Owo wats this? an update before a year has passed?

Note: not yet betaed cuz all 3 of my betas are busy, so apology for potential mistypes and pathetic grammur mistakes


Death's Chosen


[XVI]

||Desperate Attempts||


Something felt off.

Dragons were not the most attuned towards things as abstract as gut feeling, but Tiamat felt the offness of it. Like a strange lump; like a prey that hadn't completely been digested and was still alive and kicking deep in her belly. The blind rage behind every arrow that was shot at her, the malicious air of the entire surrounding and the bleak dark skies. It was as if the sky itself was upset for whatever reason.

Mere humans shouldn't be able to affect nature this much, but then again, this person was no mere human.

Clad in black set of armor with curved horns by each of its shoulders, Tiamat stared down the girl with the silverish purple hair in her eyes. They glowed a chilling green glare, with irises clearly not of a human. There was nothing behind them other than spite. Her glare was beastly, her breathing ragged like a cornered animal.

As to why whoever this person with a bow was this mad, she had no idea.

Humans, twisted or not, had always been easier to be carried away by emotions than most.

Another arrow was fired from deep within the forest. The huntress might be a hundred meters away but Tiamat could find her as easily as blood to a shark. The magical arrow pierced through the trees, completely erasing everything within its path as it flew towards her. Tiamat swiveled to her left and the arrow whizzed by her, only to change its course and redirected itself to her.

Dealing with one arrow was easy enough. Dealing with dozens at the same time, however, was starting to annoy her. Having to constantly move and only able to return fire blindly was frustrating to say the least. She could fire down a thousand of needle-like ice to all directions, but then she might harm whoever was fighting the archer before her, potentially ending their life too. She could level the entire forest with a blast, but even she knew that would seem to be a bit excessive for a single soul.

A chaos dragon she might be, killing without reason was an action she considered to be beneath her.

At least when she was sane. Mind you, she was as prone to anger as were most of the other dragons, chaos or not.

And getting her ice-covered skin constantly nipped by arrows was starting to wear her patience, especially since the arrowheads weren't normal arrowheads. They were imbued with magic that wasn't human's, but something else entirely. But what? It was no devil's. Nor was it fallen angels and definitely not an angelic given its chaotic properties. Northern magic perhaps? But northerners specialized with Rune Magic, not— whatever this was.

Blasting another series of arrows into smithereens with her own icy projectiles, Tiamat created a pointed shield and used it to cover her descent, practically turning herself into a comet. The arrows fired at her shattered upon impact with her shield, and the air vibrated and dust and dirt billowed into the air as Tiamat created a crater at where she landed.

Dust billowed and slowly settled, only for it to disperse as Tiamat's landing was greeted by a hail of arrows before she could peer around the thick dark forest. With a stomp to the destroyed ground, a wall of ice erupted from its cracks, shrieking a shrill sound as it was plummeted by arrows. And she had to repeat the process because she wasn't allowed a single moment to start her counter attack. If only she wasn't so strong that her viable attacks wouldn't just kill anyone in an instant. Being powerful unfortunately had its own drawbacks.

Then she felt a presence creeping up on her, right behind her and under the cover of her pillars of ice.

"Boy! Is that you?!" She shouted. She wouldn't have to shout if the sound of ice shrieking and breaking and regenerating itself wasn't so noisy.

"Tiamat-san— wait, how d'you know?" Issei asked as he popped out from her shadow, taking cover behind her. "Uh… nice armor. Can you teach me that?"

"That doesn't matter— what're you doing here?!"

"I want to help! What can I do?!"

An idea instantly popped up. "There's another somewhere in here. Find her and take her away! I can't fight without inadvertently freezing them dead!"

The girl from before, Issei realized. Possibly Koneko's sister. "Alright! I'll be back soon!"

"GIT!"

And Issei faded into where he came from. Seeping into their shadow.

Tiamat waited then, occasionally peeking only to be hit by an arrow. It exploded upon hitting the ice covering her shoulder, but she was unharmed. Only angrier. She might look like she was trapped, and it annoyed her greatly that she, the Chaos Karma Dragon, would be belittled to the point she couldn't move anywhere. To be stuck like a measly, powerless soldier in the middle of a rampaging battlefield.

Granted she was stuck out of her own consideration for a single soul, but still. Being rendered motionless when she could level the entire ground was rather annoying.

.

.

.

It took him minutes in the shadowy dimension to find who he was looking for. Only seconds in the real world. Before he dived into the Shadow Realm, a move he stubbornly named "Dark Passage" just for the rule of cool, just when he appeared behind Tiamat, he had taken a quick scan around and activated his 'Vision'. Though blurry and dim, he spotted one purple light among the trees as well as another that was glowing radiant gold. Strangely enough, this one had black smudges on it.

As he knew purple aura meant Yōkai and not a potential psycho with a bow, he went for this one.

He leapt out of the pool of shadow like a fish out of water, except with a little bit more grace and without a deathwish.

He found her lying her back against a tree. He couldn't tell how long he was away when he first took care of Koneko since being in the Shadow Dimension messed his time-tracking, but Koneko's current condition was nothing compared to this one. The dark color of her dangerously low-cut kimono masked away the blood seeping out from her many injuries.

She was battered. The sight reminded him of Tiamat's grisly first encounter with Death. Red coated a good portion of her face, some over her eye, forcing it shut. There was a trail of blood over the grass leading to where she rested, and it was a miracle that she hadn't expired with the amount of wounds she had. Her two large feline ears were tilted downwards, a bit like a wilting flower.

Both of her arms had severe cuts, so were her legs. Her black kimono was torn badly on the front, revealing the hole-ridden state of her body. Actually, as Issei walked closer, finding a spot where she didn't have cuts was harder. As a fan of cat-girls, seeing one so hurt was an unpleasant experience.

"Agh… hah…" Her ragged breathing became noticeable as Issei stood next to her, pondering his options. She appeared to be trying to move her neck to see him, but finding she no longer had the strength to even lift her head, she settled with just looking at him with her one eye.

"Fuck… You look like you got hit by a car and then a dumpster truck."

