“We have to make sure it doesn’t escape,” Issei said. “This won’t be easy.”
"If it was an easy Stray, they would have asked Sona," Rias said.
"Hey," Ruruko complained.
"What she means," Issei said. "Is that we have the advantage against Strays." He nodded to Xen-chan. Even from this distance, the aura of the massive Holy Sword leaning on her shoulder was obvious.
"Hmph," Ruruko said. "Just because you have some Holy Weapons doesn't mean you're better than us."
"Can we go in now?" Xen-chan asked impatiently.
"We're still discussing tactics," Rias said.
"I say we just go in and kill it," the swordswoman suggested. "There is no one around these factories anyway."
"Yeah," Ruruko said.
"You two are not going anywhere until we're done," Rias said. "I'm still your King."
"You're not my King," Ruruko pointed out.
"What did Sona say?" Rias asked calmly.
"That I could go with you guys."
Ruruko sighed. "If I followed your orders as if they were hers."
"Indeed." Rias turned back to Issei. "What if we just go in on both sides? There are only two entrances after all."
"It could just jump out of the window," Issei pointed it. "Once we go in the aura of Durandal will be difficult to hide. It will flee once it senses it. That's what any stray would do if it smells a Holy Sword."
"Then we just let Xenovia wait outside," Rias suggested.
"Hey," she protested.
"That would give away our biggest advantage," Issei said.
"We still have Yuuto's Holy-Demonic sword," Rias argued. "That will be harder to detect since it's not pure Holy aura. And your lightblade only has an aura when you activate it."
"Hm. I suggest we split up and lure it to the backdoor."
"Why would it go there? You just said it could jump out of a window."
"Akeno can set up a barrier."
"But it might break through."
"That's the point," Issei said. "An unstable barrier with a weak spot near the back door."
"Hm, that could work."
"So basically you want me to conjure a barrier that's too strong for me to keep up?" Akeno asked.
"Indeed. It will get unstable if you do that. Then you just make sure most of the cracks appear around the back door. The Stray should detect those and decide to break through the weak spot. But the barrier prevents it from feeling auras beyond it. So Xen-chan can wait for it with Durandal and trap it between us."
"By the time it realises what happened, it will be too late," Rias added. "Sounds like a plan."
"So, four-four then?" Akeno asked.
"Yeah, I'll stay with you two," Rias said.
"Me too," Koneko said.
"That leaves us then." He looked at Ruruko, Asia and Kiba. That was a pretty good split. The biggest offense should wait outside to make sure it didn't escape. Beating it would be easy eight against one, the difficulty was making sure it didn't run away once it realised it couldn't win. And it wouldn't be easy to surround it inside. What if it sensed them and jumped through a window? Better to lure it to a specific spot and surround it there.
"Let's go then," Rias said. She took a black scrunchie out of her pocket and put up her hair in a single ponytail. Asia and Xenovia followed her example.
Xenovia still looked a bit strange with long hair and multiple green meshes.
"Senpai?" Ruruko asked. She turned her back to him.
Issei took her long twintails and loosely braided them together. She handed him one of her scrunchies so he could tie it at the end.
Issei noticed Koneko looked conflicted. She was the only girl with short hair after all.
Maybe he should reassure her?
"Everyone ready?" Rias asked.
"Huh? Yeah, sure."
"Let's go in then."
They took their positions. Issei waited until he saw the barrier go up.
"Let's get this over quickly," he said. "This thing is ruining my Saturday night."
He looked at the double steel doors. Locked of course.
"Can I do it?" Ruruko asked.
"Sure." He stepped aside.
She flashed him a smile.
Ruruko took her position and kicked the door. The steel shook violently, but did not break.
"Uhum." Issei cleared his throat.
A faint blush appeared on her cheeks. "I was just getting warmed up."
She kicked it again, harder this time.
The metal groaned and a large dent appeared. Ruruko kicked another time and now a hinge broke off. At the final kick, the other hinge snapped and the left door fell back.
"There we go."
She stepped inside.
The others followed.
It was dark inside. Really dark. All the windows were covered so even the moonlight couldn't get in. They only had a small strip of moonlight falling from the door.
"Hm, quiet in here," Ruruko said. She kept her voice down.
"What did the Agares Network say the Stray looked like?" Kiba asked.
"They didn't. Which is rather strange." Issei subtly passed Ruruko so he was furthest in.
"We should be on our guard then," Kiba said. He made a Holy-Demonic sword appear.
