Disclaimer: I do not own High School DxD or any of its characters. This story is intended for entertainment purposes only. I am not making any profit from this story.
Chapter 1 – Awakening
"This day isn't starting off on the right foot…"
That's what the young man remarked once he spotted an all too familiar scene occurring on the opposite sidewalk. Three high schoolers with wild looks, probably third year students judging by their haphazardly worn uniforms, were accosting a junior high schooler. Wide grins were engraved on their faces at the sight of the terrified boy, who looked ready to pass out.
"Seriously, these damn hoodlums… Is there a rule or something that says all of Destroy High's students must be bullies and troublemakers?"
The young man said with a sigh. At that moment, one of the delinquents pushed the younger boy, sending him tumbling down. The largest one, who seemed to be the leader, picked up the young boy's bicycle, which had fallen to the side, and started inspecting it.
"That's a pretty good ride, especially for a shrimp like you." He said, eliciting a round of laughter from his two companions. "But I think it suits me better, don't ya agree, guys?"
"That's right, boss!"
"With this, gals'll be all over you! It's the hottest fad right now!"
The trio of delinquents laughed once again. The spectating young man couldn't help but groan at how lame they sounded. The boy extended his arms towards his bike and spoke with a weak voice, tears streaking down his eyes.
"…Give…give it back. This was…a gift from my parents…"
"Ah?" The leader of the trio raised his fist in a threatening manner. "You say something, twerp? Want to feel this Ryo-sama's fist of fury!?"
The boy let out a small whimper, his trembling arms raised to defend himself.
"Hey, that's enough."
The three high school students turned around, coming face-to-face with the young man, who was staring at them with a harsh look on his face. After checking him out, noting that he was of average height and build, the one who had introduced himself at Ryo zeroed in at his school uniform, letting out a snort.
"A Kuoh Academy student, eh? The Hell's a loser from that princess-breeding school doing interfering with my fun? Who do you think you are, eh!?"
"Ryuugamine Takeshi." The young man introduced himself. "I would say nice to meet you, but that would be a lie. Now, would you mind giving that boy's bike back to him?"
The three delinquents looked at Takeshi with blank looks before they burst out laughing.
"What an idiot!"
"It's three against one! You think you can take us on!?"
"Listen up here, brat." Ryo placed a hand on Takeshi's shoulder. "Here's a bit of friendly advice for ya. Don't stick your nose in private affairs. Walk away now, and you won't get hurt."
Ryo's brown eyes met Takeshi's amber ones, staring him down in an attempt to intimidate him. However—
Takeshi slapped away Ryo's hand and glared back at him.
"I won't repeat myself. Leave the boy alone. Now."
Everyone present felt a chill go down their spines. Despite their bulkier physique and numerical advantage, the three delinquents inadvertently took a step back. Cold sweat was running down their backs as their instincts warned them of some unfathomable danger. They felt as if they were staring into the eyes of a savage beast ready to pounce on them.
"…Tch." Ryo clicked his tongue in irritation as he turned away. "You ain't worth it. Let's go, you bastards! This is no longer fun!"
"Ah, boss! Wait, boss Ryo!"
The three delinquents took their leave without so much as a backward glance.
Takeshi let out a relived sigh as the tension left his body. If it came down to a fight, he wasn't confident at all that he could hold his own against three people larger than him. It was a stroke of good luck his 'special skill' had proven useful for once. He turned to the boy with a smile on his face.
"It's OK now. You can—"
Takeshi's words died in his throat at the sight of the boy pedaling away as if his life depended on it, an even more terrified expression than before on his face.
"Figures…" Takeshi let out a dispirited sigh as he ran his hand through his short auburn hair. "I hope at least he won't start any rumors about the big bad Ryuugamine Takeshi bullying three poor delinquents or something. No good deed goes unpunished after all… In any case, I hope I didn't waste too much time here."
Checking his cellphone, Takeshi was glad to see that this altercation had only cost him a few minutes. Just to be on the safe side, he quickened his pace to almost a jog. At the same time, he took the opportunity to review some of his notes for today's upcoming math test.
After a few minutes, Takeshi arrived at the gates of Kuoh Academy, the most prestigious school in not only Kuoh Town, but also the surrounding area. Just like him, a large number of students were pouring in, either alone or in small groups, chatting among themselves.
However, whether intentionally or subconsciously, everyone was keeping their distance from Takeshi, with large groups of students parting like the Red Sea whenever he approached them.
"It's been almost a year, yet this keeps on repeating…"
A dejected expression appeared on Takeshi's face. Ever since he began middle school, everyone had started avoiding him like the plague for reasons he couldn't understand. That trend had also continued in high school so far. It wasn't like he was hideously deformed, was part of an infamous group or had a terrible personality. During elementary school and before, he had no problem socializing with others and making friends.
Somehow, something in him was repelling people, but he couldn't for the life of him figure out what. Every time he tried to approach someone for an explanation, they would make excuses in a panicked manner and take their leave as fast as they could. He had got used to such reactions and spending most of his free time alone after almost five years, but the way he was treated was so frustrating and unfair he felt like throwing a temper tantrum at times. Or setting something on fire.
"Alright, that's enough moping around."
Slapping his cheeks, Takeshi pushed away his negative thoughts. At that moment, familiar voices were heard in the distance.
"I keep telling you, the actress at 'Big-breasted Naked Sumo 2' had bouncier breasts compared to the one in the sequel!" A teenage boy with spiky brown hair and eyes shouted. "That's a fact!"
"Nonsense!" A teenage boy with a shaved head and grey eyes countered. "If you're saying that, then you need to get your eyes checked, Issei! There's no way Rina-chan is less bouncy that Amane-chan! The mere thought is sacrilege!"
"You're the one who's spouting crap here, Matsuda! Are your eyes only for decoration!? You tell him as well, Motohama!"
"Unfortunately, I can't decide with a mere twelve viewings." A bespectacled young man with light brown hair said with a smirk. "I suggest a 'Big-breasted Naked Sumo' DVD marathon this weekend to settle the matter for good. All in favor say 'Aye'."
Takeshi groaned as he turned around, coming face-to-face with Hyoudou Issei, Matsuda Eiji and Motohama Naoto, three rather infamous students attending Kuoh Academy alongside him. Upon catching sight of him, Issei raised his hand in greeting.
