New Devil of The Gremory House

Life 47: Anticipation

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"Okay," Azazel rolled his shoulders and nodded, "You ready?"

Naruto summoned his Sacred Gear and nodded while tensing his arm, "Yeah, I'm ready."

"Remember, let's try to isolate it this time. Focus and apply the reversion on me." Azazel cupped his hands, "Like you're aiming the flashlight at me alone."

"Yeah, I remember." Naruto turned his arm so the Sacred Gear faced Azazel alone and took a deep breath, "Ready Kurama?"

[As I'll ever be.]

"Do it."

[REVIVE!]

A bright light illuminated out of the Scared Gear and nearly blinded Naruto as it spread out in front of him. It quickly receded before disappearing altogether and allowing him to see the results of their training.

Azazel stood, his body and face the same but his clothes had changed. The Fallen Angel opened and closed his hands a few times and felt his arm, "Yep, it's real. It worked." He grinned and looked at his younger blond friend, "Congrats Naruto, looks like you can officially revert people other than yourself now too."

"Yeah, now we just have to see if I can still control it when it isn't me doing the changing." He dismissed his Sacred Gear and saw that Azazel didn't change back once it was gone. Looks like Golden Hour Revival would just have to run its wheels until time ran out. He watched Azazel stretch and flex his real arm again and chuckled, "You miss the feel of muscle and flesh?"

"Meh, it's cool to have my real arm back, but I was so used to the replacement." Azazel said forlornly, "No aches or pains. Never had to worry about my nails. Shooting it out like a rocket was awesome. And that vibration feature helped me-"

"Don't don't don't don't-"

"Work out the kinks-"

"I JUST SAID-"

"In my shoulders and helped ease the tension in my muscles." The older Fallen Angel smirked at Naruto's frown, "What did you think I meant? Get your head out of the gutter."

"Oh like it's my mind that's filled with filth and grime." Naruto groused in return before looking Azazel over. Even though he had his arm back he didn't look all that different from how he did before, "So how old are you right now? Do you have any idea?"

"None. It's not as easy to tell as with you kids. You take a few years off and your faces and bodies there's a noticeable change. But you could take centuries or even millennia off my life and I'd still look pretty much like this. Hard to pinpoint where in the timeline this body came from."

Ever since the incident where Naruto had turned himself, Rias, and Issei into children by accident, he and Azazel had been testing the new limits of his Sacred Gear after the increases in its capabilities. Every day they'd come down to the bottom level of Arashi Heights and fiddle around with the improved Balance Breaker. They had discovered quite a few new qualities about the new and improved Golden Hour Revival.

Firstly, it could last anywhere from 2 to 3 hours after initial use. There still didn't seem to be an indicator to decide when the time limit was approaching other than Kurama counting it down. And there were no deciding factors that determined if the limit would be longer or shorter. This was an unexpected stretch for an Artificial Sacred Gear to take and so sometimes it hit its limit sooner rather than later.

Second, Naruto could decide who other than himself bathed in its light would revert to a prior point in their timeline. He could safely change himself even when others were near him, so there wasn't going to be another incident like the multiple de-aging he had put Rias and Issei through as well. Unless he wanted to, which meant bathing others in the light along with him was the way to do it. And as he just tested, he could also change others instead of himself.

Third, the range of which he could change and go back had greatly increased. Before he could only change into a form from around the beginning of the Ninja War when he had Kurama's power. But now his range was far more expansive, with him being able to change from just a few months ago before he was a Devil to back when he was a child. And when he had turned into a child, he had also dragged Azazel along as well, and he had turned into…

A younger, very attractive version of himself from millennia ago. Honestly, it wasn't a stretch to say everyone was alarmed and also a little pissed off to see the Fallen Angel did look like he belonged in a boy band when he was younger.

And finally…

Azazel nodded, "Okay, do the thing."

"Kurama?"

[CANCEL!]

With another flash of light, Azazel glowed and returned to his old clothes. And with a quick flex of his fingers, his arm went shooting out into the air to spin before returning right back into place. As it clicked back into his arm he wriggled his fingers, "Alright, I'm back to normal. Looks like you can now cancel your transformation at any time you want." He looked towards Naruto, "Want to see if it still works after doing it on someone else?"

"Kurama? Anything?"

[Nope, still just a one-and-done move, even if you use it on someone else and cancel it after a few minutes.]

"Hmm, that sucks. Means if I cancel it then that's it for the day."

"Yeah, but it also means that you won't ever have to worry about getting into another 'little brat' incident as you did at first. I know it might seem annoying but a Balance Breaker you can control and turn off entirely is more useful than one that you're forced to deal with for an hour."

Well, he had to agree with that point. Being able to control and turn his Balance Breaker off at any time instead of waiting for the clock to run out was pretty helpful. As he watched Azazel stare around and think heavily on whatever was on his mind, Naruto asked, "So any ideas? You're the super analyst. If anyone was going to find new ideas on how this might work I figured it'd be the creator."

"Well I appreciate your stroking of my ego, if you think that's enough to incite me - then you're right and I'm already thinking about it." Azazel cupped his chin and thought deeply about what he knew before nodding, "I think…the changing for someone's age is relative to you - the caster."

"What do you mean?"

"Well remember when you turned into a kid when we were testing before and changed me as well - but you ended up being around 6 and I still ended up older?"

"Yeah?"

"Well, that's what I mean. If you were aiming to turn into a child and I got changed as well, I should've ended up as a kid too. But I didn't. I was a lot younger sure but I was still centuries or even millennia old. And that's because my change in age was relative to yours."

"But that doesn't make any sense." Naruto argued, "I mean Rias and Issei changed into kids too when I did it the first time."

"Yeah but they're around the same age as you. If you go back a portion of your life then that's roughly the same portion for them as well." Azazel clarified, "Go back one or two years and that's a good fraction of your life. Close to a ninth of your total lifespan. But for me or someone even older, like Odin or one of the Gods, a ninth of our lives is a significantly larger amount but with less obvious changes." He shrugged, "If you wanted to change one of us into kids or even babies you'd have to go back 99.99% repeating or something."

Naruto looked down at his arm and hummed, "I think I get what you're saying. The effect is going to change depending on if I'm using it with someone younger or older than me. And as I get older, I'll have to go further back to see any changes anymore."

Azazel nodded, "Exactly. You could end up being 10,000 years old if you live a full life, and by that point, it will be a lot harder to cherry-pick what part of your first two decades you can even attempt to return to." The Fallen Angel shrugged, "I mean you still got plenty of time to use it however you want, but I just want you to be aware that it might be more difficult when involving other people as well."

Naruto looked down at his arm thoughtfully before nodding, "Got it." He smiled, "Thanks Azazel."

"You're welcome. Any chance to flaunt my genius and let others know how great I am is a chance I'd jump at."

The whiskered [Pawn] frowned afterward, "You just had to get that one in and ruin it, didn't you? You know we almost had a good moment there."

"Yeah, that's why I said it. I wouldn't be me if I didn't mess things up when the chance presents itself."

"You're hopeless."

The ding of the elevator drew their attention up to the balcony. In time to see Xenovia walk in with Asia, Rossweisse, and Yuuto following after her. The blue-haired swordswoman lifted Durandal off her shoulder and showed an excited look on her face, "Okay, today I'm going to go all out and see what Kokuō's power can do!" As she was about to take the stairs she looked over the edge and noticed the duo, "Naruto, Azazel, what are you doing here?"

"Testing stuff. What about you guys?"

