this is a story that started out as a shitpost that turned into an actual story with its own plot

Temp Kuroka cover for this chapter because the art is so fuckin good


Death's Chosen


[XV]

||Facing Fate||


Issei knew what to do.

A miracle, really.

Where normally since the past crisis Balthazar would have needed to calm his nerves first, to let him think despite the sudden stressful situation, Issei had thought and he knew what he had to do. He wasn't at all calm like a lake - his heart felt like a stormy sea, constantly pounded by an incoming storm that he felt it was about to burst from panic. He felt the urge to scream for Koneko's name and rushed straight to her, forgoing any sane consideration and possibly ending up chastised by Balthazar or dead.

But no. Issei entered the Shadow Dimension first.

If his mind was yet able to process things quickly, then he could at least make use of this strange place where the world moved slower, and discuss whatever he needed to do next with someone who could make better decisions.

He took in a sharp deep breath as he drifted through the vast void, swimming through it like it was a pool of very thick water that was oddly easy to traverse. His mind was a mess but nonetheless wanting to do the best to save Koneko as he floated towards her light.

"Holy shit. Well this is happening." He finally managed to say. It should be safe enough to have a quick briefing within the Shadow Dimension.

He could see Koneko slowly falling to her knees, slowly clutching her ruptured stomach with a clear expression of shock. A minute here was a second over there, he thought.

"Wh-who did that?! Is that an arrow? Fallen angels? But we're in the Gremory's territory, right? And did you hear someone scream? And why do I feel like it's been a year since we've been here? Kinda feel like… like I'm part of an ongoing story the writer sorta stops updating for a bit but I only have a vague idea about it…"

{One at a time, boy. One at a time.} Balthazar said with a lingering distasteful snarl after the word 'servant', never understanding the necessity of that word. {If you start to panic am I going to have to slap you?}

"N...no? No. Nah I'm good. I think that would probably kill me, Raz." Issei replied, a bit nervous that his companion would even consider that notion. "So wait a second… 'Servant'? "

{Chosen.} Balthazar rephrased himself. {'Servant' is the word the gods have chosen to use. I can't tell if they pick that word specifically to spite Him, if they did it just to be different, or simply because they can't stand seeing humans more than mere servants.} Balthazar grouched, grimacing. The S-word left a bitter aftertaste in his gigantic tongue. {Hardly a surprise if it was all of the above.}

"Well… I mean, we're humans. I'm not surprised if they think of us like ants."

{And they are the ants to what exists outside their known universe. It's easier to be supercilious when they only have a limited perception of reality of how dismal they are.}

"Dude." Was all Issei managed, a bit put off by Balthazar's grumbling tone and once again startled by the unsettling knowledge regarding whatever beings existed way out there. "You alright there? That was a bit… aggressive… y'know..."

{Arrogance is the most repulsive trait a living being can have, I find. Turns their taste foul as well, as if to represent their rotten core.} The Void Dragon huffed, moving on as if eating a god was like eating a spicy pickle.

Issei stared blankly for a moment.

"...Right. So what do we do now? What should I do? Do you have any idea who that was?"

{If it was a fallen angel, I should have picked up the essences of Holy or Unholy Power; essences of magic that are difficult to hide. This one has neither. You do the math. Focus on what's present here, now, boy; you have a life to save. Let's hear your plan first before I give you mine. Mayhap yours are already without issues.}

Issei gave it a quick thought, clearing his head from anything that had no correlation. He was now by Koneko's light, and several feet away from the massive sea of light with tiny black dots he could only guess as the moonlight that seeped through the thick canopy of trees. He should be able to jump between the trees' shadows freely then - an advantage he should try to capitalize.

{Don't mean to douse your flames, lad, but you're not ready to fight her yet. At least not on equal grounds.}

"Wait… what? Why'd you let me stratig— strategize then?"