Issei took out one of his lightswords.
Red light burst out and formed a sword. The bright aura provided enough light to make them see their path with their devil eyes.
Looks like this had been an old storage hall which had been deserted long before. Stone pillars held up the high ceiling.
"Stay behind me," Issei warned the girls.
"I can handle myself," Ruruko protested.
"I don't doubt that. But you don't have a weapon."
"Of course I do." She held up her hands, clad in fingerless gloves.
"There are things you might not want to touch with your bare hands," Issei warned her. "What if it has acid slime?"
"Asia can heal me," Ruruko said.
"I… that…" Asia said. "Don't rely on me so much."
"Her training is nowhere near finished," Issei warned them. "Besides, I wasn't asking."
"I… yes, Senpai," she yielded.
They slowly advanced further.
Normally he wouldn't order her around like that, but this Stray concerned him. A normal Stray wasn't usually taken on with the full peerage. Two or three people were more than enough to deal with it. Yet the Agares Network had specifically asked them to take their full peerage, meaning they knew it would be needed. Yet they could not tell them how the Stray looked like. That was strange to say the least.
Things had been calm recently, and their fights had all gone really well, but they could not get complacent now.
A sound reached him. A strange shuffling sound. Something heavy was being dragged over the floor.
The corner it came from was dark. Even devil eyes needed some light to see. So either the moonlight and his weapon didn't reach that far, or something was stopping it.
Hm. Issei moved closer. He raised his sword to cast light on it, but the darkness wouldn't yield.
Something shot out from the black shape.
Issei was just in time to lift his sword. Something soft and squishy hit him. The sheer force threw him backwards. His sword fell out his hand, flickered and then went out.
What the hell?
He scrambled to his feet.
There was green blood on his clothes. And on the spot were he had stood before was more green blood. There was also a knife on the floor.
He must have cut of the monster's hand, but the arm had still hit him.
Ruruko was running towards it.
The monster shot out. The next moment, she stumbled backwards, clutching her shoulder. Blood dripped between her fingers.
Asia wanted to run to her, but something crashed down in front of her, something massive. A second shadow, identical to the first one.
Asia backed away.
Issei felt his blood go cold. Slowly, he looked up.
This wouldn't end well.
On the ceiling were three more shadows. As he looked, they let go and crashed on the ground with loud sounds.
They were being surrounded quickly.
The shadows were about twice as tall as him and seemed to be armed with knives and swords. Their shape was sort off human, but it was difficult to see because they were so dark.
"Asia, use your arrows," Issei said. He picked up his sword and activated it again.
Asia nodded. With a green flash, her Sacred Gear appeared.
A burst of green light surged forward. It took the form of an arrow and hit Ruruko.
Her wound closed partly. As Issei had said before, her training to heal at a distance was nowhere near completion.
Issei touched his ear with his free hand. "We're in trouble. Get in here."
He turned to Asia.
Something black had wrapped around her feet. It was coiling its way upward like a snake.
Issei raised his sword to block an attack.
It was indeed a tentacle. But this one was holding a sword.
"Aim for the tentacle itself," he called. "You can cut them off."
"Easier said than done," Ruruko said.
"Ise-senpai," Asia called again.
Her situation was getting more precarious. Both her legs were now wrapped in black tentacles. She kicked and screamed, but it was useless. The monster was too strong. And Issei could not help her since he was too busy fending of two other shadows. Kiba and Ruruko were busy too.
Where were the others?
Issei pulled out his light gun and fired with his left hand at the shadow that held Asia.
It growled, but his bullets didn't seem to have much effect. Certainly not as much as they should have against a devil.
A knife slipped past his defenses and cut open his shirt. A small trail of blood ran down.
"Ise." She was screaming now.
What the hell?
Asia was in a pretty bad situation. The tentacles had wrapped around her arms and legs which effectively immobilised her. And now their ends were touching in quite inappropriate places. Whatever this things was, it seemed to have run out of some fucked-up hentai. Not that Issei was watching those of course.
Yet, for some reason, it was only doing this to Asia. The knife-holding tentacles Ruruko was fending off were clearly trying to kill her.
Issei aimed his gun again, but he didn't fire.
It was too risky. Asia was a devil like him, if he missed even a tiny bit and hit her, she could die.
He had to get closer and use his sword.
The monsters seemed to be anticipating that however, because just as he tried running to her, one moved in front of him blocking his path.
