Chapter 21: The Three Factions p̶i̶s̶s̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶c̶o̶n̶t̶e̶s̶t̶ meeting. I meant meeting.

"Interesting touch with the self-assassination," Adonai remarked, sliding a glass across the bar. "I don't remember that being in the plan."

Kokabiel shrugged, picking up the pint of ale. "I saw an opportunity to improve the plan and took it. It added a… personal touch to the ordeal."

I laughed, my voice the sound of tinkling bells. "Well you certainly sold the 'evil emperor slain by righteous hero' routine nicely. Sera wanted to know if you were available to play Lelouch at a cosplay convention."

He smirked, taking a drink from his glass. "That somehow doesn't surprise me. That girl sure loves her anime." He sent a pointed look my direction. "And why isn't she trying to convince you to go to her conventions? You're practically the dictionary definition of a loli."

I shrugged. "I'm too old to be running around in skintight costumes preaching of love and justice.

He glanced at me. "…How old are you, anyway?"

I hummed for a moment, calculating. "Forty-five? Yes, definitely somewhere close to forty-five. I lost track of a few hundred years, though, so the count might be off."

The Fallen raised an eyebrow. "How exactly does one 'lose track of a few hundred years'? I remember every year of my life."

I sighed, picking up a brownie from a nearby platter. My female form loved sweets more than my male form ever did. "Well, see, I fell out of reality for a while… wandered the Outer Gates… talked to a few Elder Gods… visited the Root…" I shrugged, popping the brownie in my mouth. "Time doesn't exist in a non-dimensional anomaly, so I simultaneously aged and regressed to the infinite degree."

He paused, looking incredulous. "Are you serious?"

I nodded. "Yep. I have the actual memories of the events locked up, though. Trying to recall non-dimensional phenomena while within a dimensional form is bad for your health."

Adonai sighed. "Well, at least non-dimensional spaces don't allow you do die, so you survived."

Kokabiel looked back and forth between us. "…Good Lord, there's two of you."

I giggled, giving Adonai a fist bump. "Just wait til' you see what we have planned for our peace movements."

"I shudder to imagine," he said drily, draining his glass and rising to his feet. "As it is, I'm afraid I have one last thing to do before you do your 'procedure.'" He paused. "This procedure has been tested, yes?"

I shrugged. "Well, only on Homonculi."

He blinked. "Oh, so that's what those Homonculi are doing in the Tree."

I nodded. "We figured that the Tree would be the best place for a center of operations. All three Factions have access to it, but none of them can enter or exit. Once you're in, you're in, and once you're out, you're out. No room for spies or double agents." I gave him an emphatic look. I didn't feel the need to finish the thought.

He laughed softly, turning and walking away. "I'll be looking forward to my induction, then."

I smiled, watching the Fallen walk away.

"This isn't funny!" Rias shouted at me. "For the Governor-General of the Fallen Angels to infiltrate my territory and interfere with my business…" She growled softly, glancing at an amused Issei. "On top of that, to make advances towards my dear Issei…" She closed her eyes, the Power of Destruction rising around her and making her hair flutter. "He deserves to die a thousand times over!"

We were sitting in the Occult Research Clubroom, with Gaspar loudly snoring and Kiba polishing his blade. I sat in a recliner I had 'brought from home' (read: created on the spot) with Shirone curled into my chest and purring softly. I stroked her soft ears, fighting back laughter as Rias raged. "I-I don't think Azazel was propositioning your boyfriend, cousin. He's into chicks," I finally managed, wiping a tear from my eye.

Rias flushed, magic petering out. "W-what? No! I meant that he was trying to recruit him!"

Issei smirked. "Oh, don't worry Rias. The big scary Fallen isn't going to take me away from you. He's a bit too lacking in the T+A department for that to happen."

She huffed in irritation. "Be quiet you. I'm still wondering why my new )Knight( seems so intent on merging with your side."

Issei raised an eyebrow, glancing down at the chestnut-haired former nun. "Um… actually, I was wondering the same thing."

Irina blinked, glancing down at where her arms pulled her tight against her boyfriend. "O-oh," she murmured. "U-um, sorry." We all waited a few seconds, but she didn't move. She just blushed brighter, burying her face in Issei's side. "Oh, Lord, forgive your sinful—ow!"

