• ComStar would like to thank everyone for their participation in this year's succcessful April Fools joke. Frankly speaking, given last year's digital COVID debacle, we were a little hesitant about running such an elaborate prank again this year, but everything really came together nicely and we all had fun. Madame la Comtesse de Comstar (Still Totally Neutral)

Humanity's Illusion (Highschool DxD)

Chapter 24


Well-known member
They hadn't told her absolutely everything Philip remembered. But they told her most of it. That this was Philip's second life, about Ophis, the Khaos Brigade, Rizevim Lucifer's plans with Trihexa. Philip noted he was mildly disturbed at the look Kuroka had when he talked about Vali, Issei, Ddrag, and Albion.

Once he had finished speaking, Aya left to clean herself of the mud, and Philip had realised the time. Thus, Kuroka was left alone with her thoughts.

Part of her hated that her sister would be in danger. That she had been in danger. That she had been hurt. Another part of her believed Shirone, or Koneko, wanted nothing to do with her. It would be… easier, to simply move on.

But Philip had said he remembered something about Koneko also being hurt by her disappearance.

"You alright?" Philip asked as he moved the boiled potatoes off the stove to drain the water. "You had a look on your face that reminded me of how I felt a little while ago."

"Just…" Kuroka shook her head. "I'm fine. So, what are you making?"

"Meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and steamed carrots." Philip replied, removing the pot of carrots from the heat. "Can you pass me the milk and margarine?"

Kuroka watched as he mashed the potatoes, adding the milk and margarine.

"How did you learn how to cook?" She asked him as he set the mashed potatoes on the table, next to the cooling carrots. "Your past life?"

"Kinda, yeah. But my parents, here, well, if I didn't cook for myself, I'd be eating fast food all the time."

"Fast food isn't that bad." Kuroka pouted at him. She liked some of the options here and there was no need to exhaust oneself cooking.

"Not all of us can magic away fat and muscle loss." Philip poked. "But eating it all the time would get tiring as well."

Kuroka shrugged.

"Oh, right, meatloaf in the oven." Philip said, remembering to check on it. "Seems done. Can you tell Aya dinner is ready? Minori seems to be running late again."

Minori groaned as she pushed the door open.

"Sorry, that took so long. Client was… an entitled idiot. She caused her case to be thrown out." Minori shook her head. "But at least I'm not going to be punished for it. My boss is annoyed that we even accepted it, with how bad we now know she is."

She blinked, looking around.

Kuroka was playing with Aya's console on the couch, though she looked distracted.

Philip and Aya were washing dishes, though both seemed upset. Philip more so, though Aya kept trying to stick to his side. Which wasn't unusual, but Philip didn't usually flinch when she was the one to do it.

"Alright, what happened?" She demanded, closing the door behind her.

"Kuroka knows about DxD, and I blasted my parents with a mind spell. I'm worried I'm becoming a sociopath because my first impulse was to kill them, Aya is worried about me getting hurt, or losing me, and I assume Kuroka is still dealing with the whole… future events thing." Philip summed up, over his shoulder. "Oh, and I'd be dealing with canon being slightly off the rails, and the Sacred Gear still. Did I forget anything?"

"I don't think so." Aya said, drying a plate and putting it away.

"I see." Minori frowned. "Well… lying to Kuroka while asking her to trust us wasn't going to be stable in the long run anyway, not to mention was morally wrong. But… what happened with your parents Philip?"

He sighed. He dried his hands and sat at the table before explaining the series of events for a second time.

Minori sat across from him and listened. She noted Kuroka was paying attention, even as she played the game, and Aya kept glancing at him, even as she kept washing the dishes.

When Philip finished telling her what he had already told Aya, looking more drained than before, Minori stood and placed a comforting hand on his shoulder.

"Philip." She stated firmly. "You are okay. With how they act, it's okay to feel angry at them. To want to lash out. You had the willpower to resist the temptation to kill them, even though you could."

Philip slumped, hanging his head.

Aya hurriedly dried her hands and hugged him.

Minori sighed.

"Philip. You are not a monster." She said. "You don't use your power for amusement. You don't enjoy hurting others. You were the only person to befriend Aya, and you didn't hold it against her for not telling you she was a kitsune."

Philip said nothing, and Minori noted tears slowly falling down his cheeks.

Before she could say any more, a knock sounded at the door. Minori cursed whoever it was. Philip was not her child, but she hated seeing any child in pain, physical or otherwise.

With a glance at Philip, she got up to answer it, a bitter tone on her tongue.

"Hello." Minori blinked down at the person at the door. "Is Philip here?"

Kuroka's mad scramble to disappear before Serafall Leviathan saw her was audible and defeated any progress she made to being unseen.

Serafall yawned, apparently unconcerned with the stray devil's presence.

"Sorry, up for a week straight." Serafall lacked any of her normal cheer, looking asleep on her feet. "I don't suppose I can speak to Philip? It's not urgent, but I do have something for him."

"Hello, Serafall." Philip greeted, stepping to the door. His eyes were red and puffy, with streaks from his hastily wiped tears still visible on his cheeks. "I assume you found something?"

"Yeah." Serafall yawned again. "Are you okay?"

"It's… a… person issue. I'm fine." He said, in a tone that convinced no one.

"Are you sure?" Serafall asked, frowning.

"So, what contract did you make with the Leviathan, Philip?" Minori asked, concern colouring her voice.

"Uh…" Philip blanched, trying to remember what had been spoken of.

"It wasn't a proper contract." Serafall shook her head. "But we can make it one. I would only need you to do part of my job and deliver something for me."

"Who would it be to? I can't exactly teleport well." Philip said.

Serafall grinned and pulled a pair of large manila envelopes out of thin air.

"This one is yours, and this one is for Kuroka." She grinned as she handed them to him. "I just need you to deliver it to her."

She yawned again.

"Blegh. I hate working straight through a week." She shook her head. "Even if it's for a good cause. Well, that's all. Oh, right, you can also call me Levi-tan! Okay, that's it. I need to be off. My So-tan is Student President and is working hard. I can't wait until the school break to see her."

"Uh, sure… Levi-tan. Thank you." Philip said. He paused. "That is a terrible pun, by the way."

Serafall just stuck her tongue out at him.

Minori frowned as the devil vanished in a teleportation spell. She was certain Serafall had teleported here inside the barriers and wards. They apparently needed more work.

Philip glanced at the envelopes in his hands.

"Okay, she's gone, Kuroka." He called back into the house as Minori closed the door. "This one is for you… and let's see what is inside."

"You don't know?" Kuroka gingerly took the envelope.

"Oh, I have an idea." Philip said. "So, basically, all I did was ask Serafall to look into your story… both of us knowing part of the official story is garbage."

Kuroka gave him a slightly hurt, and confused, look. She hooked her finger like a claw, tearing the top of the envelope open.

Philip read through the contents of his envelope. It was a series of news clippings translated into English about a series of arrests that had taken place, as well as a couple of fights as some people resisted arrest. There was also a press release about illegal experiments that had been done, against Underworld law, and the perpetrator's fates.

"It's… they… dropped all charges," Kuroka mumbled as she read her contents. "I'm… I'm free. I can even take the exams if I was sponsored as part of a peerage."

She froze.

"I could visit Shirone."

Philip squawked as she tackled him in a hug.

"Thank you." She sobbed.

Philip gently pushed her off and rubbed the back of his head. Something that Kuroka seemed slightly disappointed with, and Aya slightly smug, before turning to concern.

"Ow." Philip clutched the back of his head. "My head hit the floor. And it was the right thing to do, I think. Canon's is already off the rails, so why not help you two heal, and give Rias' rook an option to learn senjutsu sooner?"

Kuroka sat on the floor, looking at him.

"Your right." She shrugged. "Well, I guess that means I need to step up both of your training."

Aya flinched.

"Eh, your lazy enough that it's an empty threat." Philip said, still lying on the floor. "Aya, can you get me an icepack? And Kuroka… how old is your sister?"

"She would be thirteen. Why?"

"Because that means we have around three years until canon, assuming my memories are accurate." Philip said.

"Not going to ask how old I am?" Kuroka teased.

"It wouldn't help, from what I know." Philip shrugged, taking the icepack from Aya. "Besides, it's rude to ask a lady's age, here in Canada and the West."

"I'm eighteen." The nekoshou pouted.

Minori coughed to cover her amusement.

"Oh, right. So, I received an email on my way home," She looked at the three of them. "Someone put out a general call for magicians, and anyone willing to help them. I recognise the name, an Inuit Elder. They are asking for anyone willing to help them with a recent upsurge in Mahaha attacks. They plan to wipe out as many as they can. I… dislike the idea of sending any of you into a fight, but, Philip, it might be an opportunity to meet other magicians and find another group to work with and learn from, and Aya has already done far better than I did in training."

She held up her hands.

"I'm not saying you should. I'm just letting you know it's there. Though, with how dangerous Mahaha apparently are, it would be good to remove them. Think it over for a while, please?"
Chapter 25


Well-known member
"Thanks for letting us know about this. The money would be nice." Rob said. "But why does anyone live this far north?"

"Many reasons" Philip replied. "And there are many communities further north than Cambridge Bay."

"Well, it's too cold," Kuroka whined, sliding on the snow and ice.

Philip had decided that he would take up the opportunity to connect with other mage groups. He could not afford to rely on Minori's contacts and connections forever. Aya had decided she was going with him, and Kuroka had decided that she wanted to see what Mahaha were like herself. Any claim it was because the only person who could cook well was leaving she refuted.

Philip had called Rob and Moreal for extra help, betting that they would be interested in the cash bounty on Mahaha. Another friendly magician and Fallen Angel certainly wouldn't be unwanted either.

He failed to account for the possibility that Moreal and Kuroka might not get along.

"It's not that cold. There is barely any ice on the ground. Your just an overfed housecat." Philip flinched when he heard Moreal's barb.

"Ignore the crow." Rob sighed as he tramped through the snow. "Some of the reagents she was using had gone bad, or been contaminated, or something, so they caused her lab to explode. Spent a good chunk of cash replacing it, but she is still grumpy."

Philip paused. A raven had just laughed.

He looked at it. Its red eyes looked back, as it shifted on a telephone line.


"We know about the shapeshifter." A new voice said. "He's a nuisance, but harmless. An Ijiraat. Only one of a handful in Nunavut."

"You're the magician that invited us?" Aya asked.

"Yup. Name's Hunter. Yeah, I know, a stereotypical name for Inuit using English names." Philip frowned, doubting that was Hunter's name. Aya and Kuroka easily saw through the lie, seeing his aura. "Thank you for not attracting attention, by the way. You covered the teleportation well enough that we missed it."

"No problem," Philip said. "So, are you taking us to the meeting, or are we to find lodgings first?"

"I have a list of places you can find lodgings. The town is small, but traffic is non-existent, with few visitors, so the hotels should have places." 'Hunter' said. "There was another group, all human, with a loudmouth idiot. The leader looked Chinese, a magician in the group had glasses and the loudmouth was this massive guy, with grey hair. I think there were four of them. I don't suppose you know them?"

"No. Sorry." Philip shrugged. "Rob? Moreal?"


"Doesn't ring a bell. Lots of humans can fit that description."

"Wait… you're not human?" Hunter looked at Moreal, baffled.

Moreal gave him a heated glare.

"Just because I'm pudgy and don't have massive breasts, doesn't mean I'm not a Fallen Angel!" She huffed. "Honestly, this used to be the standard of beauty a couple of centuries ago!"

Hunter wisely decided to flee.

"Uh, here's the map of the town, and the schedule for the groups. Got another group to check on, bye!"

The shapeshifter on the telephone line let out a distinctly non-corvid laugh at Hunter's retreating form.

"And you can stop snickering, lazy housecat!" Moreal stuck a finger at Kuroka. "At least I'm getting some action!"

"Okay, enough, both of you! I caught you messing with her emotions Kuroka!" Philip barked. "Please, we are here to help deal with the Mahaha."

"Fine. Long as she stays out of my hair."

"But it's so pretty, nya!" Kuroka flinched at Philips's look. "Fine, fine!"

"So, you think he realised neither Kuroka nor I were human?" Aya asked.

"No idea," Philip replied.

"It has been a rather long time since a Kitsune has been up here." The Ijiraat said, fluttering down in front of the group. His form stretched, the feathers becoming liquid, the beak flattening and lightening into skin, while the liquid feathers became hair and clothes.

The Ijiraat smiled at them with good humour. His face was wrinkled, like that of an old man. His features made him appear as if he was one of the local Inuit. Only his featureless red eyes betrayed his true nature.

"Ah, it's always rather amusing to see people make fools of themselves. You are a kitsune, yes?" The gravel crunched beneath the black boots of the shapeshifter. "My great-grandfather spoke of one of your kind, over a century ago. They had snuck aboard a ship headed from Japan to Canada, and they headed north. Looking for something he thought, but they left for England, a long time ago."

The shapeshifter shook his head.

"I, myself, have never met a kitsune, though I hear they are as good with illusions as my kind are."

"I'm better with foxfire, honestly," Aya said. "Philip is more into illusions."


"Nothing spectacular. I'm still working on it." Philip shrugged. "So, any hotels you recommend?"

"Green Row and Inns North. I recommend Green Row since the annoying group is at the Inn."

"Thank you for the recommendation," Philip said. "Come on, let's get some places at Green Row. Probably going to be more expensive, but the bounty should cover it."

"So, I think the shapeshifter is following us."

"Probably sees us as more interesting than any of the other groups," Philip responded to Aya. "Besides, he's also probably a spy for the local magicians. Now… I can understand why Rob and Moreal are sharing an apartment, but why were you adamant we save money by all three of us sharing one?"

"Because I trust Kuroka and you, and we should save money? It's a two-bedroom place."

"So, your making one of us sleep on the couch?" Philip shook his head. "Besides, I had future knowledge. I… stole some money from my parents and used it to get rich… ish."

"Wait, what?" Aya blinked in confusion.

"Yeah, I remembered a couple would get big, so a took around three thousand from my mother's 'slush fund'. She never noticed. And yes, she called it a slush fund."

Aya frowned.

"How rich are you?" She narrowed her eyes. "And really? You stole it?"

Philip shrugged.

"Okay, it's only around tens of thousands, but still. I can afford another place." He said. "And kinda, yeah. Not like they do anything to help or support me."

Aya seemed to struggle with her words for several moments.

"You didn't say anything?"

"I was footing the bill. And it's not a lot in the grand scheme of things. Most of the money came from selling off Disney stocks, actually. Microsoft, Apple, and Google are going to grow a lot in a couple of years, so I am saving those. Oh, and Facebook."

Aya sighed.

"Still, Philip, I… shouldn't let you waste money. Besides, we already rented this place for the week."

Philip sighed as he saw Aya start to blush.

"Yup, this is definitely DxD." He muttered before responding. "Something tells me I wasn't going to be the one sleeping on the couch, and that you had no plans to wake up on the couch."

Aya's blush deepened.

"We can share a room!" Kuroka called from the bedroom she had claimed.

Philip facepalmed as Aya yelled at the nekoshou.

Outside, the Ijiraat laughed.

Philip shut the curtains with a flick of his wrist and a spell.

"Okay, this is the high school," Philip said, the next morning. "This should be where the meeting is."

Aya had ended up sharing the large bed with Kuroka, while Philip had the other to himself.

"If the schedule is correct, we should be about half an hour early."

"So, spread out and socialize?" Rob asked. "Fine by me."

"I'm thinking small groups." Philip shrugged. "That work?"


"Fine with me." Rob and Moreal replied.

"I'm sticking with you," Aya said. "Kuroka, you're with us as well."

The catgirl devil pouted at the kitsune.

As Philip's hand brushed against the door, he froze as the hairs on his neck stood up. Kuroka forced herself not to react. Aya frowned in confusion. Moreal tensed in confused recognition. Rob just gave everyone a confused look.

Philip glanced over his shoulder.

Four people, bundled in winter gear, walked towards the high school, the other group Hunter had mentioned he assumed. The leader was a Chinese teen, looking around fifteen. A bespectacled teen was keeping up a Someone Else's Problem spell. A massive man, muscles visible through the strained coat walked with them. The fourth member of their group was a woman, looking to be a teen, with a sword on her hip.

But it was the Chinese teen's weapon that caught Philip's attention. An ornate spear… radiating more holy light than Philip had ever sensed in one place. He could sense it even without trying to.

Philip directed his attention back to the door, using a spell to hold it open, and directing his group through. He paused, holding the door open for the second group.

Cao Cao smiled at him, giving him a nod of thanks.

Heracles simply ignored him.

The woman Philip assumed was Jeanne gave him a wink.

Georg smiled and offered his hand.


"Philip." He said, shaking the offered hand.

"So, what group are you with?" The dark-haired teen asked, with a faint German accent, barely noticeable.

"Used to be with the… ah, shoot, what were they called? Seekers of Knowledge! But I was only with them a short while before they got wiped out in Egypt by some Fallen." Philip replied, careful of what he was revealing. "You?"

"I recently left the Grauzauberer. Cao Cao leads my group." Came the reply. "We are a new group but growing. The muscle is Heracles, the reincarnation of the mythical Heracles."

"Isn't he a god?" Philip frowned as he walked with the other magician towards the school's gym.