{I wanted to see your confidence during a time like this.} Balthazar replied plainly. {Strange as this may sound to you, no Chosens are allowed to duel you. Not this soon, at least. You've developed, but the gap between your skills are too wide of a gap to cross with simple courage and your current skills.}

"Ah… balls." Another slap of reality. That didn't feel good. Certainly didn't feel good on his just growing ego. You really did pump me up just to drop me midair like that."

{Balls indeed.} Balthazar chuckled. He was somewhat disappointed too - but the time would soon come when the boy would be able to stand toe to toe against another Chosen. {Need I remind you the gods have heroes and legends as their Chosens? You were a mere boy once; they were heroes and individuals that have achieved great feats to be even labelled as legends. What have you done during your life?}

"Whoa- ouch."

{I'm telling you this not to ruin your budding confidence, but for you to realize who you are and were, and who you will face. I can't have you die before we even begin, boy.}

"Goddammit." Issei was upset. "Am I really that weak?"

Balthazar would have smacked him in the head if he could. {Don't misinterpret my words, idiot. You're not weak. They're just stronger. If you're a 4 then the devils are a 3 and your attacker is a likely 7.}

"We'll make 8 combined… so… I mean 7."

{It's a rough scale. It takes a bunch of 3s to make a 4 and all that, not additive like basic math you idiot.}

"Well alright… what about Tiamat?"

Balthazar sighed, for a moment regretting he had to make the number analogy. {Ten. Let's move along now.}

Issei ruefully cursed, although leveling his head. Balthazar's little explanation made him feel slightly better. He did realize charging head first against a hero, especially someone who was most likely possessed way more battle experience and was blessed by a different god maybe was not a great idea as he thought it would be.

"Really thought I was gonna… you know... prove myself and all that. I mean I've been training with Tiamat and all. Whoever they are, they hurt Koneko!"

{Keep in mind she sparred against you as your mentor and not as Tiamat the… whatever dragon she is.} Issei was once again reminded of Balthazar's badassery for shrugging off a literal Chaos Karma Dragon that he was pretty certain was a big shot in the Underworld, and once again making him wonder if the entire Earth, Hell and Heaven and other miraculous places. {There will be many chances, boy. You remain the closest person able to save the girl, however, so there's that. Why don't you focus on it instead of mulling this?}

"...Yeah... Wait, shit, you're right." Issei felt stupid then. "It'd be stupid if I just… die."

{Quite stupid, yes. Not to mention wasteful.} Balthazar commended his determination and quick acceptance instead of being a hardheaded prude. Not everyone could do that. Most would have preferred to play hero and die without meaning. {I've heard nothing from the Boss either... This is an unexpected anomaly, to say the least. Could even be a test for you for all we know. Either way, your best course of action is to get the girl to the nun as fast as you can. I'll need time to transport the both of you back to the mansion and I would need the both of you to stay still lest some limbs be missing. Be mindful of any arrows. Remember what you were taught. Play your cards right and perhaps we'll meet Death another time.}

"Got it." With a rather peculiar confidence and newfound composure despite the urgency, Issei delved into Koneko's crumpling pool of light. "Wait, what do you mean 'some limbs be missing'?"


Break


"SHIRONE!"

Uttering her name was a personal taboo. Despite the circumstances, no matter the justifications she could think of, Kuroka had to abandon her little sister and no other crimes she had committed could be as worse. She had never said her name, because not only she deemed herself unworthy, uttering her name might bring trouble to Shirone.

But years of self-imposed restrictions meant nothing when she saw her baby sister collapsing onto the ground.

She could and should have acted sooner, but Kuroka had underestimated this strange intruder. She had been watching her since she found her yesterday, keeping an eye on her since she was unsure of the huntress' motive with her bow and arrow. Had she known, that arrow would never have been fired, and Shirone would have never been shot.

But the arrow was fired. Kuroka had conjured magical barriers to block the arrow's path, but it shattered everything through as if her barriers were made of glass.

Her magical barriers and now her scream should have alerted the unknown dangerous intruder of her presence, and if those didn't, then her rampant dashing would have.