'…Right. I forgot about that.' I sighed, opening the Link. {Hey, Sera, you awake?}

{Yeah, just cuddling with Asia. Her feathers are really soft, you know.}

I rolled my eyes. {Sure. Feathers. That's what you're feeling.} Asia's spike of embarrassment only confirmed my suspicions. {Well, that's not what matters right now. Do you think you could talk to Irina? She hasn't let go of Issei for more than ten seconds since Rias changed her. I think she might be indulging a Sin.}

She hummed thoughtfully. {All right, I'll try to see what's going on later. But for now, I'm snuggling Asia.}

My lips twitched. {Indeed, Asia cuddles are the highest priority. I'll leave you to your 'feathers'.}

I tuned back into the conversation as Issei was finishing a sentence. "…think that's normal."

"It's not," Rias agreed drily. "Not even the clingiest Greeds hold on that tightly."

I chuckled, drawing attention to myself once more. "Have you seen Shirone? At least Irina isn't trying to stab anyone who comes close to you."

Shirone nuzzled closer to my chest, her purring increasing in volume. Issei coughed to hide his laughter, and Rias began to rub her temples.

"Anyway, I asked Sera to talk to her later if she needs it," I continued, adjusting my hold on my Nekoshou. "And I doubt Issei is complaining much, what with all that cushion."

Issei smirked, and Irina flushed. "Last night was the most incredible sleeping experience I've ever had."

I rolled my eyes. "Congratulations, you had two pairs of tits against you last night. That's nice. Riser hasn't been seen for weeks."

Issei's smirk turned pained. "Dude, don't go there. I'm still dating my girls, he's been practically married to his for years. If it weren't for Rias, he would've—"

Rias cleared her throat loudly, face flushed. "My love life aside, we have larger concerns."

Valerie spoke up for the first time, setting aside a platter of cookies. "Buchou, is it true that there will be a meeting of leaders here in Kuoh?"

Rias nodded once, her blush fading as she returned to her usual professionalism. "Yes, I received information about it earlier today. All the leaders will be meeting to discuss what's happening in the future."

Issei raised an eyebrow. "Really? Now? That seems rather sudden."

I sighed leaning forward. "Actually, it's really not. All three Faction leaders have been looking to declare peace for over a decade, now. They just couldn't suggest it in case they were the only ones desiring such. The instant a single Faction decided to set down their arms in hope of a peaceful resolution, the whole rest of the Moonlit world would turn on them."

"This incident with the Other was exactly what they needed to declare a meeting, then?" Akeno mused.

I nodded. "Precisely. If they meet under the pretense of an outside threat, then they can use that as an excuse to begin peace talks."

Rias sighed. "But if the heads of the Three Factions meet here, then the situation will become even more complicated." She shook her head, rubbing her eyes. "I wonder what's going on?"

Issei raised an eyebrow. "How so?"

"With Azazel, I mean." She clarified.

He sighed, glancing at his hands. "Well, he might be after the Boosted Gear, what with my version being a Subspecies and all."

Rias smiled, walking forward. "It's all right, Ise." She pulled him close, his head landing squarely between her breasts. "I will definitely protect you."

Issei grinned widely, enjoying the embrace, but Irina's eyes flickered red for a moment as she gritted her teeth and clung tighter.

{She's an Envy.} I realized. {Sera, are you seeing this?}

{Hm? Oh, yes. Sorry, I was just… um… cuddling.}

{Of course you were. Cuddles straight out of a porno. You know I don't mind as long as she agrees to it. Now, do you think you can help Irina?}

{Yep, no problemo~!} She cheered. There was a pause as she considered the problem more seriously. {The three most common Sins among Devils are Lust, Greed and Pride, but I know enough Envies to remember the tricks they use to manage their Sin.}

{Envy is more common amongst Dragons.} Ruby offered, joining the conversation. {I could help if you need me to.}

I gave the mental equivalent of a shrug. {Sure, works for me.}

Rias sighed, releasing Issei from his hug. "Well, that's a problem for another day. For now, we have other duties."

I blinked. 'I don't remember this part being in the show.'

Issei nodded, oblivious to Irina's death glare. "Right. We have to clean the pool today."

Valerie poked Gaspar awake, and he sat up, grumbling. "All right, who needs to get shot?" he asked, yawning.