"Oh, if it isn't Ryuugamine. Good morning."
"Morning, Hyoudou, Matsuda, Motohama." Takeshi greeted the three students back. "You seem…very energetic this fine morning."
"Why wouldn't we be?" Matsuda said with a sly grin. "Commuting to this school while surrounded by beauties of all shapes and sizes will never stop being a refreshing experience."
"Not to mention, the wind's blessing was especially generous today." Motohama straightened his glasses with a perverted grin. "Many skirts were sent flying and many sacred territories could be glimpsed."
"Just because you're trying to sound poetic, that doesn't change the fact you peeked under girls' skirts." Takeshi pointed out. "Seriously, the attitude and reputation of you three is beyond salvation at this point…"
Over the past year, the trio of Hyoudou Issei, Matsuda Eiji and Motohama Naoto had quickly become notorious across Kuoh Academy for their perverted ways, leading to students labelling them as the Perverted Trio. They would always be heard talking about porno DVDs, discussing the many eroge they had played or comparing the three sizes of the girls in campus, with Motohama even claiming he had the ability to check them at a moment's notice, much to the horror of the female student body.
All that, coupled with rumors about them peeping inside the locker room of the girls' Kendo club, had led them to become social outcasts and pariahs in the eyes of the entire student body. The three of them however didn't seem to care about that and kept going as they were. Takeshi found that mental fortitude admirable on some level, but while he also enjoyed a porn DVD or an eroge every now and then as a healthy male, he thought they took their antics way too far at times.
"It can't be helped, Ryuugamine." Issei said while crossing his arms behind his head. "After all, we have to look when there are breasts, butts and hips in front of us. That's the essence of a man. Also, if you're talking about reputations, yours is as bad as ours, comrade."
"It's very frustrating that I can't deny that…"
A sour look appeared on Takeshi's face. There was truth to Issei's words much to his annoyance. Once he started school, his 'special skill' as he called it had led to all sorts of rumors flying around about him. Most of the students (and even some of the teachers) had labelled him a frightening delinquent, others had claimed he was a member of the yakuza, and a few odd ones had insisted he was demon-possessed. His stellar academic record and impeccable behavior had caused most of the rumors to die down after a couple of months, but there were several students on campus who still believed them.
Because of that, Issei and his two buddies were usually the only ones who dared to speak to Takeshi. As students who didn't believe the rumors about him, they felt a sense of kinship with a fellow unpopular male. While he was grateful for that, he never tried befriending them since their overly perverted behavior left much to be desired. Moreover, judging from the fact that they always kept some distance from him and the weariness in their eyes, he could tell they weren't comfortable with the idea of becoming friends with him either.
"Still, I can't believe it's almost the end of January." Matsuda commented. "Time is going by so fast. In just a couple of months, we'll be second year students."
"Well, I can't believe we still don't have girlfriends." Motohama grumbled. "Being surrounded by girls while studying is all well and good, but what's the point when we haven't got any action so far?"
"I hear you, buddy…" Issei said with a sigh. "Kuoh Academy is filled to the brim with girls, so I thought it would be easy for me to get two or three girlfriends during the start of the first year. But reality is cruel…"
"Seriously?" Takeshi raised an eyebrow. "Is that why you three enrolled in Kuoh Academy? Just because the number of girls is higher than the number of boys?"
"It was the perfect plan." Issei responded. "With the school having turned co-ed only a couple of years ago and there being so few boys here, we should be drowning in desperate high school girls fighting over us."
"In hindsight, I should have known it would have been something like that." Takeshi said. "I'm kind of amazed that you three achieved the high marks necessary to enroll in this school only for that. Kuoh Academy's entrance exams were really challenging."
"It wasn't easy, but nothing can stop a motivated man." Issei said with a resolute expression. "But why do you sound so surprised about this, Ryuugamine? Isn't that the reason why you enrolled here as well?"
"Not even close." Takeshi said. "Settle for nothing less than number one. That's my motto. Kuoh Academy is the most prestigious school in the region and its escalator system is very convenient. You're almost guaranteed to find a top-tier job if you graduate from here with good marks."
"Uwa, an answer fitting for good-looking scum." Issei frowned. "As for me, something as trivial as grades doesn't matter! I, Hyoudou Issei, have a dream, and I won't stop pursuing it until it comes true! That is—building the biggest and greatest harem ever here in Kuoh!"
Matsuda and Motohama started clapping following Issei's passionate declaration. As for Takeshi, he felt his face spasming, unsure if he was supposed to laugh or groan here.
"…Well…way to aim big, I suppose, but there are a lot of problems with that plan of yours, Hyoudou." Takeshi said after a few seconds. "For starters, I'm fairly sure polygamy is not allowed in our country. Now if you were in the Middle East or Africa, you might have had a shot at a harem. Second, if you want several girls to be chasing after you, you'd probably have to be at least this handsome."
Takeshi pointed at the entrance, where a young man with short blond hair, blue eyes and a refreshing smile on his face could be seen walking into campus. Upon catching sight of him, several girls started talking in an excited manner, their faces reddening and their lips curling into wide smiles.
"Our handsome prince, Kiba-kun, has arrived!"
"He looks like he's come straight out of a painting even this morning. How dreamy…"
"Ah, Kiba-kun… What I wouldn't give to be held by him for just five minutes…"
"Kiba-kun and I under the moonlight…or Kiba-kun and me in the library after classes… Haaa…haaa…"
In contrast to the excited girls, the three boys next to Takeshi—
[Just explode already, damn handsome bastard…]
Matching expressions of hatred, disgust and jealousy appeared on the Perverted Trio's faces as they cursed the blond youth together. Takeshi couldn't help but snicker at that sight. The trio's loathing of popular males, especially of the renowned school prince Kiba Yuuto, was known far and wide. Of course, this did nothing to win them points with the girls, who almost worshipped Yuuto.
"There you have it." Takeshi said. "Hate him as much as you want, but it's an undeniable fact that guys like Kiba-kun would have it easy if they wanted to make a harem, assuming of course the law allowed it."
"T-That's true…" Issei grumbled. "Even so…I won't give up! If I can't make a harem, I'll at least have heaps of girls fighting over me in a massive battle royal to decide who gets the privilege of dating me by the time we graduate!"