"You…" She rasped, just then only noticing him. A face appeared in her mind, and for a moment, her eyes lit up with energy. "My sister… is she…?"

So his guess was right. It was Koneko's sister. Made worse now after he realized Twilight Healing might not be able to heal her.

"She's being treated. We're doing the best to make sure she's alright." Though he wasn't completely sure, a little white lie should be permitted to ease the worry of the injured. "Hell… she's doing better than you, I can tell you that much…"

Kuroka regretted laughing as a sharp pain stung her left side; it felt like a kick rather than a sting.

"Nnh… son of a bitch got me good… The hell even is she…?"

"I… don't think you should talk." Avoiding the question, Issei knelt beside her, immediately taking off his shirt to wipe away some of the blood on her arm.

It wasn't much, but it was the only thing he could think of doing, and it was better than just standing there doing nothing because he was too dumbstruck to think clearly. He was no stranger to the death of a stranger. While she was a stranger to him, this person was Koneko's sister. That complicates things, and Issei wasn't exactly the greatest in dealing with complicated things.

Kuroka let him do his thing, not really able to resist or even say a word without aching her chest. She eyed him, top to bottom, noting the strength he might possess. Weeks ago and he was fleeing from a dragon. Why? She had no clue. All she knew was that the devils had their eyes on him since they sent her little sister to tail them. The boy didn't matter at all to her, unless he had hostile intent; which he didn't.

But to be beaten this pathetically by some hotshot with a bow and arrows… Perhaps she should have hunted beings stronger than Stray Devils or Stray Demons that lurked in the vicinity of Kuoh Town. But she couldn't let her sister and her roving band of devils handle the more dangerous ones. Not when she still had doubts over the devils' capabilities to protect her baby sister.

The boy… however…

Seeing his spar against a dragon was a massive boost to her judgement about him. If not him, then the dragon. Perhaps they could protect her, once she was gone. To watch over her until little Shirone was strong enough to stand on her own two feet.

Hope was a stupid thing. Another phase she grew out of. She didn't need to be forgiven for what she had done, for leaving her at that time, but still… Kuroka realized she hoped she could see her sister grow.

"Hey, hey. Stay with me, alright. I'm no medic but we got a good one. We'll get you treated too—"

As he looked up to her, she had both of her eyes closed. Panic entered his mind.

"Psh… just leave me here… need a quick catnap… is all…" Her breathing slowed. He wished for time to slow down as well so he could think longer and harder and hopefully clearer. Tiamat taught him how to maim a person out of combat, not miraculously heal them. "Can't... be seen… like… this…"

'She's slurring. Can't be a good sign when the dying starts to slur.'

{With those injuries, I'd say she's beyond saving, boy.}

'Fuck… fuck.' He saw her going limp. An image of him delivering the news to Koneko played in his mind. And, though he didn't know how close the two were, he'd rather not see that. 'Shit fuck. Right uhh… there's got to be something to do here…'

{Calm down. Bring her to the devils and see what they can do. Remember Tiamat's out here still.}


Break


Within two blinks, Issei transported her into the bedroom where Koneko was being treated. Where everyone was. He saw Raynare and Asia tending to an unconscious Koneko on the king-sized bed, already wrapping bandages on her small frame. The earlier explosions didn't seem to hurt her. Good. He didn't want the group to handle many more injured, especially with this recent addition.

Yumi was the first to catch sight of him, being naturally alert. "Issei! Oh thank goodness you're toples— alright. Who is that you're carrying?

"Hi, yes, she's uh… I found her like this in the woods. Can you help her?"

And that alerted everyone else. The relief in Rias' eyes were evident upon seeing him, though it lasted mere seconds as she noted he was cradling someone. Raynare spared only a single glance before focusing back on the tiny devil, snapping Asia out of it by saying, "Eyes back here, Asia."

The timid nun quietly apologized, then went back to her work with the bandaging.

Meanwhile, Rias and Akeno gave way to him as he walked towards the empty side of the bed, carefully laying down yet another injured person. The white sheets beneath her were immediately tainted with the dark red color of her blood, crawling slowly outwards.

"That's… so it is really her…" Rias recognized the Nekoshou immediately, casting a worried glance towards the unconscious Koneko. "Dear Lilith… Who could have done this? A wanted criminal to be maimed like this? Who is that archer?"

"Criminal?" Issei muttered the word, absently picking up his shirt that was now damp with blood, and got distracted by its wetness. "..." After a brief inspection, he settled on buying another one. He doubted the devils had any miracle detergent that could wash off the metallic scent of blood, and besides, wearing a shirt that had someone else's blood on it was a bit… grim.

Issei gingerly placed it back over the woman's chest, covering what it could. Farewell, Red Shirt #4. You did well as a clothing and as a makeshift rag.

"So uh… a criminal, you say?"

"She's er… It's a long story, Ise. Not exactly one but one Family wants her dead. It's a tale one too complicated to tell while we're in this predicament. I promise to tell you once it's over." Rias then tore a bedsheet with her Demonic Power, using the torn piece to wipe off the sweat over Kuroka's brows. She flinched as Kuroka was nearly cold to the touch.

"For someone like her to be this… badly hurt. This is Kuroka, Issei-kun. Koneko's... sister. Her last living family." She whispered. Issei took note of Akeno's rare tense expression. A hint of fear marred her concerned voice. "That aside, who is that person? What do they have against us? Should we have requested Grayfia to come faster, Rias?"

"That'll be for the best… Tiamat's on her own, fighting someone evidently more dangerous than we can handle. Contact her once we're done with Kuroka."

That was one crucial question indeed. If this attacker was a fellow Chosen, then what did the devils have anything to do with them? And judging by their reaction upon seeing Kuroka and coming to that conclusion, that meant Kuroka was someone who had notable powers.

And she was brutally maimed.

A tinge of fear invaded his confidence, but Issei relented from being immobilized. Only in the face of fear can someone be brave, this was the time.

And then the realization hit him. A slap to the face. The reason for this unknown archer.

"Shit. This might be on me." The only answer he knew, and the likely truth. None of these would have happened if he wasn't here.

"What? What do you mean?" Rias asked him. "What're you saying, Ise?"