"We're practicing with our Bijū connections." Asia said as they joined them on the ground floor, "Saiken-San said that he has an affinity with water and slime acid so I was going to test it out myself."

"And I can already use the water from Isobu-San on a basic level, but I need to train more and figure out greater applications for it." Rossweisse said as she tilted her head quizzically, "I can generate great quantities of water, and I can release them in streams of high-pressured beams. But there have to be more ways I can utilize it."

"I mean you used it in a good way back in Kyoto." Azazel reminded her, "You used the water you generated a mass array of magic circles of varying styles and size to release of a volley of magical attacks at the Hero faction to great success."

"What?" Rossweisse raised an eyebrow, "I didn't do that…did I?" Everyone present nodded, "I did?!" They nodded again, "I-I don't remember doing that! When did I do that?!"

"Well, you were pretty drunk at the time. You had a lot to drink so I'm not surprised you don't remember."

Azazel grimaced, "Let's not exaggerate here - she had one cup of sake and got floored. She got drunk and got a little more imaginative. Try to focus on that part." Rossweisse looked startled by the idea but nodded and then started thinking deeply about what she had heard, "And Kiba, what about you?"

"…"

"Kiba?"

"H-Huh?" The blond pretty boy groaned as he blinked his eyes a few times to clear out the sand. Even after doing so there wasn't much he could do to hide or fix the bags building up under his eyes. Blinking a few times he looked around, "Sorry, I don't mean to space out. I'm just…having a hard time getting the sleep I need."

"It's Shukaku, isn't it?"

"H-He gets very excited at night. And he asks me to…go out and have fun?" He shuddered, "I'm scared to ask him what his definition of fun is."

"Nothing good." With a loud sigh, Naruto shook his head, "I tried to warn you that it was a bad idea to take him in."

"I thought you were just being pessimistic."

"Nope, I was trying to protect you. I mean Shukaku kinda messed by buddy Gaara up pretty badly. I mean it wasn't just him, and he got a lot better as he got older, but…" Naruto grimaced and shook his head, "When we were kids, I swear I nearly crapped my pants from how messed up and bloodthirsty he was."

"Yes, and if he had Shukaku-San's voice in his head like this then…" Yuuto paused, looking aside for a moment before signing tiredly, "He says that the situation with Gaara was from outside factors and extenuating circumstances - not his fault."

"Oh, I'm sure he would say that."

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Koneko was dutifully keeping her notes for class ready while also thinking over plans for the ORC culture festival showing. Their club had decided on an occult house of magic and horrors to show the student body. A little ironic considering it was a club filled with actual supernatural beings and they were resorting to hooky fantasies to entertain people. But hey, that's what it meant to hide your secret identity-

"You are so pretty!"

"T-Thank you."

Was fortune-telling a possibility? She could use some old-school Japanese techniques to draw in the crowd. And people loved buying charms and good luck tokens for school and romance.

"It's so cool to have another beautiful foreign exchange student like Gya-kun in our class!"

"I-I appreciate that."

Hey, maybe if she asked then Naruto would walk around the festival with her. It'd be nice to go on a date and show him just how fun it would be-

"Oh my god!"

"Ow."

"You have to come out with us today! We need to show you around Kuoh!"

"T-Thank you, and I appreciate that, but…" The center of the students' attention quickly stood out of her chair and slipped out between them, "I-I have something I need to take care of right now! Thank you!"

Koneko saw the noisy, haughty bird girl slip away before she could get overwhelmed. Oh, well wasn't that funny? It looks like the big bad fried chicken couldn't handle all the attention after all.

Rias had informed everyone that the youngest child and only daughter of the Phenex family, Ravel, would be transferring into the first-year class. It was to help her develop connections, experience life at the center of their new alliance, and grow as a young woman around others her age.

Honestly, Koneko guessed the real reason was so she could make googly-eyes at Issei more frequently than she could before. Which she guess she could understand, as long as she didn't end up vying for the same person she was.

She could do whatever she wanted as long as she didn't bother her or the others. Other than that, Koneko was happy if she never-

"Koneko-chan," She looked up as Gasper stepped over with his phone in hand, "Buchou is asking for us to come to see her."

"She is?" Koneko quickly stood out of her chair to answer her [King's] call, "What's it about?"

"They need our help as a guide."

Koneko's eyes went half-lidded as her expectations dropped to the ground.

She had a sinking suspicion of what this was about.

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Yep, she was right.

"Koneko, Gasper, I need you two to show Ravel around the school and help her get used to school life here." Rias said as she and Issei stood behind an embarrassed Ravel, "She's never been in an education facility like this and she isn't sure how to interact with other students and humans her age. So I'm trusting you two to be her guide, okay?"

"Of course Buchou!" Gasper happily replied, "We'll help however we can!"

"Thanks, Gasper, that's a big help." Issei smiled, "And you're okay with that too, Koneko-chan?"

The little freshman stayed silent and looked a little miffed by the request but quietly nodded, "If you want me to then I will happily oblige."

Rias and Issei shared a look before the redhead asked, "Are you okay Koneko? You seem a little stiff."

"Not at all." The young Nekomata shook her head, "If you want me to take care of KFC here then I'll make sure to do my best."

Rias and Issei flinched, Gasper started to shake in fright, and Ravel tilted her head in confusion, "KFC? What does that mean?"

"Well, I promise it's appropriate." Koneko turned and started walking away, "By the way, the C doesn't stand for chicken."

"C-Chicken?!" Ravel stuttered in surprise and indignation. Frustration grew over the noble girl's face as she pestered the insulting white-haired girl, "What exactly are you implying with that name?! What does KFC stand for? Is it an acronym? And what did the C stand for as you said?"

"I'll keep it to myself. More fun that way."

"How dare you?!"

Issei felt a drop of cold sweat run down his temple as he saw the two freshmen walk away, one ignoring the other's questions entirely. He looked to Rias to see her looking far more composed but also slightly worried, "Was this the best idea?"

"Koneko might seem a little cold at the moment," Rias said before nodding her head, "But I know we can rely on her in this case."

"Don't worry, Buchou!" They looked down as Gasper stepped forward, the young [Bishop] smiling up at them, "I promise I'll stick by their side and watch over them."

"Thank you, Gasper." She nodded thankfully before letting out a worried sigh, "I hope they get along well."

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After classes had let out and everyone had been freed to enjoy their clubs, Koneko and Gasper decided this would be the best time to show Ravel around and fulfill Rias' request.

"Okay," Koneko pointed around the hallway, "This is the hall."

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She waved around the field, "This is the field."

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She pointed out the window, "That's the building we have classes in."

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"And this is the club." Koneko finished, waving her hand around as she walked in, "Tour's over. Good luck."

"YOU DIDN'T SHOW ME ANYTHING!"

"What are you talking about? We went on a walk through campus and I showed you around." Koneko waved her away, "If you want a closer look then walk around and experience it yourself. That's part of the reason you came here, right?" The little [Rook] shrugged and walked to the couch, "Senpai's lap is beckoning and I'm tired."

"How could you be tired?! We barely walked and you didn't do anything!"

"Yes, but the company I shared was exhausting. And no I'm not talking about Gya-kun this time."

Gasper's eyes watered, in a mix of sadness that he was the usual cause of her exhaustion and joy that it wasn't his fault this time, "Koneko-chan!"

The other ORC members in the room watched the exchange in stunned, confused silence. Rias palmed her face and sighed, "Koneko, when I asked you to show Ravel around…you know I meant a little more thoroughly and in-depth…and more than in 5 minutes, right?"

"It's fine, Buchou. She's a big girl and capable of taking care of herself. That's to be expected of the noble lady of the Phenex house, right?"