Rias frowned. "No one, and you shouldn't have been sleeping during a meeting."

The Dhampir rolled his eyes. "Yes, mooom. What did you do, look for ghosties?"

Valerie glared at him. "Not the time, Gaspar."

He sighed. "Yes, dear." He turned back to Rias. "So what'd I miss?"

"We're cleaning the pool today," she reminded him.

He groaned, going through the motions of falling back asleep again. "Work. Right. I'm going to have to take a rain check—"

"Swimsuits!" Issei called out cheerfully.

"—on missing out on this wonderful opportunity to show goodwill to our friends in the Student Council." Gaspar finished smoothly, shooting to his feet. "When and where?"

Rias rolled her eyes. "Today, after school."

I smiled to myself. {Hey, girls, want to go swimming today?}

There was a resounding chorus of agreement, and I spoke up. "We can help if you want. Sera's really good at water magic, and Shirone can purify any liquid almost instantly."

Rias blinked. "…I guess I wouldn't mind. The more hands working, the faster it'll go."

I grinned. "Well, then. I'll see you after school."

"I can't believe that you wore the school swimsuit instead of the bikini I got you," Sera complained.

Asia flushed. "S-Sera-chan, t-that bikini…"

Gil sighed, pulling on her shirt. "I can't believe you'd ask her to wear something that shows so much skin. I'm fine with you molesting Asia in private, since she doesn't seem to mind all that much, but I wouldn't have let her wear that over her breasts."

I finished drying my hair, setting aside the towel and reaching for my shirt. "I don't know; Asia looked shy and sexy enough in the tight spandex to give Issei a serious nosebleed."

Asia's cheeks brightened. "C-Cas!" she squeaked. "Don't encourage them!"

I smiled, rising and walking over to where she was drying herself off. I wrapped my arms around her, pulling her close as she curled into me. "Why not? You are my precious Asia, and you're adorable enough to melt anyone's heart."

Asia's face broke into a bright smile as her blush faded. "Cas…" she murmured bashfully.

I kissed her on the forehead, running my hand through her hair. Ruby and Sera continued to squabble, but there was no real venom in their fight, so I let it alone.

"S-say it again," Asia demanded, eyes glowing softly as they stared directly at me.

I raised an eyebrow, turning my attention back to her. "Say what?"

"T-that I'm yours," she stammered, cheeks flushing once more.

I smiled at her, picking her up and setting her on my lap. I wrapped my arms protectively around her, and pressed my lips to her ear. "You are my Asia. Mine all mine. You belong to me, and I will never let you go," I murmured, enjoying her shivers of delight.

"C-Cas…" she sighed, relaxing into my arms. "I love you."

"I love you too," I replied, smiling. "But you may want to finish drying off before you get my shirt too wet."

Sera blinked, tuning into our conversation as a disturbing smile crossed her face. "Millicas-sama in a wet t-shirt…"

Gil sighed, fastening her skirt and folding her towel. "I don't see what that has anything to do with this conversation."

Sera giggled. "Oh, please. Millicas-sama without a shirt is sexy enough, but with only a wet shirt, his muscles clearly defined as he wipes the water off his face…"

Gil stumbled, almost dropping her bag. "S-Sera!" she squeaked, mortified. "Not here!"

"…The thin fabric of the shirt tantalizingly hiding the best parts, while emphasizing everything else…" Sera continued, eyes glazing over. "All those huge muscles, bunching and shifting as he swims…"

"A-hem." A familiar voice cleared her throat. I turned to see Rias toweling off her hair with a heavily flushed face. "I do not need that mental image of my nephew, thank you very much." She growled, turning away.

Akeno poked her head out from behind another line of lockers, giggling creepily. "Ufufufufu… I don't know, Rias… it seems like something I'd definitely want to see."

Sera huffed. "I was teasing Gil, not writing smut. There's a difference. Get your own damn boyfriend."

"Not that much of a difference," Gil grumbled, face still bright red.

I sighed, focusing on the feeling of Asia cuddles. My adorable girlfriend was snuggling into me without seeming to realize it, watching the banter with a small smile. I simply tightened my grip, allowing her to snuggle even closer.

"When we finally start having sex, Asia is going to wear that bikini," Sera decided, tying the ribbon of her twintails. "She's sexy enough as it is with that innocent school swimsuit, so something designed for sex appeal will probably be so sexy it's illegal in four continents."