"Ah, yes, technically." George frowned. "As I understand it, it's their spirit, if not their soul, that reincarnates. Jeanne carries the spirit, and sacred gear, of Jeanne d'Arc, despite Jeanne d'Arc being a saint in heaven."

"I see… related to the Sacred Gear system then?"

"As I understand it, yes."

"That the sword of St. Catherine at her side then?"

Georg looked baffled.

"I'm… not familiar with that sword."

"Nope!" The blonde spun on her heel, walking backwards. "It was placed in the Sacred Gear, but I haven't been able to retrieve it yet. So, you're a magician too?"

"Correct," Philip said. He noted Jeanne was not speaking with a French accent, but instead a Quebec one, a fact he found amusing.

"Cool!" Jeanne grinned. "Now Georg can stop pestering me about how my Blade Blacksmith works! He has his own Sacred Gear anyway!"

Georg sighed and pinched his nose.

"Blade Blacksmith? You can make swords?" Philip knew the answer, but it was better to ask.

"Yup! I can make holy swords!"

"Any thoughts on this?" Philip pulled the modified exorcist pistol from his bag of holding. "It was modified to use several other elements, at the cost of efficiency, but the bullets aren't very stable, and are thus inaccurate."

"Uh, I… just know how to make bladed swords with my Sacred Gear, sorry."

Georg sighed again.

"May I take a look?" Philip tossed the blocky pistol to him. "Hmm… This enchantment here, it appears to be underpowered. Perhaps redirect the enchantment that is bleeding energy there, to reduce the waste. It should correct the accuracy issue and increase the stability of the rounds."

"I tried that. Just gets more unstable, as it causes a feedback loop."

"I see." Georg frowned. "Perhaps…"

"C'mon Georg! Stop wasting time on magic shit. We got Ma… Ma… whatever to kill!" Heracles bellowed from the entrance of the gym.

"My apologies, Heracles is a bit of a brute."

"I understand." Philip took the blade back. "Good luck hunting Mahaha."

"So, what was that about?"

"Georg is the descendant of Johann Faust and a very good magician." Philip glanced at Aya as Georg vanished. He kept his voice down. "Plus, I didn't want to seem hostile, despite knowing their group's goals, though it is possible they aren't part of the Khaos Brigade yet."

"So, now what?" Kuroka asked, leaning over Philip's shoulder.

"Now, we chat with the other groups that don't look too hostile," Philip answered.

"So, then I decided to try testing it on the dog…"

Philip regretted it. Most of the groups were suspicious. It was an understandable paranoia, as the devils and Fallen had been spending centuries conscripting people into their organisations, and even if it had mostly stopped in the centuries since the end of the Devil Civil War, there were still plenty of dangers in the supernatural world.

The groups that were willing to talk with his group, however, tended to either be looking to wring secrets out of them or were plain crazy. Or loved to hear themselves talk, as was the case here.

Philip blinked when he saw Rob waving him over.

"Pardon me." He excused himself. The magician never seemed to notice and continued to talk about a minor enhancement spell he had created, that had killed every animal he had used it on.

"So, what did you find?" Aya yawned.

"This is mister Smith, he's part of another group, that is looking to recruit people," Rob explained. "I mentioned your work on adapting the holy light spears to a spell."

"My organisation would be willing to purchase the spell, even if you are not interested in joining. We are primarily a research group, but we do look to protect or otherwise support humanity where we can." Mr Smith held up his hand. "Now, to be clear, we have no issues with any of the factions. But our goals are ultimately in support of humanity. Our group is open to non-humans, but our leadership is restricted. We also do not have a strict hierarchy, rather, we operate as a collective research cooperative."

"Now, could I see your work?"

Philip conjured a spear of foxfire.

"Light version doesn't work too well, yet. I can get the light aspect, but then it's just a spear of physical light, lacking the holy aspect, yet this foxfire spear does offer some holy damage." Philip shrugged. "It works, but not to the degree I am happy with."

"Well, I can guarantee my organisation would be interested in an exchange." Mr Smith said. "Ah, but we can talk later. It would seem our hosts are ready."

One of the Inuit magicians clapped their hands.

"May I have your attention? Thank you for responding to our summons. Over the last century, Mahaha attacks have been slowly rising. From one sighting in nineteen-oh-two, there was a sudden surge in attacks in nineteen-forty-four, a total of twenty in a single year. They have been slowly rising, roughly one per year, on average. But last month, a large number of them attacked one of our research camps. There were several fatalities. This behaviour is anomalous, as they are often solitary. Therefore, in addition to a bounty on every corpse brought back for examination, there is a bounty on any information found that points to where they may be coming from."

Another Inuit stood up.

"In the following slides, I will detail what to expect from them, their strengths, weaknesses, and observed deviations from standard behaviour."

Philip felt himself starting to nod off. There was no element he didn't recognise. They were solitary, weak to drowning, as they couldn't swim, and were fast. They had no supernatural durability, though they were smart enough to ambush anyone with guns.

"In addition, they can influence a person's mind, causing a state of euphoria. This effect is strongest if you are touched by one, but their laughter can cause it as well. Therefore, it is recommended to avoid being in melee if possible and to wear some form of auditory protection. Spells will work."

Philip nodded, making a mental note. That was new.

"They are also flammable, fire can burn them, but they are smart enough to use the snow to extinguish it. We have noted that these deviants are significantly more flammable than normal. Therefore, we recommend you use fire spells, only if necessary. We need intact specimens for research. A bonus will be paid for these intact ones."
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Chapter 26


Well-known member
Philip was able to peel a pack away from the large group.

As they had been told, the Mahaha were sticking in packs. What had been surprising was the large group of sixty, roaming only a few hours away from the town. They had reported it in and were informed they would be given a bonus if they could deal with the group, and that reinforcements would be en-route.

Philip had, at Kuroka's suggestion, used a simple fae illusion to trick a pack of twelve into moving away from the larger group. Suspended in the air by a magic platform created by Rob, they had been safe enough from any retaliation. The Mahaha didn't seem to have any senses beyond sight, and they didn't look up, perfect for practising illusions.

Aya watched as the pack moved in a half-stumbling, half-leaping gait. She frowned as she heard them laugh. It wasn't the sort that was described by the locals, it was… deeper, and reminded her of a hyena's, being very animalistic, rather than the echoing human-like laugh described.

Her heart was pounding as she saw them claw their way through the still-thawing tundra.

"Okay! They seem far enough away." Kuroka said, taking charge as one of the most experienced. "I'll drop a cloud of poison on them, meant to affect undead, and the rest of you pick them off."

Aya swallowed.

Moreal leapt from the platform and floated on her own wings. A vial of some concoction in one hand, while the other held a spear of light.

Aya frowned at the way Kuroka flinched when it started to make the air hum.

"They are sensitive to the power of light it seems." Philip directed the group's attention to the Mahaha, who had stopped and were looking up.

Aya swallowed her fear, and coated her fingers in foxfire, forming long claws. She leapt with Kuroka, landing amidst the group. She knew she was afraid, but at the same time, the fear felt detached.

She wasn't sure if it was fear because it was her first battle, or if it was because Mahaha had nearly killed her. But she found it didn't matter.

'Fear was the mind-killer' as one of Philip's books said. Well, she found that was not the case for her.

One Mahaha slashed at her. It was child's play to slice one of its claws to pieces, leaving it reeling as blue foxfire ate away at its hand. Another leapt, and she pulled Kuroka's trick, pushing solidified aura out, to make the target's internals move in the direction she wanted. The Mahaha's momentum abruptly stopped, and it came crashing down to suffocate on its own ruined lungs.

She flicked the mist Kuroka was creating into the face of another with her tail while carving yet another one, distracted by something it saw. A burst of foxfire from her tails slew another.

A sidestep made one miss her entirely, to be impaled by a spear of foxfire created by Kuroka.

Aya blinked as the corpse dropped, the fire eating its way out from the gaping wound in the corpse.

"That was… fast."

Kuroka nodded.

"Most fights are. It's when they are drawn out that there is an issue."

Moreal landed.

"I agree. It's part of why I chose alchemy. It's so much easier if your enemies 'die in their sleep' rather than having to fight them directly." The Fallen Angel alchemist said.

Kuroka blinked at the Fallen in surprise, while a dejected-looking Rob lowed the magic platform.

"Too fast. I didn't get to do anything, and aside from whatever Philip did to slow them down, neither did he." He gave his lover a disturbed look. "Is that why you told me you can't cook?"

Moreal gave him a bashful look, shrugging.

"Point of fact, I didn't do anything to slow them down. I distract one and bound it. Let's see, Kuroka killed six, Aya five, and the one I captured is twelve total." Philip said, stepping towards one Mahaha Aya realised was simply bound to the ground, rather than dead. "Well, let's take a look at you…"

Aya gave him a confused look.


"Because… this looks only superficially like the Mahaha we faced," Philip said. "Kuroka, was your mist affecting them?"

"Nope. But their auras felt like corpses, empty of any soul or spirit, and coloured by suffering." The catgirl said, inspecting one of the dead Mahaha. "Didn't they say the Mahaha had nails, not claws?"

"Exactly. Plus, these teeth look blunt, human-like, rather than the pointed ones." Philip commented. "Skin looks like it has oddly distributed spots of fat, and they moved so much slower than the first one."

Rob groaned.

"Of course, we end up having to deal with some lunatic manufacturing undead monstrosities." He hung his head. "If it's not the mercenaries we hired to protect us turning on us, no offence Moreal, it's the temple turning out to be possessed. If it's not that, it's undead abominations."

Moreal rubbed his back sympathetically.

Kuroka glanced at Philip.

"Possessed temple?"

"Before I met him. No one died, but the whole expedition was a waste of money and time." Rob groaned. "My luck sucks."

"You met me." Moreal pointed out.

"My luck mostly sucks." Rob corrected.

In the distance, from the direction of the larger group, there was the sound of an explosion, and a pillar of light shot into the air.

"So, any bets as to where Cao Cao's group is?" Philip joked, before gesturing to the live Mahaha. "Right, let's call this thing in."

Aya gave the live Mahaha, as much as a living corpse could be called alive, a disgusted look as it was hauled away.

Philip was off talking about payment with Rob and Hunter, suggesting spells or items, since the Inuit magicians were apparently alarmed at the cost of so many bounties. Other, larger groups had been found and destroyed, and this was only the first day, with no sign of the origin found.

She nearly jumped when a voice called out from behind her.

"'Scuse me, this the group hunting Mahaha?" Aya turned and saw a tall, scraggly-looking magician, dressed in a thick winter coat, with a sharply dressed blonde woman beside him. "Didn't mean to startle you."

"It's alright, I'm just… distracted." She blinked. The stranger, a magician himself now that she focused, had a pump shotgun hanging from a belt and a pistol on a holster. "Ah, yes. The man over there, called Hunter, he can tell you more, but yes, we are hunting Mahaha."

"Good. Overslept and missed the meeting earlier." The stranger said. "Name's Merlin. No, not that Merlin, my parents were just unimaginative. I'm from Chicago, and this is Lacresha."

The woman gave her a nod.

"She's my secretary and is generally in charge of helping me keep my life in order."

"Unfortunately, the plane ride made us misjudge the time zone difference, or rather, lack thereof," Lacresha explained. "Now, I believe we should check in with Hunter."

"Pleasure meeting you…" Merlin paused.

Aya blinked.

"Ah, I'm Aya."

"Pleasure meeting you Aya. Hopefully, we didn't miss all the fun." With a snort, the strange magician walked off towards Hunter, who appeared to have come to some sort of agreement with Philip and Rob.

Aya sighed.

That night, she laid awake in bed.

Sleep was not coming easily to her.

Kuroka shifted next to her.

"Can't sleep?" For the second time that day, Aya found herself surprised by a voice. "You sure you don't want to sneak into Philip's bed?"

Aya rolled her eyes at Kuroka's teasing.

"It's serious then?" Kuroka sat up and looked at Aya. Yellow eyes peered through the darkness, glowing faintly with both ki and demonic power. "Do you want to tell me?"

Kuroka's tone was… strange. It took Aya a moment to realise that there wasn't the usual teasing tone to it, or an air of disinterest or sleepiness Kuroka usually held. She seemed genuinely concerned.

"It's…" Aya found herself struggling to put the feelings into words. "At the time… I was scared. I had never fought a battle before, just the sparring. I… but then… when I realised it was over, and so quickly, I… found myself disappointed. I'm… I'm not sure what it says about me."

Aya tensed when she felt Kuroka put her forehead against hers, and then rub against the side of her head. The Nekoshou's arms wrapped around the young kitsune, pulling her into a hug.

"My former master… when I first entered his service… I was happy to do whatever it took to protect my sister. But when he said, absentmindedly, that he was going to use her in his… awful experiments..." Aya felt a slight tremor from Kuroka, as she returned the hug. "I felt angry. It… hollowed me out. I felt… so tired afterwards, but also happy, sick, and terrified. I… I don't know what to do about my sister. I… I tried to push her away, so that she wouldn't be punished for my actions, but instead…"

Aya felt something wet fall from Kuroka's face and strike her cheek.

"I'm going off-topic." Kuroka sighed. "It was the first time I had killed. I… enjoyed protecting my sister, but... I felt disgusted that I had killed a person. I had only done tests, I'd never had to fight a real battle, but after that, while I was running, I had to fight more than one group hunting me."

"What are you trying to say?"

"Why did you agree to come?" Kuroka asked her. "Why did you follow Philip?"

"Because I want to help him. I don't want him getting hurt."

"Then hold onto that. That is why you fight. Do whatever you have to, to protect him."

They lapsed into silence.

"Are you going to keep holding me?"

Kuroka said nothing. Several moments later, she let out a fake snore.

Aya rolled her eyes, but she felt no need to push the catgirl away. Her presence was comforting.

"I'm jealous of your sister," Aya said, her eyelids starting to feel heavy. "I never got an older sister or any siblings. My father died not long after I was born. I'd like to have had an older sister like you."

Kuroka tensed, as Aya fell asleep in her arms.

"I'm a terrible sister." Kuroka softly said. "I nearly got my own sister killed, trying to protect her."

A.N. What, were you expecting good psychological advice from Kuroka? She isn't exactly in a good head-space at the moment.
Chapter 27


Well-known member
Philip yawned as Aya left to get breakfast.

The local magicians had set up a kitchen to feed everyone. They were rather big on community and keeping the people working for your happy was a logical idea.

"Not used to being up early?"

Philip blinked.

"Not this often. Sorry, you are…?"

"Merlin. I talked with your friend yesterday?" The scruffy-looking magician said. "The Japanese-looking one? Anyway, Hunter told me you were the most familiar with fighting Mahaha, of the non-Elders?"

Philip frowned.

"I'm… not sure how much that is actually true…"

"Well, you aren't a musclebound idiot, or someone relying on raw power to kill them, that's closer to what I was told," Merlin admitted.

"Ah. Yeah, okay. So, Fae illusions work against them, visual ones at least. No magic resistance, I was told last night, but that doesn't mean they are vulnerable to any specific spells, besides being flammable."

"No burning down the town." A blond woman carried a pair of plates past.

Merlin grumbled at his friend.

"You burn down one building while fighting a vampire with a flamethrower…" He shook his head. "Anyway, before I go eat, mind if I ask why you work with non-humans? Not judging, just… seen more than a few puppets of the fae, vampires, devils, etc. etc."

Philip bit back a snort.

"Aya is a close friend. Kuroka is her teacher and another friend. Rob was part of the same group I was, and… well, Moreal is with him." Philip shrugged. "I'd rather not get into personal details with a stranger."

Merlin studied him a moment, then nodded.

"Most people under supernatural control end up in some sort of… distant state. Mind magic is not subtle, and most of the supernatural factions don't do subtle when they are so used to just… wiping mortal memories." He snorted. "So, what are these strange Mahaha?"

"Fast. Dangerous in close combat for a human, and their claws are sharp. As for what they are… I'm not sure. They are undead of some sort, Kuroka mentioned their auras having twisted fragments of suffering, and their teeth seem too… human, and unlike some of the drawings I've seen." Philip explained.

Aya glanced over at Philip, chatting with Merlin.

Kuroka's words from last night echoed in her mind.

"Hmm?" Kuroka hummed glancing at her. "Don't drop the food."

Aya adjusted her hands, holding the plates of food for Philip and herself.


"No problem." Kuroka smiled at her. It made Aya frown. There was something with Kuroka's smile recently that seemed… off, whenever she looked at her. "Come on, let's eat before the bacon cools off!"

Aya rolled her eyes and followed the gluttonous catgirl.

"Anyway, I'd best go eat. Thanks for the information." Merlin nodded to Philip, walking off to join Lacresha at a table.

"What did he want?" Aya asked as Kuroka and her sat at the folding table that had been set up.

"We were just talking about the Mahaha. He seems convinced that someone manufactured them. So, there is good news about our payment for the job: We are getting it in a mix of cash, diamonds, reagents we can sell for a good price, and get this: Pheonix Tears." Philip grinned. "They are expensive, and they are using them to reduce their actual costs of hiring us, but they have a reliable supply. Apparently, a Tariaksuq found a way to breed phoenixes in their little plane."

"Plane, nya?" Kuroka asked.