Naruto looked over at Rias behind her desk, "This might have been a poor choice in the guide."

"I see that now. Maybe Issei should have led the charge on this."

"What is your problem? Don't think I haven't noticed how short and angry you've been while talking with me! Have I done something to anger you?"

Koneko frowned, "Oh, I wonder. I know it probably didn't register in your memory but I've had a bad feeling about you since the Rating Game."

"The Rating Game?!" Ravel exclaimed before frowning, "Way to show your maturity that being beat in a Rating Game months ago still leaves you sore! Your team won that game anyway! And the engagement between Rias-sama and Onii-sama was annulled entirely because of it! Then I brought him here to help resolve his psychological issues!" Naruto gave a small chuckle from the side, "And somehow you're still upset about all that?!"

Koneko turned her head and huffed, "What can I say? I'm allowed to have opinions on people and dislike whoever I choose."

"D-Dislike?" Ravel started fuming and trembled in anger, "We'll that's fine! I dislike you as well!"

"Good for you."

"Grrrr!"

"Wow, Koneko-chan is getting under Ravel-San's skin." Asia said as she saw the two girls bicker and fight, "I hope they manage to resolve it."

"Hmm," Xenovia watched the dispute curiously, "I think this is the first catfight I've ever seen on more than one level."

"Xenovia-San, don't say that! That's rude!"

"I've heard about the Rating Game dispute from before I joined the peerage." Rossweisse whispered to Akeno, "Was it as much of a terrible affair as I heard?"

"No worse than most arguments with political marriage at their center. This one was only bad because we were involved." Akeno answered.

"Koneko," The white-haired girl looked back as Rias spoke up, "The matter with Riser was settled completely, remember? I don't hold a grudge against him, the Phenex family, or anyone. So you shouldn't do it for my sake either."

"It's not that, Buchou." She turned back and frowned at Ravel, the blonde Devil shaking with annoyance in response, "It's just being around her…irks me."

"Oh! Oh! I know why!" Irina piped up and quickly looked around, "Koneko-chan is a Nekomata and Ravel-San is a Phenex, right? So it's a cat and a bird! Natural enemies! Of course, they don't get along!"

It was difficult to tell if the silence was because everyone was shocked by the brilliant deduction…or baffled by just how stupid it was.

Ravel blinked and stared at the Nekomata, looking for some kind of disgust or rejection of the idea. After a moment she shook her head, "Oh tell me that's not the reason why. Tell me you're not that much of a child."

"I told you it's more than one reason." Koneko snapped back, "But I will admit that your constant squawking and preening haven't helped ingratiate you to the group."

Ravel was fuming with anger. Steam and a tad bit of smoke had started to rise off her body from where some of her clothes were being cooked. However with a deep breath she centered and calmed herself before looking at Koneko pitiably, "You know it's quite sad. You're such a child that you have to be annoyed by such simple and ridiculous things. I guess this shows that I'm more mature both mentally…"

She crossed her arms under her chest and propped up her larger, recently developed bosom for the irked white cat to see.

"And physically. Obviously."

The rest of the ORC watched with mouths agape, "Oooooooooh shit."

"Pfft, that's nothing special." Koneko responded, trying the hide the slight twitch in her eye as she spoke, "In case you haven't noticed I'm surrounded by useless mounds of fat and crap every day. You'll have to try harder than that to get a rise out of me."

Irina deflated slightly and circled her arms around her breasts, "I-I don't know why she had to drag us down like that. Seems too mean."

"Face it, I have the body of a growing young woman and I'm mature enough to not let petty biases and conceptions determine how I act with people."

"Well, I believe having a bit of spite and anger in your system is necessary to be a real adult." Koneko countered, "And you can have your 'mature body and mind' if you want. But in the end, you lack what truly matters for an adult and a woman; experience."

Ravel flinched, "W-What do you mean?"

"I mean you're still peacocking and trying to get the attention of your target, right?" Ravel blushed in response. That made Koneko show a small smile in victory, "Well I've already staked my claim."

"Y-You have?" Ravel looked around, noticing Naruto's bashfulness as he tried to hide his face. She turned back to Koneko, "No you haven't! Don't lie!"

"I'm not." Even though her cheeks were slightly pink Koneko spoke smoothly and proudly, "I've made my feelings known. I sleep in the same bed. I even kissed him straight on the lips in front of everyone here."

"She did. It's true." Ravel looked over at Xenovia in shock as the [Knight] nodded, "We all saw it. It was quite the power move and I have to respect it." The swordswoman paused and looked aside in deep thought, "Now that I think about it I'm the only one who kissed him in private. Everyone else has made their intent clear and I only have hearsay to go off of."

"Hey Naruto-"

"No." He quickly raised his hand and shook his head, "You stay right there."

"I didn't even say anything!"

"You don't need to. I know you well enough. That was only gonna end badly."

Xenovia simply stared him down…before relenting with a shrug and sitting back down, "He knows me pretty well."

"And you know what else - just as an extra little aside?" Koneko added with a cocky tone as her eyes shifted as her hand danced with blue flames, "I can use fire better than you."

"What?! No, you can't!"

"I'm doing it right now."

"I am a Phenex! By my birthright, I am born in flame and brimstone!" In her excitement wings of brilliant fire emerged from her back, "You can toss embers and sparks around as much as you want but heat and fire dance off me as naturally as I breathe!"

"Well, Matatabi's fire is nothing to scoff at." Koneko held her arms out at her side, the azure flames blazing off her, "I'm sure the power she can offer trumps your fire time and time again."

"I developed these powers from birth! Better than a handout!"

"This was a gift! Better than a flaming spoon in the mouth!"

Red Phenex fire grew while blazing blue flames intensified. It seemed like things were about to escalate-

Until a pair of hands reached in to pinch their cheeks and twist them.

"Ow ow ow!"

"That's enough, both of you." Rias chastised both girls with a frown as the flames died off their bodies. They both whined and moaned from the pain in their cheeks until she finally let them go with a sigh. As they rubbed their cheeks to ease the ache she shook her head, "I have to admit I am disappointed in how you two are acting. Ravel."

"Y-Yes, Rias-sama?"

"I understand taking pride in your name and what they have given you, but rising to every slight or challenge like that will only make you arrogant. Here in the human world, you aren't going to find people who recognize your name or your prestige, so there's a strong chance people will joke and jest with you in ways they didn't in the Underworld. You're going to have to learn to handle that properly if you want to learn in this place."

"Y-Yes ma'am!"

"Koneko." The white-haired freshman immediately lowered her head at the tone of voice her [King] was using, "This wasn't what I asked you to do. I know how smart you are so I know you know what my intent was. I'm not going to tell you to get along with everyone you meet - I certainly can't. But please engage with Ravel outside of old grudges and biases. She's our friend and a member of our club now, so please give her a chance."

Both girls looked guilty and ashamed, but when they looked up and met each other's gaze they turned away and huffed. Neither looked ready to forgive and be best friends, but they begrudgingly shook hands and decided to leave things settled for now.

Rias nodded, pleased to see they were at least making progress, "Okay, so how about a little project? We're going to start preparing the old schoolhouse for the cultural festival and need all hands on deck. I want you two to work together to put up decorations, okay?"

"Okay, Buchou."

"Yes ma'am." Koneko started walking and Ravel followed after her, "You're not going to burden me with doing all the work, are you?"

"Of course not, but it is customary for newcomers to go out and buy their senior member's yakisoba bread and soda from the convenience store. So get going."

"B-But I don't know where the store is!"