"Well I—"

{Now don't you start swallowing all the guilt, boy.} A low growl came from Balthazar, halting Issei mid-sentence. {They attacked you. This was their choice, their doing. To put the blame on yourself isn't at all different with the meek thinking of you blaming Death for His gift. Self-blame is a fast and insidious killer, lad. Don't make me consume you whole just so you can see none of this is your fault.}

"—I… I'll explain later." Issei told Rias, confusing her with his sudden determined look. One second she was certain he seemed to be in the middle of an emotional breakdown, but the next second he looked like he was ready to conquer the world. Just what was it with this man?

"Are… Are you alright?" Just to be sure. She had to ask. Physically he looked more than fine. If her Rook wasn't hurt, she might be triggering her curse right now. But Koneko's safety was the only thing in her mind and Issei's chest could come visit at a later time.

"I'm alright." Issei nodded firmly, then pointing towards the injured Nekoshou with his bloodied finger. Not his blood, much to her relief. "She isn't though. Tell me what to do, Rias— Oh right… Tiamat. I'll be right back." And Issei quickly dived into his shadow before neither Rias or Akeno could say anything to him to stop him, returning just as fast.

This time right behind her as he had used her shadow as a gateway. He brought a new shirt along with him; it was white in color. Not a fan of shirts with logos, this boy.

"Alright, I'm back again. So what can I do to help?"

Rias jerked slightly from surprise. What a peculiar method of transportation. She reminded herself to ask about it later to him. He might be her boyfriend, but yet she never had met anyone more mysterious than him; a boy who was infatuated with the curves of a female body who had controls over strange mists.

"M-my aren't you swift… Where did you go, Ise-kun?" Akeno asked.

"Had to tell Tiamat I got the other girl here. She was waiting for it. And got myself a shirt since it's pretty chilly..." No thanks to Tiamat. None of the girls were aware he was having another conversation with a being not of this world, which would explain his composure perfectly. "Oh, uh… actually, Asia-chan, you should switch with me real quick. You're way better at this than me. Or maybe Raynare. You both know what you're doing."

"Fine, fine. Oh geez." Raynare finally acknowledged the beaten and battered body of yet another creature. Were her hands not bloody enough? To be helping the devils she tried to kill just days before… What sick kind of humiliation was this?

"Who even is this… Are you going to start rescuing random stragglers now?" She shot a bland glare at him, though it was less of glare and more of an annoyed look. Issei responded with a light shrug as he replaced her spot. "You handle this one, Asia."

Raynare complained, but she went to the other side of the bed regardless. She looked miffed about it, however, with a look stating she wasn't paid enough for this.

"Alright, alright... you devils back away… I'll handle it. Yeesh. Don't you get basic first aid training or something?" And of course, Raynare would never miss an opportunity to show Rias that despite her being that pampered devil's Servant, there were still things she could do better than her. One of them was sewing wounds and tending the wounded without the need of magical bullcrap. She was tough. Tougher than them. The absence of luxuries and her sheer determination alone had molded her into who she was.

"I… rely more on my magic. Evidently it's ineffective at this moment but that's not what's important. What can we do to help, Raynare?"

To her surprise, neither Rias or Akeno took the bait. And it pissed her off much more than she liked to admit. How the fuck could this brat handle this so easily? It would've been better if she scoffed and turned away, refusing to admit her defeat. That'd make it easier to properly resent her.

"Eh… let me check first. Grab a cloth and clean the blood around her wounds while I'm at it. Rub it with alcohol first."

With haste, Rias floated the rubbing alcohol lying by Koneko's side into her hand while Akeno magically lifted some rags speckled with blood onto hers. They began to carefully rub the cloth over the blood, cleaning Kuroka's arm first, which was growing colder and colder, and the chilly sensation of the alcohol didn't help much in determining if she had life in her.

Whatever. She realized she was getting worked up over nothing. She instead distracted herself by inspecting the wounds on her new patient, lifting the hem of the Nekomata's damp kimono as she unsealed it slowly to the sides. A quick glance - she expected Issei to be leering, but to her surprise the boy was busy helping Asia bandaging the little runt.

Good for him. Self control at last.

Anyway… Two on the shoulders… two others on the belly, positively rupturing the liver and intestines… Several on the chest, that's two ruined lungs… and… holes, holes, holes. Bubble, bubble, bubble. Far too many red holes and bubbling blood to be a functioning Nekomata. Far too many for her medicinal knowledge.

She shook her head. "This one's hopeless. Either get her to your hospital or… well. See if Asia can do her thing for her. Same holes like Koneko over there, just a bit larger. What creature did you devils piss off this time?"

"That's what we all wanted to know." Rias said.

As Asia excused herself to rush over the other side of the bed, Yumi took over her place to work with Issei. Rias exhaled a breath she didn't realize was holding. She held another as soft lime green light emitted from the palms of her Bishop, only to fade away without mending a single injury.

"It's not working either…" Asia sounded despondent. "I'll bring the kit over here, Ms. Raynare."

"Yeah you do that kid." Raynare said dismissively.

"A-are you sure?" Rias muttered. "Is she beyond help?"

"Well I can cauterize her to stop the bleeding. Outside ones at least..." Raynare casually said as a knife made of light materialized in her hand, pulsating with holy energy. "Obviously won't work as well for internal injuries. She's what… a Yōkai? She'll have to do it herself like this kid here. Assuming she survives."

Rias frowned. "Her name's Koneko."

"Right. Yeah." The fallen angel turned devil rolled her eyes. "Koneko."

Akeno gasped lightly. Her hands over her mouth. "..Koneko-chan… Is there nothing else we can do but wait? Oh— Rias, shall I request for Grayfia and book hospital beds for them?" She received a nod from her King, and quickly moved away to the other side of the room to focus on her communication magic.

"Do what you can to stop the bleeding." Rias said to Raynare. "I can't teleport her out of here as she's not my Servant, but we'll get them to a medical ward."

"Sure, sure." Raynare shrugged. Ignorance is bliss, she assumed. Not knowing these cat-eared fellows much certainly did help her in maintaining her composure. That, or the devils just like to be overdramatic over the loss of a soul. Why they freaked out this much for a stranger she had no idea, and honestly, she didn't have it in her to care enough to ask.