"Ah, so, if I remember it correctly, Tariaksuq are these half-human half-caribou people that exist as shadows in the corner of your vision. The name literally means Shadow-People. They mostly live in a place sort of like the fae realm, a shadow copy of the arctic, or at least a decent chunk of it." Philip shrugged sheepishly. "I don't remember much else about them, but the local magicians trade with them."

"Oh, like a natural pocket dimension, such as Mount Olympus, or the East Youkai faction's Kyoto." Kuroka nodded. "… what's a caribou?"

Philip groaned in defeat.

The wind had a bitter chill to it on the second day of hunting.

"Nothing to the east for a good hour," Moreal reported, landing on the magic platform. "I checked as best I could, but aside from some hairy buffalo, I didn't see anything."

"Muskox," Philip informed her. "There was a lone pair about half an hour ago, I took care of them. But it's been quiet."

"Nothing to the west either, nya." Kuroka sighed.

"North was clear, and the South was covered by another group," Rob reported. "This is odd. You'd think there would be less around the town, and more around wherever they are coming from."

"Yeah." Philip agreed, only half listening.

"What are you two doing?" Kuroka leaned over Aya's head, her breasts brushing Aya's fox ears in the process.

"Marking where everyone found Mahaha, and in what direction they were travelling," Philip replied.

"Not that most groups were paying attention to 'unimportant things'," Aya grumbled. "That muscle-bound idiot just started hitting on me, ignoring my questions."

"At least his leader… and other members of his team, were treating it more seriously." Philip pointed out. "I don't trust that Cao Cao, it's a rather pretentious name he is using, but at least he is paying attention, unlike a couple of the other groups."

"For a group of 'wise men', they act more like a bunch of teens playing one of Kuroka's online games." Aya snickers.

Kuroka paled and glared at the kitsune.

"You know about those?"

"Uh, yeah? You left World of Warcraft open."

Rob and Moreal snickered at Kuroka's mortification.

"Eh, you already played the most game out of all of us, so it's not something we didn't know." Philip pointed out. "Anyway, got enough information to note that there is way more of them to the East of the town, to our South."

A thunderclap sounded from the South.

"Should we… check it out?" Rob asked.

"Love, you didn't need to ask," Moreal replied, spreading her black wings. "Should I fly ahead?"

"Do it," Philip ordered. "We'll be close behind."

The 'Mahaha' numbered over a hundred. Many claws reached out to kill and maim.

Heracles just laughed with glee, his every blow sending dozens flying.

They tended to get up again afterwards, but he didn't care. Just more things to hit.

It made Cao Cao roll his eyes.

Georg for his part was doing an admirable job, using barriers and his Sacred Gear to funnel them towards the three fighters.

Jeanne was doing an equally admirable job, despite her time training with them having been short. Her swords cleaving through claw and bone alike.

More impressively was the dragon made of swords that fought by her side. She was the third among Cao Cao's growing faction to achieve Balance Breaker, something that surprised him, given her personality.

Cao Cao gave a noise of derision, parrying the clumsy attack from yet another Mahaha that thought it could sneak up on him. A follow-up blow from the butt of the True Longinus ripped its meridians apart, leaving it a quivering immobile mass that was easily dispatched.

Had the blow been against a living target, it would have been immediately lethal.

The battle was moving well, if slowly, partly due to Heracles losing himself to his battle frenzy, and letting his blows become sloppy. Cao Cao contemplated why they had been singled out for this ambush, and it had clearly been an ambush, as something had preplaced the Mahaha, and had sent a spell to direct them to attack.

Perhaps their master saw them, rightfully, as the most dangerous threat. Or perhaps they set this up to catch any of the hunting groups, simply to thin their numbers. Whatever the reason, it would take far more than this to defeat descendants and reincarnations of legendary figures.

Another Mahaha was dispatched, impaled by the blade of the spear.

"Ugh, why are there so many of them!? This is boring already!" Jeanne called out. "Georg, can't you wipe them out with a spell or something, they aren't very tough!"

A large lance of fire impacted the centre of one of the larger groups of the monsters.

"Yeah! Like that!"

"That was not my doing Jeanne," Georg called back.

"Indeed. It seems the magician you spoke with has arrived with his group." Cao Cao noted. "Likely attracted by the sound of the fighting."

"Feh, more like the opportunity for our share of the reward!" Heracles bellowed, tossing another Mahaha into the air.

"You haven't killed any Heracles!" Jeanne mocked. "What reward?"

"The hell you say, Jeanne!?"

"I'm just saying! You keep just punching or throwing them!"

"Enough." Cao Cao barked as he watched Philip's group sent multiple spears of magic and power into the massed Mahaha. "We finish here, then discuss the newcomers."

Philip hurled another Elemental Lance of fire towards the massed Mahaha. Its structure weakened in the spell, and the flame's given more permanence, let the Lance explode into a wave of fire, like a cheap fireball. Not as efficient, or effective, as the actual spell, but it was more than good enough. Mahaha didn't have defensive spells that needed to be beaten down in the process.

Aya hurled her own Elemental Lance with him, while Moreal sent spears of light, enhanced by some potion she swallowed, at individual targets. Rob was left to control the platform.

Kuroka watched the Hero faction members, or perhaps the proto-Hero faction if it hadn't formed yet. Philip was concerned about their future actions and having knowledge about them made sense. Plus, she realised her long-range attacks would make it obvious she was a devil or were too short-ranged at the moment.

She frowned as she caught Cao Cao looking at her pensively.

The Chinese teen looked away after a moment, as the last Mahaha was pulled apart by Heracles, annoyed both at the fight ending and at having been called out over his lack of kills.

"Philip, was it?" Cao Cao called. "You have our thanks. It would have been exhausting to destroy so many by ourselves."

"Our pleasure," Philip called back. "We were wondering where they had all disappeared to."

Cao Cao laughed. To Kuroka's ears, it sounded fake.

"Well, why don't we split the reward for this group, equally between us?"

"Per member or group?"

"I believe member would be the fairest."

Kuroka snickered quietly as she saw Heracles sigh and slump in relief.
Chapter 28


Well-known member
"You know, it occurs to me, that a lot of things have been happening recently," Philip said, twisting an illusion to make a pack of around twelve Mahaha attack each other. "Egypt, this, its… a lot. Especially with all the heavy hitters I've run into now."

Aya snickered.

"The Hero Faction is a surprise, but in hindsight, us meeting them eventually was going to happen." She pointed out. "Though, yeah. Hopefully, we can get some rest. This week has been exciting, too exciting."

"Really? After the first day, the only large group was the small army that attacked Cao Cao. Then it was at most a group of fifteen. Numbers dropped significantly." Philip shrugged and finished off the last Mahaha with a flick of his wrist and a spear of water and ice. "Kinda boring actually."

Aya glanced at the Mahaha grasping at its ice-covered face as it suffocated.

"By the way, I get that Moreal and Rob went in another direction, but… where did Kuroka go?"

Aya frowned as she glanced back at Philip.

"I… don't know." The young kitsune frowned, crossing her arms. She began to pace around the floating disc Philip was projecting. "I remember waking up to her using me as a teddy bear again."

She glared at Philip as he snorted. She flicked his nose with the tip of her tail.

"But I don't think she came with us."

"Think she slept in?" Philip asked.


Cao Cao was paranoid. He seemed to think someone was after him.

To be fair, at the moment, someone was.

Kuroka silently crept into his room. He had laid many traps and wards, but he had a flaw in his training. He was clearly taught by someone very skilled at senjutsu, he apparently even knew some magic and kenjutsu. But there were gaping flaws in his defence.

Whoever taught him wanted him vulnerable to divine magic, and to a clever senjutsu user.

Kuroka slipped through the wards with ease.

Cao Cao's team would be away for some time, so she also had time to look around, but she quickly realised there was no point. Some clothing was all that was brought.

Part of her felt bad not telling Philip or Aya her plan. But Cao Cao was dangerous. A Sacred Gear as powerful as his could tip the balance of power, and with his plans, Kuroka thought herself justified.

She left Cao Cao's room. Heracles was an idiot, and likely was not the one checking his own gear and luggage for tampering. Georg was likely too clever, not to mention was likely not going to have the same vulnerabilities as Cao Cao.

Fortunately, there was an easy option, tied into basic psychology.

Jeanne's room was easily entered. A ward was easily fooled by the catgirl's senjutsu.

She padded over to the luggage, clothes spilling out of it.

Jeanne was likely checking her own luggage, partly because she was the only woman in their group. That meant one only had to hide things from her.

A tracking spell with devil magic, hidden by senjutsu, on one of her pairs of underwear would let Kuroka find their base, assuming she took the pair of underwear with her. Though the spell would need to ping first, and that would reveal its existence, Kuroka knew she would need to time it well, and wait patiently.

She slipped out of the hotel, no one the wiser.

No mortal, anyway.

The red-eyed raven watched her leave from the powerline above.

Briefly, the shapeshifter thought about saying something. To Kuroka, the local magicians, or Philip. Then the idea was discarded. That would be boring, besides, those four were jerks and they tried to hit him with a stone, just because his eyes were red. They didn't even know the local myths of his kind.

Philip and Aya blinked, seeing Kuroka lazing about on the couch.

"Back already?" She asked with a grin.

"They called a meeting," Philip stated bluntly. "Let's go."

Kuroka pouted.

"Into the cold again?" She whined though she started putting cold weather gear on. "What about?"

"Don't know, just that they recalled everyone. My guess is an attack, or they found something," Philip explained.

"I noticed Merlin was missing," Aya said. "When we passed by the high school on our way here."

"Might have been inside already." Philip pointed out.

"Hello," Merlin said, as everyone filtered in, standing before a table. "My name is Merlin, some of you may have met me while we were clearing Mahaha. Now, the reason this meeting has been called is because we have found the source of the Mahaha."

The assorted magicians, adventurers, and mercenaries erupted into whispers.

"At this point, we do not know what the source is. We have however identified the location. Scouts are looking into the defences, but it appears to be a teleported castle, likely devil in origin. A Mahaha was tagged and released. It made its way there, revealing its location through the wards that had previously hidden it from us. The castle is on the far side of the island, so our Inuit friends are making preparations to allow us to get close to it quickly."

He paused.

"Actually, what are your spellcasters called?"

An Inuit elder snickered.

"Magicians and druids. A few spirit talkers. We adapted other's styles to our own needs and traditions." Another elder explained in English. "Some of our traditions are private, so having other options is useful."

"Okay, thank you." Merlin nodded. "Then, with the Inuit magicians preparing our transportation, we need to organise and plan our actual attack. Cao Cao, was it? You have the heaviest hitters in your group. The Circle of the Golden Fleece will support you, and you will be the main thrust of the attack."

An attempted protest from another group of magicians was shut down by a glare from an Inuit elder, as Merlin carried on. He would occasionally ask questions about a group's capabilities, before assigning them. Philip noted there was little actual subtly to the plan. All brute force, direct attack, with groups supporting each other.

He raised his hand.

"Yes? Philip, was it?"

"What about us? Speciality is illusions and stealth. We could slip past into the castle." Philip suggested.

Merlin frowned.

"That is rather dangerous. We don't know what, or who is in there. Just because it's a devil-made castle, doesn't mean that's who is inside." The potential for traps went unsaid.

One of the elders, the one that had spoken in English, stood up.

"We would appreciate it if you would check who we are facing. In addition, we have an Ijiraq that would be willing to assist you." A red-eyed raven watching from the rafters froze. "They are more familiar with local beings, and could advise you, in addition to their own illusion abilities."

"That would be appreciated." Philip nodded.

Aya glared at him. She was not amused at Philip putting himself, and them, in unnecessary danger. But Kuroka's words from several nights ago echoed in her mind. She was going to stick with him regardless.

"Alright then," Merlin said, not sounding pleased at the idea, but unwilling to argue the point. "Above, I want the…"

Moreal and Rob quietly spoke with each other, agreeing to join one of the outer-assault groups.

"Sorry, but we aren't exactly stealthy." Rob apologised to Philip as the meeting devolved into groups figuring out how to coordinate. "Moreal knows some stealth spells, but…"

"But I'm better at not moving from one place, not scouting under invisibility." The Fallen shrugged. "Good for hiding, less so for infiltration."

"That's fine. I won't force you to come along." Philip said. "Kuroka?"

The catgirl-turned-devil glanced at him and gave him a lazy smile.

"I don't have anything better to do, nya." She yawned.

Philip shook his head.

"You sure? Not saying we wouldn't appreciate the help, but this is a bit more than just culling Mahaha." He frowned. "The idea that someone is manufacturing human hunting monsters is…"

"Khaos Brigade stuff. Yeah." Kuroka said quietly, her ki muffling the sound of her voice to keep her from being overheard. "It would explain why Cao Cao is here."

Philip nodded. Then, he sighed and glanced at Aya.

"Don't you dare ask." She shook a finger at him. "You are not getting yourself in danger this time without me."

Philip snorted and held his hands up in surrender.

"So, anyone wanna bet how we are getting there?"

The group shivered as they were pulled from the shadow world.

"That was not fun," Kuroka whined.

Philip shook himself.

"Okay, I get that it was stealthy and fast, but really, that wasn't pleasant." He noted. He blinked and stared.

"This was as close as we could get." The Ijiraq shrugged, taking the form of a red-eyed wolf. "Safely, anyway."

Philip stared that the massive castle, about ten meters from them.

"I'd say this was close enough." He pulled an illusion around the four of them. "So, how are we getting in?"

The wolf shrugged.

"Allow me." Kuroka stepped towards the castle wall, and carefully felt around the wards and enchantments. "Okay, I can carry one person at a time over. Ijiraq-san, you can fly. Don't use spells to fly, they might set off the alarms."

Philip winced.

"The illusion spell…"

"Is quiet enough it should be safe," Kuroka confirmed. She shuddered as the wind blew snow around. "Quickly please, it's cold, and the assault will start soon."
Chapter 29


Well-known member
The castle was eery as the quartet moved through it, carefully concealed by illusions. Ten minutes after they snuck their way in, they heard the sounds of battle.

They dove into alcoves as troops, mid-class devils dressed in armour, rushed past.

They held their breath as they employed illusions to misdirect patrols of Mahaha.

"This side room here." The Ijiraq directed them quietly, his wolf feet padding along. "Quickly."

Aya gently closed the door once they were in.

"Well, since we can now confirm that devils are involved, we should probably let those outside know." The Ijiraq said, once spells were in place to keep anyone noting them in the room. "This could potentially start a war."

"We still don't know why Mahaha are involved, or why they are making them," Philip said. "Besides, I've met Serafall Leviathan, and this… well, the other side of their civil war wasn't wiped out. They've been making trouble in other areas."

Kuroka nodded.

"I've also heard… and taken advantage of, those rebels," She admitted. "I had to escape the underworld, and they offered assistance. I'm pretty sure they leak or create strays to cause trouble. So, I doubt it would start a war."

"Causing chaos with Mahaha would be up their alley," Aya said.

"Hmm," The Ijiraq hummed, before shaking his head. "Well, regardless, we should inform our allies. I'm not comfortable continuing about inside an enemy fortress, but you are correct. We need to know why they are doing this."

"I'll send Merlin a message then." Philip started to call up the spell, before pausing. "Uh, any chance they will notice it?"

"Can you ride it along their communication spells?" Kuroka suggested. "If they are paying close attention, they will still notice, but in the chaos of a battle, I doubt it."

"I think I can try," Philip carefully directed the spell. "Okay, I think he got the message."

They all flinched when an alarm began to blare. It was generated by a simple spell, but what it was connected to was a sophisticated enchantment that monitored all spells within the castle. Only certain areas would permit a sending spell and other specific spells. Anything outside of those areas would trigger an alert. All Philip and his group knew was that an alarm had been triggered.

"Move, now." The Ijiraq barked, leaping towards the door. "I doubt they are positioned to catch us, but we need to be fast."

The trio sprang out of the room after him, an illusion wrapping around them as they went.

"Which way?" Philip asked.

The Ijiraq paused, sniffing the air with his wolf snout.

"I smell… corpses, deeper down. Chemicals, rot, magic… and a strange foulness, beyond what permeates this place." The shapeshifted shuddered. "I am willing to bet that that is the centre of power here, the source of the Mahaha."

Merlin grunted as the shotgun barked.

A Mahaha was torn in half by the enchanted munitions, applying vectors of kinetic energy in directions the body was never meant to withstand.

Merlin made a mental note that it was overkill.

Philip's warning of devils, probably rebels looking to stir trouble, had been well-timed. The moment the magicians sensed growing power, they abandoned a direct assault, forcing the enemy to sally out.

Hordes of Mahaha, easily in the high hundreds, came pouring out in ravenous hordes.

Oddly, they lacked even the most simple tactics they had demonstrated earlier, trying to act as a pack, or at least engage targets that seemed weakest.

Rifles barked and more Mahaha died. The Inuit magicians used the same techniques Merlin himself had, combining modern firearms with magic, rather than using magic to ape modern firearms, as the biblical factions did. They proved themselves expert marksmen with them, as a devil on the wall screamed, his magic defences drained by one round, while another shattered them and removed his ear.

"Focus on the Mahaha for now!" Merlin barked at the overeager, but skilled, sharpshooters. "We have the ammo, and have them trapped."

Behind them, several magicians, all from one magician society, pooled their power to prevent any teleportation spells. It was far from perfect, but it would keep their foe from fleeing.