"That sounds like a sure-fire way to end up getting stabbed and left bleeding out in some dark, deserted alley." Takeshi remarked with a flat tone. "Look, Hyoudou, and you two as well. You're decent-looking fellows and don't seem like a bad sort, peeping rumors aside. If you lose that excessively perverted attitude, I'm sure you could find a nice girl and enjoy your youth with her."
"Lose our perverted guts?" Issei had an incredulous expression on his face. "Nonsense! We're healthy high school boys who operate purely on sexual desires! Not doing anything perverted is an insult to the parents that gave birth to us!"
"If you are a man, you must be perverted!"
Matsuda and Motohama backed up Issei, nodding as they did so. Takeshi let out an exasperated sigh as he shook his head.
"…I give up. Do whatever you want. Later, Perverted Trio."
Bidding farewell to the three boys, Takeshi made his way to class 1-C, the students once again shuffling out of his way. Once he sat down in the front seat of the middle row and opened his textbook, the discussions from the nearby students flowed into his ears.
"Have you heard? Apparently, they still haven't caught the people responsible for the recent string of murders in the wider Kuoh area."
"Seriously? What the Hell is the police doing? Because of that, my parents won't let me leave the house after it gets dark."
"Same here. But it's better than ending up like one of those victims. Their bodies…they looked like some wild animal or monster got them…"
Takeshi frowned upon hearing that. Over the past couple of weeks, several bizarre homicides had occurred in various locations all over the part of western Saitama Prefecture that included Kuoh Town, with the most recent ones taking place within the town's boundaries.
Apart from the fact that the number of victims had already reached the double digits, the other disturbing issue was that the bodies of the deceased appeared to have been hacked to pieces with some unknown object or, in some cases, looked like they had been eaten. Evidence about the perpetrators was scarce and the police were stumped on how to proceed. Takeshi knew all this first-hand since his mother was a journalist, and one of her coworkers was covering this case.
"It's almost like the Amazons from the remake have come to life…"
Takeshi muttered with a low voice. At that moment, a small commotion was heard coming from outside. As if obeying some signal, almost all students turned their gazes to the hallway.
One student murmured as if he was in a daze. Walking past the classroom were two girls so beautiful that one could easily mistake them for idols or supermodels. There was no student in Kuoh Academy who was unaware of their existence, and Takeshi was no exception.
The first one was a girl with a voluptuous figure, long black hair tied in a ponytail and violet eyes, a bewitching smile on her face. Her name was Himejima Akeno, a second-year student who was said to perfectly embody the principles of a Yamato Nadeshiko and the second most popular girl in school. Countless boys had attempted to ask her out, but were all mercilessly shot down without exception, leading to some labelling her as the Untouchable Queen.
Next to her was a person of equal, or perhaps even greater renown and beauty. She had long, flowing crimson hair, blue eyes and pure white skin, traits that marked her as a foreigner, along with a well-shaped and buxom figure that made most boys drool, especially the members of the Perverted Trio. According to the rumors, she was the daughter of some businessman from Northern Europe who had moved to Japan due to her father's work.
That girl was Rias Gremory, also a second-year student and the most popular girl in the school, who was universally accepted by everyone as the school idol. Unlike Himejima Akeno, no-one had tried asking her out during her almost two years as a high school student. Her noble atmosphere made most guys think 'ah, that girl is beyond me'. Furthermore, there were rumors that her family was connected to this school, which could invite a lot of trouble for anyone who approached her carelessly or with bad intentions.
Like usual, everyone stopped what they were doing and locked their gazes at the two girls, entranced by the beauty of the Two Great Ladies as they were known throughout the school. Takeshi also couldn't help but be fascinated by them even though he was well aware they were completely out of his league. They were the kind of girls one wouldn't mind selling their soul to the Devil for, so long as they could spend a night with them.
Suddenly, Rias turned her gaze to the classroom for a few seconds, narrowing her eyes for a bit before taking her leave. Once she and Akeno were gone, excited murmurs could be heard all around.
"Oi, did you see that!? Rias Gremory was actually checking out our classroom!"
"Think she's interested in someone here?"
"Guys, she was definitely checking me out. I could feel it."
"Dream on. She was totally undressing me with her eyes."
"Oh, really? If you're so confident, why don't you go ask her out?"
"Why don't you?"
"Hah! If any of you think you have a chance with her, you're delusional."
"Like you're any better."
"Geez, you boys sure are dumb…"
Such discussions and small arguments could be heard all around the classroom. As for Takeshi, he was feeling restless inside. For a second there, he was certain that Rias Gremory was actually looking at him.
"As if that could happen…"
Takeshi dismissed that thought as fast as it came with a snort. There was no way the most popular girl in school would have any sort of interest in him. At most, she was probably curious about the weird first-year student who was a people repeller. Any further thoughts about the crimson-haired girl were banished from Takeshi's mind as the teacher entered class, with all students rising in greeting.
A little while back…
"Ara, ara, you seemed pretty distracted back there, President. Saw something you liked~?"
Akeno spoke in a teasing manner as she and Rias walked through the corridors. The crimson-haired girl shook her head as she spoke.
"No. I thought I felt something unusual…but it must have been my imagination. More importantly, were you able to get the information we discussed about before?"
Akeno's expression became serious. After checking around to make sure there were no students near them, she spoke in a low tone.
"…It's all but confirmed. The perpetrator of the recent murders is a Stray. Not only that, but probably several of them are involved if the number of victims is anything to go by."
"A Cluster, eh…?" Rias frowned. "This could turn out to be a major issue. Clusters are not to be taken lightly. We might need to coordinate with Sona and her Peerage to deal with this as quickly as possible. If the number of victims starts rising even more than this, the authorities will start getting suspicious—"
"—which will make clean-up even more troublesome after all is said and done." Akeno completed Rias's sentence. "Not to mention, all the recent victims have been clients of ours and Sona's so far, which is bad for business. But if a Cluster is involved, shouldn't we request for reinforcements from the Archduke?"
"Let's try to get a feel of what we're up against before resorting to that." Rias said. "This is the first major crisis I've had to deal with ever since I was sent to this town. It wouldn't look good on my evaluation if this incident turned out to be something that we could have managed on our own and I troubled the Archduke's side for nothing."