Shirone smirked, finishing drying her long silver hair. "I'm more surprised that you didn't jump Ruby or me. We're wearing practically nothing, and we're curvy enough to rival Rias." She shot her girlfriend a look. "Even if one of them is wearing something meant for shy girls."

Ruby coughed, glancing at her red one-piece swimsuit. "I wanted my first time to be more comfortable. Bikinis aren't really more than pieces of string, and I wanted more support. Besides, there's enough skin showing to give you a nosebleed."

Shirone shrugged. "I'm still going to force you in that little red number I bought you sometime. That body is meant to be shown off, not covered."

I finally released my hold on my cuddly Angel, kissing her on the forehead and setting her aside. She squeaked, suddenly realizing the position she had been in for the past five minutes. "O-oh! U-um, sorry…"

I shook my head, walking over to Ruby and helping her fasten her bra. "It's fine, Asia. I had no problem with it. Just get dressed so we can get home."

"I'll help you!" Sera offered, by Asia's side in a heartbeat.

Asia sweatdropped. "Erm… I'm fine, thanks. You'd be more focused on taking things off than putting them on."

Sera nodded shamelessly. "But I'll make sure you have lots of fun."

The poor Angel's face turned bright red as a memory flickered through the Link.

An image of Sera with a sexy smirk, leaning over and whispering in her ear…

"S-stop!" Asia squeaked, trying to pull away from her girlfriend's probing fingers. "I-it feels weird!"

Sera giggled, eyes slightly clouded with Lust. "Don't worry, my Asia. You'll enjoy every second…

I felt a smirk creep over my face. "Um, Sera, I don't think Asia agreed to that touc—"

Issei's shout rang out, and I immediately tensed. 'Nothing should've been here; this is the break between events. So what—' I calmed slightly, remembering that Issei was a drama queen when it came to tits. He probably just saw one of his girlfriends' tops fall off or something. I focused my hearing, and sure enough…

"—mn it, Irina!" Rias shouted. "I leave you alone for ten seconds, and you're already trying to seduce Issei!"

I grinned. "Sounds like Issei's learning the joys of harem life."

"Remember when we were like that?" Ruby asked, giggling. "Shirone kept getting frustrated whenever we stopped her from getting her time with him, and whenever Gil—"

"That never happened!" Gil snapped, flushing. "Just put on your damn clothes and let's go."

I chuckled, shaking my head and smiling fondly.

These girls…

"I'll be back in a bit: my wayward student may need some help escaping his girlfriends."

Gil snorted, pulling her hair back in a ponytail so it wouldn't get wet again. "Oh, count on it. The pervert probably already stole their panties off their asses."

'I will never admit that I was the one who taught him that trick. I will take it to the grave if I must, but I like my balls too much to risk them being crushed by an irate tsundere,' I thought grimly. 'Even if I could heal them back, it'd still hurt like hell.'

I turned, giving Ruby a quick peck on the cheek before walking out the door. I followed the sound of angry shouting until I found myself in a small side-room. Issei was looking vaguely uncomfortable as Irina, dressed in a white one-piece, straddled him while arguing loudly with Rias.

"I had him first!" Rias shouted, face red. "Keep your damn hands off him!"

Irina huffed, crossing her arms and puffing out her cheeks. "I was planning our wedding when we were five!" she countered.

Rias twitched, power swirling around her. I cleared my throat. "Ahem."

Both girls ignored me, and Issei winced. I gathered my power, smiling sweetly, and promptly slammed my aura down throughout the room. Everyone but Issei collapsed, choking, as their lungs suddenly lost the ability to draw in oxygen. I waited a few seconds, then lightened the pressure. "Are we ready to talk, now?" I asked politely, still smiling.

Both girls nodded rapidly. My smile turned genuine. "Well, good. I think you two should go talk to Sera, then. Irina still doesn't know what Sins are, and both of you are treading on each others' clearly defined territory. I'm afraid I can't be the final officiator here, though, seeing as your situation is completely different from mine, so you're going to have to work things out with your boyfriend."

Both girls growled at me, still clutching onto poor Issei. I smiled fondly. 'Ah, the memories…'

I gestured towards the door. "Well? Sera's this way. And until you can solve your issues, that poor clone is stuck pretending to be Issei."