A hiss and the smell of burning flesh filled the room as Raynare pressed her light-infused small blade against the cuts. One by one, searing them shut. As this was not a cursed weapon, Asia could later on heal these burns like she did with Koneko's. Those bandages were just for safety measures in case she or the curse somehow reopened her injuries.

On cue, Asia immediately healed the burnt flesh. To her credit, the nun never once blinked or jerked back from the grisly sight or the disturbing smell of burning flesh, which Raynare quietly approved of. She knew her story; the exiled nun had it rough. That much she knew of her, unlike the person who was in charge.

'Rias Gremory… Nothing but a pampered princess in the end.'

'Damn this place.' This was all too new for her. Helping an absolute stranger with nothing to be gained? What a joke.

She hated experiencing new things. She couldn't know the end result unless she found it out for herself. For now, however, Raynare decided to not bury but store these vile emotions for the battle against Riser and his lackeys. Rias and her merry band of misfits might be off the grid, but other devils were fair game.

She swore to break at least a couple of knees. A couple of fingers. Tore a couple of screams. She could promise them this much.

With the intent of unleashing hell to devils without repercussion in mind, Raynare managed to calm herself down, and wiped away the last pool of blood off the Nekomata's stomach muscles. The leftover light red smear was then cleaned by Rias with a cleaner piece of cloth.

"Right… wait, so this goes over here right Asia-chan?" On the opposite side of the bed, tending to another, tinier Nekomata, Issei tried to make small talk with the timid girl. Both to ease his nerves and hers. The disturbing thought that he was practically handling a semi-naked girl that looked like a small child hadn't yet invaded his mind, and if he knew it was to come, then he'd very much not have to deal about it.

"Mhmm." The girl nodded, loosening a wrap that was too tight on Koneko's body. There was a towel draped over her chest area, which was thrown over by Raynare before Issei came. "Oh, don't pull it too tightly, Mr. Issei… Oh! I mean Issei-san."

"You're good at this." He observed, impressed. He didn't know how he could be marvelled by the sight of well-put bandages, but there he was. "Have you done this often before?"

"Yes." Asia smiled. It was a forced one, Issei realized. "Back in Rome, it's… erm… disheartening to learn I can't always use God's— hyauu— B-Blessings… I don't have many skills on my own, so when my only gift was taken away, I felt useless. I asked a sister to teach me how to treat open wounds such as these and so I can help others in need even without it."

"Well… now you're helping us even without it. You're holding up pretty well considering there's a literal dragon out there and some psycho murderer."

"Oh, um… I-I'm trying to not think of them too much. N-not because I don't care about Tiamat-san's wellbeing! B-but—"

"That's alright. Sorry for ruining your concentration. Let's help Koneko-chan first."

Asia nodded firmly, giving Issei a quick smile. She still managed to look cute despite there being a little smear of blood underneath her chin. She must have used her hand to wipe her sweat earlier.

'Ah… what a good girl.'

{Mmm.} Balthazar's low hum signified his agreement. {I must say it's strange to see a devil so pure. Granted she's not entirely a devil, but weird nonetheless.}

'I hope she won't have to change too much. I met people and I can say we're running out of the good ones pretty quick—'

Then his danger senses tingled. A light 'ding' to the backside of his head. As if someone knocked him lightly with a knuckle - Balthazar's code for an imminent danger. Issei turned his body towards the direction, staring across a window, and noticed a dot that was becoming even bigger by the second. Until he realized it wasn't a dot, but one mean arrow blazing right to the spot between his eyes.

"Oh SHI—" 'RAZ!'

The devils could barely react to his sudden yelp as the glass pane suddenly shattered. A magical arrow whizzed by, the same arrow that had pulverized the Nekomatas' body. Within the same millisecond, Issei covered Asia behind him, and threw both his mist-coated palms forward as Demonic Power surged from his hands, covering his fingers like a glove would.

A loud piercing screech and violent crackling of the Demonic Power tore the air as Issei caught the arrow by its shaft. Balthazar immediately worked on his magic and devoured the Divine strength granted by the blessing of a certain god, just before the magical arrow could perish in his host's hands.

"Fuck that's hot— owowow—" As the arrow disappeared, Issei flapped his hands momentarily until he realized the arrow wasn't the only thing heading for him straight. Framed perfectly within the square window, he saw a figure moving like a violet blur. Behind her was another blur that didn't look as evil but still looked menacing; icy blue light. Tiamat.

Any other casual day and Issei would assume the Chosen was scampering away from the Chaos Karma Dragon and would likely get away so Tiamat wouldn't switch her attention to him, but this had stopped being a casual day when Koneko was shot.

Another arrow shot. Another arrow caught and consumed by Balthazar's mist.

{Her strength's dithered. I can identify her from this far. She's been in constant battle since you rescued the kid.} The Void Dragon notified him. {You want to jump into the fray? This is your moment. Our moment… actually… Truth be told, I have been waiting all day for this.}

All he needed to hear. He had been waiting days for this; a chance to put what he had learned into practice.

"Ise are you alr—" Rias was about to rush to him, but all trace of her worry perished the moment she saw the grin on his mouth and the eager glint of his eyes. He wanted this. Worry replaced by mild anxiety. There was pride, she realized, pride to be able to see the boy's growth. But most of it was fear. Fear of being unable to follow him to where destiny might bring him.

"Alright… let's do this." Power surged through him. A rush of adrenaline electrified him. A desire for battle grew, and the thirst of coming out on top pulsed within his veins.

Where had the innocent pervert gone to, she wondered. Was this the same boy she saved that night? Only to save her not days later? Rias watched as the dark mists swallowed his arms, and he leapt outside the window, shattering the remaining glass.

All was in awe safe for one.

"...Showoff." Raynare scoffed. "Can't he just use the front door? Hey, Asia, c'mere and get on with healing this one. The rest are too busy getting their panties wet to help."


Break


A swipe was all she managed when she cornered her, but then the damned archer fired an arrow past her shoulder just as she was sent flying to a tree. As the archer had been proven deadly accurate with all of her arrows, Tiamat immediately realized it was heading towards the mansion instead of her. Unfortunately, that small window of time was enough for the sneaky Chosen to dart away from her, and headed towards the mansion.