"Understood, President." Akeno said. "I'll make sure to notify Yuuto-kun and Koneko-chan."
"Please do." Rias said. "We must be ready to move out at a moment's notice."
As the two girls made their way to class, Rias glanced back.
That strange feeling…I can't get it out of my mind. Rias thought. Could it be that someone in that first-year class is an ability user? Once this situation is dealt with, maybe I should look into this further…
Several hours later…
School seemed to pass by in a flash. Takeshi was whistling to himself as he made his way home. He felt confident that he had done well in the math exam, so his mood was very good. After a few minutes of walking, he arrived at a luxurious two-storey building, the residence of the Ryuugamine family.
Takeshi announced as he stepped inside the house, leaving his shoes at the entrance and putting on his slippers. Just as he expected, there was no-one else home. Both his father and mother had jobs that sometimes required them to pull all-nighters, or perhaps not even come home at all for several days in some cases. Right on cue, his cellphone rang at that moment.
"They both won't be back until late at night." Takeshi said as he read the messages his parents had sent him. "More of the usual, eh…?"
Feeling a bit dejected, Takeshi grabbed a cup of instant ramen from the kitchen along with a pair of chopsticks. After placing them in boiling water for a while, he began slurping the noodles while reviewing today's lectures. Once he finished eating, a wry smile appeared on his face.
"That guy would probably scold me for not adding more seasoning in the ramen if he was here."
Takeshi grinned. Each time he had a cup of instant ramen, his mind would flash back to one of the last friends he had made before everyone started avoiding him, a cheeky brat who loved ramen to an abnormal degree and would pester him all the time about their greatness and the various flavors he combined to make the ideal dish.
"Wonder how's he and that other kid doing now?" Takeshi said. "Probably up to their necks in trouble if their attitude is the same as it was back then. Then again, you never know how one's life will turn out."
Diving on the couch, Takeshi turned the television on, but found nothing of interest. Just more news about the recent homicides and experts dissecting the motivation hidden behind these murders in an attempt to profile the perpetrator. He thought about having a Kamen Rider marathon until dinnertime, but reconsidered. The day was still young and the weather was great. Staying inside would be a waste.
"Alright, it's decided." Takeshi declared as he stood up. "Let's go out and enjoy the evening wind for a bit."
Takeshi headed to the garage adjacent to the main building. The cars his parents were using were of course gone, but there was a black 155cc motorcycle parked there. Said vehicle was a gift from Takeshi's parents for his sixteenth birthday and his successful entry to Kuoh Academy. While the examinations for the driving license had been a pain, Takeshi considered the feeling of freedom when riding his bike and the feeling he could emulate his favorite heroes to a degree well worth the price and trouble.
After putting his helmet on and making sure everything was in order, Takeshi revved up the motorcycle and shot out of the garage like a missile. As he sped up, he felt a wide grin forming on his face.
"As expected, this sensation is the best!"
Although he was feeling excited as he weaved through Kuoh Town's roads, Takeshi still made sure to keep his speed within the appropriate limits. Violating traffic laws or causing an accident would be extremely problematic in more ways than one.
After driving aimlessly for quite some time, Takeshi arrived at a deserted area which was filled with half-finished buildings and construction sites. Stopping there, he dismounted from the bike and took a good look at the place.
"The redevelopment area…" Takeshi muttered as he leaned on his bike. "Should I thank you for being here or curse you, I wonder?"
This place was the whole reason as to why Takeshi's family was staying in Kuoh, at least for the time being. About five years ago, some freak accident had caused widespread destruction in this part of the town, leaving it a smoldering ruin. Speculation was still running rampart up to this day as to what had caused this devastation. Some claimed it was a ruptured gas pipe, while others insisted it was a case of arson that had gone out of control.
Regardless of the cause, it was decided that this was a prime opportunity to not only rebuild, but also expand Kuoh Town, which had been steadily receiving an influx of new people over the past years. After many delays, negotiations and biddings, the Kuoh Redevelopment Project was eventually entrusted to the construction firm Takeshi's father was working in a year ago, with him being appointed as the head of the project.
Because it was expected that the redevelopment project's completion would take several years, the Ryuugamine family had moved away from their old home just as Takeshi was about to start high school and had bought a new house here in Kuoh. While he missed his old house at times, there wasn't really anything major tying him down back there, so the transition had been pretty easy for Takeshi all things considered.
"I mean, it's not like I had made any friends or anything back there…"
Takeshi let out a self-deprecating laugh as he reminisced about the past. After a while, he noticed that the sun was going down fast. Caught up in his memories, he had lost track of time. With the news about the recent murders still fresh in his mind, he decided not to tempt fate and return home before it got dark.
However, at that moment—
A blood-curling scream tore through the air, causing Takeshi to freeze. It seemed to come from within the redevelopment area.
"This is… Don't tell me!"
The worst-case scenario went through Takeshi's mind. With trembling fingers, he dug his cellphone out of his pocket and tried to dial the local police department. However, for some reason, there was no signal even though his phone had proper reception just minutes ago.
"What the Hell is going on…?"
Another scream was heard, along with incoherent words that echoed across the construction sites. Takeshi looked around in panic, but there was no-one else around at this time. If this truly was the serial killer, whoever was screaming was probably running out of time fast.
"What do I do…?"
Takeshi muttered. The smart thing to do would be to get out of here and call for help. But by then, it would probably be too late for whoever was being attacked. Wrestling with indecision for a few seconds, Takeshi stomped his foot on the ground while grimacing.
"Ah, damn it! I guess I really am an idiot!"
Years later, Takeshi would often wonder how his life would have turned out if he had left to call for help, or just straight up ran away from that place. But that wasn't what happened. Revving up his bike, he dashed forward, weaving through the narrow streets and piles of materials placed throughout the area with reckless maneuvers that would have got his license revoked ten times over. Following the sound of the screams, Takeshi came across a scene so bizarre that his mind had trouble processing it at first.
Crouched with their backs against the wall were the three delinquents he had encountered earlier this day. Their faces were as pale as a corpse and their knees were shaking like crazy. However, Takeshi thought that was only to be expected upon getting a good look at their assailant. She was a woman with long, messy blond hair clad in a torn black dress—whose lower half was similar to that of a snake, serpentine and comprised of thick dark green scales.