Merlin frowned as their foe suddenly shifted. The writhing mindless mass suddenly began moving with purpose and fell back under the range of spells from the devils on the wall.

"Okay, now you can pick off the devils." He said, annoyed. "Everyone else, save your strength."

"Why don't we just go in and smash the walls?" A wall of muscle complained. "It was just starting to get good!"

"Heracles, would you rather fight chaff or the leaders who are behind this?" Cao Cao admonished with even tones. "But we do need to destroy the wall."

"I'm worried about what Philip and his people are up to, not to mention what our foe is planning," Merlin admitted. "Last I heard from him was the warning about the devils. Hopefully, they are making their way out of the fortress."

"Hmm… the enchantments on the wall are rather strong and are anchored to the local leyline. We would have a hard time cracking them in any appreciable amount of time." Georg adjusted his glances. "Perhaps we should instead go after the ground?"

"Pardon?" Merlin glanced at the teen magician. "What, like an earthquake…"

He paused, and tapped a boot on the frozen ground, still hard with permafrost.

"Not a bad plan, kid. The idiots just teleported the castle into place and secured it with magic. Ground is still the original. Under the wall, anyway," Merlin grinned. "Okay, let's get some heat on the ground in front of the wall!"

One moment, the world was still. Then it rained fire. Lances, fireballs, bolts, waves, and many other shapes and forms of fire rained down on the fortress. The devils on the wall returned fire as best they could, demonic power sending lightning, curses, and counterspells through the air. They never noticed that most of the fire fell short of the wall, hitting where it met the ground.

Georg carefully adjusted his spell. It didn't simply throw fire at the spot.

He noted the Inuit magicians were using enchanted bullets, firing at the spot just in front of the wall. Puffs of steam would erupt moments after the round buried itself in the slowly softening dirt.

Georg's spell had the same general idea. It was more energy intensive, but he had the power to burn. It was a simple warming spell, used to heat up car engines without touching them. A hasty modification to expand the range and area, as well as the heat, ripping out any safety measures meant to keep engines from being overheated, or any gasoline from igniting.

It was slower to charge, but the effect would be well worth it.

Finally, it was ready.

Georg watched the spell work. At first, nothing happened, but then the wall started to sag. Then, with a roar, it came down in a burst of pressurised steam from the ground, as mud was forced into the air.

Best of all, the wall came down on top of most of the Mahaha.

Philip and Aya froze as the castle shook.

He almost lost his spell in shock.

"It would seem our allies are having an effect on the battle." The Ijiraq noted quietly. "Left here. That is where it seems to be coming from."

Philip and Aya were on edge. They had seen only a handful of what appeared to be servants and no guards. No soldiers rushing around, no leaders barking orders. Just empty, dimly lit corridors and passageways. Not even a checkpoint. Kuroka was on edge from it as well, but she was controlling it better.

As they came around the corner, they gagged at the sight.

A massive room, easily three floors tall, with tanks of an unknown fluid attached to two parallel walls. Each one held a body, mid-transformation into a deformed parody of a Mahaha.
Chapter 30


Well-known member
It was a gruesome sight.

Philip felt his stomach twinge.

Occasionally, a body would twitch within the cylinder, making the transparent liquid slosh around.

The centre of the room was dominated by dozens of operating tables and strange machines. More corpses, in various stages of autopsy and disassembly.

Aya heaved as she struggled to keep her ki under control. Kuroka carefully kept any noise from escaping, as she tried to comfort the girl. She glanced at Philip.

He stood, steely-faced, as blood fled his face. His jaw was painfully tight.

The Ijiraq nosed his leg.

"The illusion. Don't let it drop." The red-eyed shapeshifter reminded him.

Philip started, relaxing.

He coaxed the illusion back into place, keeping their presence hidden from observers.

It was crude, lacking substance, but it was quiet. Anyone actively looking for magic use would miss it, but anyone looking for illusions, or for areas that were concealed, and put serious effort into it, would find them.

Fortunately, there was only one occupant in the massive laboratory, too distracted by their work to care.

The building shook as the outer wall came down.

"Can't those idiots do anything right? The homunculus should be numerous enough to crush anything not high-class."

Kuroka sucked in a gasp in shock, recognising the voice.

The devil, having paused their work when the building shook, cocked their head to the side.

"That aura… high-class devil, concealed, but not expertly so. I can't see the concealment spell, very efficient, my compliments, but fae spells rely on blending with the fae nature of their caster to hide properly. Using it to hide a devil is… poorly thought out." The devil turned around, facing the general direction of the group. He was tall, dark-haired with severe features. He did not seem annoyed, angry, or even bothered by their presence. More… bored. "Hmm… combining it with the castle's presence, essentially making you seem as part of the castle, not bad. More thought than most infiltrators bother with. They simply use an invisibility spell. Easily detectable if one knows what to look for. Your mistake was trying to hide a high-class devil I am familiar with."

The devil frowned.

"Oh, do drop the act. I know you are there."

At Philip's direction, the group slowly moved away, around the room, an illusion left in their place.

"If you insist. I will grant you that much." The devil snapped his figures, making his crimson cloak clutter as he moved.

Enchantments built into the walls and floor flared to life, as the devil sent vastly more power into them than they were built for. They shattered and flooded the room with magic.

A few experiments were contaminated or outright died.

Likewise, Philip's spell died as well.

"Hmm. A human magician, a kitsune, a… local shapeshifter, and my son's former bishop." The devil's tone began to drip with venom as he mentioned Kuroka.

"You over-loaded your enchantments… just to dispel an illusion." Philip, despite himself, stated with incredulity. "Talk about gross overkill."

Aya glanced at him.

Admittedly, he had given in to the impulse to avoid panic.

"Perhaps, but we are above a leyline, and I can replace those enchantments easily once I have dealt with the likes of you." The devil shrugged turning to face them. "Hmm… not a Sacred Gear user by the looks of you, nor do you hold any sort of great power… but that fae spell was your work? Not bad. A pity, really. You might have been something useful. Alas, today is the day you die."

"Now," He stretched and shook out his arms, gathering power. "Any last words?"

Philip glanced at Aya out of the corner of his eye. As he did so, he noticed something that made him want to smile.

"I… am admittedly curious about your work here." He said, hoping to buy time to formulate a plan in his head.

The Ijiraq gave him a look. Then his jaw dropped when the devil started monologing.

"At least you see a fragment of the genius! My son preferred to improve what Lord Lucifer created, a noble goal. But I decided to go back to where it all started. Lilith was the first to become a devil, changed by his will. From her blood came our ancestors." The devil gestured to the tanks along the wall. "This has been the culmination of centuries of work. Unlike those paltry 'Devil Pieces', I have nearly perfected turning one creature into another! Human corpses, into the undead Mahaha!"

The Ijiraq blinked, and upon realising the devil was barely paying them any attention, slunk in fox form into the shadows.

Aya made herself less noticeable and began to move around the room, circling the devil.

Kuroka slowly built-up power.

And Philip took two steps backwards.

"From there, we will be turning humans into pure devils! Then making devils from our blood in massive numbers!" The devil paid them no attention. "Soon, my work shall propel us back into power. We will destroy the false Kings, drowning them in our own blood, beneath immense hordes numbering billions! Humanity will be made to serve us, as it should, and the other factions will be ground beneath our heels!"

"But first, I need to destroy you." The devil shrugged. "As I said, a pity. You had some talent. And to be perfectly honest, I don't hate you for the loss of my son, more for the fact that his research was set back by a few centuries, and that I lost a competent research assistant."

Leaving no room for further words, the devil leapt into action, sending a wide area spell at the two of them.

Philip and Kuroka leapt clear of the howling blackness hurtling towards them. The youkai with far greater ease than the human.

The devil snapped his head to the side as Aya leapt at him, claws of gold fire streaming from her fingers.

With a contemptuous look, he backhanded her away. His face contorted into a grimace.

"Holy power… mixed with foxfire?" He rubbed his wrist, where a burn marred it. "My compliments. Your work, magician?"

He frowned when Kuroka conjured a poisonous mist.

Her second attack, a bolt of demonic power, was blocked by a spell.

"Hmm. You have more skill than I assumed. No matter. None of you have the power to kill me."

The devil accompanied his words with a spear of rock, conjured with his own power.

'Philip' 'deflected' it into the wall, returning the favour with a blue foxfire spear.

"Ah, Elemental Spear." The devil nodded. "An old classic. The Roman school then?"

He summoned his wings, leaping into the air to avoid a dual-pronged attack from Kuroka and Aya.

His face morphed into one of surprise when a red-eyed polar bear dropped onto him from above.

He grunted as the weight drove him to the ground.

Philip winced as the Ijiraq was thrown through one of the tanks, glass sticking out from his white fur amidst crimson stains.

"Bah." The devil spat. "Waste of time and energy. I'd much prefer to be working on my… research."

The devil paused to block another Elemental Spear from Philip.

Slowly, the fight moved around the room. None of their blows were breaking past the devil's defences, but at the same time, he was failing to hit any of them, though Aya was getting thrown around more than Philip would like.

Finally, Kuroka's mist began to bear its poisonous fruit.

His reactions were slowing, and presumably, so was his concentration. Eventually, his attempts to block would end up too slow, but Philip was unwilling to take the risk of waiting. He might escape, he might have fallback plans, and he might have reinforcements.

Philip glanced at the corpses.

He might also have necromancy.

Abandoning the illusion of himself he had been using as a decoy, inspired by the fact that the devil's attempt to disrupt the fae spells only succeeded in distributing one, not the then still hidden illusion of the group Philip had conjured, Philip instead slowly stuck the barbs of a spell into the devil.

Nothing changed to the devil… at first.

The devil frowned as the room swayed.

"Ah, the mist wasn't to keep my own illusions contained but to instead poison me. Clever. I should… put more research into ki-based techniques." The devil blinked, and fight against the building pain. Holy power without light didn't circulate through his body, instead, it ate at the point of contact, being combined with fire. "My compliments magician. A clever plan. But pointless. I fought in battles more dangerous than this. You won't kill me here."

A flare from the leyline burst, and the mist ignited, burning away.

"I may not be a frontline fighter, but I do not… I am no simple brute."

Philip didn't waste his breath replying.

A spear of rock, and another of raw demonic power, hurtled out from the devil at Kuroka.

A burst of lightning at the Ijiraq.

A howling void at Philip.

A second spear of rock at Aya.

The devil frowned.

"Too easy. My compliments on the illusion, however." Another burst of power failed to disrupt the illusion. The devil frowned. "Hmm."

He twisted to the side as a spear was driven through a wall.

"Told you that would be faster!"

Philip rolled his eyes and adjusted the illusion to compensate for the new arrivals.

Cao Cao, Heracles, and Jeanne, with Georg in the back, walked through the newly made hole.

"It would seem that our haste, and Merlin's fear, were unnecessary." Cao Cao observed. "Still, since we are here…"

"The reincarnations of heroes and saints. Oh, and the descendant of Faust." The devil snorted. "And using the True Longinus as a wall breaker? Really? How wasteful."

Cao Cao ignored the barb, leaping and thrusting the spear at him.

Philip moved to another position, a new idea and plan forming in his mind.

Jeanne let out a whoop, leaping forwards as the devil caught the holy spear in a spell. He sent another burst of spells, more numerous this time, at Jeanne.

The four of them showed experience, working together, as Georg negated the spell holding the spear in place, and with Heracles leaping in, they quickly pushed the devil back.

Philip pulled on the leyline. Dangerous, but he needed the extra power for what he had in mind.

He twisted the illusion, making the devil feel overwhelmed, and making him misjudge a few blows, earning more wounds, as he stepped backwards.

"Enough!" The devil caught sight of Aya, splitting into several copies of ki to strike between the 'Heroes' blows. The Ijiraq behind her. The devil drank in the leyline, as much as he could handle, and let loose a roaring wave of power, driving everyone in front of him back.

He winced as Kuroka's ranged attack struck him. It was weak, meant more for speed than damage. The devil raised an eyebrow at her as he blocked another attack from her.

It was at that moment he realised he had lost sight of Philip.

And that was the same moment his world became pain.

He slowly dropped his gaze, looking at the massive lance of light coming from his gut.

"Ah." He slurred through the pain. "Clever, you replicated… an angel's… spear of light. Roman school always was… good from stealing others…"

The devil forced his arm to move.

Philip leapt back, ready for a counterattack.

It never came.

A book was pulled from his pocket.

"Here… boy." The devil choked a laugh as he felt the holy light, real, not an illusion, burn its way around his body, eating what little was left of his reserves. "You… created that spell, yes? From one researcher to another, with my... compliments."

The book was tossed into the air.

A heartbeat later, the last of the devil's power was spent against the holy light, and he collapsed.

As Philip inspected the book laying on the floor, Jeanne poked the fresh corpse.

"Was that it? Huh. Not so tough."

"Gah! I was hoping for more of a fight!" Heracles stomped off.

Cao Cao just smirked and shook his head.

"You should have pulled back." Merlin shook his head. "But still, well done. According to Cao Cao, you had already pretty much won against the high-class devil. All his group did was quicken its demise."

Philip sat against the wall.

"If you say so." He rubbed his head. "Sorry, mana exhaustion. Between the illusion, I used on him, and the Elemental Lance I killed him with, plus the stuff beforehand, I'm running on empty."

The American magician snorted.

"Least you know your limits." He glanced around. "Where'd the rest of your friends go?"

"Aya and Kuroka went off to talk somewhere. The Ijiraq, who I don't know the name of, disappeared shortly afterwards. Moreal and Rob left around the same time Cao Cao's group did once they got paid." Philip yawned. "Oh, and Serafall just showed up."

"Hiya Philip!"

Merlin leapt and spun on his heel.

"I told you to call me Levi-tan!" She pointed at Philip.

"He wouldn't know who I was referring to." Philip shrugged. "Anyway, Merlin, the Leviathan. Levi-tan, Merlin. I'm going to go find Aya."

Philip stood to leave the surprised and nervous Merlin behind.

He paused.

"Also, Levi-tan, there is something I think you will be interested in I picked up."

"Uriel-san is also here, with several angels," Serafall said. "Is it something he should know about?"

"He probably already knows about it." Philip shrugged. "So, I don't think it matters."

"I wasn't much help." Aya huffed. "At least you were able to distract him long enough that Philip could kill him."

Kuroka sighed.

"Hey, I never wounded him, aside from the poison mist. You did." She wrapped Aya in a hug.

Kuroka had noticed Aya seemed distraught after the battle. They had found a side room in the castle, after it was swept for any remaining enemies several times, to talk in.

"Didn't do much."

"Aside from the last blow Philip inflicted, neither did Philip." Kuroka shrugged. "I'll admit, we need to work on your close combat skills… and mine. But you did well."

Kuroka frowned and looked down at the top of Aya's head.

"But that's not the only thing bothering you, is it?"

Aya sobbed.

"I… it was awful, what had been done to those people."

Kuroka hesitated only for a moment before she started stroking the kitsune's back.

They stayed there, Kuroka doing the best she could to comfort Aya. It almost came as a surprise when Philip stumbled in, yawning.

He blinked and started to ask a question when Aya abandoned Kuroka's embrace to hug him. A moment later, her tails pulled Kuroka closer, letting her hug the both of them as she cried.

Philip waited for her to calm down, before saying anything.

"You going to be alright?"

Aya shook.

"What… your memories. Is… anything like that in them?" She whispered.

Philip almost answered with a no.

"I… nothing that bad, and I don't think anything like this is going to happen again." He answered instead. "I… this affected me a little, then, but now… it doesn't bother me at all… Serafall is here, along with Uriel. Apparently, the Inuit contacted Heaven about this once they learned of the devil's being involved, and they in turn brought in Serafall. So, I am going to see if, in exchange for the book the devil tossed at me, she can put me in contact with Azazel. I think there are side effects to this artificial Sacred Gear."

Aya hugged him tighter.

"I'm sticking with you." She mumbled.

"So, Philip! What was it you wanted to show me?" Serafall sat on a table. The room in the castle had been once a meeting room, though now long disused. All that was left was a long table and a chalkboard.

"This." Philip pulled the book from his bag of holding. "I flipped through it. Can't read much of it, but the few diagrams do give me an idea. Like this one."

Uriel, standing across from Serafall, frowned, looking at the image in the book.

"An accurate sketch of Lilith, both pre and post-her becoming a devil."

Serafall froze and blinked.

"Wait, that's true?" She stared at the diagram. "I thought she started as a devil."

"No. Lucifer turned her into the first devil, and from her created his armies." Uriel gave her a sympathetic look. "You… didn't know?"

"Parents didn't talk much about it, and it's been a long time since then. I was only forty when the Civil War broke out." Serafall pouted. "There are only a handful of people from that time left, and most of them… well… they were either fanatics or ashamed. But really? So, all that noise the old fogies have been making about 'purity' is garbage?"

Uriel nodded.

Serafall grinned.

"What do you want for the book?"

"I must request a copy, for Heaven's archives." Uriel shrugged. "I would be remiss in my duties if I did not."

"I would like you to put me in contact with Azazel. I've… noted personality changes, and I'm worried they are related to the artificial Sacred Gear." Philip explained.

"Like what?" Serafall looked at Philip with concern, a look she shared with Uriel.