The clone sighed, shooting me a look. "Thanks, Sensei," he drawled.

I shrugged. "Hey, you want the harem, you deal with the baggage. You can't just run away when your girls start fighting, since they're usually fighting about you in some form."

He glared at me for a minute. "I'm going, now."

The clone dissolved, causing Irina lose her balance and stumble slightly with a confused expression as her support vanished. I sighed, turning and walking out the door. "Come on, you two…"

All right. What the fuck?

Issei grinned, a faraway look in his eye. "I'm telling you, man. Your dad is fucking awesome. He made me realize the true potential of my Gear."

I groaned, rubbing my eyes. "Look, I know you can )Boost( whatever you lay your hands on, but it doesn't work on tits. Right, Ruby?"


I turned, only to see Ruby with a wide smile on her face. "Ruby?"

"I think I've found my calling in life," she remarked dreamily. "I'll have to talk Asia into helping me…"

I sighed. 'I am surrounded by perverts.' "It might make tits feel fake for all you know." I pointed out. "And why are you always picking on Asia, anyway?"

Ruby blinked, zoning in. "Hmm? What was that?"

"Why are you always picking on Asia?" I repeated. "Every time you girls have a crazy idea, you use Asia as a model."

She smirked. "Oh, you haven't realized yet?"

I raised an eyebrow. "No, please, enlighten me."

"She likes it," Ruby explained, still smirking. "She likes it when we do things to her. Mostly because more often than not she ends up enjoying them." She winked, dropping her voice to a whisper. "That BDSM collar isn't just for show, you know~!"

My lips twitched, and I mentally filed the new piece of information under 'odd fetishes.' A small but growing list, and one that I generally left alone.

"So." I decided to change the subject. "Did you figure out the problem?"

Issei blinked, taken aback by the non-sequitur. "Uh, right. Yeah. I decided to start a schedule, so they aren't just forced together all the time. I'm planning on gradually changing it as time goes on, until they're used to each other enough that they don't fight every time one of them wants to show affection."

I held back a snort. 'Show affection' indeed. "Probably for the best. I don't think you're going to figure out how to use a Soul-Bond anytime soon, so this is your best bet."

He nodded, glancing back at the rest of my girls. "By the way… you do know that today is open house, right?"

I grimaced. "Her idea, not mine."

"A pink magical girl uniform?" he asked incredulously, turning back to me. "Souna's gonna pitch a fit!"

I snorted. "That's half the point. I made her promise to take it off before school started." I glanced at the happily skipping magical girl and sighed. "She seems to love it, so I didn't stop her. She has a Requip gem storing her actual uniform, but she has to parade around the school in that first."

"I heard that!" Sera called, puffing out her cheeks. "Magical Girl Milky-tan is a wonderful role model, and being a Magical Girl is a noble, long-standing profession that has lasted since the dawn of time!"

I blinked. "…I think you're talking about magicians, not Magical Girls. That term didn't exist until the late 1900's, even by your own definition."

She huffed, crossing her arms beneath her impressive bust. "Spoilsport."

"Besides…" I continued, ignoring her pout and giving Issei a grin. "…According to Puella Magi Madoka Magica, being a Magical Girl is tantamount to becoming a career soldier. There's no pay, no reward, and no time off. Sounds like a terrible job to me."

It was a testament to her self-control that a full five seconds passed before I was tackled by an irate Magical Girl. The cushioning helped, but then I had to worry about suffocation. Issei burst into laughter, further drawing stares to the odd sight of me being pinned by a girl much shorter than me.

And so began the day of Open House.

I hid my grimace, waving farewell to my father and grandfather. If Canon remained compliant, they were leaving to go drinking at Issei's house. Issei, being the paranoid bastard I had trained him to be, had a metric fuckton of wards around his house, invisible to all but him. Thus, I felt reasonably safe leaving them to their own devices while I worked on my nonexistent homework.

Or, better yet, my current problem of holy fuck the Factions meeting is two days away.

Two days to transform Kokabiel, hammer out the last kinks in the 'special project' that Ajuka and I had designed for the Fallen, ready the Homonculi, figure out how to get The Red Man and Millicas to appear in the same room, dodge the hell out of whatever ripples I caused, and find 'gifts' for the other two Faction Leaders so I wasn't showing favoritism by giving one to Azazel.