Without regard for her own safety, Kuroka darted through the trees, rushing towards her sister in the clearing, exposing herself. Another arrow whistled silently as it tore the air, but Kuroka's keen sense of hearing picked it up, and scrambled a dozen of purple-lighted magical barriers in front of her sister. If they couldn't stop the arrow's flight, then the least they could do was slow it down until Kuroka could at least get to her, or the arrow.

They failed to stop it.

It pierced through them as if they were nothing, like thin glass to a bullet, leaving a trail of forest green light in its wake.

'NO.' The word died in her throat as fear struck her eyes wide, but her panic turned into confusion as a black figure emerged from her sister's shadow. It was the strange shadowy boy- Hyoudou Issei, holding a small round shield coated in Power of Destruction as the arrow shattered upon impact.

The boy winced, before quickly shielding Shirone with his arm and left side of his body.

She didn't know whatever he was planning to do, but as long as he was protecting her little sister, that was all that mattered.

Her sharp hearing picked up the nearly soundless sound of a flying arrow. Kuroka instinctively turned around and conjured barriers upon barriers in front of the boy and her sister, trying to slow the arrow, and throwing herself into its path as they all shattered.

Shirone was the only thing in her mind. She couldn't protect her then, and if she couldn't protect her now, then what was the point?

White flames sparked and they soon enveloped her forearms - she rarely had to resort to using her Touki as it was exhausting, but she hardly cared about her well-being at the moment.

She caught the arrow as the arrowhead bit into the skin of her fingers and palms. She gnashed her teeth at the pain, unaccustomed to it, but stood her ground, then tossing it aside to prepare for the next strikes.

"Thanks! Don't know who you are, but I'll be back with help!" The boy yelled to her, and in the next second, she couldn't feel his presence anymore as he had sunk into the depths of their shadows.

He was the last person in her mind now.

Assuming the boy took her sister back to anywhere but here, then the first thing she had to do was get the attacker away from here. In the short span of time, Kuroka deliberated her choices as she dodged another arrow, no longer restricted in her movements, though not exactly free yet. Made worse as her barriers did next to nothing to stop its flight, and even her Touki-clad arms were still nicked from catching one.

Well. Whatever.

The woman did not only hurt her, she also hurt her sister.

That's an automatic warrant for a death sentence at minimum.

A burst of vapor emerged from her body as Kuroka clad herself in visible aura of her life-force, glowing faint white and purple light, readying herself to unleash complete hell.

As another burst of magical arrows approached her, she palmed their shaft, shattering some and redirecting some to another direction in quick succession as she made her way towards where it came from. Her attacker seemed proficient in shooting while moving as the direction they came shifted from time to time, but as if that could stop her now.

Leaves of the trees began to wilt, shedding at an unnatural rate as Kuroka drew life-force from them as their bark lost their color as if it was drained. Her aura shone brighter, her eyes glowed like amber and Kuroka dashed into the forest, blocking or parrying arrows as she did. She cast her Barrier once again to test if her power was enough to keep it standing from a single arrow. It did, but it was immediately shattered after another one hit it in the same exact spot.

Kuroka groaned. She didn't like fighting someone that was equal or stronger than her, but this was a special occasion. Every time somebody tried to hurt her sister they died, and that had not changed ever since. Stray devils or demons or fallen angels alike; she had put them down like a dog. She swore to do the same to this stray cat with a bow with an apparently infinite amount of arrows which she interpreted as magical arrows — otherwise she would be carrying a giant quiver and somehow managed to hide it from her.

Using her Senjutsu to track her down, Kuroka darted as fast as she could, running straight towards her as she realized her arrow could pierce through pierce trees as well and her attacker had an ungodly aim with her bow. The sooner she closed their distance, the better.

She chanted another spell, and mystical mist soon engulfed the forest. However, it didn't seem to matter as another arrow went straight at her, causing her to grit her teeth as she smashed the arrow.