"Oh, thoughts of casual murder, targeted at people that annoyed me, for example. Ended up messing with my parent's minds." Philip explained. "Also, the… charnel house of a lab downstairs? Barely phased me."

Serafall winced.

"Ah, he did give me his number, in case you wanted it experimented on." She admitted. "I figured you didn't want to be a guinea pig, so I didn't say anything. Sorry."

Philip shrugged.

"You guessed correctly. Also, can I ask you to keep an eye on him, so he doesn't screw me over?"

"Done!" Serafall smiled. "You sure you don't want me to introduce you to my sister?"

"I think Aya would protest." Philip felt heat coming from his cheeks. He also heard an embarrassed yelp from outside the room, accompanied by Kuroka's laughter. "Seems Kuroka has already collected our pay. So, here's the book. Any idea when I would meet with him?"

Serafall smirked.


Uriel snorted.

"Without antagonising him?" Philip asked.

"So tomorrow!"

Uriel coughed, with the expression of someone who was laughing but didn't want to be.

"Ehm. Yes, well, I expect the copy to be delivered to us sometime tomorrow, so perhaps the day after tomorrow for the young magician?"

"That would probably work best," Philip said, earning a pout from Serafall.
Chapter 31


Well-known member
Aya sighed as she stepped in the front door.

Kuroka flopped onto the couch.

"Tired?" Her mother grinned at them from the kitchen. Then she frowned. "You two alright?"

"Fine." Aya muttered, vanishing into her room to deposit her luggage. She returned a moment later, and letting her tails flicker behind her. "Just… Philip went to his parent's house. And… Philip is going to head off with Serafall, the day after tomorrow, to get Azazel to look at his Sacred Gear. He seems…"

"Afraid." Kuroka mumbled from the couch cushion.

"Yeah." Aya sat next to her. "Remember how he told us about when he got the urge to…"

She hugged her tails, struggling for the right words.

Her mother's heart had leapt into her throat at the way Aya was tiptoeing around the issue.

"… to deal with them permanently, and instead messed with their heads?"

Minori frowned and walked out of the kitchen. The frozen pizzas could wait. She kneeled in front of her daughter.

"Hey, is Philip okay?"

"I don't know." She mumbled into her tails. "He's worried his Sacred Gear is affecting his mind. Can they do that?"

Minori wrapped her fifteen year old daughter in a hug.

"I don't know." She admitted. "And I… I hate the idea of Philip being near the Grigori. There are rumours that they have made more than a few Sacred Gear users disappear. Serafall is bad enough."

"You… don't like Serafall?" Aya blinked in confusion. "But… you never said anything. You even bought me all those Miracle Levia-tan stuff."

Minori sighed.

"I… I don't dislike her, it's just…" She shook her head. "The devil's don't exactly have a good reputation, and some people might assume we are aligned with them. Kuroka can hide her… reincarnation? Well enough that it's not an issue, but…"

"But… Philip is going to end up getting involved. We have to, if we want to avoid what he talked about." Aya muttered.

Minori found herself without a response. She just continued hugging her daughter until the oven beeped.

Later that night, Aya lay awake in bed. Her thoughts chaotic.

Her mother was afraid for Philip, which made her afraid for him.

Philip was scared of his Sacred Gear and it potentially changing him, and as far as she knew, those couldn't be removed without killing whoever they were attached to.

Aya forced herself to breath. She was going with Philip, so, she had to be awake tomorrow, to get some training in, and so she wasn't tired when Serafall dragged them to see the Governor-General of the Grigori.

She started to meditate, laying beneath the covers.

Her ki stretched out, forming an aura, covering the room, her bookshelves of figurines and books, the many bits of knick-knacks she had collected over the years, including more than a few gifts from Philip, and over Kuroka's still form, lying on the inflatable mattress.

She blinked when her aura reacted with Kuroka's.

"Can't sleep either?" Came the nekoshou's voice.

"No." Aya admitted. "The battle was… intense. I… I just fell into the same pattern from training."

"But it didn't work. Guess we need to teach you to avoid falling into a pattern, instead reacting. Like a cat, nya!" The teasing cheer in Kuroka's voice was tainted with a hollow, almost mournful, tone.

Aya looked over at the older woman, fixing her with her best deadpan look.

"I'm serious. We should start training soon." Kuroka looked back. After a moment, she looked away from Aya. "… am I a bad person?"

"What makes you say that?" Aya blinked in confusion.

"I abandoned my sister. I… I thought I was taking all the heat with me, but… but House Naberius could have gone after her to get to me if I was too elusive." Kuroka sat up and hugged her knees. "She probably hates me."

Aya stared at Kuroka.

"You heard what Philip said. She is more confused about why you left." The words surged to her throat, clicking in her mind. "Besides, you might not have been here long but… I'd like you as my big sister."

It was Kuroka's turn to stare at Aya.

After a moment, she giggled. Aya joined her a moment later, before reaching out and hugging her.

"Stop beating yourself up, before you have even talked to Shirone."

Kuroka nodded. Then she hugged Aya back.

"Thank you." Aya felt Kuroka's tears soak her pyjamas. "Can… can you come with me when I meet Shirone?"


Philip woke to his head pounding.

'My apologies. I'm… not sure if I am causing you any of this trouble or not, but I remember more.'

He blinked as he looked around the misty spot. The mist was so thick, he couldn't even see his feet. He could see a pair of eyes, of indistinct shape, colour, size, and distance, in the mist. He also saw the cracks in the place, that left his view constantly disjointed.

"So, this is… well, the closest I am going to get so far, to meeting you."

'So it would seem.' The voice within the Sacred Gear agreed.

"So, what have you remembered?" Philip asked.

'Nothing pleasant. I… agree with your assessment that I am a potential cause.' The feminine voice sighed. 'Part of me feels hurt, but then, I also share your fear.'

Philip winced.

"Any idea why my head hurts while I am here?"

'No, or at least, no more than you do.'

"Bloody crappy Fallen artificial Sacred gear." Philip cursed half-heartedly. "So… how did I end up here?"

'I… don't know.'

"Well, in that case, how can I leave, just by trying to wake up?"

Philip's eyes snapped open. The mist was gone. He was laying in his room.

A glance at the clock told him that it was time to get up.

'Perhaps, it was born of your desire to find the cause of your… changes?' The voice asked him, as he got dressed. 'Of course, that does little help, considering my predicament. Should… I stop trying to reclaim my memories?'

'Unless that also denies us any attempts to solve the issue.' Philip shot back.

The voice withdrew to contemplate it.

Philip shook his head. Her presence was not unwelcome, but the side effects, and useless Sacred Gear, was.

Today was the day he was off to see Azazel.

Philip was well aware why he was desiring to solve the issue, strong enough to cause the Sacred Gear to react, if that was truly the case.

He was having difficulty differentiating between fanon and canon, but what he remembered of Azazel was not exactly a glowing recommendation. A meddler and a joker. Peace oriented, but also a collector, especially of Sacred Gears. How far he would go to collect something however was a question Philip wasn't sure the answer of.

He yawned as he walked into the kitchen.

"So, ready to go?" Minori asked him as she picked at a bowl of cereal, her eyes focused on the screen of her laptop. She glanced at him.

"Not really. But I don't exactly have an option." Philip sighed as he dug a bagel out of the fridge. "Where are Aya and Kuroka?"

"Not up yet." Minori frowned. "Philip, are you sure you want to go through with this?"

"Honestly, I'm scared." Philip blinked, both in surprise at how easy it was to admit it, and at the fact that his hand had started to shake as he did so. His whole body felt like it was shaking. "Of… not being human. Scared of what the Sacred Gear does. Scared of Azazel. Scared of the whole world, the situation it's in, and the events in about three years."

Philip froze when he felt a pair of arms wrap around him from behind.

Aya placed her chin on his shoulder.

"I'm sticking with you." She murmured. "Not going to let you get hurt. I don't want to lose anyone."

Philip blinked in surprise as she hugged him.

Kuroka yawned as she walked down the hallway.

She paused when she saw Minori smiling at the two of them.

She was the one who answered the door, two hours later.

"Hiya Kuroka-chan!" Serafall bounced in front of her. "Philip and Aya ready?"

She paused.

"Actually, are you coming too? I didn't think to ask."

"No." Kuroka shook her head.

"Hi Serafall!" Aya waved from the couch, Philip next to her, wrapped in her tails.

Serafall grinned as she heard the ending theme of her show be played from the television.

"All ready to go?" She asked them.

"Yeah." Philip said with a deep breath. "Let's go."
Chapter 32


Well-known member
They looked around the converted warehouse as the door was closed behind them by a Grigori.

Serafall strode forwards to where Azazel was sitting at a desk, looking at notes scattered across it. She seemed unconcerned with the presence of so many Fallen, probably acting as a mix of assistants and bodyguards for Azazel.

Philip and Aya moved with much more awareness of where they were.

"Doesn't make sense," Azazel grunted as Serafall stopped in front of the desk. "Plenty of cases where past users of powerful Sacred Gears have left imprints that can influence new users, but not like you've described, and never in artificial ones, especially ones like that."

He scratched his black and gold hair.

"Ah well. Won't hurt to look." He glanced up at Philip. "So, interested in my offer to see if we can make your Sacred Gear something interesting?"

His white lab coat fluttered as he stood.

"I just want it fixed first." Philip paused. "Wait, when did you make that offer?"

Azazel blinked, then glanced at Serafall and snorted. Serafall winced.

"Anyway, so, have a seat beneath the machine," Azazel gestured to a massive arcane contraption, set above an adjustable hospital bed, surrounded by several rings of enchanted icons and writing. "Let's see what it says about your Sacred Gear."

"You didn't use that last time." Serafall narrowed her eyes.

"Didn't think it was necessary. Way more detail than what I usually need." Azazel replied with a shrug.

Philip frowned as he studied the circles, struggling to recognize even half of the figures used. He knew some were of Fallen creation, with a few he recognised as devil in origin, but the vast majority were alien to him. Swallowing, he sat on the bed.

"Okay, I'm going to warm it up."

Serafall watched Azazel as he worked. Slowly, the machine built up a hum.

"So, kid, what sort of magic do you do?" He asked as he worked.

"You don't have to tell him anything," Serafall interjected.

"Oh c'mon. I'm just curious. Besides, I might have a few suggestions for him."

Philip took a breath. Azazel was not directly dangerous, though probably far more ruthless if pressed. Still, He couldn't help but feel nervous.

"Illusion magic, Roman school."

"Huh. Not a combo you see often, but not a bad choice. Good flexibility, without being stuck with just illusions." Azazel chuckled as he adjusted the machine with a spell. "Every tried giving someone a seizure with an illusion; rapidly changing and bright colours, using a cheap spell? It can be a useful distraction."

"Would that even work on a devil or angel?" Philip asked.

Serafall blinked.

"I think it might." She muttered something about telling her 'So-tan'. "Devils and angels aren't that different from humans."

"Yup. Nasty, since most don't have dedicated defences against simple illusions like that, usually out of laziness or arrogance." Azazel grinned. "Anyway, that's the machine set up. The scan should take a minute, so stay still."

Aya fought to keep herself from showing her nervousness. She was pretty sure Serafall had noticed, based on the way she gave her an encouraging smile and placed a supportive hand on the kitsune's shoulder.

Azazel frowned as he read the readout, holding the long paper being spat out by the machine.

"Who uses such an old style of printing?" Aya blinked.

"Machine hasn't had to change much since the eighties," Azazel grumbled in response. "Okay… so, do you know anything about what is inside the Sacred Gear?"

"Not really. She only remembers bare fragments." Philip replied. "Do I need to stay here?"

"One more scan, I want to adjust something." Azazel's tone had shifted completely from teasing to serious. "Really, she doesn't remember at all?"


"Strange. That hack must have done a worse job than I thought. I can fix the bleed over, but I want to see if I can get a better scan to determine what, or who is in there." Azazel began making more adjustments to the machine.

"Bleed over?" Serafall asked.

"Yeah, pretty sure what you were experiencing was a curse placed on whatever is in the Sacred Gear." Azazel shrugged. "Not a huge problem, easy to fix. I could even give it a power boost by letting it feed on that curse instead of it affecting you."

Philip blinked.

"What would the side effects be?"

"Eh, nothing. Can't undo anything you've already done though." Azazel shrugged. "That Sacred Gear has been missing for a couple centuries."

"Wait, there was a Sacred Gear that let people rewrite time?" Aya gaped.

"Was. I think it erased itself out of existence." Azazel shrugged. "Not the first time that happened with a Sacred Gear. There was a vampiric Sacred Gear, which used to have Carmilla herself in it until the last user fed on the Gear's existence to save themselves from some trouble. Didn't end well, but apparently Sacred Gears can be destroyed. It's just very difficult."

"Or it just hasn't reincarnated back yet." One of Azazel's assistances said.

"Yeah, yeah. Anyway, Kid, can you manifest your Gear?"

Philip focused and felt the smoke-like mask half-manifest on his upper face.

"That it? Jeeze. Okay, the second scan is inconclusive as well. I see the flaws that caused the problem to exist, the Sacred Gear was poorly sealed. Also, I think whatever was shoved in there was broken into several pieces." Azazel huffed. "Almost like whoever was putting it together was trying to get the user killed, and torture the being inside."

He huffed.

"I'll have some of my people dig around, and see if we can find a potential match, but I don't recognise any of the readings off the top of my head. Not devil, human, fae, demigod or anything I'd expect to have been stuffed in one of these because it couldn't be killed. Not a Buddha, or anything else that reincarnates either." He scratched his goatee. "Man, what a pain."

"Found something that finally stumped you?" Serafall teased.

"Nah. Just annoyed at the sloppy work making this difficult." Azazel waved her off. "Okay, kid, lie down, let's get that adjusted. I'll tell Shemhazai it'll take a couple of hours, and you can be out of here in like five minutes. Leaving me plenty of time to visit the local establishments."

An assistant quietly slipped out of the room to inform the Vice Governor-General that Azazel was trying to slack off again.

"So, any better?" Serafall asked as the teleportation effect ended, depositing them back in front of Aya's home.

"Kinda? I had a slight headache this morning, I don't know if it was related, but that is gone now. No idea if it worked though." Philip sighed. "We'll just have to see if it did. Going to be paranoid about it for a while."

Aya rubbed his back.

"Well, call me if I need to beat Azazel up for you! Miracle Girl Levia-tan fights for justice!" She smiled and waved, before vanishing into a teleportation spell.

Philip shook his head.

"I'm… going to check on my parents, before heading over."

"Philip… are you sure?" Aya frowned. "They… why do you care what happens to them? They don't treat you right. They aren't nice…"

Philip blinked.

"Where is this coming from?"

"Why don't you just… leave. Stay with us all the time?" Aya muttered.

"Partly, legal issues, and partly I've noticed the local Fallen have been paying more attention to your mother." He hugged her. "Besides, I'd leave if they caused serious issues. I have my magic."

Aya hummed.

"All be back in a few minutes. Won't be long, just want to make sure I didn't do anything permanent to them." Philip reassured her.

A.N. Not fully happy with this one. Fought me a little, partly because of Azazel's character, partly because I don't want to reveal too much about... who is in the Sacred Gear, partly because I don't want to start handing power unearned to Philip, and partly because I am critical enough of my own writing to delay it, but not enough to be able to catch all it's flaws.

Anyway, please post your thoughts.


Well-known member
I have suspicions that it's a certain infamous kitsune in there. One who's rock recently broke IRL. Aya and her mother will probably freak if it's true, nevermind Phillip.
Chapter 33


Well-known member
Minori sighed as she looked at her daughter.

She knew the question was coming, especially since Kuroka had asked Aya if she would accompany her to Japan, to meet her sister.

The question was admittedly innocent, and so was the answer, but it still brought bitter memories to Minori's mind. The smell of burnt flesh and wood, and the acrid scent of gun smoke and blood, tickled her nose.

"Why don't you want to visit your parents?"

Minori took a deep breath and calmed her mind, banishing the old memories.

"I have nothing against them, but… I would rather not go to Japan." She slowly explained. "I… do you remember your mundane history lessons?"

"Um... I don't think we covered Japan, besides World War Two, in school." Aya replied. She blinked. "Oh."

"Yeah. I wasn't part of anything that happened during it, but…" Minori shook her head and swallowed a lump in her throat. "I saw things. I don't want to speak about what I saw, but… I couldn't handle living in Japan after that. When the war ended, I moved to the US, and eventually to Canada."

Minori sighed, noting her daughter's mood had plummeted.

"Not the answer you were looking for, was it?"

"No." Aya hung her head. "Is that why you never taught me Japanese, but have no issue with me going to Japan?"

"Actually, I forgot enough Japanese I'm not confident I can teach it." Minori winced. "That being said, as long as you respect your grandparents while you are there, and mind your manners, it should be fine. Is Philip going with you?"

"No, well. Kinda?" Aya shrugged, looking up at her mother. "He is going to meet us at Kuoh Academy, after he finishes his meeting with Bastet for his staff, while we meet with Shirone. Then we are all going to meet grandma and grandpa."

Minori hated the idea of her baby growing up. She knew it was irrational and unfair, but she also knew how dangerous the world was for anyone not backed by a faction. Still, Philip was on good terms with Serafall, an Egyptian goddess, apparently, and had started to reach out to a couple of magician groups.