"Get back here you little runt! Who says I'm through with you?!"

From the forest and now the hilly field; was she really going to spend her time chasing after this damn cat because she couldn't go all out without risking evaporating the entire region? Damned devils and their powerlessness… Death's Chosen should be fine… probably. But the devils? They'd be frozen solid or stomped flat.

Again?! When the Chosen realized Tiamat wasn't trapped and was just waiting for her moment to finally strike, she immediately turned tail and attempted to run away. Tiamat was forced to chase the damn runt all through the forest, forcing her to freeze the entire woodland just to find out her mid-tier spell wasn't enough to fully contain the girl. The Chosen knew danger when she saw one, apparently, and Tiamat was damn well high above the level she was willing to tolerate.

From the sky, she fired her dagger-like icicles. A hundred should suffice - was what she thought until she saw the Chosen bounding from one another, practically dancing around the array of knives, before leaping as she avoided another dagger, and fired a shot, right into her heart.

Which was deflected by her armor.

The girl's skilled. She'd give her that much.

Too bad she fought from a distance. That was at least a 5 points deduction.

Grinning, Tiamat descended upon the girl. She conjured a flat surface like a mirror behind her, rested her foot against it, and kicked herself across the field, using the force granted by the strength of her legs. The mirror burst into a million pieces out of her own power.

The bow-wielding Chosen turned around and leapt away, but Tiamat spread her wings and with one powerful beat, she changed her flight mid-fall. The archer might be agile on land, but in the air? She was as good as dead.

But Atalanta flipped through the air, and Tiamat flew beneath her. Just as the dragon was directly underneath, she landed a hoof on the armored back, and let loose a set of three arrows all at once. The multiple point blank shot. Tiamat was sent down crashing to the grassy field, but Atalanta knew better than to expect a dead dragon.

The moment she landed, she made a dash straight to the room she last saw him.

Killing a dragon wasn't the reason she was here — at least as far as she could recall. Her memory's getting bleary. Giving in into her curse for this power was perhaps the last sane decision she could make for herself. She would have died earlier if not for this curse of madness.

But then… a harrowing wind. What followed was the sound of glass breaking and a shadowy figure rushing out of the window where she shot an arrow.

Death's Chosen.

Just a little time. A little bit longer. And all of this would be over.

.

.

.

"Huh. Why does she have cat ears—" Issei's sentence was cut short as the object moving towards him was apparently closer than he thought. Atalanta dashed upon him like a lion, eyes flaring violet filled with briddling rage, teeth gritting and arms shaking from anticipation.

Issei lifted his left forearm to meet the upper limb of her greatbow. He cringed from the impact, feeling his bone shake a little bit, but felt virtually no pain he couldn't handle. Lifting her greatbow, Atalanta flung herself upwards with the momentum, and straightened her legs.

"HrrrraaAAAGH!" A bellowing cry, and Issei was sent skidding backward as two hoofed legs kicked him right onto his chest.

"Oof— yikes." He muttered, lowering both of his arms from his chest, wincing after blocking the kick successfully. "That was scary." 'You told me she's 'weakened' right? What kind of 'weak' is this?! That one hurts! ...Sorta.'

A bit unfair to compare her strength to a Chaos Karma Dragon, Issei realized.

{She is. This is her in that state right now. What? Would you have preferred it if she's weaker than you?}

'Well not if you put it that way, but I will if that means no one's gonna get hurt.'

{Just be stronger.}

'...Gee thanks for the obvious tip.'

The girl launched herself again, this time drawing an uppercut with her bow. Issei took a measured step back and lifted his head. He could feel the wind as the greatbow swung past his chin harmlessly. He brought his right arm forward as he dodged, and whipped out a bolt of destruction out of his palm.

As swift as a wolf, Atalanta gracefully threw her body backward, backflipping into safety as the bullet of destruction missed its target, exploding some distance away, possibly causing the need for some minor landscaping work.

"Damn. That was cooler than what I did." He didn't expect it to be easy, but… maybe he got a little bit overconfident. No backing out now, no matter what. Not when Rias was watching. If there was ever a time to show the devils what he really was made off, then this was probably one of that time.

But first, perhaps a voice of reason.

"Hey you!" As another volume of Demonic Power gathered on his hand, forming a flanged mace of pure destructive power, Issei shouted at his opponent. She stood good feet away from him, arrow pointing at him, waiting for him to make a move so she could release them. She didn't seem to be expecting him to make a conversation or wanted to have one, although the fact she hadn't fired a single arrow yet made him believe she might listen to him.

A reply would be nice, obviously.

"I'm Hyoudou Issei. You're here for me right?" He shouted again, and the girl seemed to have drawn her arrow further, narrowing her eyes. Perhaps determining if this was a trick he was trying to pull. "Okay, fair enough— so why did you hurt Koneko?!"

He doubted they could have a Q&A session midfight, so might as well.

"She's the small-chested one if you can't tell!" Back in the bedroom, Koneko shifted slightly in her deep sleep.

"She had her nose far too close. Curiosity kills the cat, no?" She replied. He didn't expect her to reply, if he was to be completely honest, so Issei was pretty stoked himself. Normally everyone he had fought would just take a swing at him. For a moment, he swore her eyes were violet, not green. Maybe it was because of her mauve getup. The large head of a wild boar that was resting on her right arm was a bit disturbing though.

Still, what a risque outfit for a Chosen… There were barely any clothes on her— actually, 'Aren't those furs? And are those hoofs?' Issei briefly wondered if all of the Chosens were going to fight him in skimpy clothes… That would actually be pretty bad for him and a valid strategy for them. 'Not like I'll mind if they dress like this, but I thought you said they're gonna have armors?'

{Some do. Some don't. She's part of the 'don't', I'd assume. Preferring agility over protection.}

'Huh… Crap. I think I just figured out my own weakness. What am I gonna do if they fight naked?' That should be illegal. Right? Rather, what were the rules Death had set for this again?