Wind rushed against her as her opponent also went straight for her, dashing with great speed. Noticing this, Kuroka prepared her spells as blue orbs gathered and circled around her, then blazed through the trees as they lunged towards Atalanta. At this moment, they could see each other's silhouette slightly blurred by the mist that failed to hinder either of them.

Atalanta fired the exact amount of arrows to counter the magical orbs, and they both shattered in the air, bursting the moment they clashed. Now within close combat distance, Atalanta fired one last arrow before wielding her bow as a two-handed weapon.

Kuroka tilted her head to one side as the feather of the arrow nicked her in her left cheek, leaving a light pink mark as the Nekoshou saw her opponent emerge from the mist, brandishing her bow downward. Kuroka dodged to her side, leaping away as she noticed there had been a drastic change to the huntress.

A giant head of what she could assume as a cursed boar was stuck on her shoulder like some sort of grotesque pauldron. Violet liquid poured from its maw and tusks. And the huntress, previously wearing some kind of dress, had completely changed as rough black furs coated her leg and arms and claws covering her hands. Her hair that was green was now purple in color. Her pale green eyes glowed menacingly, and she didn't have the look of someone who would listen to reason.

Not that Kuroka felt the need to reason with her.

"You're not a devil. Stay. Away." She suddenly warned her, snarling, exposing her fangs. "This doesn't concern me."

Kuroka narrowed her eyes. "You tried to kill my sister."

"...I didn't know that. And I crippled her, not killed her." Atalanta drew her bow, forging another arrow as she prepared herself. "But I will kill you if you interfere."

"C-crippled?" Kuroka's eyes widened. Horror drained the color of her face, before anger washed it away. "Oh. You're dead."

Kuroka continued her assault. Atalanta fired her arrow once again, immediately changing her stance and using her bow as a melee weapon. Kuroka shattered the arrow with a single punch as a beam of crackling energy launched from her other hand. It zigzagged through the air, ripping apart the bark of a tree before Atalanta parried it with her bow, though still was sent backward from the blow.

Kuroka wasted no time. With a wave of her hand, she cleared the mist off from the forest and conjured another, this time deep violet in its color. Atalanta sensed the impending danger the moment the strange-colored mist materialized, seemingly emerging from the blades of grass beneath her feet. And when she started to feel something was strangling her, she knew she had to be out of reach from the poisonous smog.

Turning her back would result in her getting hit, so Atalanta charged instead. The mist split as five claws ripped through it. Kuroka deftly stepped back, just as she expected as Atalanta immediately rushed towards the clearing, the plains area where she had downed a devil.

"Tch—" clicking her tongue, Kuroka gave chase, but Atalanta was surprisingly much more agile and faster, even more than her mist. Another arrow flung past as she spun mid-running, continuing to run as her annoyance only grew and grew.

The moment she passed the treeline, Kuroka snarled as she caught an arrow from piercing her stomach. Both of her hands were bleeding now. The arrow wasn't just an arrow this time, but more like strange chaotic energy shaped like a bolt. It vanished away, and once it did, Kuroka sent a crackling burst of energy towards the huntress in dark fur.

Atalanta cleaved it down with her bow, rushing towards the Nekoshou. Flurry of blows were exchanged in that brief moment; to both of their surprise, these ranged characters were adept in close quarter combat. Punches were blocked and claws were slapped away or dodged completely. Atalanta rammed her heel-now a hoof of a boar-deep into Kuroka's stomach. The Nekoshou lurched forward, seething as she struck Atalanta's jaw with her Touki-clad hand. Atalanta had fully expected her to keel over unconscious, but it seemed she underestimated her opponent.

And as three magical orbs blasted her back, she evidently did.

"GRAH?!" Atalanta howled in pain as she was sent forward, right into the Nekoshou. Kuroka sent her flying away with a palm to her chest, knocking the wind out of her.