"How are you ever going to make it in this world?"

Naruto walked over to Rias' side, "Probably not great that she immediately resorts to trying to make her a gopher, huh?"

The redhead sighed and shrugged, "It's slow but hopefully they'll make progress." She clapped her hands and looked around, "Okay everyone, it's time to get to work preparing for the cultural festival! Let's give it our all!"

"Yes ma'am!"

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Everyone in the club was doing their part to prepare the old schoolhouse for the cultural festival coming up. An annual celebration for every club and class in the school to put on some form of entertainment for others to see, student or not.

The standard practice for high school cultural festivals was for students to put on a cafe, a show, or some kind of event for people to see. And for clubs, it was a perfect chance to showcase what they did specifically for others to watch. For the Occult Research Club, they were going to use the entire schoolhouse to their advantage. A haunted house for people to walk through. Fortune-telling booths and charms. And a cafe to serve people meals.

There were some confused looks in response to why they would have a cafe at a research club show, but they didn't last for very long.

With the help of the entire club, they could probably have the whole schoolhouse ready in time for the festival.

Luckily they also had some extra hands.

"Senpai could use a hand over here!"

"Naruto-San, can you lift this for me?"

"Naruto, I need that paint bucket over there."

"On it."

"I'm coming."

"Got it."

There were dozens of Naruto clones running around the old schoolhouse making their rounds to help the others set up the decorations. Once it was clear that this would be a hefty job for everyone to work on, Akeno suggested that Naruto summon a team of clones to help lighten the load. Everyone was ecstatic at the idea of their workload being lighter with his help.

Naruto couldn't help but think she just wanted to enjoy the sight of him working like a pack mule.

"I wasn't in a club last year." Issei struck up a conversation as he, Naruto prime, and Yuuto started cutting wood for the haunted house, "All I did last year was help out my class for their exhibit. It was fun I guess but not memorable."

"I don't think I even helped my class." Naruto mused, "They didn't bother to ask and I didn't offer so I think I just left. I'd rather spend my time working at the ramen shop than be at school so I didn't stick around."

"Well hey, this year looks like it's going to be a ton of fun! How was it last year, Kiba?" Issei started hammering away at a nail as he waited to hear a story. But as the moments passed and there was no response he looked up, "Kiba?"

"Ugh-"

"Dude! Wake up!"

"Ah!" Yuuto stumbled and shook his head, "Dammit, I can't take this. I don't think I've gotten enough sleep over the last few days to even properly stay conscious. I fell asleep once and I found myself stalking the halls of the hotel in a fugue state."

"He's making you sleepwalk?"

"He's bored not getting to do anything in the Grigori laboratories and walking around in me is the only release he gets."

"That doesn't make it okay." Naruto groaned, "None of the others are having control snatched away from them by their Bijū. Have you gotten to test your abilities yet?"

Yuuto shook his head, "No, Shukaku-San said that even if he's linked with someone that doesn't mean he has to be buddy-buddy with them. Even if I'm not human that doesn't mean he has to like me or work with me."

"Kind of a dick move." Issei pointed out, "But it's interesting that a Bijū can withhold power to a Neo-Jinchūriki and assume control like that. I didn't know they could do that."

"Kurama did it to me one time, but he asked for permission. We're gonna have problems if some psychotic tanuki with unchecked bloodlust is snatching people up in their sleep! Gah, Shukaku is such a prick."

Yuuto yawned, "I think he has to have a reason. He wouldn't just do this stuff to…" The tired, handsome [Knight] paused for a moment before shaking his head, "He's cursing you out right now. He is not happy with being called a prick."

"Yeah, most pricks aren't happy when they get called out. It's what makes their pricks."

"I'm picking up a pretty interesting conversation going on over here." The boys looked up as Azazel walked over to join them, "I hope you boys aren't going to awaken to something."

"Ew." Issei grimaced, "Kiba was telling us about his problems with Shukaku-San."

"He keeps pestering him in his head. He's listening to us all the time. He took control when he was asleep!" Naruto pointed at Yuuto, "And I know you're listening right now you stupid son of a bitch! Well I hope you're ready because we're gonna be talking nothing but shit to you-"

"He left. Or he's ignoring you - I'm not quite sure. You're just yelling this stuff at me now."

Azazel patted the young man on the shoulder, "You've been having a pretty rough time lately, haven't you?"

"I can't remember the last full night of sleep I got."

"Well, I think that's gonna change soon." Azazel smirked, "We've been working on some pretty good stuff over in the Grigori laboratory."

"Yeah, what the hell have you been doing? Shukaku's getting antsy and I haven't heard from Saiken or Kokuō since then."

"Oh don't worry, you'll get a good look when you guys go back down there. Which is coming up pretty soon so I hope you're ready."

"Oh yeah," Naruto looked up in realization, "There's a Rating Game coming up soon, right?"

"That's right. You guys are finally going up against the big guy…Sairaorg Bael. It's all been leading to this."

The match against Riser Phenex. Sona Sitri. And Diodora Astaroth. It was all leading to this.

The peak of the mountain for young Devils.

Sairaorg had established himself as the strongest Rookie and upcoming Devil in the new generation. His matches and fights before now had all been overwhelming victories where he barely exerted himself to win. As the young Devil who regularly trained pushed himself and strived for improvement he had grown in ways many before him had never even imagined.

Even among the Four Rookies making names for themselves in this new generation; himself, Rias, Sona, and Seekvaira…he was in a class all his own.

Naruto thought back to his spar with Sairaorg that quickly escalated into a full-blown brawl. He had tested a technique he hadn't fully controlled yet against a brawler who oozed power and resilience. Naruto hadn't used everything in his arsenal in that fight…but he had a sinking feeling that Sairaorg was doing the same thing.

In the match…maybe he would finally see what the Bael heir had to offer.

The thought made him excited at the idea.

"I haven't gotten a chance to utilize Shukaku-San's powers properly." Yuuto spoke up and drew their attention, "But I've been developing my Sacred Gear and Balance Breaker as best as I could for this match. And I know everyone else has been doing the same."

"Yeah, Asia has been spending every day talking to Saiken-San and learning how to use her new power. And during breaks, all I hear Xenovia talk about are new attacks and methods she uses to put extra power in her swings."

"Koneko-chan is the same." They looked over as Gasper walked up carrying a box of decorations in his arms, "She's been testing the intensity and output of her flames in corporation with her fighting style. I heard her say that she needs to do anything and everything she can to get stronger. She wants to make sure this next round in the Rating Game is a sweep."

"Well, we've got some big goals to live up to." Naruto smirked and looked around at the others, "Can we do it?"

"Hell yeah!"

"No question."

"I-I'll do my best!"

They all agreed to do their best. And like that, the boys of the ORC swore that they would see their team to victory in the next game.

||||||||Devil||||||||

The Gremory peerage sat in a waiting room in preparation for the conference they would be taking part in.

In preparation for the big game, both the Gremory peerage and the Bael peerage would be meeting up to be introduced to the public and take any questions. While the conference would be televised, only media and reporters would be in attendance to take note of the entire thing.

Even though the peerage had participated in Rating Games before, this was the first one garnering so much media attention. And it would be the first one where they were holding a press conference to promote it.

For some…it was their first outing altogether.

"I-I'm so nervous," Rossweisse muttered in a frantic tone as a makeup artist continued to apply some light touches to her face. Even though she wanted to stay still, the silver-haired beauty's leg still bounced impatiently, "W-What's going to happen? Should I have changed? Is my suit okay for an event like this? Would a more impressive outfit leave a better impression? I-I can change into my armor real quick!"