Her daughter was also on good terms with the Leviathan, and Minori was fairly certain Kuroka had started to see her as a younger sister.

Nevertheless, fear was rarely rational.

Unaware of her mother's thoughts and fears, Aya felt excited for the trip. Her mother's past had done little to dampen that excitement. Another year of practising had gone by and Kuroka had finally decided to take risk of seeing her sister again. Aya was excited for several reasons. She looked up to Kuroka and wanted her to start healing. It was clear the separation from her sister, and the events surrounding it were causing her emotional pain (and Aya didn't need to read any auras to tell that). She looked forwards to seeing Japan, and her grandparents. She looked forwards to seeing the 'Kuoh Academy' where the events of Philip's memories of DxD would take place. She looked forwards to meeting Kuroka's sister.

She glanced at Kuroka on the couch.

"Kuroka, we're leaving soon!"

The nekoshou didn't glance away from the tv screen, a controller grasped in her hands.

"Just let me get to the next checkpoint!" Her character, clad in green armour, was sent flying into the air by a purple explosion a heartbeat later. "… You know, maybe my sister doesn't want to meet with me. I wouldn't blame her…"

Aya walked over to the couch and hit her between the ears.


"We asked Levi-tan, both to arrange it for us and to check. Your sister wants to meet with you!" Aya glared at Kuroka as she twisted around to look at her.

Kuroka pouted.

"C'mon. Philip leaves in…"

"Now," Philip said, sticking his head out of the hallway. "I'm off. To England, for some reason, but I'm off. I'll meet you in three hours, yeah?"

"Yup!" Aya grinned. "See you then!"

Minori and Kuroka shared a look as Aya watched Philip teleport away.

"Alright." Kuroka sighed. "Let's go."

Philip followed Bastet. Despite her looks, no one glanced at either of them as they went into the backrooms of the museum.

Within moments of reaching the location she had told him to meet her at, she had dragged him to a nearby museum. She had refused to explain why, but she had promised it meant him no harm and related to his promised staff materials.

They came to an office and Bastet knocked on the door.

"Come in." An elderly voice, with an Oxford accent, replied.

"Hey, Thoth!" Bastet bounced into the officer.

"Thoth?" Philip blinked.

Within the office, behind the desk, was what Philip wanted to call the living stereotype of an elderly-looking British professor. Which was probably the point.

Dressed in a tweed suit, complete with a tie, the old-looking man smiled.

"Ah, you must be Philip." He said jovially. "My apologies things took so long, but between the discussion of what to give you, and finding the materials, well, it took time."

He pulled several things out of thin air.

"Here, an enchanted staff blank made from an ancient yew felled by lightning, three ingots of Orichalcum, and this magic orb." Thoth's grin grew. "You know, I've never had the chance to make a western-style staff with one of these orbs. What do you say we collaborate? I lend my knowledge and power, to speed it up, but it will be your design."

"Hey, I was going to teach him how to make the staff." Bastet protested.

"No, you were going to give him several books on the subject, which would have kept him from being able to make the staff for years while he taught himself how," Thoth replied. "Now, what do you say?"

Philip blinked.

"The offer is tempting, but… why those materials?"

"The yew makes a powerful staff for spells, well suited as a conduit, and very multi-role, without any specialisations or complications with any other materials," Thoth explained in a confident and clear voice. "The Orichalcum is similar, working quite well as a conductor for magic, while still having the strength to reinforce the staff. In addition, it was collected from the ruins of Atlantis. As for the orb…"

"It's one of Ra's old superweapons," Bastet said cheekily.

"Hardly." Thoth rolled his eyes. " While Ra did create it, it is merely a copy of an older device, meant for use by magicians. This one is not attuned to any deity, which should make it easier for you to use, and let you divide your power amongst more spells."

"So, what was it for? Originally?"

"This? Nothing, created specifically for magicians as part of a focus. Ra is going to start selling them, soon." Bastet grinned. "The original ones it's based on? Training devices for our magicians, a long time before humans started to figure out their own spells and relied on deities to help them do anything. Let them acclimatise to borrowing a god's power."

Philip shrugged.

"Alright. I would be a fool to turn away knowledge offered in good faith by a god of knowledge." Philip lightly joked.

Thoth snorted. With a wave of his hand, a door that was not there before appeared at the back of the office.

"Come, let's look at my workshop, and see what sort of tools we will need." Thoth led the way. "Tell me, what sort of spells do you usually cast?"

"Illusion and Elemental Spear, plus derivatives."

"Ah, you are no brute I see! Wonderful! Too many magicians prefer raw power over subtler methods sadly."

Rias Gremory's Queen led them through what was now a clubhouse.

Aya knew about Akeno, as did Kuroka, but neither were letting it show. Aya because she was nervous about being away from home and leaving Philip on his own, and Kuroka because she did not know what to expect from Shirone.

"Welcome, Kuroka and Aya." Rias stood from her chair behind the large desk. Her tone was cheerful, but Aya sensed no small amount of tension. "I hope you will forgive me for wishing to speak to you before I let you meet with Koneko."

"You… fear that the rumours are true, that I am… mad?" There was an element to Kuroka's voice that sounded strange to Aya, she had never heard it in the Nekoshou's voice.

Aya elbowed Kuroka when she realised what it was. She was falling back on trying to sound mysterious, to hide her hurt, anger, fear, and pain. She earned a slight glare for her troubles.

Akeno tittered as she stood next to Rias.

"No. I worry what your motivations are regarding her." Rias replied evenly. "I am well aware that the rumours about you are false."

"She is my sister. How could you think I intend her any harm!?"

"I don't. But you hurt her when you disappeared." Rias frowned. A moment later, her eyes focused on something in the distance.

Aya assumed it was because she was communicating with someone through a spell.

It was only then that Aya realised she was inside Devil territory, and both outnumbered and outpowered if it came to a fight.

The door behind them creaked open.

A blond boy gave Rias an apologetic look, but it was the young white-haired girl with him that caught Kuroka's attention.

"Shirone…" Kuroka muttered.

Shirone, or Koneko, didn't raise her gaze from the floor.

A.N. Yup. Cliffhanger. This is roughly one year after the last scene, if that wasn't clear in the chapter. It doesn't mess with the flow, does it?

Hopefully, I'm not making this Rias seem like an ass, just a bit more paranoid than she really needs to be. If you have comments, critiques, or suggestions, go ahead and leave them here.
Last edited:
Chapter 34


Well-known member
A.N. This chapter fought me, and I struggled with the emotional writing. Fortunately, UltimatePaladin on SB was willing to lend some help, so a big thanks to him.

Kuroka waited for her sister to respond. To say something, look at her, or even just react.

Instead, Shirone continued to stare at the floor.

Guilt and pain warred in Kuroka's chest. She gently reached out to touch her sister. Koneko flinched as the hand brushed her shoulder. To Kuroka, the sight hurt as much as an open wound.

She barely noticed the defensive posture the blond boy, Rias' knight Kiba, took beside his white-haired friend as he took a step closer to her.

It made her also aware of the aura Rias and Akeno were putting off, as the air filled with tension. Aya's tails, now visible, flicked nervously.

Before anyone made mention of it, a quiet voice spoke.


Kuroka refocused all her attention on her sister.

"Why did you leave?" Shirone's voice was filled with sorrow, pain, and confusion. "After you disappeared…"

She sobbed as words failed her.

The question sent waves of agony through Kuroka, compounded by each sobbing breath.

Slowly, she forced herself to answer.

She had agonised over it for well over a year.

"I… I wanted to protect you. I thought that, by leaving, you would be safer." Kuroka's voice trembled. "I was wrong, and instead I ended up putting you in danger. I'm sorry."

Shirone didn't move for several aching moments, her head to the ground.

Aya glanced at Rias, sitting behind her desk wearing a look of sympathy. The redheaded devil met Aya's gaze and gave a sad shrug.

The room remained in a fragile silence for several moments.

"Kuroka-neesama…" Koneko broke the silence with a sob. "I… why couldn't you have stayed, or taken me with you?"

Shirone looked up at her sister, tears swelling from her eyes. A heartbeat later, she tackled her sister in a hug, sobbing into her chest.

Kuroka blinked tears from her eyes, and gently hugged her sister back. Shirone tightened her grip on her sister in response.

Aya relaxed, her tails hanging loosely behind her. Yet, she felt a pit gnaw at her chest at the sight of the two sisters embracing. Around her, the atmosphere in the room eased as everyone relaxed.

Rias sighed.

"Akeno, perhaps some tea?"

"So," Rias began, sipping her tea several minutes later. "I understand you have been… housemates with Kuroka?"

Aya glanced at where the two sisters sat in one corner of the room, talking, crying, and simply taking pleasure in being together again. She turned back to the devil and took a sip of tea.

"Yeah. Roommates." Aya nodded. "She also teaches me senjutsu."

"I see," Rias said thoughtfully. "I hope you don't mind me asking but, do you think Kuroka would be willing to join my peerage?"

Aya pulled a face.

"I think it would be safer if you didn't make the offer."

"She would be able to stay with her sister, here, and it would open up avenues for…" Rias stopped herself. "My apologies. I… my peerage is small at the moment, and in devil society that has implications. Not to mention I only have a few short years until the rating games…"

Aya wondered if perhaps Rias was more concerned with her engagement, wanting to stack the deck in her favour for the rating game to dissolve the arranged marriage.

"Well, I shouldn't speak for her, but I don't think she would want to," Aya said.

She didn't want to admit it, especially not to Rias, but she was scared of the idea of Kuroka leaving her. It didn't occur to her until just then, but she found herself afraid of losing the older girl. She realised how comforting it had been to have someone besides Philip to talk to about reality. Plus, there were topics she didn't want to talk to Philip about, that Kuroka was always willing to lend an ear. Or four.

"I suppose I can't blame her." Rias continued, unaware of Aya's thoughts. "Still, I will make sure that she can visit as often as Koneko wants."

Aya glanced at the two sisters, still tucked in a corner, talking softly with teary expressions.

She sighed and placed her empty teacup on the coffee table between the two couches at the centre of the room. Across from her, Rias Gremory gave her a curious expression.

Aya politely declined a second cup from Akeno.

"Is something wrong with the tea?" Rias' Queen asked. Her face was polite, wearing a smile, but Aya heard hits of a dangerous tone in her voice.

"The tea was great." She shifted. "It's just…"

The door creaked open.

"Pardon the interruption, but Rias, you missed a test last period." A dark-haired girl wearing glasses entered.

A devil, Aya corrected herself, noting that she had quite a bit of devil power radiation off her, despite her attempts to control it. Something about the girl's face was familiar.

"Oh, your Levi-tan's sister!" Aya said.

Rias smothered a snicker as Sona Sitri's face paled.

"I see you have met my sister." She said unevenly as she maintained her composure. "I am Sona Sitri, in western order, since we are speaking English."

"Aya Kato." Aya grinned. "Your sister is my hero, and I am a huge fan of her show."

Sona flinched.

"You were a guest star for episode seven, season three." Aya laughed. "No one on the mortal fan forums could figure out why you were on the show."

"I would prefer you did not spread that information." Sona's face slowly took on a red tinge, embarrassment rising.

"I won't." Aya's grin grew bigger. Then she blinked. "Wait, your sister tried to introduce Philip to you."

"I… who is Philip?" Sona blinked in owlishly. She sent a glare at Rias and Akeno. Rias was politely hiding her laughter behind a hand, while Akeno tittered.

"My best friend. He… he's away but will meet us here soon. Once he finished getting his staff from Bastet." Aya explained.

"Why… how does he know Bastet?" Sona's eyes widened as her confusion and surprise overrode her embarrassment at her sister's antics.

Aya blinked and flinched. Her tails rubbing against each other nervously.

"Not allowed to talk about it." Aya bit her tongue. "Your sister dropped him off at home after something happened to the last magician group he was with in Egypt that killed most of them. He's been sending letters to her in ancient Egyptian since. He can even speak it."

Sona blinked. She remembered a night, a few years ago, when her sister suddenly appeared. Looking back, she realised her sister had seemed bothered by something.

"I see… and why did my sister want to introduce him to me?" Sona hesitated.

"Something about a chess match?" Aya shrugged.

Rias snorted in laughter. Sona sent her a glare, even as she blushed.

"I think she was teasing," Aya stated with a glance at the redhead. "He actually started avoiding chess after that, I think."

An unreadable expression flickered across Sona's face.

"My sister's, that is, the Leviathan's humour is often of putting." She composed herself as she handed the papers in her hands to Rias. "Here is the test. You are expected to complete it without references, within the hour."

Aya blinked as Sona fled the room, her cheeks flushed and muttering something about her sister under her breath.

"So, why the British Museum?" Philip asked as he poured energy into the spells.

"Why indeed?" Thoth hummed. "Who don't you take a guess?"

"Making sure the British take good care of the artefacts?" Philip guessed cautiously. "Trying to influence them so that they are sent home?"

"The first was correct, or at least close enough to one of my reasons." Thoth chortled. He scowled as he twisted the metal into a proper shape. "Hand me the crystal. We can bond them together now. Thank you, keep cycling your magic through it, and hold that spell steady. In truth, I first travelled to England because it was one of the centres of knowledge at the time, and it still is to a degree. Getting people to stop using mummified bodies as 'medicine' was another reason."

The claw-like form of the orichalcum, made in mimicry of the illusion of the finished product, clutched the clear crystal sphere. After a moment, it became cloudy, and a storm appeared in it.

Bastet yawned as she watched them work.

"Ah, very good." Thoth nodded. "It has bonded to you. A final adjustment to the staff enchantments should be all that is necessary."

Part of Philip was embarrassed at having copied the Staff of Magius, but it was the first thing that came to his mind when he thought of magic staves. The rest of him was too excited at the thought of it.

"Now, it will take time for you to adjust to it, and to learn how to use it, but it is done. What do you think?"

Philip inspected the staff. It could change its height, and channelling magic through it was easier. Atop the wooden staff was a trio of triangular claws, grasping the sphere. With a flicker of his will, Philip made the storm inside die out, rending the inside of the orb a cloudy white haze.

"I like it. Thank you very much for your knowledge and lending your skill."

"My pleasure."

"Okay, so, if you are all done, what are you up to next?" Bastet yawned as she leapt up from her chair.

"I was going to head to Japan and meet Aya's grandparents," Philip answered. "Why?"

"Phoo." Bastet pouted. "I was hoping to get someone to listen to my first song."

"That what you decided to do?" Philip asked.

"Sadly, yes. But she has no taste." Thoth groaned.

"Your tastes haven't changed since twelve-ten B.C. old man." Bastet shot back at the other god. "Anyway, I think it might be to your tastes. Have you heard of Babymetal and Kawaii metal?"

"Not my thing." Philip shrugged. "Sorry."

"What sort of music do you like?" Thoth asked. "And I am the same age as you Bastet."

"Power metal, filk, anything that tells a story, or history." Philip shrugged. He glanced at Thoth. "Ever heard of Sabaton?"

"Hmmm… well, Bastet can show it to me while you head off." Thoth waved him off. "No sense in dawdling. Time may move slower in here, but not by much."

"Right." Philip stretched and grasped the staff in his hands. "Goodbye then."

"Wait!" Thoth shouted a moment after the teleportation circle flared to life. Philip vanished. Thoth planted his face in his palms. "I… I am the god of Knowledge… and I forgot to warn him that this space can throw off teleportations…"

"He'll be fine, right?" Bastet narrowed her eyes at Thoth. "Right?"

"I recognise the teleportation spell he used. It is very safe. He will be fine… just not where he intended. I also should have let him know the staff might be unfamiliar enough to throw off the destination as well." Thoth sighed. "I'll set up a scrying spell to make sure he isn't in danger."

"Uh… oops." Philip blinked. "Teleportation spell went wrong. Sorry for dropping in?"

The very big wolf just stared back down at him.
Chapter 35


Well-known member
Within the dim artificial cavern, Philip stood before a wolf, larger than a semi-trailer truck. A dim light, emanating from chains around its legs and body barely enough light to see by, illuminated the stonework of the cell the two found themselves in.

Bars, of a strange silvery metal, closed off the only visible exit.

The young magician, though he preferred the less often used term mage, felt his pulse quicken.

The wolf, covered in thick grey fur, watched the small human. Its yellow eyes peering through the matted fur around its face.

Philip's eyes flicked to the beast's mouth, full of enlarged fangs.

He blinked.

The jaws of the wolf were held open by a sword, runes glowing faintly upon its surface.

"Fenrir, I presume?" He said, with greater sureness than he felt.

The wolf, Fenrir, son of Loki and brother of Jormungandr and Hel, cocked its head to the side, in both curiosity and confusion.

"You… don't understand English…" Philip let out a shaky breath, before speaking in broken ancient Egyptian. "Understand this tongue?"

Fenrir gave a grunt and nod.

"Remove blade, now harm, oath?" Philip stuttered, thinking swiftly. He didn't know how he ended up here, but his mind leapt to possible reasons. Khaos Brigade, Loki… not many came to him.

Fenrir shifted, causing the chain around his body to rattle with sounds that defied description, lowering his head toward Philip, and shrank, ending up the size of a small car. The sword, a two-handed weapon, was now the size of a mortal blade.