She tumbled down but quickly recovered back to her feet, and once again enraged, pointed her bow to the night sky, and unleashed one giant arrow of energy as it shot high into the skies, and burst into a blinding light, causing Kuroka to cover her eyes.

And then it was as if hell itself rained upon them; hundreds if not thousands of arrows covered the night sky, and plummeted down upon the entire area, including the mansion.


Break


Emerging from the shadow of the dimly lit hallway, Balthazar managed to get Issei and Koneko back inside the safety of the mansion in under a breath. With Koneko held firmly in his arms, Issei gathered his wits and wasted no time rushing straight to Asia's room which should be located at the end of the hallway.

'Asia first, Tiamat second—' he reminded himself to stay focused, before being sidetracked in the very next second, '—should I get Rias too?'

{Let the others do it for you. Heroes are known to slay mythical beings in their legends. That includes dragons.}

'Jesus, were they ever really humans? And you said she's a 7 or an 8! Tiamat's a 10, she'll be fine right?'

{Humans chosen by the gods - so they're like you, except more experienced. And what I told you was just my guess. I'm not some sort of a power scouter.}

'Oh god oh fuck. I really should be out there then.'

Would he or would he not ever match their accomplishments? That fact did bother Issei for a while, but he shrugged that thought aside with ease. Doing the best of what he could was all he should think about - even if that didn't gain him any fame or astounding achievements.

"Asia-chan?! Sorry, but I'm barging through!" Issei said as he was about to ram through the door with his shoulder, before remembering he probably should just open it as how a door should be opened and not get all dramatic.

So that he did.

Awkwardly, he lifted a leg to pull down the door handle and his butt to push it open, revealing the still lit room inside, where all of its occupants were wide awake, appearing to play some card game on a king-sized bed.

"Ara~ Ise-kun—" Akeno dropped her teaseful voice the moment her eyes caught sight of the girl in his arms, and the very visible red staining her clothes.

"Koneko?!" She gasped, getting off the bed with a hassle as she approached him, not at all mindful that she was wearing her night robe. "What happened?! How did she—"

"Someone shot an arrow at her just outside the forest! I got her here as fast as I could straight after." Issei replied as he walked towards a bed, where Yumi readily put away any pillows and blankets for him to lay Koneko down. "Asia, please—"

"Y-yes!" Asia promptly hurried to her side, casting her miracle over the wounded girl.

"Are we under attack, Senpai?" Asked Yumi, her eyes wide alert. "How is that possible? Aren't we deep inside the Gremory's territory?"

"Though it's not impossible as nowhere in Hell is ever truly safe, this place should be hard to reach still. There are guard posts stationed every few acres, and the patrols are frequent as well. Do you know how many of them there are, Issei?"

"There's only one." Issei replied without thinking, planning to hurry over to Tiamat. "I don't know who that is, as in if it's a fallen angel or not. There's also another cat-girl fending that person off. Don't know who she is either, but I gotta go see Tiamat-san quickly— so excuse me Senpai!"

"Wait— Issei!" And he already left, vanishing into the darkness of the hallway like he was a shadow himself, appearing and disappearing as he wishes. "How did he know there's only one? And another cat-girl? Another Nekomata?"

"Her sister, maybe?" Yumi guessed. "Who else would?"

"...But why now? Out of all times?"

On the bedside, with her face growing more and more laden with terror, Asia leaked out a small cry.

"Why won't it… Please work…! Please!"

When her whine turned into choked sobs, Akeno and Yumi were finally alarmed.

"What's the matter Asia?"

Asia turned towards her seniors, face full of fright and her green eyes smeared with tears. "It's… it's not working. H-her wounds, it won't close… wh… what do I do?"

As if Koneko, the most resilient among the peers, being badly injured weren't distressing enough, this had to happen.

"D-don't worry Asia, we'll find another way." Yumi consoled her, easing her distress. "There should be a first aid kit in the bathroom. I'll go get it, and you put pressure on her wounds. We'll get through this, alright?"