"Rossweisse, if you keep moving like that you're going to smudge your makeup." Rias stepped over and squeezed her shoulders, easing the [Rook's] worries as she looked into the mirror in front of her and saw her nervous face, "There's nothing to be worried about. It's just a quick conference to answer questions and present ourselves. Nothing to be fret over."

"Sorry, Rias-San." She whispered, "It's just the first time I'm going to be on TV or presented like this."

"I understand, but just take a breath and you'll be okay." The redhead looked around the room and saw her peerage acting in various states. The senior members of her peerage were cool and collected, having gotten used to the attention over the years and knowing what would be expected of them. The newer members were more anxious.

Issei was drumming his hands on his knees while Asia was giving a prayer with Xenovia. Yuuto was having someone cover his bags up with makeup as Akeno tried to ease Gasper's worries. And Naruto was currently pacing around the room and nibbling on snacks as Koneko did the same in the opposite direction.

"I'm sure we'll all be fine." Rias said for everyone to hear, "Just make sure not to say anything weird while you're in front of the crowd."

She made a special effort to look at Issei, Xenovia, Gasper, Rossweisse, and Naruto in particular.

"We are trying to make a good impression here."

"Whoa whoa whoa!" Naruto called out with a mouthful of cake, "Why are we getting called out?"

"Because Gasper starts panicking when there's any attention on him."

"I-I'm sorry Buchou! I'm trying my best! Honest!"

"Xenovia lacks an effective filter for her thoughts."

"That is true."

"When Rossweisse is pressured or flustered she ends up blurting out whatever comes to mind."

"I-I do that…I'm sorry."

"And even though Issei has been on TV and is a public figure he has to be careful. They'll undoubtedly ask about Oppai Dragon and the Glowing Breast Phenomenon, which might trigger him into one of his tirades about boobs."

"Tirades? I don't-" The moment he saw the looks everyone else gave him, he lowered his head, "I'm sorry."

Naruto frowned, "Well what about me? Why am I counted among them?"

"Because while you're very straightforward and honest-"

"You have no filter."

"-your general lack of knowledge about Devil societal etiquette could come across as rude or insulting-"

"You're dumb and you should feel bad about it."

"-so I just want you to be careful if anyone asks you a question and make sure you think it over."

"Shut up and be quiet unless you're called on, okay?"

"Akeno," Naruto grumbled with a twitch in his eye, "I prefer Rias' way of saying it."

"I'm sure you do, but dumb people need hard things explained to them." The [Queen] smiled beatifically, "So stay quiet and try not to be an idiot."

"And you Akeno," Rias added on at the end, "No teasing others while out there."

"W-Why I'm getting called out too?! I'm trying to get your point across!"

"Haha! Rias is upset at you!"

"Shut up!"

The [King] sighed exhaustedly as she heard Naruto and Akeno bicker at each other like siblings trying to shift the blame. On one hand, it was very endearing and warmed her heart knowing they were that close. On the other hand…really? Now? Of all times?

Thankfully someone stepped in to draw their attention. And oddly enough it was Azazel that brought control back to the conversation, "Well it looks like all of you are excited about your debut. Keeping your nerves I hope."

"Doing our best." Issei piped up as they all watched Naruto and Akeno pinch each other's cheeks and pull, "What's up Sensei? Did you need something?"

"I came with some people who wanted to meet you." Azazel stepped aside and looked down, "They're in here."

After he said that, something dashed along the ground at great speeds. It ran across the room, slipped between the furniture, and rushed at Koneko in particular. The young Nekomata deployed her ears and tail in preparation for whatever was coming-

"Kitten!"

Koneko's eyes widened as she caught the small, cat-sized feline with two tails that jumped at her. She looked down in surprise, "Matatabi?"

"Hello, Kitten." The two-tailed Bijū greeted her companion with a peppy voice as she settled into the [Rook's] embrace, "I can't believe I finally get to meet you like this! I always thought you were so small before but now you're so big! How fun!"

"Matatabi?" Naruto muttered in disbelief as he approached with two stinging red cheeks. He looked at the blue cat, who now looked like a normal cat in frame and size even though her body was still flame-like and she had two tails, "Is that you?"

"You bet." The Bijū seemed ecstatic as she gently moved in Koneko's arms to face everyone, "You all seem so much different at this size. You're not nearly as tiny as I remember."

"Hey, she broke the ice." Azazel said outside the door, "The rest of you get in here too."

At his behest, several other creatures walked into the backroom to meet everyone. The ORC was surprised to see a horse-sized Kokuō, a Saiken who raised to their knees, and Azazel carried in a petulant miniature Shukaku for everyone to meet, "Man this is boring! I don't wanna be here!"

"I told you I'd take you out after we visited. Stop being a brat and grow up."

"Saiken-San!"

"Kokuō!"

Asia and Xenovia quickly went to greet their Bijū companions. Asia went to her knees to face the six-tailed slug as Xenovia gently rubbed Kokuō under his chin. Yuuto didn't seem too excited to step up and take the rowdy tanuki out of Azazel's hands.

So Naruto took that chance to address the surprise, "Azazel, what is this? How did you change them?"

"Remember in Kyoto? The Hero faction had set some magical formations and circles on their bodies to change their size while they were moving them. It was more out of convenience than comfort so I'm sure if they were conscious when it was happening it would have been uncomfortable. So for the last few days, we've been experimenting with them at the Grigori." He held up Shukaku for emphasis, "Now with a little help they can change from kaiju height to manageable animal size with a quick magical arrangement. This will help them find space and comfort to live without while they're staying in the Underworld."

"I quite enjoy this." Kokuō said as he stepped back and raised his hooves, "Being this size means I can run through the trees and wilderness for much longer. That will be cool."

"Well, I prefer my big size!" Shukaku whined, "Let me be big again!"

"You guys can be whatever size you want to be from here on out. It's your choice." Azazel said, "I just thought you might want to meet everyone today and show it off."

"This is amazing!"

"Way to go Sensei!"

"Impressive."

"This is wonderful!" Rossweisse exclaimed with excitement, "I need to see this magical arrangement myself! It sounds brilliant! Oh, and where is Isobu-San! I would be happy to show him around if he's at a smaller size."

"Oh, he's not here."

"What?"

"He wasn't interested. He was fine at that size."

Rossweisse deflated sadly and hung her head. Her eyes started to water and she looked like she was going to cry before Matatabi was held out to her. She looked up at the Bijū and Koneko, "Do you want to pet her? She's very soft."

"I'm also extremely warm."

Rossweisse sniffled and nodded before taking the two-tailed cat. She hugged her close and tried to squash the feelings of disappointment she had at not getting to interact with her own Bijū.

"Well, this is cool." Naruto nodded as he looked around at all the Bijū, "I'm glad to see everyone was given this chance. And better yet, it gives me a chance to do this!"

"Wha- Hey!" Shukaku yelled as he was yanked out of Azazel's arms, "What the hell are you doing you fox brat?!"

"Listen you little shit, I know you've been messing with Kiba and making him sleepwalk! That is not okay! We are trying to establish bonds of camaraderie and trust between Bijū and the people they connect with and you are fucking it up! Now behave!"

"Screw you! I'm Shukaku! I can do what I want and I don't give a shit what you assholes tell me!"

"Oh yeah? Think you can say that at this size?"

"What are you - AHH! SONUVA BITCH!" Naruto started shaking Shukaku around like a stuffed animal as the one-tailed tanuki yelled and cursed, "Dammit! You bastard! I'll kill you! I swear to god!"