{I'll make you as celibate as a monk if I have to— just focus on her at this moment.}

'...Well that's just uncalled for.'

"Are you done asking?" The huntress demanded. Unlike him, she was limited on time.

Issei snapped out of his delusional trance. "No wait— not yet. What about the other one? Why did you shoot her? Repeatedly? You nearly... killed her?" He phrased this accusation this way as he didn't want to fully believe a soul could be lost tonight. And it was his friend's sister.

"She was—" Atalanta gritted her teeth and subconsciously fired a shot. Because of her flinch, it missed him entirely, flinging off into the distant hills, perishing mid-flight. Jealousy is a disease; a saying that rang true for her. A voice spoke to her; it took her father's voice, mocking her. It took the voice of the other children, laughing at her as they played with their siblings. One of those voices was the Nekomata from earlier.

"She was… I… wanted… —n-no... I… am not… I don't need—"

"Uh oh… damn dude, what's wrong with you?" Seeing his opponent suddenly experiencing what he could only assume as a horrifying headache, Issei took a step back. 'Did I hear her right? Did I say something wrong?'

Balthazar huffed. {No idea. Think she's having a mental breakdown. I can feel malignance from her, however… and her soul seems… decaying?}

Issei activated his Vision, and he could see what Balthazar meant. The golden figure was being mauled by some kind of blob, gnawing at her side, turning the golden glow to a sickening black, spreading like a corruption.

Something was definitely wrong here.

Not quite lowering his guard yet, Issei threw another question. "Hey… uh… you alright? We can like… do this another time, y'know… just make an appointment and I'll—"

'You don't belong here.' Artemis' airy voice encroached her mind. The ghost of her last smile lit a firewood to her burning rage.

"Quiet!" She snapped. A hand clutched her left eye, and Issei could see the violet glow seeping past her fingers.

He was mildly disturbed how this scene resembled many scenes in action anime where either side would clutch their eye, groan in pain, before becoming ball to the wall insane mode. It was cool, if not over the top kind of ridiculous, but he couldn't say he liked it when he seemed to be on the receiving end of it.

"You… must die… tonight…"

"Yeah… gonna have to say 'no' to that…" He conjured a tiny shield; a buckler Balthazar had prepared during their brief discussion, strapped to his left arm.

A blue light from behind her distracted him briefly, and there, on the field grass, was an armored Tiamat laying on her side, waiting for her turn. Doing nothing but watch with obvious interest and obvious intent to not intervene. If things started to go wrong, he certainly hoped for the damn dragon to jump in and help and not let him die.

"So uh… any specific reason why you wanna put an arrow on my head?"

"You know damn well why—"

"Well actually I don't, so how about that!" Issei raised his tone, and Atalanta seemed to be taken aback from its suddenness. "I kinda get the idea why your boss would want to kill me since they probably hate my Boss, but… It's not like I've done anything to you." At this time, he became aware he really should explain certain things to Rias. About his powers and how he sort of stumbled into them. "...Why are you this mad at me, is all I wanna know before we duke it out. We never even met. I'd remember if we do."

Mostly because of her cat ears and her revealing outfit. She also had a pretty cute face - but to be fair, every non-human girl he met had either cute or pretty or beautiful or a mix of the three kinds of face. Even Riser's entourage! What the hell?! Why can't all humans be as pretty? What is with this unjust difference in appearance?! The world would be a better place if all girls had nice bodies. Probably.

"You… argh…" She winced again, this time more violently, hissing in pain. Another face appeared in her mind. His face. She saw him with the crimson-haired devil, a smile on their face. He was surrounded by his devil friends, and she was on the other side, alone. "To end… and prevent all of this suffering."

"Suffering?" Issei cocked an eyebrow. "Whaddya mean by that?"

"I can save… many..."

Her sanity continued to slip. Her time was nearly over. Whatever it was that would take over her body, was beyond her command. If it could kill him… she prayed it wouldn't kill the others, or be killed by the dragon.

'Whoa… someone's missing their meds. Sure hope not all Chosens are like this… I'd probably hire a psychiatrist next time.'

{Heh. You're not far off. Ramblings; the innate sign of an insane mind.} The Void Dragon snorted. {A curse, boy, a curse reigns over her. Her soul's all blackened. The time for negotiation is over - she's nothing more than a rabid animal now. Wild, dangerous, but reckless. Let's do a feint.}

'Roger dodger…' Issei mentally nodded, lowering his guard. Buckler just below his chet, mace ready on his right. His confidence was strong but he needed proof. A victory would determine how prepared he was to face everything thrown at him.

He loosened his stance, and just as Balthazar said, Mistaking his action as hesitation, Atalanta charged right at him. She growled and roared as she burst towards him, throwing leaves into the air - a violet blur promising pain. She fired another arrow, one that Issei parried using his buckler coated in Rias' Power of Destruction as well as Balthazar's tendril-like mists.

Issei hunched slightly to lower his center of gravity, granting him more control over his movement as Atalanta took another leap. Her right claw swooped down diagonally, but Issei slapped it away using his buckler. His mace came soon after, crashing onto Atalanta's side, chipping a part of her skin and drawing an unhealthy amount of blood as the huntress was sent away from the force of the strike. Her greatbow flew into the air as she tumbled over the ground, hissing in pain, but regained control of herself by using her claws to dig into the earth.

Being damaged seemed to only anger her more as she lunged at her bow, firing barrages of magical arrows in quick succession. His tiny buckler wouldn't stand a chance against this kind of assault, so Issei immediately sunk into the pool of his own shadow after letting out a surprised yelp.

As she frantically searched for him, fangs bared, he attempted a sneak attack. As the tip of his hair peeked out from the shadow underneath her legs, Atalanta conjured an arrow and stabbed it down. Issei immediately jerked back into the shadow, likely to experience a very bad case of splitting headache if he didn't.

"Damn that was close…" He sighed. Unlike his opponent, he could take quick rest here and then without letting his enemy do the same; an advantage he would be willing to abuse as much as possible. Now and in the future. "...Alright let's try again…"

He reappeared using Tiamat's silhouette that was cast in front of her. The same dragon who was laying on the grass and kicked his butt as she didn't approve of running away in the middle of a fight. No matter the cause.