"Yes… I'm sorry, I—"

"Don't strain yourself, Asia-chan." Akeno muttered calmly, though inside she was just as distressed. A wound that Twilight Healing couldn't heal? Who attacked Koneko and how did they manage this kind of damage? "Rias can heal her with her power as her Master, but that doesn't mean we can be lenient. I'll go get her, and will you be fine for a while?"

Right. Now was not the time to feel completely useless. Toughening up and stiffening her upper lips, Asia nodded with determination.

"Yes. Thank you, Akeno-senpai. I'll do my best!"

.

.

.

"Wise men never wake a slumbering dragon and hope to live to tell the tale. So pray tell; do you tire of being alive, boy?"

Menacing as she was, even with her vibrant blue hair strewn about messily and her voice lingering with sleepiness and body clad in nothing but a sheet of blanket, no fear was able to reach him. At this point, seeing her without clothes wasn't at all surprising. He'd be more surprised if she wasn't naked. He might be growing apathetic to an attractive naked body and this was actually a dire issue that was stressing him since he was once an avid worshipper of an attractive naked body of a woman, but he couldn't dwell on this at this moment.

"Chill! We're being attacked—" Issei managed, "by a Chosen. Servant— well whatever. Koneko's hurt already and I don't think I'm good enough to handle them alone, so lend some help. Please?"

Her expression turned into one of mild confusion, but not completely without annoyance. "Chosen…? Here? Impossible. I should've caught their scents. Whoever they are."

"Well hell, you probably missed it or thought it was something else! Maybe they're good at hiding or something— anyway, someone's out there fighting them alone and I think that's Koneko's sister. So can we move now?!"

"How do you tell you're not strong enough when you haven't fought them yet."

"..." Issei quickly thought of a sane reason without having to mention a Void Dragon lived inside his head and had been telling him things he would otherwise not know. "Because Chosens are like legends and I'm not! God's sake, Tiamat, someone might die here!"

"Tsk. You're annoyingly assertive."

He never had been ticked off by anyone close to him, but this was where that record broke.

"What'd you mean annoyingly— hey there's lives at stake here! I know you're a dragon and all but we aren't all dragons, y'know? We can't just… I don't know, do powerful dragon things guarantee our safety?"

"Safety can never be guaranteed… But fair enough of a point." Tiamat conceded. Her stubbornness and pride was rather mellowed by being suddenly woken up in the dead of the night. "I will help. Where are they—"

When the dim moonlight suddenly turned into a baleful purple color, Tiamat realized the severity of the situation and cast a spell.

And it was as if time froze itself. The air became still and bitterly cold. Issei could almost feel it nipping the skin of his arms. He could see her still and retain all of his consciousness, and he could see the purple light mixed with strange bluish light — ice, was all he managed to gather. He could see Tiamat's expression and the forming of her scowl, but he couldn't move.

"Don't fret, boy." She told him, although that was easy for her to say since she wasn't the one immobilized. "This foe of yours is… formidable indeed… My mistake, Master, wise of you to cut my slumber short and sought my help."

"...MMMMMM?! HMMMN!"

{Hmm. So this is what it's like to be frozen. How peculiar.} Balthazar assessed, calm as ever.

Tiamat looked at him with narrowed eyes. "I don't speak gibberish."

If he could roll his eyes, he would.

Issei caught only a glimpse of Tiamat's back as she spread her wings, and crashed through the window.

Outside, she glanced up, and observed thousands of purple and black projectiles rained upon the icy dome she created, pummeling the icy barrier to no effect.

Until all of them turned towards a single precise spot, threatening to ruin her mass freezing spell. Though it was a less powerful version of her trump card, for someone to be able to damage it was a commendable feat in itself. So it was indeed a Chosen who was attacking them.

Conjuring one, two, then hundreds of dagger-like icicles herself out of thin air, Tiamat let them loose just as her shield gave way to the pressure. It burst into billions of tiny pieces, like shards that glittered under the moonlight. A beautiful scenic sight before the chaos.