Takeshi pinched himself to make sure he wasn't dreaming. Unfortunately for him, the sight in front of him seemed to be quite real. Having heard the sound of the bike's engine, the unidentified creature turned her head towards Takeshi, a savage smile and a fierce look on her face that seemed to paralyze him.
"Even more morselsss for little old me?" The snake woman said with a pleased tone. "Thisss must be my lucky day. You ssstay right where you are, child. I'll be with you sssoon once I'm done with my appetizer."
Despite his evident terror, Ryo grabbed a pipe from the ground and charged at the creature, only for her lower half to slam on his chest and send him crashing to the wall. Ryo collapsed to the ground, a pained groan escaping from his lips.
"Boss! Hang in there!"
The other two youths rushed to support their friend as the woman laughed, her voice reminiscent of a snake's hiss.
"I commend you, a puny human, for trying to fight againssst a Lamia. But it's uselesssss, uselesssss. All of you are dessstined to become my dinner, so quit this pointlesssss ssstrugle!"
The Lamia opened its mouth wide as it dived at the three youths. However, at that moment—
A speeding motorcycle slammed on the Lamia, the impact sending her tumbling to the side of the street and straight into a dumpster.
"What are you three standing there for!?" Takeshi shouted at the three youths, who seemed petrified from shock, after ramming the Lamia. "Get out of here! Run! Run!"
The delinquents shook themselves out of their stupor, with the two of them grabbing the still dazed Ryo and half-dragging, half-carrying him out of there as fast as they could. The Lamia glanced at their retreating figures as it extricated herself from the dumpster before zeroing on Takeshi, her rage evident in her expression.
"What a lively morsssel you are. Since you are in sssuch a hurry to die, I'll ssstart with you firssst!"
Takeshi wasted no time in turning his motorcycle around, accelerating to the limit and dashing through the narrow streets. While he was glad that the Lamia seemed to be focusing on him instead of the retreating youths, he was alarmed to see that the snake woman was hot on his tail, slithering on the ground faster than he thought possible. At this rate, she was going to catch up to him, and then…
"Damn it, I really should have stayed home today!"
Takeshi cried out as he tried making his way back to more populated areas, hoping that the snake woman would stop chasing him there. Having realized his aim, the Lamia jumped high and landed in front of Takeshi, blocking his path. Before he had time to react, the Lamia's tail slammed on the bike, sending both it and its rider flying. The bike crashed on a nearby wall, while Takeshi was sent tumbling to the ground, a cut opening on the side of his head.
Takeshi groaned as he tried to stand up, his vision swimming and his breath ragged. The Lamia grinned as she grabbed him by his collar and tossed him on a pile of debris. He let out a cry of pain, which the Lamia seemed to enjoy.
"Enough ssscurrying around." The Lamia said as she slithered closer to Takeshi. "Sssome pre-meal exercissse is good and well, but I mussst catch up to the other three morssselsss. As sssuch, die!"
Time seemed to slow down for Takeshi as the Lamia lunged at him.
…This is it. This is the end.
Such a thought passed through Takeshi's head. He was about to die in a deserted alley, eaten by some weird snake monster straight out of a tokusatsu show. Although he was well aware it was useless, he aimed a kick at the Lamia's torso. But much to his surprise—
His kick actually sent the Lamia flying back and through a wall, screams of pain echoing throughout the area as the creature crashed through a couple more walls in succession. Takeshi was shocked to say the least. Just before his blow connected, he felt as if additional power had flowed into his body. At that time, a burning sensation and a bright glow coming from his waist caused him to wince and shut his eyes. Once the light died down—
"What the Hell is this!?"
Takeshi shouted with a bewildered expression. A plain-looking chrome-colored metal belt with a black gem embedded in the buckle area had materialized on his waist out of nowhere. He felt like his brain was about to overload from all the bizarre stuff happening to him today. However, the outraged howl of the Lamia snapped him out of his daze. Wasting no more time, he turned around and ran as fast as he could.
Much to his astonishment, he felt he was running much faster than what he was capable of, perhaps even faster than what a professional athlete was capable of. Driven by instinct, he crouched and jumped—finding himself on the third-floor balcony of one of the nearby dilapidated block-of-flats.
"Unbelievable…" Takeshi muttered as he looked from the ground below to the belt on his waist with wide eyes. "Is this…the belt's power…?"
"Where are you, you little maggot!?"
The Lamia screamed on the street below, turning her head left and right in rapid succession as she searched for Takeshi. He jumped once again to land on the building's roof and started running again, leaping from rooftop to rooftop.
After he was sure he was far enough from the raging monster, Takeshi crumbled on the spot, his breath coming out in short gasps and his heart hammering on his chest. His eyes darted around as he wiped the sweat and blood from his face. Much to his relief, the Lamia was nowhere to be seen.
"Haaa… I think…I lost her…"
"Think again, brat."
Takeshi shot up, his gaze turned to the sky. Floating above him was the Lamia he thought he had shaken off, a pair of bat-like wings protruding from her back.
"Bat wings and the lower half of a snake…?" A cramped smile appeared on Takeshi's face. "Someone had a lot of fun modifying you. Unless that's your natural appearance…"
"Ssso, you are a SSSacred Gear possessssor, eh?" The Lamia said as she landed on the rooftop. "That was unexpected, but it mattersss not. From the looksss of it, it mussst have jussst awakened in responssse to the threat on your life. You cannot posssssibly hope to fight or outrun me in this ssstate."
"Maybe so, but that doesn't mean I can't try!"
Takeshi shouted as he dashed forward, aiming a punch at his opponent. The Lamia smirked as she dodged his blows with agile movements that shouldn't be possible for such a creature. Just as he went for a low kick, the Lamia jumped, her tail shooting forward and striking Takeshi's abdomen.
The youth let out a cry of pain as he fell to his knees. The Lamia grabbed his leg and swung him around like a ragdoll before tossing him through a nearby pile of metal beams. Takeshi coughed blood as he fell on all fours, struggling to draw breath. His knees were trembling and his body ached all over.