More power poured into his sword when his second Pawn piece was activated. The red light increased in brightness.
The monster recoiled.
Issei moved a step closer and raised his sword in front of him. The monster moved back again.
Light? Was it afraid of light?
"Asia," he yelled. "Activate your Sacred Gear."
"I can't aim like this," she argued.
"You don't need to heal anything. Just trust me."
Bright green light lit up from her hands.
The monster growled and released her immediately.
She fell down on her butt, looking quite surprised.
"They are afraid of light," Issei said. "Kiba."
His Holy-Demonic sword dissolved away and in its stead, a new weapon appeared. A flaming sword. It cast a half-circle of light around him.
They all moved together in a circle with their back towards each other. The monsters surrounded them, but the lights from their weapons held them at bay.
They were all breathing hard.
"Everyone okay?" Issei asked.
"No," Asia said.
"Where are the others?" Ruruko asked.
"I don't think they heard me." He tried reaching them again, but there was dead silence on the other end. "Our communication must have been cut off."
"These things are not gonna flee," Kiba said.
Sounds reached them. Banging noises from outside.
"I think it took over the barrier and locked them out," Issei said.
"You mean we can't get out unless we beat them?" Ruruko said.
"Certainly looks that way. Otherwise Rias would have busted in already."
A silence fell. They all realised Issei was probably right. There was no way Rias wouldn't have come in yet unless she couldn't get in.
"Any ideas left?" Ruruko asked.
"Just one. But it's risky."
"I'll take it."
"We might all die," he warned her.
"As opposed to doing nothing?"
"Tell us your idea, Ise-kun," Kiba said calmly.
"I can hold them off for a while. You two need to destroy the pillars."
"That will make the building collapse," Ruruko said.
"That's the whole point."
"I see," Kiba said slowly. "If the ceiling collapses moonlight gets in."
"And that thing might not want to get caught up in the rubble so it could disable the barrier and flee."
"Weren't we supposed to kill it here?" Ruruko asked.
"At this point I'm happy if we make it out at all."
"It's risky," Ruruko said. "We could get caught up in the rubble."
"If you have another suggestion I'm glad to hear it."
"We'll go with that then," Kiba said.
"Alright. On my signal."
Issei took a card out of his pocket. He only had one, so he'd have to make it count. Although he had a second ace left as well.
Issei threw the card. The pre-recorded spell activated and turned into a lightning bolt.
The monsters fled for the bright light. Issei ran through the clear path with the others.
Kiba found the nearest pillar and hacked into it with his flaming sword. Stone chipped away.
Ruruko punched the pillar with her bare fist. She cursed when she hit the stone.
Loud rumbling sounds echoed through the building.
"Ise," Asia warned him.
The shadows had recovered and were advancing towards them.
Issei took a deep breath. Only one ace left.
His eyes flashed red.
A burst of flames shot out of his hands.
The shadows made a hissing noise and jumped back to evade.
"Done," Kiba said.
A rumbling noise sounded. A part of the ceiling collapsed. Moonlight spilled in through the gaping hole. He could see the half-transparent barrier flickering outside.
The shadows closed in again from the other side, which was still dark.
Damn. One more time.
He sprayed flames in their direction. This time, one of them got caught up in them. It shrieked loudly.
Looks like fire could damage them.
The second pillar collapsed. Cracks ran down the ceiling.
They now stood in a large circle of moonlight and rubble.
"Just in time," he said.
Overusing his powers could get dangerous. And while his control had increased with his training, Cerberus' powers depleted his stamina very fast.
The shadows seemed to have reconsidered their attack. They ran towards the front door. When they reached it, the barrier flickered and went down.
He saw flashes of lighting outside. More green blood splashed on the ground.
The shadows spread huge bat wings and flew up. More lightning attacks raced after them, joined by dark red spheres. But soon, they were out of sight.
A loud noise reached him from behind.
The back door burst out of its hinges. Koneko-chan stepped inside, followed by Xen-chan.
Rias and Akeno came in through the front door.
Asia embraced him.
"Shh, you're safe." He softly patted her head.
"They escaped," Rias announced. She loosened her hair again.
"Sorry," Issei said. "I didn't expect there to be five of them. Or for them to take over the barrier."
Now that he said it, unstable barriers were a lot easier to take over. He really should have considered that weakness.
"I'm just glad you're all okay," Rias said.
"Uhum," Ruruko cleared her throat. She held up her hand.