"Then promise not to mess with Kiba!"

"I promise nothing!"

"Then we're still going!"

[Yeah! Yeah, Naruto! Fuck him up!]

"Gremory-sama, the conference will begin any moment-"

The producer paused in silence as everyone in the room went silent. Naruto stopped shaking Shukaku and looked back in quiet surprise at the interruption.

"R-Right, so please come out when you can."

The door closed and they were left alone. Rias sighed and buried her face in her hands in embarrassment.

"Haha! You look like a loser! Nice fucking job - AHH STOP IT!"

||||||||Devil||||||||

"Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming today. We are here to announce the participants for the next Rating Game and to answer some questions you might have. I ask that you please keep your questions until all combatants are seated and you are called on. To begin, please welcome Sairaorg Bael-sama and his peerage."

Sairaorg walked out from the side with a group of people following behind them. In an instant, the room was filled with camera flashes in quick succession. He sat in front of the banner with his name written in Devil letters and the large picture of his body unfurled behind them. He and his peerage sat behind their designated seats and faced the crowd of reporters.

"And now, please welcome Rias Gremory-sama and her peerage."

With a deep breath, Rias stepped out on the stage with her servants following behind her. She was almost blinded by the flashes of light but found her seat with her nameplate in front of it and sat down. Luckily the rest of her peerage were knowledgeable enough with Devil lettering to spot their names and sit down without any trouble.

With both sides seated, the announcer started to detail the specifics of the match, "This match will be an exhibition event between up-and-comers Sairaorg Bael-sama and Rias Gremory-sama. It is set one week from today and will be held in the arena in the city of Agreas. The participants will be the members you see on stage now." Another series of flashes from the cameras, "And with that said I think we should pass the microphone to the [Kings] on each side. Bael-sama, if you would please begin."

Sairaorg nodded and sat up in his seat, pulling the mic close to him as the feedback came through the sound system, "First I would like to thank all the people that have sponsored my team since we started competing, and give my gratitude to everyone that has followed and believed in us during our campaign. And I would like to thank all the competitors we have gotten to face until now for helping us get stronger. I would like to say we expect victory to come easy during this next match…but I'd be lying if I didn't say I was looking forward to this next game the most."

Sairaorg's competitive smirk appeared as he looked aside at the Gremory peerage, "I have been keeping up with the exploits and achievements of Rias' peerage over the months, and I'm sure there isn't a single person around not privy to the battles they've engaged in for the sake of our peace and world. Their growth and ability have gone up exponentially over the last few months…and I look forward to seeing that growth myself next week."

There was a set of applause after his speech was finished before all eyes turned to the Gremory peerage. The announcer turned as well, "Gremory-sama, it's your turn."

Rias took a deep breath and tried to think up what to say. Her mind drew a blank…until she felt two hands settle on her knees and ease her worries. Naruto and Akeno were trying to convey their confidence in her. So with another breath, she leaned to the mic…

"I'm sure my inexperience in this field is already well-known. The only matches I have under my belt are the ones against Riser Phenex, Sona Sitri, and the match against Diodora Astaroth that had been interrupted. And I'm sure I don't need to remind everyone that the battles we faced before are different from a field of rules and regulations like the Rating Games. Our experience there will not ensure victory in the arena…"

"But this is just the first step." Her voice changed, and she let her confidence bleed into her words as she announced, "After this match, and after I graduate, I hope to appear on a stage like this more often. Participating in Rating Games regularly and securing victory from my opponents. It is a dream that one day…the members of my peerage and myself may even one day get to face the unbeatable Emperor himself." At that proclamation, there was another series of camera flashes and murmurs before she looked over at her cousin, "So I'm sorry Sairaorg…but if we have to ruin that undefeated record of yours to do so…then we're more than ready for that."

The muscular man just smiled at the challenge and nodded in agreement as the media started to get riled up with excitement.

"And with that, we will now answer any questions you might have for our competitors."

And with that, the flood gates opened. Reporters started raising their hands and asking questions about the competitors. Without pause or even time to breathe, new questions and requests were made to each team.

If there was anyone they would like to thank specifically. About the people that would be attending the game. Whether this match might have any underlining tensions between the descendent of the original Great King Bael and the current Maou Lucifer's sister. Debates about the traditionalist faction and progressive faction's influence on the Rating Game were quickly pressed down.

And, of course, once all the serious questions had been asked…the real ones started to fly.

"Hyoudou-San, can we expect to see a power-up from you suckling on breasts during this match?"

"Excuse me?!"

"With your deep connection to women's chests and your growth in power, people are theorizing that you will achieve even more strength if you were to suck on a breast. What are your thoughts on that?"

"T-That I'm probably not gonna suck tits while I'm in the middle of a fight!" Issei responded curtly before shrugging, "Granted now I can't stop thinking about it-"

"And if you did would there be a ripple effect that stretches to women everywhere like the Glowing Breast Phenomenon?"

Issei quietly sat in his chair before coughing and whispering into the mic, "No comment."

"If you were to suck Princess Rias' breasts perhaps, would you-"

"He's not sucking her breast!" Naruto snapped angrily into the mic, "Next question."

"Uzumaki-San, did your spin-off show come up because you didn't like the opinion that Hyoudou-San and Princess Rias should be together due to their characters on the show?"

"W-Wha - I-I - NO!"

"Do you feel any concern from those suggestions?"

"No! No I don't!"

"So you are proud of the relationship you share with Princess Rias?"

"Of course I am!"

"Is it true you were so proud of it you bragged to a mass of people during a sports event between the three factions that you took her virginity?"

"HOW THE FUC-"

"Naruto." He looked down at a flushed but sternly frowning Rias. After a moment he looked around to see the surprised looks of his friends, the amused expression on Sairaorg's face, and the fact that Akeno looked close to busting a gut from holding in her laughter. With a huff, Naruto dropped back in his seat and glared to the side.

"Uzumaki-San, we have a question about your participation in this Rating Game. As we understood it you were barred from participating in the games because of your status as an [Illegal Piece]. Has that decision been revoked so you can join your peerage now?"

Naruto sat back up and tilted his head, "I don't know. I thought I wasn't allowed to play in these games either."

"That was an issue that was discussed at length with the sponsors and board in charge of preparing the Rating Games." The producer stepped in and answered, "And after much deliberation, it was decided…that Naruto Uzumaki-San would be allowed to participate in this match."

This raised another wave of murmurs, flashes, and questions. The Gremory peerage looked just as surprised as anyone. Naruto looked at Rias, "Did you do this?"

"I-I didn't think they'd let you-"

"I threatened to forfeit the match if he wasn't allowed to join his comrades."

Everyone looked at Sairaorg in surprise. The bulky Bael heir smiled as he spoke, "Naruto Uzumaki is as much a part of Rias' peerage as anyone else, and it's only when they are together that they are at full strength. Keeping him out of the match altogether would be a handicap, and any victory earned while their team isn't at full strength would be hollow. So I told them that if they didn't allow Rias' peerage to fight with all its members, then I wouldn't participate. I'm sure there's still some restriction they've added…but I look forward to seeing you on that field, Naruto Uzumaki."

The whiskered blond smirked, "Don't go regretting that choice."

The media lit up with exhilaration as they tried to convey and capture the spark in the room.

And no one seemed to notice Rias' subdued expression as she looked down at her microphone in shock.

||||||||Devil||||||||

Naruto shifted in bed and groaned, trying to find the warmth of his partner somewhere under the sheets but coming up empty. He slowly opened his eyes and looked around to see that Rias was nowhere to be found.