"I may not look like it, but I wasss a former Knight." The Lamia hissed out as she slithered closer. "When it comes to ssspeed, I won't be beaten by an immature SSSacred Gear possesssssor. Anything elssse you want to try, or are we finissshed here?"
Takeshi forced himself to stand up despite feeling as if his body was made out of lead. Truth be told, he was out of opinions at this point. However, since this so-called Sacred Gear or whatever of his was a belt, then perhaps…
Takeshi shouted as he struck a pose. For a few seconds, only the sound of the wind could be heard as both combatants were still as statues. Predictably enough—
"…Yeah, I didn't think I would be that lucky…"
A dejected expression appeared on Takeshi's face as he lowered his hands. Whatever this so-called Sacred Gear's functions were, they apparently didn't allow him to equip a power suit. The Lamia let out a sinister smile.
"No more tricksss up your sssleeve, eh? SSSuch a ssshame. But if you want to blame sssomeone, blame the sssystem and fate which put sssuch a worthlesssss SSSacred Gear in you. This time, perisssh for good and become my dinner obediently!"
Takeshi braced himself for the pain that was about to follow, hoping it would be over quickly. However—
"Stop right there, Stray."
An unexpected voice was heard, prompting Takeshi and the Lamia to look to the side. Standing there with her hands crossed was a girl with brilliant crimson hair waving in the evening wind, a sly smile on her face.
Takeshi couldn't believe his eyes. For a moment there, he was sure he was hallucinating due to his impending death. However, the terrified reaction of the Lamia indicated otherwise.
"The daughter of the Gremory family… How is thisss posssssible? You ssshouldn't be here. I ssshould have covered my tracksss."
"You and your comrades have caused so much trouble in my backyard and thought you could keep getting away with it?" Rias spoke with a serious tone. "We had our familiars scout the town, especially the deserted areas, for the past couple of days, waiting for a hit. Lo and behold, we finally got you."
"Damn you, Gremory filth…"
"Now then, let's get down to business." Rias clapped her hands. "I'll have you answer some questions for me, Stray. How many of you are there? Where's your hideout? Give me an honest answer, and I'll see that you get out of this with only life imprisonment as your sentence. Not a bad deal, wouldn't you agree?"
"Don't make me laugh! Why ssshould I sssay anything to a dead woman!?"
Sharp claws extended from the Lamia's fingertips as she tried to stab Rias with them. Before Takeshi even had a chance to warn her—a silver flash tore through the air, followed by something flying past Rias and the Lamia's howl of pain as she clutched the bleeding stump that was once her right arm.
"Trying to harm President is something that I, her Knight, cannot allow."
Standing in front or Rias was the familiar figure of Kiba Yuuto, brandishing a European-style sword that was pointed towards the Lamia. Takeshi was in disbelief at his sudden appearance, as well as the speed with which he had sliced the Lamia's arm off. However, the surprises didn't stop there as yet another individual known to him intruded at this peculiar scene.
"Ara, ara, this Stray is quite lively. Let's see if we can fix that, shall we?"
Takeshi felt like his eyes would pop out of his sockets at the appearance of Himejima Akeno, a playful smile on her face—and electricity crackling around her hands. Pointing her hands at the Stray, Akeno unleashed several bolts that enveloped the Lamia's body. The monster screamed in pain as it fell on the ground, her body burnt in several places and convulsing.
"Aw, done so soon?" Akeno said with a beatific smile on her face. "I was hoping we could have some more fun together, ufufu~."
For some reason, Takeshi felt a chill go down his spine. From his point of view, Akeno seemed to enjoy the Stray's pain. However, the fact that she could apparently shoot thunderbolts from her fingertips was even more astonishing right now.
"That's enough, Akeno." Rias said as she approached the fallen Lamia. "We need her conscious for this. So, do you feel more willing to speak now, Stray? Or should I have Akeno continue with her…treatment?"
"Oh, please, say yes." Akeno's smile became wider. "I haven't had nearly enough fun yet."
The Lamia glared at Rias as she spat at her face.
"…Go…to Hell…crimson-haired bitch… I have…nothing to sssay…to you…"
At that moment, a seal appeared on the Lamia's forehead, with the creature's eyes glazing over and losing their focus.
"A memory-erasing spell?" Rias said as she wiped her cheek. "Unfortunate. It seems there's no room for negotiation. Then, in the name of Duke Gremory, I consign you to oblivion!"
A black mass of power gathered on Rias's palm and was shot at the Lamia. The bewildered Stray didn't even have time to scream as her body was devoured by the mass, vanishing in a manner of seconds and leaving only a gaping hole on the roof.
"That's one down, and who knows how many more to go." Rias remarked. "Good work, everyone. Shame that the Stray wasn't willing to cooperate. We could have got an idea what exactly we're up against. Now then, onto the next matter."
Rias turned to Takeshi, who seemed unable to move or speak, and smiled at him.
"I understand you must have many questions, but for now, know that you are safe. My servants and I mean you no harm."
His body and mind a wreck from intense exhaustion and the pain from his injuries, to the point where he felt he was on the verge of losing consciousness, Takeshi didn't respond to Rias' words at first. Pointing at the group with a trembling finger, Takeshi struggled to get the words out of his mouth.
"You… That monster… What's going on here!? Who…no, what are you!?"
"Hmmm, there's not really a way to ease you into it, so I will get straight to the point."
After Rias said so, a pair of bat wings similar to the Lamia's extended from her back much to Takeshi's shock.
"I am Rias Gremory, a Devil. It's a pleasure to meet you."
Takeshi stared at her with a blank look for a few seconds, his mind incapable of processing the crimson-haired girl's words.
"…What…did you just…?"
Despite his attempts to keep questioning Rias, that was the straw that broke the camel's back for Takeshi. Without warning, he blacked out on the spot, his mind and body overwhelmed from the successive shocks and injuries he had received over the past few minutes. At the same, the belt around his waist turned into particles of light and vanished.
"Ara, ara, that was probably a bit too much, President." Akeno said. "The poor boy must have had quite the tough time, and hearing such an outrageous thing on top of all that…"
"Yes, I didn't handle that very well." Rias said with a sheepish smile as she took a closer look at the unconscious Takeshi. "That boy…he seems a bit familiar. Is he a student of our school?"