"Hey whose fuckin' side are you on?!" Issei declared angrily as he stumbled a bit, regaining his footings. He didn't get to hear Tiamat's reply as the huntress was already on him again, hungry for his death.

As the Chosens continued their bout of death, Tiamat keenly observed at the sideline. His form had been redefined; once clumsy and clueless, now he possessed one fit of a fighter. His movement was swift, his legs moved with precision, certainly bolstered by the fact he had no armor on him. Although he could be better, the result of his days of hard training with her had come to fruition.

His weapon of choice was… questionable. She didn't teach him how to handle a mace, she was certain, but if the boy practiced outside of their training hours, then by all means. The stronger he became, the stronger his offspring. Naturally, of course.

"GAAGH—!"

A jab to her stomach by the tip of the flanged mace caused her to reel forward in pain, but Issei didn't end it there. He withdrew his mace, and swung with full force, grunting lightly as he did. His grunt was drowned by Atalanta's cry as he bashed her back, sending her into the earth, causing tiny ripples of shockwaves that disturbed the grass around her.

Tiamat smiled proudly. As proud as a dragon could be. Her Master might have gained an unfair advantage since he was much fresher, not at all injured, and evidently prepared, compared to the Huntress who had to face two opponents earlier, suffering some damage.

She never had an apprentice, more so an apprentice that was her Master, but to see someone grew underneath her guidance was… rewarding.

No doubt training their children would grant her the same satisfaction.

Wounded and drained, Atalanta would have fled if she had full control of her body. But she didn't, and therefore swiped at his leg, clawing and tripping him.

"OW—" Issei felt a sting of pain as his world swirled before him. An opportunity arose. Midair, still falling, he reached out an arm, aiming for her unprotected back, and fired a blast of Demonic Energy, expelling the very last bit of it, sacrificing his mace and buckler to unleash its fullest power.

The backblast lifted him into the air as an anguished scream tore it apart. The Power of Destruction made full contact with its target, he assumed. If she wasn't a Chosen, then Issei would have held back in fear of killing her. But she wasn't, and he knew it had to be done.

Remembering what Tiamat taught him, he broke his fall and rolled into a crouching position on his feet, standing up instantly to face another attack.

He wasn't really surprised upon seeing the Chosen gradually got up to her feet, staggering several times to stand up. Her mouth was open to draw in pained, ragged breaths, and she nearly looked like she had suffered as many wounds as Kuroka back there, only less severe and hopefully not as fatal. From the front, she didn't look that injured as Issei had only managed to strike her side and her stomach several times. She was still oozing blood, just not as badly as her backside. Her black fur armor had been completely mangled, exposing the severe bleeding and the agonizing of Issei's point blank magic attack.

The boar on her right arm was still there, and still very unsettling, much more so because it seemed like it was crying black tears from its evil yellow eyes.

"You're still standing? You kidding me? That would've been a damn good finishing move too..." Issei muttered quietly to nobody in particular. Just to buy a little bit of time for his body to recuperate some energy, as well as making a mental note to try out that move again and come up with a cool name. "Something with you ain't right, and I still need some questions asked— I mean, questions answered. Are you cool now? Are we good? Can we talk this out peacefully or..."

All he got in return for his polite question was a snarl similar to a cornered animal.

'Why does everyone I fought and fought with never able to be reasoned with?' From murderous fallen angels, a psycho ex-fake-girlfriend, and now this.

{Just your luck, seems like. Grapple her and hold her still, I'll tear her curse off... Much as you are, I'm curious as well.} Balthazar chimed in. Ever the supportive buddy. {I'm not sensing any god's presence during our fight. Whether or not she ditched her god or the other way around, I suppose we'll see once you have a chat.}

'Wait, wait… Back up a bit... Her curse? Are you gonna eat her curse?'

{Aye. What about it.}

'Y-you sure about this?!' Outside his mind, Issei shifted slightly to mirror Atalanta's prowling movements. She was going to attack him anytime soon. 'Are you gonna be alright? That's a god-level curse we're talking about here, is it?'

All he got from showing his worry was an amused snort, almost derisive. {Bah. There are only two Gods I believe in and one of Them is your sponsor. I have devoured a creature more poisonous than an ocean of acid. Her curse meant nothing to me.}

'Can't you have taken Koneko's curse then?'

{That one's different. It's not connected to her soul; a physical thing. Caused by that bow of hers.} Balthazar explained briefly, clarifying and preventing any future accusation that he didn't do anything because he didn't say anything and thus sending Issei into a path of edgy, unadulterated anger. {If I could, then of course I would've said so. I've put faith in you, is it too much to ask for you to do the same?}

A low blow. 'Well shit, now I can't say 'no', can I?'

Of course he believed the Void Dragon. When many were doubting him including himself, Balthazar was the pillar preventing him from a total collapse. Of course Issei would return the favor.

No weapons, no shields, just his bare hands. Tiamat didn't have claws, but her punches could clip a bone in two. The girl's badly hurt. He should be fine.

Didn't mean he became hasty.

No, Issei waited. Both his hands were up, ready, his left leg in front. He waited until Atalanta dashed towards him, yelling "DIE!" for the full dramatic effect. She always led with her right claw, and she didn't change it either this time. A step to his right and he let her talons fly down before his eyes, then gripped her wrist and yanked her as hard as he could, throwing his own body into it. Lifted by his strength and her own momentum, Atalanta was slammed into the grass as she yelped in her ever growing agony. Her back was burning, and her mind was searing, but that didn't stop her curse.

As Issei positioned himself on top of her, briefly reminiscing about his brawl against Raynare, Atalanta forced her body forward. Caught off guard because of his silly reminiscence, Issei was nearly thrown backwards, but held on as she dug her claws deep into his shoulders, scratching downward and ripping his shirt, and sank her fangs into his shoulder. The thin layer of mist surrounding his body scattered briefly, unable to fully protect him.

"GAH— sonuva—" The pain was unlike he had ever felt before, but Issei pressed on, and instead of trying to pry her head away, he threw a hand around her back, another behind her head, and held her close. "ARGH— motherfucker! Anytime now, Raz! She's gonna bite my fuckin' shoulder off!"

