesticulations, pointing towards me with bewildered expressions swiftly turning into one of ecstaticness, what had been mere whispers and rumors quickly picking up steam and turning into a dull rumble of conversation as I try not to let my apprehension show.

"Well? Don't be a wet sock, be motivational and grand, Caine!"

Val is clearly getting off on my discomfort as Frederica lowers her neck, a clear invitation for me to climb atop her broad skull as I force myself to traverse the narrow walkway without stumbling, alighting upon her metal crest as I'm raised up high, elevated position allowing the entire host to clearly view me.

...And in the distance I spot none other than Artemis and Thor, the Goddess openly gaping at my reappearance as the God of Thunder wildly grins, smacking his divine hammer against his chestplate and creating a fierce ringing noise-

"THE LAST LION HAS RETURNED!"

His roaring proclamation seems to invigorate the crowd, thousands surging in time with the chant as what starts as a rumble turns into a cresting surge of voices all chanting one thing.

"LAST, LION! LAST, LION!"

Heh, really? It's like I never left the Rating Games.

Taking a deep breath I clench my fists, straighten my back and square my shoulders...before raising one of those very same fists high into the air, Frederica roaring in time with the action I performed when being crowned King of the Rating Games as it sounds as if the entire world shouts in unison.

"LAST, LION!"

-Explanations aren't easy but Caine's return is eventually just shrugged off as the Ouroboros having a grudge against the Outside Powers, his newfound strength a massive boon in helping to once more renew the offensive and begin shutting out the creatures for good, or at least minimize their threat.

-Reunions with everyone else he knows are just as heartfelt—if a little messy at times—but overall things begin to proceed in a direction that suggests he may one day find true peace, a reward for the all of the sacrifice.

-Four years later they discover that Vallia is carrying a rather unexpected gift...a fertile egg that's quickly growing a child that will be successor to the Lucifer and Valefor lines.


And that does it for the last of the options for a true sequel (Call it 'Good End'?) of KoTaS, a bit over 60,000 words of synopsis that I hope manages to convey at least some of what I had intended to write. Big thanks to all who stuck around, reviewed and all sorts of other varieties of interaction during my time on this website, I wish you all the best of luck with life and bid you a fond adieu!