"That's Ryuugamine Takeshi, a first-year student like me." Yuuto said. "He's got a bit of an odd reputation for some reason, but for the most part, he seems like a regular fellow."
"Not so regular anymore." Rias remarked. "It appears he's a Sacred Gear possessor, which means he belongs to 'this' side now. I wonder if he's the one I sensed this morning. That's most likely the case…"
"…President, I've brought them."
A white-haired girl with gold eyes and a petite build suddenly landed on the rooftop, carrying the three delinquents, who were unconscious, on her arms and back. Despite their combined weight, the girl didn't look uncomfortable in the slightest.
"Thank you, Koneko." Rias said. "I trust there wasn't much trouble handling them?"
"…Caught up with them before they ran into someone else." Koneko said with an expressionless face. "…I had to knock them out when they started struggling."
"I see." Rias said as she turned to Akeno. "You know what to do with them. Make sure they have no recollection of their encounter with the Stray. Erase the signs of battle as well."
"Of course, President." Akeno said. "But what about our unconscious Kouhai over there? Are you going to erase his memories as well?"
"No." Rias said as she took out her phone. "For better or for worse, he's involved with our matters now. As such, I'll take care of him for now."
A while later…
Takeshi groaned as he slowly opened his eyes. What greeted him was the familiar sight of his room's ceiling, much to his relief. From what he could tell, it was nighttime outside.
"Ah, it was all just a dream… How long was I out…?"
"For about two hours. But I'm afraid none of what you experienced was a dream."
Takeshi's eyes widened as he shot upwards, turning his head towards the source of that voice. Sitting in a chair next to his bed was Rias Gremory, a book resting on her lap. For the second time today, he had to pinch himself to make sure he wasn't dreaming.
"Good afternoon, Ryuugamine-kun, and apologies for my intrusion." Rias said. "Do you feel a little better after today's ordeal? I gave you some basic first-aid, but it would be better if you didn't make any more sudden moves."
"Today's ordeal…you say?" Takeshi said with a troubled expression on his face. "Then…everything was real? The strange monster… The weird belt that appeared out of nowhere… You saying that you're a Devil or something… All that stuff actually happened?"
"They did." Rias said with a gentle expression. "I know this is probably a lot to take in, and that you're most likely very confused right now."
"Understatement of the century…" Takeshi muttered as he got out of the bed and sat on a chair opposite to Rias. "First things first. Why are you in my room, Senpai?"
"After you fainted, I called my father's acquaintance in the school board and asked him for your home address." Rias explained. "Once I got it, I brought you here. Since there's a chance the comrades of the Stray Devil we eliminated might come after you, I decided to remain here as well in order to keep an eye on you. Nothing's happened so far, but I think it would be best if I stayed here for the night just in case. Better safe than sorry."
"Comrades?" Takeshi raised an eyebrow. "There are more like that creature out there right now?"
"Unfortunately, yes." Rias said. "The recent strings of murders in this area is their handiwork, though I'm not sure what they're playing at. Clusters are usually smart enough to keep a low profile, but those blatant acts of violence are rather counterproductive to that. It's like they want us to notice them and go after them. I wonder…"
"How…how many of them are there?"
"We're not entirely sure, which is why it's unfortunate that we couldn't get anything of use out of that Lamia." Rias said. "Even without that spell erasing her memories, she seemed like the type who would rather die than divulge any information, if she had any to begin with."
"So, there isn't only one…" Takeshi shivered before speaking again. "What about the three guys that monster was about to eat before I showed up? Are they alright?"
"All three of them are alive and well." Rias said, much to Takeshi's relief. "Akeno modified their memories, so they won't remember a thing about their encounter with the Stray."
"Modified their memories, you say…" Takeshi frowned. "OK, I think it's time for the real questions. Who exactly are you, Gremory-senpai? You called yourself a Devil, but I don't understand what that means. Are Himejima-senpai and Kiba Yuuto-kun Devils as well? What was that snake woman from before? Also, what about that weird belt that showed up out of nowhere? That monster called it a Sacred Gear, but I don't know what that is. And also—"
"I understand you have a lot of questions, but be patient." Rias cut off Takeshi's words. "I promise I'll give you a full explanation tomorrow. It's better to rest for now before hearing what I have to say, since I don't think you're in a state to listen to more shocking revelations."
Takeshi couldn't argue with that. He also felt that his brain would definitely explode if he heard more about how weird the world had got. Rias got up from her chair and stretched herself before turning to Takeshi.
"After I brought you here and looked around the house a bit, I noticed you have a guest room." Rias said. "Do you mind if I use it for tonight?"
"Sure, no problem, Senpai." Takeshi said. "Make yourself at home. Also…"
Takeshi got up as well and bowed to Rias.
"I didn't get the chance to say it before, so allow me it to say it now; thank you for saving my life. If you hadn't been there, I would have died for sure."
"You're very welcome." Rias smiled. "However, credit where credit is due. If you hadn't struggled with all your strength until the end, we might not have arrived in time to save you or the other three boys from the Stray. Take pride in that. Now, is there anything else I can do for you?"
"It would be nice if you could fix my damaged motorcycle." Takeshi said in a joking manner. "But I guess that's—"
"That should be easy enough." Rias said. "It's back at the redevelopment area, right? I'll call Akeno right away. She'll retrieve it and repair it."
"Repair it?" Takeshi was surprised to say the least. "The bike should be in a pretty bad state. How is she going to fix it?"
"With magic of course~."
Rias winked at Takeshi. He was about to retort that such a thing was impossible, but the words died in his throat once he recalled the scene of Akeno shooting thunder out of her hands and Rias summoning some unidentified black mass of energy, along with her mention of a memory alteration spell. He rubbed his temples as he felt a big migraine coming.
"Are you alright, Ryuugamine-kun?"
"Just dandy…" Takeshi sighed. "Again, thank you for going through all that trouble, Senpai."
"No trouble at all." Rias said. "I'll see you tomorrow, Ryuugamine-kun. Have a pleasant night and don't be afraid. As long as I'm here, no Strays will dare approach this place. Also, nice collection you've got here."
Rias pointed at the bookcase and the several shelves on Takeshi's room, which were filled to the brim with DVDs, figures and merchandise from a variety of tokusatsu shows. A large number of posters from said shows also decorated the walls.