{Get used to it. Quit whining. It's your fault you let yourself get distracted. Her bite isn't that deep anyway.} Was Balthazar's dismissive response. For a moment Issei nearly felt numb because of how cold the reply was.

The tattoo-like markings on his hands appeared, and the mists traveled from his body onto hers, as if it was being drawn in by the Huntress.

{I've dealt with poison deadlier than this. This much is nothing.}

Either way, the only thing he could do was hold on, and hold on he did, even as Atalanta trashed about, desperately trying to tear the skin of his back and sink her teeth deeper into his thick hide, Issei held onto her like he would if he was a needy lover. If Rias ever became a werewolf and mistaken him for meat, then he would have one prior training.


As the mists enveloped both his host's and the huntress' body, Balthazar retained the link with Issei as he crossed over the gap between the two souls. It wasn't his first time in dealing with curses; the Elder Gods could curse better than a bitter old hag, but this was his first time having to cleanse a soul that wasn't his.

But there must be a first to everything, and for the Void Dragon, experiencing the first of anything was a luxury he would never let pass.

A thick, murky black haze covered his entire body, leaving only his powerful neck and scaly face to view. A dragon unlike the dragons seen of this universe. Ethereal violet flames swirled within his neck, puffs of same colored smoke droning outside his nostrils. The giant phase through a sea of void; Atalanta's sea of consciousness. He made a note that so far, souls were pretty empty. At least Issei's soul had a sofa to sit on.

He didn't have to search for long in the dark as just like Issei's presence, Atalanta's was the only thing there. Floating in the nothing, unconscious, and on the verge of being consumed. A wild boar. Same head like the one spotted on her arm, presently gnawing on the side of her stomach, turning her flesh into refracted stone.

A grotesque creature… but Balthazar grinned. A smoldering violet mist seeped from his deathly rows of fangs sharp enough to consume a god. He had eaten worse dinners.

The pig squealed.


'...Raz, you there?'

{Ah… a cursed boar. It tastes oddly familiar with the bacon your mother cooked. Bit more burnt and—} the dragon smacked his lips, judging the taste, {a bit spicy. ...Could do with some salt though. And a zest of lemon.}

He must be joking. Issei put his faith onto him and this was how he treated him? Describing a curse like it was a food while his shoulder and back was being ripped apart?

A loud screech came from the boar head as it suddenly became a living thing, twisting and churning as the mists swirled around it, crushing it. It squawked as if it was being pronged by a heated spear. An ungodly shriek pierced the cold night until it fell off her like a piece of equipment, rolling off down the tiny hill and disappearing into dust, leaving only a trail of misty grey smoke that vanished not soon after.

Then he watched as the two lavender cat ears gradually shifted in color. Becoming brighter and pale, somewhat yellow under the moonlight. Her hair soon followed. A mix of three colors; soft creamy tips, mocha ice cream, and green on her bangs.

With his own eyes he saw a transformation of clothes occur before him. The fuzzy fur no longer rubbed his chin, and what replaced it was a forest green dress, severely torn in the back and the side. Her scratching slowly became slower and slower, and her bite was no longer as hard or frantic. Slowly and surely, though it felt like ages to him, the girl had stopped resisting. Her hands went limp and fell off his back, and she lied against him without moving.

'Is it over..?'

{It's done. I'm done. That boar's definitely done.}

"Well fuck me…" Issei breathed a sigh. He could feel her breathing. She wasn't dead. Good. 'Looks like you did it.'

{Looks like? Pft. I did it.} Balthazar said triumphantly, ending with a tiny burp. {We did it. Well done. Er... us, I suppose.}

"Heh, yeah." Issei stretched out both his arms behind him, feeling the soft grass, and leaned back. Atalanta's body shifted lightly, still laying on his chest. "Well done, us."

"Congratulations, Master." Another voice. Tiamat's. The dragon had decided he put on a good show and spared him the lecture for taking over her fight. "I believe you've defeated your first Chosen."

Issei nodded, smiling to himself. Perhaps it was due to the thrill of the fight, but he felt that his excitement hadn't fully come yet. The fact that he just embraced a woman in front of his own worried sick girlfriend's eyes didn't even register yet.

He was glad this was over.

Then Tiamat ripped the backside of his shirt.

"Oh come on, again?! EEeWooooOoey… that tickled." Issei squirmed when he felt something soft and wet on his back. An icy sensation… wet… somewhat warm and— Tiamat was quite literally licking his wounds. He could feel her cool hands grabbing him by his biceps. "What the— the hell are you doing?"

"Stay still, Master. I'm healing you. I must say your resilience has impressed me."

"..." He'd prefer if he was the one moving his tongue, however… but this might not be so bad. "Alright… you have my permission to continue."

Tiamat snorted. "I don't need anyone's permission."

Whatever you damn smug dragon. Now, if he could convince Rias to join in… Speaking of which—

"ISSEI!" Awfully terrified having to witness a battle she couldn't join or be of help, Rias, covered in her pink negligee, stormed outside the window with her bat wings lifting her off the ground.

Perhaps seeing her lover cradling yet another unconscious girl in his lap AND being tended to by a now naked Chaos Karma Dragon wasn't the best sight a girlfriend could have, but Issei was willing to deal with all of this later. Then question the girl… ask her if she could revert both Kuroka and Koneko's curse… and… basically ask her the many why's that had been filling his head the entire fight.

For now, at last, a moment of relief.


To be continued...


Next chapter will be the closure for this Mountage Arc as well as prologue for Riser's Rating Game. Kuroka and Nyatalanta's fate will be decided then, and Death will make a cameo. This chapter's a bit wordy, just below 10k words, but I think that's because there's a fight here. Totally not because i'm trying to cram 2 chapters into 1

I debated on splitting the chapter to half, but I really want to go into Riser's RG, so I held back. Think of it as my apology for taking too long of a time to write a new chapter

aka a bribe ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

Pssst, reviews make you cooler. leave one for ya boy why don't you

Next chapter is already in writing. 4.5k words already. Expect another update within the next 2 weeks, provided my creativity juice doesn't run dry like it did last time