"Rias?" He groggily whispered into the space, "You there?"

[She's not here. She got up about an hour ago and dressed in her tracksuit.]

"And she didn't wake me?"

[She told me she needed to focus on something and didn't want to be disturbed. So if you find her, it ain't my fault.]

Naruto frowned at Kurama's passé attitude before he flipped the covers off of himself. He made his way out into the hall, making sure not to cause too much noise as he walked around until he reached the elevator. It rang as it hit his floor and he stepped in before it started to descend to the bottom level. Once it reached its destination and opened up, Naruto walked out onto the balcony…

"Ha!" Rias yelled at the top of her lungs as she spun around and released a flurry of elemental attacks into the air. Each one was varied in power and direction as they flew away from their caster. And in an instant Rias summoned her wings, coating her hands in her Destruction before leaping off the ground. With surprising vigor and intensity, she flew as fast as she could to catch up to the spells she had released into the air.

They were each moving in a different direction so she had to act fast. With a quick slash of her hand, she obliterated the fireball she had created. And with another swing, she launched a projectile of her Destruction at the closest attack to her. Once they were both destroyed, she twisted around, rushing through the air towards the two other errant fireballs she had created that were starting to fall back towards the floor. With one last desperate yell, she swung her hands out and extended her Destruction to catch and eradicate the last two fireballs.

She landed on the ground and caught her breath before standing back up. Fire blazed around her hands before she repeated the method and threw it up into the air. Her hands filled with her black and red energy again, but this time instead of chasing the fireballs she stretched her Demonic Power out like whips and swung them around. The fireballs were extinguished when they touched the ends of her whips before she dispelled them and took a breath.

She repeated the process, but now instead of swinging the extended tendrils of her destructive power like extensions of herself she spun around instead. She stood in the eye of a storm made of red and black energy as they spiraled out and destroyed the fireballs she had lobbed in an instant. With that taken care of the mature young woman paused for a moment and caught her breath.

"You're going to exhaust yourself if you keep going like that. Making your targets and then destroying those targets has got to take a lot out of you."

Rias gasped and looked up to see Naruto on the balcony. Her surprise quickly subsided as Naruto jumped down and landed at her side, "When did you get up?"

"A few minutes ago. When did you get up?"

"An hour ago." She took a breath and wiped the sweat off her chin, "Sorry I didn't wake you."

"It's okay. I always enjoy some extra sleep." He looked her over, "So…what are you doing down here so early? It looks like you were practicing with your power."

"That's exactly it. I wanted to get some training in before the Rating Game."

"Yeah, I guess it is a pretty big event." Naruto smiled, "That's why the guys and I made a promise to see it through to victory."

She looked up at him, "You did?"

"That's right. Me, Issei, Kiba, and Gasper all swore we would win that match. We know how much it means to you so I promise we'll make it a reality."

The odd look on her face gave him pause, "Rias?"

"Naruto, would you mind sparring with me?"

The request caught him off-guard. He stared at her for a moment before seeing the resolve on her face and understanding that she meant it. After a moment of silence, he nodded, "Okay."

She nodded as well and started walking away before reaching an appropriate distance. Rita's turned back to face him, still a little disheveled from her hour of training in her tracksuit while Naruto was just awakened and still in his PJs. They faced each other-

"Ha!"

Rias wasted no time, gathering a huge pulse of Destruction before firing it out to envelop him. The blond Devil quickly jumped aside as the mass of black and red power destroyed everything in its path. But as he slid to a stop he saw a flurry of attacks flying his way to overwhelm him.

Rias had watched Naruto fight so many times since they had met. She knew that if he was given enough time he could turn the tide of battle and gain the advantage before securing victory. So the best method she could use to gain the advantage herself was not to give him a moment to turn the tide.

She fired blast after blast of Destruction at him, forcing him to dodge and jump away before he could get hit. When he reached the wall he jumped on it and started running up. When he was sticking to the wall like that he was able to evade his opponent's direct attacks because they couldn't fight or orientate themselves on the same level. But if she wanted to keep the upper hand she couldn't let him hold that position alone.

With her wings spread out behind her, Rias started to fly through the air. She wasn't standing on the wall and facing him directly, but with the elevation, she could keep up with his movements on this level. And not wanting to risk the moment she started extending her Demonic Power into tendrils before swinging them out.

The extensions of Destruction were carved through the wall as Naruto flipped back and dodged her attacks. Rubble and debris flew off the wall and rained down to the floor below them as she let out a vicious yell. Her Demonic Power uprooted the footing under him and forced him to jump out into the open air.

Rias rushed down to chase after him. And as he fell through the air and towards the ground he didn't make a move to slow his descent or extend his wings. Instead, his hands crackled with electricity before he thrust his palm at her and she had to guard herself against the bolt with a wave of Destruction.

Once the lightning bolt was destroyed she looked down and saw that he had fallen into the cloud of dust kicked up from the rubble falling. Until a subtle light appeared in the thick of it and the dust started to swirl around that epicenter. The dust dissipated and revealed Naruto, standing firmly with a spinning orb of chakra forming in his hand.

Rias narrowed her eyes and steeled herself for what came next. She held up her hand, glared at her palm, and started to focus. All the wild and rampant Destruction energy coming off of her hand started to swell up and condense. The black and red miasma didn't make a perfectly spherical form like her boyfriend's but it did concentrate around her hand with more intensity than before.

Rias took a deep breath…and flew straight down at him.

"Rasengan!"

"HA!"

His spiraling orb collided with her mass of Destruction. And the moment her Demonic Power ate through a portion of his highly concentrated orb, it exploded. It wasn't as severe as when a Rasenshuriken popped but they were both blown away by the force. Rias slid on the ground and struggled to come to a stop before looking back up.

Naruto was gone. Blown away by the recoil of his technique erupting in his hand.

For a moment Rias was elated that she had managed to push him so fiercely in battle. But then as the adrenaline passed her brain started working again. And the piece and dots started coming together. The red-haired beauty shifted on the ground so she could sit comfortably and stared ahead at nothing.

"When did you switch out with a clone?"

"When I fell into the dust and your sight was blocked to guard against the bolt."

She heard his footsteps come up behind her and stop. Rias took a shuddering breath and closed her eyes, "Of course. When I wasn't paying attention."

"Are you okay? You're not hurt, right?"

"I'm fine."

"You were close to that explosion-"

"I said I'm fine." She said in a short tone of voice that cut him off. After she did she pulled her legs in and wrapped her arms around her knees before hiding her face.

"Rias…what's wrong?"

"A clone. I couldn't make you use Sage Mode. Or Elemental Nirvana. Or your chakra cloak. Just one clone to match me. That's it."

"I took advantage of a chance in battle. I did that because I have a lot of experience fighting. That's not something you can get just through training."

"Right, but I didn't quite realize the size of the gap until now. I'm…so weak."

"No, you aren't." Naruto quickly dropped to a knee and held her shoulder, "Rias the power you have is extraordinary and I've never seen you run out of energy. You've been practicing like that for a whole hour, using up your power, but you were still able to do all of this with your strength."

"I know, and I still fell behind." Rias lifted her head and rubbed her eye, "The people in the Underworld call me one of the Four Rookies because my peerage has advanced and improved in ways they've never seen. But I…I haven't done any improvement myself." She groaned in frustration, "Most Devils are born at the level of power they'll have for the rest of their lives, and by many standards, I'm supposed to be exceptional for my age. But they're wrong."

"I've heard people say you were a genius."