"Oh, you like it?" Takeshi said, a wide grin on his face. "This is my pride as a tokusatsu fan. I daresay few people in Japan, no, the whole world can match it."
"While this might not be my style, I think I understand your feelings." Rias smiled. "Once again, good night, Ryuugamine-kun."
Once Rias had left, Takeshi collapsed on his bed, his strength drained and his body aching all over. He had trouble believing the drastic changes his life had undergone in the span of only a couple of hours. Worse yet, he was certain things would get even stranger once he got the full picture out of Rias. He could feel there was no going back to his everyday life. The thought was enough to make him anxious for what would happen next.
"Well, there's no choice at this point but to move forward…" Takeshi concluded as he made a fist. "I'll deal with whatever happens tomorrow when tomorrow comes. However, it's funny that the first person close to my age that I've brought home in more than four years is a Devil girl…"
Takeshi grinned, but then his expression fell as he thought of a very important issue he had neglected so far.
"…Shit, what am I going to tell my parents about all this…?"
In an unknown location…
Inside what appeared to be a large cavern illuminated by several crystals, a young woman with silver hair, pointed ears, bat wings protruding from her back, a tail growing from her rear and a curvaceous body, who was dressed in a provocative outfit, let out a sigh as she checked a floating crystal ball.
"Selia, you idiot…" The woman grimaced. "I told her she shouldn't move out too much and hunt people beyond the assigned ones or the Devils might get her. Because of her gluttony and thoughtlessness, we're down one member."
"Does it really matter, Nell?" A bearded man with messy brown hair whose lower half was that of a horse said as he approached Nell, his hooves making clopping sounds that echoed across the cavern. "She was the weakest among us, so losing her doesn't change anything. If anything, that means there's more prey for me."
"…Ever the battle-obsessed idiot, Denas." A woman with short light blue hair and green eyes that was clad in a witch's outfit with an oversized hat said with a low voice as she laid on a rock. "…It would have been better…if you had gone and offed yourself somewhere…instead of Selia…"
"What'd you say, you bitch!?" The centaur raged as he unsheathed his longsword and pointed it at the blue-haired woman. "Maybe I should teach you some respect first before we deal with those uppity Devil princesses!"
"Just try it…" The witch said as she pointed her staff at Denas, a fireball forming at its tip. "I'll burn you to cinders…before you take a single step…"
"Denas, Arnett, that's enough." Nell said as she got between the two of them. "Spare me the childish fights. Our task is hard enough already without you two being at each other's throats all the time."
Both Denas and Arnett looked displeased, but lowered their respective weapons. Nell sighed before turning to her crystal ball once again. As she reviewed the events leading to her comrade's demise, she frowned upon taking note of a particular detail.
"You look troubled, Nell. What's the matter?"
The one who had spoken was an individual clad in a medievalesque suit of armor. However, his most eye-catching feature was the distinct lack of a head attached to his neck. Instead, he carried it in his hands.
"Valdes." Nell acknowledged the newcomer with a nod. "I trust the hunt went well?"
"Everything proceeded without a hitch." Valdes said. "Talon and Enishi eliminated the targets before the Sitri girl's group arrived. What about your end?"
"Selia went out to hunt on her own and was taken down by the Gremory girl's peerage." Nell said. "I was reviewing the scene when something that could prove troublesome down the line caught my attention."
"Is that so? Would you allow me to take a look as well?"
Valdes brought his helmet-covered head closer to the floating orb, observing the scene unfolding before his eyes. After a few seconds of silence, he sighed.
"A Sacred Gear possessor appearing out of nowhere… What are the odds? Our mysterious benefactors are seemingly experts at locating oddities, so how come they missed this one?"
"You'd have to ask them that yourself." Nell said. "That might be a bit difficult though since the communication-type magic circle they provided us with is one-way. But I digress. The issue here is that this possessor's presence might affect our task. Should his Sacred Gear be strong and should he join the Devils, this will make eliminating them all the more difficult."
"Bah!" Denas snorted. "If he joins the Devils, that means we get to add one more corpse to the body count by the end of all this! If you think a novice Sacred Gear possessor will be any trouble, you're all gutless idiots!"
"Being careful is how we've all survived so far, Denas." Nell pointed out. "Even then, we would have been long killed by pursuit squads if it weren't for our current patrons bailing each of us out. You of all people should be well aware how carelessness leads to disaster."
Arnett chuckled, prompting Denas to shoot her a nasty look.
"They might have saved us, but I still think it's a terrible idea to work for them." Valdes said. "Not only do we know nothing about them or their objectives, but much like most of the races, they probably have no love for Stray Devils like us. Who's to say they won't turn on us once we're done taking down the two heiresses' Peerages? You know, take care of the loose ends?"
"We have no choice but to gamble on this possibility." Nell said as she dismissed the crystal ball with a wave of her hand. "Even if we had escaped without our patrons' interference, chances are we would have been discovered and killed at some point in the future. Strays like us…don't belong anywhere after all. The only faint hope we have for a semblance of a normal life is the promised reward from our benefactors' side."
"What I want to know is why we're wasting time killing worthless humans." Denas grumbled. "There's no joy to be found when your prey isn't fighting back. What the Hell are those damn mystery bosses of ours thinking?"
"It's probably to agitate the Devils and make them impatient." Valdes suggested. "Impair their judgment and all that. Or they're thinking that even if we fail, they'll at least make them hurt by removing some of their clients."
"More importantly…what about the Sacred Gear possessor…?" Arnett asked while yawning. "What do we do…about him…?"
"This was unexpected, but there's also a good opportunity here." Nell said as she projected an image of Takeshi. "Whether he joins the Devils or not, we can take advantage of his presence. However, if he proves to be too much of an unknown variable, to the point where we can't afford to leave him alone—"
A sinister smile appeared on Nell's face as she made a slashing motion.
"—then we'll eliminate him as well."
Well, that concludes Chapter 1. Regarding this story, I had some rough drafts of it sitting in a flash drive for several years, and after a lot of deliberation, I decided to try writing it at long last. Since I will be trying several things for the first time here, constructive criticism will be appreciated. As for the release schedule, it will probably be somewhat erratic since work is quite busy these days. Please read and review, but above all, enjoy!
See you all next time!