With another shaky breath, Philip leaned his staff against the bars of the entrance, and reached into the giant wolf's mouth, silently hoping that he had made his intent to ask Fenrir for an oath not to harm him in exchange for removing the blade clear.

He nearly dropped the blade when in came out smoothly. A trail of blood ran down its length from the tip, from where it had been wedged in Fenrir's gums.

The wolf gave a sigh of relief, running its tongue over its teeth and gums where the sword had once been. His gaze returned to Philip.

"My oath given. Yet, your terror. Doubt my oath?" The voice of Fenrir was nowhere near as deep as Philip had been expecting.

"Ah, no. I… Egyptian language… bad, difficult." Philip explained in his broken ancient Egyptian, wishing that he had either spent time teaching Aya to speak it, or arranging something with Bastet so his grasp of the spoken language was not so rusty. "Fear how came here."

Fenrir grunted.

"What I offer to be free of Gleipnir?"

Philip opened his mouth in shock. Then snapped it shut.

He wasn't surprised Fenrir wanted freedom. He had been promised it when he was first bound, and betrayed as the Æsir broke their oath to him. Yet, Philip feared the result. Fenrir was prophecied to kill Odin once released, and Odin's death would harm the Kuoh Accords, assuming they happened. Though, the forces that encouraged it were still in play.

"May I make a suggestion?" The voice of the being within the sacred gear spoke to Philip. "Let him loose, but phrase it carefully. Discuss it with him. I can… sympathise with being trapped. I too would want to be freed, were the option in front of me, and I don't even remember why or how I ended up here. But consider this point: Loki is free, Fenrir looks to have been abandoned here, and yet no attempt has been made to free him, in all the years he has been imprisoned."

Philip frowned.

"Years been here?"

"Number lost to time." Fenrir moaned, letting his head lay on the stone floor. He licked his gums again. "Feels good not having sword in jaw."

Very carefully, Philip chose his next words, and pronounced them with as much care.

"Yet, why Loki not free you?"

Fenrir didn't respond. He just continued to lay on the ground.

"Why kill Odin? He… chase women. Lazy." Philip took a deep breath. "Would free if… no Ragnarök. Like this world. Has my stuff."

Fenrir narrowed his eyes as Philip spoke.

"Best revenge live well, as said." Philip felt cold sweat roll down his armpits. "… If you kill Odin, you die by Vidar. Odin saw in vision, so chained you. Not know that in doing so-"

Fenrir howled and struggled in his chains.

Philip pressed himself against the bars, feeling the supernatural element to the roar strain and tear apart his mental defences.

Just as they collapsed, Fenrir ceased struggling. He lay still, panting.

"Prophecy. All because prophecy." The wolf growled. "Yet, I do nothing, what vengeance there?"

"Life." Philip swallowed, listening to the voice in his Sacred Gear. "Life, that be gone, else. What more important? Odin's death, or freedom?"

Fenrir huffed, and they lapsed into silence.

Aya stared at Koneko.

The young white haired catgirl stared back at her.

Kuroka glanced between the two, seated on the two couches in the Occult Research Clubroom, an expression of concern and confusion on her face. She knew something wasn't quite right, but she couldn't tell what it was.

"Your friend was supposed to be here by now, wasn't he?" Rias interceded, unaware of any problem herself. "Is he running late?"

Aya's eye snapped wide. She broke her gaze from Koneko, glancing at the time on her phone. The Nekoshou grinned faintly.

"He's late." Hints of panic crept into her voice.

Kuroka, to Koneko's hidden annoyance, sat next to Aya, rubbing her back.

"I'm sure he's fine. He was with Bastet and could call the Leviathan if it got really bad." She reassured the young kitsune. "He probably just lost track of time talking to Thoth about magic."

Aya frowned, unsure.

"Know not why father not free self." Philip blinked in surprise when Fenrir spoke. "Walk past me for feasts before put down here, mocked and teased Æsir, but never try gain my freedom."

Philip nodded from where he sat against the bars.

"My own father… lazy. Not care what happen." He admitted, still wishing he could communicate better. The devil's power of Language would be extremely useful right now. "Always watch TV, or drink. Mother just as bad. Sleep with other men for fun and money. Steal money from some too."

Fenrir's features softened.

"Bad parents."

"Bad parents." Philip replied.

A low rumble came from Fenrir's chest as he started to laugh. Philip found laughter rumbling up from his own chest.

"Free me, for no Ragnarök, Odin's life, no end of world by my will. Want meal in exchange, also." Fenrir looked at Philip. "What say?"

Philip gaped in surprise at the massive wolf. He had given up on thinking Fenrir would accept.

"What size meal?" He asked as he stood.

"Size enough for you."

Philip frowned as he inspected the chain. Gleipnir was made from impossible things, or things taken from the world, explaining their absence, to hold Fenrir, depending on which version of the story one believed. Based on the physical presence, Philip was tempted to believe it was the latter, but he was going to hedge his bets.

Part of him feared the consequences of his actions. He was going to help release Fenrir!

The rest of him felt tired and sympathetic. Fenrir did get a rather raw deal, all things considered.

Philip touched the chains, as Fenrir craned his neck around to watch him. He blinked in surprise as the young mage started to laugh.

"Sword magic?"

"Yes?" Fenrir replied tentatively. He watched, as Philip carefully picked up the sword from where it lay next to his staff. Philip briefly paused, glancing at his staff, before continuing. "Sword name Gáttbítur."

"Gáttbítur?" Philip tested the name in his mouth as he angled it, wedging it inside a link of the chain near Fenrir's feet. "Okay, I doubt I have the strength to move it, so…"

Fenrir jaw snapped shut around the hilt of the blade, twisting to be able to do so. He took pleasure in the irony of the situation.

With a squeal that forced Philip to leap clear, the link shattered under the blade.

Fenrir gave a yip of joy as he shook the chains free, the sword clattering to the ground. He then froze and gave Philip a glare.

"Heard nothing." The boy held his hands up.

Fenrir's ears twitched.

"Voices, coming. Smell… Valkyrie and… a god?" The wolf glared at the metal bar doors as Philip grabbed his staff, his stomach dropping.

"… I do apologise. Having seen the spell recording you showed me… I do see how it happened. I will ensure Lord Odin is made aware of the flaw, and an apology is given to your student."

Thoth smiled politely.

"Oh, don't worry yourself. No apology necessary. If anything, I should apologise."

"Oh, I uh…" The white-haired Valkyrie stuttered. "In that case… might I ask… I am writing a paper on a specific subject and I have heard that a magician Bastet or Sekhmet knows is familiar with the subject. First hand experience, from what I have heard."

Thoth winced.


Ahead, deep beneath Asgard, there was the sound of metal being thrown.

The pair rushed forwards, down the dimly lit halls, relying on a light spell cast by the Valkyrie. They passed cells containing Jotunn, deranged warriors, and monsters not seen by human eyes for millennia.

Yet, the sight they saw made them both pause.

"Well, I am willing to arrange that meeting, but… I believe the cost will be Fenrir." Thoth laughed as he came to a stop. "I do hope you have not made a mistake, Philip."

Rossweisse stared at the ruined cell door. At Fenrir, free of his chains, and at the young human with a staff. She took the sight in and fainted.

Fenrir snickered.

"I have his oath that he will not cause or assist the end of the world… but, uh, could we head to a place where he can get a meal?" Philip said, lightly.

Thoth laughed.

Three hours, an apology and explanation from a deity, and a fed wolf, later, Philip found himself deposited in front of Kouh Academy, deep in the devil's territory. His gaze swept over it.

It was surrounded by high cinderblock walls and was almost ostentatious in its architecture. One of the benefits of being controlled by devils with a lot of wealth, Philip figured. Several stories tall, clearly well maintained, covering an area larger than several universities Philip had seen in both his lives.

A voice spoke in Japanese, directed at him.

He turned to the voice, keeping his staff hidden by an illusion. A simple 'someone else's problem' spell that made it as uninteresting as could be possible to mortals.

He found himself facing a glaring devil.

"Ah, hello?" Philip waved, noting the similarities between her and her sister. "You are Sona Sitri, yes? Levi-tan's sister?"

He forced the memories of Serafall's joked from his mind.

Sona flinched.

"You are Philip then?" She replied coldly in English. "I will take you to your friends, and please refrain from referring to the Leviathan is such a way. I am aware you Americans place less emphasis on respect, but I must insist."

"Okay, first of all, I'm not American. Second… yeah, okay, I'll grant you that about Americans, though it can vary on culture and what one defines as respect. Third… I can't. Part of a fulfilment of a contract, she told me to refer to her as Levi-tan." Philip grinned as he followed her lead through the Japanese school's grounds. "I am aware it's a bad pun."

Sona slumped, mumbling something in Japanese about sisters and kings.

"My apologies, I had assumed you were American based on your accent." She replied, giving him a glance. "You are… Canadian?"


Sona sighed.

"And you would be the one my sister had been teasing about putting in a chess match against me."

"Yeah… my condolences for any embarrassment that caused." Philip shrugged. "If it's any help, I think she is just doing that to tease me?"

"My sister can be both teasing and serious, unfortunately." The heir to the House of Sitri sighed. "Here it is, the ORC clubroom."

"Heh, Orc. Are all devils fond of puns?" Philip snorted.

Any answer was forestalled by a dark-haired missile hurtling from the door of the clubroom, striking his midsection.

"You're late!" Aya growled into his midsection.

"Sorry." He huffed, breathless from the floor.
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Chapter 36


Well-known member
A.N. First, my apologies at the tardiness, this chapter fought me. Hard. Fortunately, @UltimatePaladin was a huge help, and he has been, along with @Leechblade, helping me improve my writing.

Anyway, on with the show!

"… then, after I apologised and with Forseti's permission, Thoth guided me on correcting my mistake with my first teleport, and I came here." Philip finished his tale. He left out that Fenris was loose, and that Rossweisse had spent the better part of an hour asking him about his encounter with the fragment of Trihexa, since the less said about Trihexa the better, but had given them the broad details.

"Still can't believe you keep bumping into all these important people…" Aya grumbled, shifting in her seat, something that made both Akeno and Kuroka amused. "Seriously, how?"

"If I knew," Philip said, pausing to brush one of her tails from where it had wandered into his face away. "I would tell you. I'm certainly not doing it purposefully."

"Yes, well," Rias coughed to hide a snicker. "I must admit I am curious about the staff that you said Thoth assisted you in making. While I do not mean to sound rude, it does not appear directly powerful."

Philip rolled it in his hand, the end of it spinning against the carpet.

"Its… more of a focus, a conduit, rather than something powerful on its own, I think." He said, sending a trickle of power into it, and holding a spell formula within it. It was difficult and felt awkward, yet paradoxically, it felt natural, at the same time, like he was feeling two different spells at once, one that was easy to cast, the other difficult.

The orb clutched by the metal claw on the staff's end glowed with a blue light from within.

"Anyway," Philip continued. "I do have a question."

"Yes?" Rias Gremory, younger sister of Sirzechs Lucifer, frowned.

"Has your brother ever lost a golden fiddle in Georgia?"

Aya groaned as Kuroka laughed. Koneko gave her sister a confused look from where she sat on her lap.

Akeno cocked her head to the side and Kiba just look lost.

Rias, with a mildly baffled look, just shook her head.

"I'm afraid I don't get the joke." She started to say, then froze.

There were two voices laughing.

One, was Kuroka's, and rapidly faded when she caught on. The other, came from an empty space.

Kiba tensed and pulled a sword from thin air.

Faint traces of lightning crackled around Akeno.

Rias stood from where she had been sitting behind the large desk in the room.

Philip stood as Aya leapt from his lap, readying his staff, almost eager to test it in combat.

Kuroka and Koneko tensed, shifting to combat stances that displayed the difference in their styles.

Aya's tails fanned out behind her, as she landed on the ground, then she paused.

Her face flickered in confusion.

"Oh, woe is the day that my granddaughter doesn't recognise her own blood." The empty space moaned. The air shimmered, revealing a Japanese woman dressed in modern attire, appearing to be in her late twenties.

She also bore a striking resemblance to Aya, with her dark hair, fox ears, and tails. Aside from the number of tails being two greater than Aya's three, there was one other notable difference.

"Grandma?" Aya said, tentatively, reaching out with her ki, senses, and Philip even noted the faint traces of a trio of spells. A moment later, Aya grinned and laughed. "Hello grandma! … I think you might have been rude sneaking into the Gremory's territory."

"Oh, don't get my husband started on territorial disputes, and it can hardly be my fault if the Gremory wards have great gaping holes in them… but, yes, I should apologise for not announcing myself." Aya's grandmother grinned, before turning to the still rather tense Gremory heir and giving a slight bow. "My apologies for the lack of manners. But I'm sure you can understand my sudden worry at my granddaughter's tardiness. As an apology, may I provide information on the aforementioned holes in your wards?"

Rias sighed, once they had left, collapsing in her seat.

The elder kitsune had utterly evaded detection. The fact that she had pointed out the flaws was a minor relief, but it did underline two facts to the redhead.

One: She needed better security.

Two, and related to one: If her brother realised how vulnerable she had been, he would, probably, drag her back.

She frowned when she heard Akeno start to cackle.

"Akeno?" Her Queen simply held her phone near her ear, listening to something.

"Rias, listen to this." Akeno turned the volume on her phone up.

As the pair giggled at the English country song, something that made Rias' brother feel a chill run down his back, Koneko watched as her sister vanished with the others outside, in a teleportation spell.

"And here we are." Philip announced as the spell's visual side effect faded.

The group stood in the courtyard of what might once have been called a traditional Japanese castle.

The satellite dish on a roof, coupled with what appeared to be a Roman or Greek marble statue in part of the courtyard, ruined the illusion of it being traditional, as did the presence of a number of plants not native to Japan.

Aya studied the fir tree tucked to one side for a moment.

"Some of these aren't real, others are disguised," She noted.

"Well spotted!" Her grandmother nodded, before leading them into the castle itself. "Now, why don't we get properly introduced?"

Kuroka flinched as they passed through the large doors, as she felt the ki construct that compressed the distance.

They found themselves deeper in the castle.

The room was a western-style living room, writ large, nearly a home theatre.

Aya's grandmother sank into one of the couches, gesturing to the others arrayed in a semicircle in front of a massive television.

"Have a seat," She said, wrapping her tails around her like a blanket. She looked at Philip as he sat next to Aya. "Now, I heard your story to the devils, but I think you left out a few details?"

Philip winced.

"Oh, my apologies," The elder kitsune waved a hand. "I did not introduce myself. My daughter has told me your names, but you might not have been told mine. You may call me Masa, or Obaasan, if you wish."

"Right, well," Philip cleared his throat. "I… refused to mention to them but… I might have become sort of friends with Fenrir… and let him loose?"

Masa rested her chin on her laced fingers, coked her head to one side, and let one fox ear droop, as if expecting there was more.

Kuroka stared at him.

"You… let Fenrir loose," She gaped. "I… is it going to be a threat?"

"Probably not. He acted like he owed me, and… well, part of the agreement for releasing him was that he didn't start Ragnarok… and that I fed him a meal. He really enjoyed the fast food I bought him."

Masa cackled.

"You fed Fenrir fast food!" Her laugh became a full-body one, shaking her frame. "Hahaha! Oh… oh granddaughter, I like this one."

Aya covered her face to hide her blush.

"Now, Kuroka, wasn't it?" Masa relaxed, looking at the cat girl. "As I understand it, you have looked after these two, so thank you."

"Ah," Kuroka found it was her turn to blush. "It, um, was my pleasure?"

"So!" Masa clapped her hands. "Granddaughter! When grandbabies?"

Aya groaned and hid her face with her tails this time, while Philip rolled his eyes.

"Alright, alright, I'll stop teasing, for now," Masa laughed. "So, in all honesty, how have you all been? I've only had the chance to talk with Aya on the phone, so it is wonderful to meet you all."

As the conversation became more mundane, Aya slowly talking about school and magic, still blushing from the teasing, with Kuroka interjecting with teasing corrections, Philip found his attention dragged away by something.

"Her aura… it reminds me of something… it is not familiar, but similar to something else…" The feminine voice within the Sacred Gear spoke to him. "It's… almost in reach…"

'You alright?' Philip asked. After a moment of silence, he frowned. 'Hello?'

Silence dragged on within his mind, before the voice suddenly gave a soundless, wordless cry. It was one of joy, relief, and sorrow, mixed with pain. Despite not truly hearing it, it made Philip shudder.

He bit back his sound of surprise when he felt a jolt to his ki network.

"I remember more… so much more!" The voice crowed. "Not my name, not yet, but I remember… tails, my senses… I remember faced and lives I touched. Their names are voids still, but I can remember what they looked like, and who was important to me!"

"It… do you know what it is like, to not realise you were missing something, a part of you, until you suddenly had part of it?" The voice laughed and sighed. "It is still just tiny fragments of what I once was, but I am now aware of what I am searching for!"

'My apologies for not being able to go looking sooner,' Philip started to say before she cut him off.

"Don't. You have your life to live, and as it has been noted, this Sacred Gear is useless to you. Helping me would have wasted your time, time better spent strengthening yourself, or with the ones close to you."

"Is everything alright, Philip?" Masa, with a look of concern, stared at him. "Your aura shifted, and you seemed rather lost in thought."