"Maybe they think I'm talented and gifted…but I've seen talent and gifts." She shook her head, "Watching Onii-sama…and Grayfia…that's the pinnacle of greatness. I've just been looking up at them. For the longest time, I thought this was all I could be. But Sairaorg did what few other Devils ever bother to do or even deem necessary. He trained…and became so much more."

"Comparing yourself to people more talented and stronger than you." Naruto sat by her side and leaned back on his hands, "Preaching to the choir."

She looked down at her hand, "I never thought the training was necessary until I found my peerage and we got wrapped up in all this insanity. Then I knew we had to change and pick things up. But while I encouraged you all to get better I…I just stayed the same. And now I-I'm frustrated that I'm so weak and I waited this long. "

Rias finally lifted her head and looked at Naruto, seeing the understanding and sympathy in his eyes as he listened, "Sairaorg said he'd forfeit the match if you weren't allowed to participate. He's been struggling through blood, sweat, and tears to reach this point and he'd give it up because he believed we'd be at a handicap without you. I wanted to win the Rating Game and someday reach the top rank but I'm only now realizing the only way I could do it now is by dropping all the hard work on my peerage. How is that achieving my goal? How is that the way to do this? And what about when we're in danger and it counts? How can I help you all if I can't even hold up my damn weight in a battle?"

After she had stopped, either to take a break or just let the exhaustion of her rage drain out of her, she sat in silence. Naruto shuffled in place before looking up at the ceiling. He let his foot swing around in silence before speaking, "You know, we don't need you to just be strong and capable. We look to you for-"

"I heard this already."

"You did? When?"

"From Akeno after you turned me into a child."

"Oh. So did it just not work?"

"Oh no, it did. It helped put some of it into perspective." Rias nodded, "But I'm still frustrated at how much I'm lacking in power. Can't I fulfill the other qualities of being a leader and helping the people I love while still trying to get stronger?"

"Yes. Yes, you can." Naruto chuckled at her pouting face, "And it helps if you've already gotten the talk because it's hard making it off the top of my head."

"That's never stopped you before."

"Fuck off." The couple shared a quick laugh, Rias' mood-improving from the sulking disappointment she was showing earlier. Naruto picked himself up and held out his hand, "How about we do a little more training right now?"

"Together?"

"Yeah. I'll help as much as I can." Rias took his hand and he pulled her up to face him, "We do this now and you'll be better than you were when you woke up. And if we do it tomorrow too you'll be stronger than you were today." He gently rubbed her hair and lowered his hand to caress her cheek, "One day at a time…one step at a time…and that big divide you're standing across will grow smaller and smaller. It might not be enough to close the gap before the Rating Game but by the time you try to stand at the top…you may very well be able to do it all on your own."

Rias leaned into his hand and relaxed before looking up at him with a smile, "I didn't mean I'd want to do it alone."

"Oh, I know. Like I said the boys want to help you win, and I promise the girls are no different. But hey, imagine that we're all so strong that one day you can win the Rating Game competition solo is a pretty lofty goal." He kissed her nose before he stepped back and wreathed his hands in flames, "Ready?"

She did the same with her Destruction, "Ready."

||||||||Devil||||||||

The ORC had gathered in the living room of the Arashi Heights private levels and were enjoying their morning gathering. They sat around a table and ate their hearty breakfast as a large family.

"Kiba-kun, you look more well-rested today." Irina said while buttering her toast, "Did you finally get to sleep properly?"

The young [Knight] nodded, "I did. Shukaku-San finally left me alone after he got to run around more freely so he's bothering me less. Small miracles."

"Hey, where's Naruto and Rias?" Azazel asked as a chewed on a strip of bacon, "I don't see them anywhere."

"I went to get them this morning but the bed was empty." Koneko stopped in the middle of eating her cereal, "It was dry and didn't smell so they didn't even do anything last night."

"Does it worry anyone else how casual we are becoming talking about the sex lives of our friends and how it might only get worse the longer we do it?"

"I think we're well past the point of caring now."

"Morning everyone." They all looked up to see Rias and Naruto walking over to join them. The duo was still in their tracksuit and PJs respectively but disheveled after their training session, "It all smells so good."

"Well good morning Rias, we were just talking about you." Akeno greeted her best friend, "Where have you been?"

"Oh just getting some training in with Naruto." She looked his way and smiled, "We did some good work this morning."

He smiled back and nodded. Even if the progress wasn't remarkable, one step at a time would still get there in the long run.

"Ew."

"C'mon Buchou, not this early."

"What?"

"Okay, I take it back. We don't need to hear about your weird sexual exploits this early in the morning."

"S-Sexual - n-no! I meant actual training!"

"Rias-Buchou, you don't need to brag. We get it. You've taken the next step. Good for you."

"No, I was training! With Naruto! I was learning to better control my powers and attacks!"

"Oh, I'm sure you were."

"I-I've been up since dawn training by myself!"

"We didn't need to hear that!"

"I just strengthened my resolve and promised to get stronger for all of you!"

"I don't see why you have to drag us into whatever practice you've been doing."

"Don't put words in my mouth!"

"Why? No room?"

"WHY ARE YOU ALL SO AWFUL?!"

Safe to say that Rias' promise to grow stronger and stand by her peerage's side would reaffirm itself after she had gotten to punish every single one of them.

||||||||Omake: Not aerodynamically logical||||||||

"Hey Uzumaki!"

Naruto lifted his head and found a group of boys and girls in their school uniform approaching him. He narrowed his eyes and tensed his body as he prepared for whatever angry tirade or insults they might throw his way. It had been months since people tried to pick a fight or argue with him. The fact he had integrated with the ORC and so many famous people did wonders for public opinion, but it seemed not enough.

The group approached his desk and the frontman looked down at him, "We got a question for you."

Naruto frowned, "Oh yeah? What is it?"

"Does…does the arm thing help?"

There was a moment of pause as the stranger's question hung in the air. Naruto finally registered that it was a question and not some thinly veiled insult against him before he quirked an eyebrow, "What?"

"You know your running thing." He demonstrated by holding his arms back behind him parallel to the ground as he leaned forward, "Does that help with speed or aerodynamics or something? How are you so fast?"

"I…I don't know what this is."

"Allow me to explain." A long-haired girl stepped forward, "Uzumaki-kun, we're with the track and field club here at school and we wanted to know about your running technique."

"You got first place in the dashes you were a part of in the sports festival! And you competed against other members of the club too!"

"We just wanna know if that weird running style you use is effective."

"Weird?" Naruto questioned in surprise. He looked around before finding Akeno, "Hey Akeno, do you think I run weirdly?"

"Seriously? Do you think you don't?"

"T-That's just how I run! Why didn't you say anything before?"

"I thought you had already come to terms with the fact you look like a fucking idiot when you run like that."

As Naruto reeled back from the shock of what he heard, the track and field team persisted, "We don't care that it looks weird! Can you please teach us for our regional championship?"

"Please!"

"We're begging in you Uzumaki-senpai!"

"Have a heart Uzumaki-kun!"

"F-Fine! Fine! Stop crowding my desk!" Naruto barked and got the club to back away before he stood up with a sigh, "I can't promise it'll help you win or anything but I'll teach you my forms."

And so the track and field team was put through arduous training to find the peak of performance and efficiency. Soon enough they clear all hurdles and broke every record with the technique they affectionately referred to as 'Naruto Running', for whatever reason.

"Our track and field team were just announced as national champions." Rias noted as she leaned into her boyfriend's side, "You did a good thing helping them, Naruto. It's why I love you."

"Hey Rias, I don't look weird when I run, do I?"

"SAY SOMETHING!"

||||||||Devil||||||||

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