Her projectiles then met with the black and purple, and the air exploded.

Every single one of her tapered pieces of ice came in contact with each one of her opponent's chaotic missiles, sending tiny shockwaves through the land, into the mansion, shattering the windowpanes and ripping the painted wallpaper.

Tiamat let out a disgruntled voice as she caught an arrow intended to pierce her right eye, glaring at the tip before it perished along with the rest of it.

Arrows meant archers.

She hated archers. Especially magical archers who hunted dragons lesser than her.

Anyone who fights from a range, in a relative distance where they would be away from the struggle.

By her own definition; cowards.

If they refuse to bring the fight to her, then the answer was to simply bring it to them. As an armor made of ice covered her otherwise naked skin, Tiamat set forth.

.

.

.

The moment he was finally able to move, {You should take cover.} was the very first sentence and suggestion he heard, one he did without question. Although, using a very fluffy luxury pillow as a cover was evidently not the smartest idea he had.

The shockwave ripped through the pathetic rectangular cloth bag with ease, helped with the fact that there was no window to dampen its strength thanks to Tiamat's dynamic departure. It hit like a mallet against his chest, ripping his favorite red shirt as it threw him off the bed. Issei thudded against a large dresser, where he cursed as he fell down, ducking to take cover from the follow-up shockwaves.

Somehow, it didn't hurt as bad. At least not physically. His growing pride was a bit wounded. All that training and some wind knocked him off his feet? Come on now.

As he ducked, using the bed as some sort of a cover, Rias immediately entered his thoughts, and worry gnawed his chest. Her room was directly in front of Tiamat's, located at the frontside of the second floor and closest to the explosions. They would be hit the worse.

He didn't wait for Balthazar's advice and leapt back into the Shadow Dimension, swimming through it briefly, and emerged at the white spot that should be somewhere in Rias's bedroom. Their bedroom.

Akeno was there - somehow. She must have rushed to tell Rias about Koneko. The two were huddled inside two layers of protective barrier, the outer the color of crimson and the inner part yellow. They didn't seem to be hurt, thankfully, both looking determined to weather it down.

Neither noticed his entrance.

"Rias!" He shouted, but his voice couldn't reach her with all the turmoil.

Issei bravely moved forward. While the air was torn apart by the shockwaves and the whole room seemed like it was being wracked by a whirlwind, Issei swiftly dodged all of the physical projectiles - all but one thick book that slapped him across his face.

"Ow."

Never in his life did he think he would be hurt physically by knowledge.

On the bright side, the loud thud followed with his yelp alerting the girls.

"Ise!" He read her lips as her eyes lit up, he must be worried about him. How sweet of her. He would be puking if he wasn't the boyfriend, however. "What're you doing?! Get over here!"

He didn't catch any of that, so he moved closer. He braced through all of the shockwaves and treated them as a surprise training session to build resilience. Each shockwave caused him to skid an inch to the right, but did little in stopping his advance towards the two befuddled devils, who couldn't but stare at each other until he arrived in one piece, and very messy hair.

Working in tandem, the two briefly stopped their conjuration to let him enter their barrier; the only shielded and untouched part of the otherwise hazardous room.

"Come again?"

"...Ise you fool…" Rias immediately sighed in relief, shaking her head but smiling. "Are you alright— well of course you are now that you're here… but… Akeno told me what happened earlier."

"Okay… good. You guys are alright… Yeeesh— that damn dragon… doing things as she pleases..."

"Tiamat? These fierce explosions…" Rias muttered, "are those hers?"

"Yeah… Yeah that's her alright." Issei paused, thinking, reassessing, blinking once. "I should be helping her, actually."

That part was not met with much support as Rias' face suddenly dropped.

"No. I won't allow you." Her voice sterned. "We don't know who we are dealing with. Tiamat is a much better fighter than all of us combined. It's best that we don't interfere, Ise."