Everyone looked at him, Philip realised. Aya with greater concern than anyone else, thought Kuroka seemed confused as well as concerned.

"Uh, the entity in my Sacred Gear," He explained. "She… regained some of her memories, and it undid some of the… blockage in my ki network."

Kuroka frowned in thought, while Aya grabbed his arm, pulling him closer.

Masa looked pensive, losing her earlier look of cheer.

"Aya, why don't you ask your grandfather about how he fights?" She said, after a moment. "Kuroka, you are skilled in manipulating aura, yes? Would you prefer to stick with my granddaughter, or with me and Philip?"

"Grandmother, what are you planning?" Aya asked, her eyes flicker from her grandmother and Philip, her tails rustling uneasily.

"I am going to see if I can help Philip," The older kitsune explained. "There are… hundreds of kitsune that have disappeared over the years, and I am confident that it is one of those, between what I felt when his aura shifted and the way it smells of foxfire. No, it is not his magic or skill, not your presence rubbing off on him. It is quite distinct, yet I cannot place it."

She shook her head.

"Go. Find your grandfather," She ordered. "The castle will show you the way."

Aya bit her lip, but nodded and stood, disappearing through a doorway, one that Philip was pretty sure wasn't there when they entered the room. Kuroka blinked, glancing at the door and Philip, before following the younger kitsune.

"Now, what can you tell me about the voice in your head?" Masa looked at Philip, smiling with a vulpine grin.

Aya blinked as she found herself in another courtyard.

There were ancient weapons, scattered about. A massive club, broken into splinters with the metal rusted and its remains rotting. A rusted mass of what was once a sword, embedded in a stone wall. What was once a sand garden, covered in pieces of shattered and rusting metal.

A shield, once made of lacquered wood, lay forlorn and abandoned by her feet, the wood visibly weathered.

Gently, she made her way around the detritus, past ancient and ruined weapons, towards the two figures at the centre of the courtyard.

One was clearly a kitsune. His large seven tails spread out behind him. His features were soft, yet there was a wicked glint in his eyes.

The other was a blue-skinned figure, with a pair of horns topping their hulking frame. Teeth jutted from his jaw, and there was a smirk on his face.

They both sat at a table, at the centre of the old battlefield, glaring at each other, dressed in similar grey kimono.

"My turn: I play the Pot of Greed." The Blue Oni said.

"A banned card!" The kitsune interjected.

"Legal under the agreed-upon rules," The Oni countered. "I draw… and that is game. Exodia the Forbidden One."

On the table between them, above the cards they played with, the image of a hulking creature appeared, emitting a light from its hands, and blowing the Kitsune's cards off the table.

"Bah. Lucky bastard!" The kitsune cursed. He turned to Aya. "Ah, it seems we have guests! May I introduce my granddaughter and her friend. Aya and… Kuroka, was it?"

Aya blinked in surprise, suddenly aware of Kuroka's presence.

"Ah, hello grandfather," She said after a moment. "Who is your friend?"

"Friend? Bah. Mortal enemy more like. We just got tired of trying to kill each other in our old age," Her grandfather barked. "Call him Nibui."

"Nibui!?" The Blue Oni balked, glaring at the male kitsune. "Who was it that just lost our game, old man?"

"Fine, fine," Aya's grandfather grumbled. "And don't call me old. His name is Onishi. Not very imaginative, we know. His parents were rather dull."

"Hence why Nibui, dull, is a grave insult to me. Do not misunderstand, they were good parents, but creative names… or even creativity in general, was not their strong suit," Onishi explained. "Now, what brings you to our old arena? Come to see your grandfather be beaten?"

"Ah, no," Aya shook her head at the pleasantly speaking Oni. "Grandmother… is helping Philip with his Sacred Gear. She told me to ask you about how you fight while she does so?"

"Ah, of course!" Aya's grandfather leapt up, a Daisho appearing at his hip. "Oh, but first, Kuroka, I have not told you my name. It is Masashi."

He sent a glare at Onishi, who snorted.

"Well, I suppose I should offer to spar as an example," The Oni said, picking a sword up from where it had lain next to him. It was a long, elaborate blade, bearing some similarities to a katana, yet the back of the blade was rippled like waves. It was also heavy with magic. "So, how should we begin?"

"A simple demonstration," Masashi said, drawing his own primary blade. Foxfire rippled along its edge. "So, tell me, what sort of blade do you use Aya?"

Aya blinked, then held up her claws, covered in gold foxfire.

"Hmm… clever. Simple, but clever," Onishi snorted. "Rather hard to disarm you, and I assume you mix illusions in with your attacks and movements?"

"I try to," Aya confirmed.

"Perhaps it would be best then, if we got you to practice that instead?" Masashi said with a pout, sheathing his sword. "Does no one in the family wish to take up the blade? Not your uncles, not your mother… say, does your boyfriend use swords?"

"No. He uses a staff and spells… and an enchanted dagger," Aya replied. "Though, the dagger is more a gift from Bastet, with a protective enchantment than a weapon. I also use spells, mixed in."

"Alright then. Show us what you can do," Onishi grinned. "Attack me. I can take it and will block or dodge only. I want to see what you do before we do anything else."
Chapter 37 New


Well-known member
Philip glanced around the small room. He recognised the symbols, abstractly, as relating to senjutsu, or at least ki manipulation due to Kuroka's occasional displays – usually just halving the distance she needs to reach the TV remote or storing food from the fridge in a pocket space – but their exact function was beyond him.

Masa had, in an instant, moved them here once Kuroka left. She directed him to sit on the floor, across from a bowl holding a pair of burning incense sticks, sitting opposite him.

In some moment between when she started to sit, and when she finished sitting, she had somehow found the time to change into strange multi-layered silk robes.

"Take a deep breath and we will begin," The elderly kitsune said. "Have the being in the Sacred Gear push her memories into the smoke, then push your own illusions into them, formless, just their power and the purpose of illusion."

Philip, trusting Aya's family, took a deep breath. He paused as the smell of the smoke tickled his nose.

"Alchemical ingredient," He noted, recognising the smell. "Your burning an alchemical ingredient that is attuned to illusions."

"I'm surprised you can recognise that."

"I'm friends with an alchemist. She tried to make a potion that can boost illusion magic, and… it didn't work, but the concoction smells similar," Philip explained. "It was based on old herbs used before mathematical magic was developed."

"One of the common sources of where magic was first discovered," Masa nodded. "Alongside the devils, gods willing to teach and create spellcasters, and other supernatural entities born with it. Now, let us begin."

"Right," Philip took another breath. He felt the memories be pushed to the surface, the smoke thickening well beyond what should have been possible, and just as he started to push his magic out, the smoke thickened into a warm mist, swallowing everything.

Aya panted, her skin drenched in sweat.

"Again," Her grandfather called out.

She lunged, swinging her foxfire claws in an arc at the illusory training dummy her grandfather had conjured.

They had switched from trying to hit Onishi after he had found a glaring flaw in her strikes. She apparently broadcasted her ki. It made sense, Philip's ability to sense ki was limited, and she had mostly fought against those who didn't use ki themselves. Kuroka lacked experience fighting those who used ki and lacked any sort of formal training on top of that.

The claws faded, and she found herself collapsed on the ground, panting.

"Hmm. Seems we have hit your granddaughter's limit," Onishi observed. "My granddaughter…"

"Your granddaughter is a monster that could keep moving for a century at top speed and not run out of breath," Masashi countered. "Don't think I don't see what you are doing, either. Granddaughter, take a break. Meditate, and make sure you are circulating properly. Twisted meridians, or whatever you want to call the clusters of ki paths in your body, are very painful if left alone. Kuroka!"

The black-haired nekoshou leapt into the air at the elder kitsune's roar.

"Ah!? Yes?" She eyed Masashi wearily.

"Since you are my granddaughter's teacher, and she has severe deficiencies, I can only wonder as to what deficiencies you have," He grinned. "Attack this dummy please, however you wish."

"I'm more of a… how did Philip phrase it, a debuffer?" She replied, with a glance at Aya, now sitting on the ground. "But… alright."

"Well, that explains part of the issue. I assume you have been teaching Aya those tricks she keeps using?" Onishi grunted. "Not bad ideas, but they need more refinement. Leaking too much ki. Still, show us what you can do."

Gathering a mix of ki and demonic power, Kuroka sent a bullet at the dummy.

Onishi and Masashi blinked.

"A… simple technique isn't bad… but that is the extent of your direct ranged attacks, isn't it?" Masashi observed. "Well, it seems we will need to develop a training regime for the both of you."

Kuroka flinched and Aya moaned.

Philip stumbled. He glanced around and saw only fog and mist.

It grasped at his limbs, clinging to his body as he moved, cloying and opaque. Philip could barely see the vague outline of his hand in front of him at full extension.

He kept his breathing steady, focusing his mind.

"Hello?" He called out, the whiteness swallowing his voice. 'Hello?'

Silence reigned over the obscured land Philip found himself in.

Swallowing, he began to try and call up a spell to clear the fog.

Terror and a horrific sense of loss gripped his heart when he felt nothing. The absence was a shocking realisation. He could not feel his magic at all.

It had been a constant for nearly half his life now, and its sudden loss shook him.

"I am here," The voice in his Sacred Gear suddenly called out, her voice piercing the fog.

Pushing the terror to the side, Philip ran towards it, finding himself in a forest clearing. Grass poked up from amidst the fog, and mist clung around the surrounding trees.

He saw a woman, kneeling and weeping before a shape, the details hidden amidst the fog.

But he heard her words. He didn't understand what she was saying, yet, he could understand what they meant.

"… I would pay any price to have them back… but instead I am forced to be his concubine. I know I could twist this to my revenge, to justice for my family, but… I don't know how," The woman sobbed in a strange tongue. "Thus, I beg you, honoured spirit, for your aid and cunning."

The shape in the fog before her quivered and seemed to fill the whole forest clearing with its presence.

As it quivered, it laughed, and it laughed in a way that Philip recognised. That of a fox.

"Oh, dear child, I could help, yes, and I will, but there is a price for what you ask," The fox spirit replied, amused. "Your vengeance will be slow, but total. It will take time. The price that I ask is to enjoy the pleasures of mortal life alongside you, while we work your vengeance."

The sound of shouts in the distance made the woman look back in fear. Her face was briefly uncovered by the mist in her sudden movement.

Philip flinched.

He saw more than just fear in her eyes. He saw desperation, panic, a primal terror, hunger, and the same sort of madness he had seen once before, in the eyes of the Fallen Angel that had forced the Sacred Gear on him.

"I accept." The woman said as the sounds of soldiers came closer.

The fox leapt forwards, and the mist surrounding them twisted. The woman's features took on a vulpine look, and a smile spread across her face.

Philip didn't understand the words she said to the soldiers, dressed in fine armour, as they burst into the clearing before they escorted her away. But he did see her eyes. The madness grew.

He cursed as a sudden gust blew fog into his face, obscuring his vision.

When it cleared, he gagged at a sudden stench. He felt the heat of a fire and heard its roar.

He saw a king, burning alive with his greatest treasures to deny his coming foes.

"I curse you, Daji! Traitorous whore! I curse the spirit with you! I curse the gods who turned against me!" The king cursed and ranted, even as he burned, his robes falling apart in the flame, gold melting to his skin and bone. "I curse the traitorous wretches who failed me!"

At the edges of the pocket of mist that the conflagration sat in, Philip saw the woman and spirit. The mist bound tight against their form, like bindings. It constricted, with each word the burning king spat.

Philip felt bile in his throat.

The king fell silent, collapsing amidst the burning treasures around him. A soldier stepped out from the mist, bronze sword in hand, raised to strike.

Philip glanced away as it came down, flinching as he heard metal part flesh.

When he opened his eyes, he saw once more nought but mist.

He shuddered, finding his breath short.

"Well," He panted, forcing the bile back down his gorge with each breath. "At least I know who you are."

"It… wasn't supposed to end like that," The voice of the spirit spoke. "I… died, partially, there, and she partially survived, through the king's curse. Her madness, her grief, clung to me, even as I slipped from her corpse, hours later. I tried to help myself and another. I failed."

Philip sat down as the voice anguished.

"I… remember bits and pieces… but, at least I know my name."

Philip sighed, nodding.

"Yeah," He said. "There is that at least."

Aya frowned, looking at the dipping sun.

"Is that the right time?" She yawned.

"Here, it is," Her grandfather confirmed. "Now, one last exercise. Focus your foxfire at the tips of your tail, shape them into your form, and when you do that strike you favour, fill your copies with that foxfire."

"To make them explode when struck or seem more real!" Aya exclaimed. "That was why you made my practice making shapes with foxfire and moving them!"

"Good! You're catching on!" Masashi grinned. "Always look for a new surprise to keep your opponent on your toes. Keep them guessing, but don't let them learn your tricks either. Now, begin!"

Across the field, Onishi watched Kuroka move.

"Again. You are letting those spells lapse! Keep reducing the distance when you strike!" The blue Oni shouted.

"Nyaaa! It's exhausting!" The nekoshou complained.

"If you can complain, you aren't putting in enough effort!" The Oni roared. "You want to support your allies in battle? Then put your all into it! Do more than spread some poison around and throw a few bullets! Keep them dancing to your tune! Make them travel further, their shots be wasted or turned back on them! Control the battlefield!"

Kuroka pouted, before hurtling an elemental lance of caustic energy at a target. It suddenly twisted in the air, and struck the target from behind, as the short distance was folded and twisted.

Kuroka panted, glancing at Onishi.

The blue-skinned being simply nodded.

"Now, try doing that while spreading a mist," He demanded.

Kuroka moaned.

Philip took a deep breath, then stood.

"Okay. Well, we got what we wanted, now, how do we leave?" He asked. "I don't suppose you know?"

"I… no. My apologies, but I remember events, but not much else. They are growing but… I do not remember enough details to even guess how to begin."

"Well, alright then," Philip grit his teeth. With a sigh, he tried moving his body, to no effect.

"What are you doing?"

"Trying to… I don't know, pinch myself in reality, to wake up?" He answered. "That's what this is, correct? A form of dream?"

"No," The voice answered. "It is… something between a dream, a realm, and a pocket reality, to borrow some of your terminology. This is… mostly real."

Philip frowned and pinched himself, flinching at the pain.

"Okay… so… this is ki based, right?" He asked, an idea forming. "So, I should be able to influence it through willpower, right?"

"I believe so," She replied. "But… given your ki network's state…."

"So I take it slow, and hope that that small movement is enough," Philip grunted, concentrating.

Moments passed in silence.

Philip scowled as nothing happened. He could feel his ki, but it was still sluggish.

"This… isn't working," He sighed. "Okay then, so… since we have nothing better to do… you mentioned you were trying to help yourself, earlier. What did you mean by that?"

"Well, what common points were there, in what you know of my story and legends?"

Philip frowned.

"You… took over concubines, if I remember correctly… people in positions of indirect power… and luxury," He answered after a moment of thought.

"Yes. I was young and powerful. In a moment of weakness, I thought to try and sample what luxuries humanity was creating," She answered remorsefully. "I did not see where it would lead."

"Great. Two hedonists," Philip snorted, partly joking, and partly concerned for Kuroka, given her habit of being lazy.

"I do not believe Kuroka is a hedonist. She is lazy, yes, but it seems to be she is more interested in things she was not able to enjoy while on the run, like video games. She does not pursue new vices, or things to entertain or please. She never asks for things that are not easily available," The voice countered. "But yes, I was, as time went on, a hedonist."

"So, get Kuroka to exercise once in a while, and don't feed any potential addictions," Philip snorted. "How... how many of the stories about you are true?"

"Well, the rumour about Daji ordering a pregnant woman's belly cut open was a result of my advice on a C-section," She replied. "But… the madness grew. I… I fear with my memories, it may come as well."

Philip wasn't sure what to make of that. The idea of the voice in the Sacred Gear going mad… bothered him, on an empathic level. But he wasn't sure what to make of the thought that the madness might somehow spread to him.

His train of thought was interrupted, when the mist suddenly twisted and roared, as a storm formed.

He found himself once more in the room, sitting across from Masa.

The kitsune matron's face was pained, as she gathered the smoke in her palms, the incense sticks having vanished.

"Are you alright?" She demanded, peering at him. "I owe you an apology. It was supposed to take me as well, but… it would seem I underestimated the necessary amount and the degree to which my skill had atrophied."

Philip couched as his lungs itched.

"I'm alright," He replied after a moment, before coughing again.

He frowned, as his voice sounded off. Masa, concern written on her face leaned over, reaching out towards his face.

"So, that is what the Sacred Gear looks like," She muttered.

Philip blinked and touched his face. He felt a strange mask covering it, and as he felt its shape, he snorted.

A moment later, he laughed, from beneath the fox-face-shaped mask.

"There is no discomfort?" Masa asked. "No pain or ache?"

"No. My lungs itch from the smoke, but that is it," Philip replied. He felt the mask fade, his face feeling lighter with its absence.

Masa winced.

"Then the incense had gone bad," She sighed. "I apologise, again. I should have been more careful. Did you at least make some progress?"

"Yes, she remembers much more, and I know her name."

He rubbed his face with his hand, meeting Masa's gaze. He took a moment to ensure his magic was still there, before continuing.


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