She was bleeding. Looks like Promotion hadn't been enough to protect her against solid rock.
Asia released Issei and walked up to Ruruko. She carefully took her hand. Warm green light shone.
"You really should get a weapon," she advised. "You've broken all your fingers."
Ruruko gritted her teeth. "Any regular weapon would have broken on those stones. Besides, you could use a weapon too. When that monster-"
Asia shot her a warning glare.
"You are okay, aren't you, Asia?" Rias asked.
"I'm physically unhurt," she said on a cold tone.
"Uhm, okay then?"
"We're all fine," Issei assured her. "But we were lucky."
He turned to the giant hole in the ceiling.
"You're hurt," Asia said.
"I'm fine. It's just a scratch."
"Come here." She put her hand on his chest. He felt her warm aura pouring in.
"What do you think?" Rias asked while Asia healed him.
"That wasn't a Stray."
"The Agares Network-"
"They were wrong. If it was a devil my lightsword should have done a lot more damage."
"Maybe it had some resistance to it?"
"Maybe. But there is something else that bothers me."
"I didn't take its power."
He turned to them. "This is unmistakingly blood." He touched the green fluid on his clothes. "Yet it doesn't burn like it should when I absorb it. And I don't feel any of its power."
"That's very strange indeed."
His power worked on humans, fallen angels and even on Cerberus, so why wouldn't it work on devils? This had to be something more for it to resist his powers like that.
"I also doubt whether a normal Stray would be so fast," Kiba said. "Or so strong. And there were five of them."
"Well we know one thing," Ruruko said. "They are afraid of light."
"I'll remember that next time," Issei said. "If we find them again."
Rias sighed. "You guys can go home. I'll clean up here and report to the Network."
"Are you sure we'll be safe?" Asia asked. "That thing might return."
"There are powerful barriers on our homes," Rias said. "And it's afraid of light so I don't think it will be attacking during the day. As long as you refrain from wandering around at night, you should be safe."
Akeno summoned a magic circle.
"Sorry Buchou," Koneko-chan said. "We'll do better next time."
"Yeah," Xen-chan added. "Next time I'll cut up that monster."
"Don't worry about it."
The circle activated. Akeno, Koneko-chan, Xen-chan and Kiba-kun vanished.
"Are you coming, Ise-senpai?" Ruruko asked. She stood next to Asia in the circle she had conjured.
"I'll be right there," he said. "You can go ahead without me."
"Don't keep us waiting."
The circle flashed.
"You should go home too," Rias said.
"I'll help you clean this up."
"You really don't have to."
"I want to." He promoted to Bishop so he could clear the rubble. "Besides, it's my fault."
"No it's not," Rias said. She raised her hand and used magic to make the stones float back into place. They shone bright red and melted back into the pillar.
"It was my terrible plan." He joined her using Asia's magic.
"It's the responsibility of the King to be making plans," Rias said. "If anything, I should have been the one coming up with a decent attack plan."
"You can outsource that," Issei said. "It's okay to have a strategist to assist you. Not that I was much help. Without Akeno's card I probably wouldn't have made it out."
"Stop blaming yourself," Rias said. "There is no way you could know there would be five tentacle shadows over here that can somehow resist holy power."
Issei stopped casting. The stones fell down again.
"How… how do you know they had tentacles?" He frowned at her.
"What do you mean? I saw them."
"In passing. Their tentacles were only visible when they attacked."
"Don't be silly, Ise-kun," Rias said. "It was pretty obvious."
"Uhum, yeah, sure." He focused back on clearing the rubble.
Strange. The monsters hadn't attacked her so it would have been hard to see their form since they remained in the shadows.
"You do trust me, don't you?" Rias asked.
"Of course I do."
"More than Akeno?"
He frowned. "What does she have to do with this? I trust all of you equally, obviously."
"Never mind, forget I said that."
The last stone floated in place and melted with the rest.
"I have to go report." Without looking at him, she summoned a circle.
"Don't forget your training tomorrow."
"See you, Ise-kun."
Without looking at him, she teleported away.
Issei started casting his own circle.
Rias was acting really weird.
Could it be the thing with Akeno? Back at the pool they had caused a little scene and Rias had told him she was annoyed he was 'stealing away' her best friend. She had promised she would talk with Akeno about that, but somehow, he got the feeling she hadn't done that at all.
And he couldn't shake of the idea that she knew more about these monsters.
Oh well, he was probably just imagining things.
The circle flashed.