"And Koneko's hurt too - our most resilient member, damaged by arrows?" Akeno added, her voice no less sincere than Rias'. "And Asia's Twilight Healing doesn't seem able to heal her wounds. If we—"

Issei started to feel it again. The unpleasant dread. "What? How?!"

{Tell her to pray harder or believe in a god that's more willing to help.}

'Dude I can't just tell her that.'

{Of course you can. You just don't want to.}

"The weapon... an arrow was it? She might be hit by a curse or a poison." Rias muttered. "Even then, the curse and poison must be severe enough to nullify a Sacred Gear's - God's Gift - properties… And if so, then whoever is out there is a threat perhaps higher than we have ever faced before."

'...What kind of a curse can do that kind of thing?'

{Something similar to a god's, I'm guessing. Twilight Healing is a blessing given by the Abrahamic God. What else can cancel out another god's blessing than another god's curse?}

He didn't know how things managed to get worse, but it somehow kept on getting worse.

'How can we help her then? Or can we even help her?'

{Don't look at me, I don't deal with curses. We deal damage, not undo them. Everything you experience for the first is also my first time as well. Most of it at least. You might want to ask the one who let the arrow loose.}

Seeing Issei's disgruntled thinking look, Rias reached out to him, "She's a tough child." she assured with her best reassuring smile. "She'll make it. We'll have to treat her regardless... It can be a wound with magical properties like Dispel, nullifying any sorts of magic. Perhaps we can treat her still with practical methods."

"So treat her normally? Without magic and all of that stuff?" Issei asked just to make sure.

"Yes." Hopefully, at least. "I'll stay with her as her Master for good measures afterwards."

In truth, Rias didn't know either, but she couldn't allow herself to show her uncertainty to the others. A firm belief of hope could go a long way, as was a bleak outlook of what may come.

"Okay. Then let's go." Issei urged both the devils and his partner in crime.

"Well… yes… That's what we were going to do before… well this whirlwind, I suppose."

"It's fine. We'll just skip over the entire thing. Hang tight on me, Rias."

"Wh—" A tinge of blush shaded her cheeks before Rias registered the reason for his brazenness, "—huh? W-well, alright..."

Her cheeks warmed, Rias closed her distance with him and Issei, as if it was nothing to him, casually wrapped a hand around her waist, cancelling her trying to calm herself down.

"Oh my, flirting in this very predicament? How much of a third-wheel are you making me to be, Ise-kun?"

As Rias clung to his side, holding his arm and secretly marvelling the strength of his deceptively thin body, Issei turned towards Akeno, and extended his hand.

"...Hm? Me too?"

"Uh… of course? I can't just leave you here alone."

A tinge of jealousy nipped Rias. "...H-hey now… I meant what I said in the hot spring, but I didn't expect you to make a move this quick... "

"Ufufu~ ara ara, Ise-kun, how—"

"Fuck's sake— come on!" He seethed. His patience evidently grew thin, annoyed at the thought of being the only one taking things seriously when Koneko was hurt and Tiamat was out there, battling someone who was likely targeting him. "I like your teases but this isn't the time!"

Akeno flinched as did Rias.

"...Y-yes, of course."

"Alright. Grab on then."

Surprised as they were, both thought precisely a second after that very moment that an assertive Issei was a rather unexpectedly pleasant change from their usual role as his teaser.


To be continued...


Next chapter is already in the works. Like 2k words and such. Imma be straight and say fight scenes are hard as shit because it's really a theater of the mind. I can't precisely describe how it went in my head-I'll damn well try to-but it takes a lot of inspiration. Like, almost a year of inspiration

Let me know how i did it in this one. I want it to be semi-realistic as in no fights can last 2 hours because that's just stupid and awfully boring for me since you really, really have to rely on your own imagination to make it epic. Unlike if you read a comic book or watch a movie where there's way more engaging visuals

But still. I do try yknow

Lemme know if i did good and tell me what you think about it so far or kuroka might kick the bucket early ( ͡° ل͜ ͡°)

prolly cuz of my shitty update rate