Fuck my life.

I mean, seriously, what did you even get someone like Michael, anyway? I couldn't give him the Tree, that was going to be the 'symbol of peace' or whatever. And what could I give my father that wouldn't seem too personal? It would be super awkward if he thought Red was coming onto him, and I couldn't think of anything he would need that I could give without seeming creepy.

I sighed. This was getting nowhere, and I was no closer to figuring anything out. Time to do something different. {Hey, girls, I'm going to take a walk to clear my mind.}

{Where to?} Sera asked curiously.

I shrugged. {Wherever, really.}

{It's something he does when he needs to think.} Ruby explained.

{All right, then.} Sera chirped, returning to reality.

{Stay safe.} Ruby warned.

{Get back before dinner!} Asia agreed. {And make sure to avoid any emus.}

{Will do.} I waited a few more seconds, then closed the Link.

Five steps later, I was hopelessly Lost somewhere with a large water tower.

I began walking, wandering from biome to biome as I lost myself in my thoughts. I had several issues I hadn't considered until now, not the least of which was how my meddling might've changed the timeline. But for now, there was a more pressing problem.

My 'identity crisis,' as it were.

Millicas Gremory and The Red Man had to show up at the same time, which was more trouble than one would think. The problem with both my shadow clones and the flesh clones that I taught Kokabiel to make was that they mimicked the original perfectly—right down to the magic signature. I'd always avoided situations like this before, since having Red and Millicas in the same room would make it ridiculously easy to blow the sham out of the water. I was a bit safer due to 'Mira' having a slightly different signature, but it was still close enough to raise a few eyebrows.

This left me with two options.

First, I could don a magical suppressor, much like the one I gave to Issei. But while it would allow me to avoid detection, it would also prevent me from using magic. And for someone like The Red Man, who famously relied on magic for everything? That would be a red flag for sure.

Second, I could try to route my magic through a focus of some sort, which would make my signature almost impossible to recognize. I was a focusless mage, so my mana was relatively untainted, but I still had a tremendous mass of energy sitting in my gut. The reason I tended to use disposable gems in lieu of a permanent staff or something to that effect was because the focus I used would have to be incredibly sturdy and resistant to the natural 'warping' effect I had.

Honestly speaking, the second option was more appealing to me, but it took significantly more work. I couldn't use any existing focus, because a blade of Gil's or even a high-level stave would both be too limiting in what I could channel and too fragile should my impeccable control slip even slightly.

That left making a focus myself. But what kind? Metallic foci might tend to be more powerful, but they were too resistant to change. Gems, while they did hold a lot of mana, would be too recognizable. I couldn't have it too small or too close to my body in case it exploded, and it couldn't be something too subtle or someone would think I was hiding something up my sleeve. That left organic foci and engraved foci. For someone of my power, I'd likely need a hybrid of the two.

All I needed now was an organic base capable of both channeling the raw power I wielded and bearing the strain that Runes would cause. Far easier said than done.

The first thing would be to find the appropriate material for the body. Everyone was suited toward a different type of material, from wood to bone to dead skin. It could be pretty much anything, as long as it was once alive. The next step was to find an object that had the unique properties that make a good magical focus. There were a lot of variables, but it boiled down to three things. The age of the material in question, the metaphysical significance, and the attunement to elemental forces.

As one might imagine, finding a material that had all the right qualities was difficult, but it was also possible to artificially imbue the material with the qualities that were required to make a focus. Depending on the quality of materials used and the complexity of one's magic, it could take from a week to several decades to properly treat the material, and that was merely attuning it to the types of energy that one wanted to use with it. With the sheer complexity of my signature was, I'd be waiting a very long time for any workable focus. And time was one thing I didn't have.

That left the more difficult method. Finding something old and powerful enough to contain my power while still managing to channel it effectively. And when I didn't even know how to start looking? It was like looking for a needle hidden somewhere in a desert. And for someone like me, who'd get lost before even finding the desert?

I grimaced, deciding to try something I hadn't done in a very long time.

'What was it that I named this technique? Inquiry? Well, whatever.'

I forced my mind to unlock the chains I had placed on the memories of Beyond, and I was once more floating between galaxies. Infinite emptiness surrounded me, with only a few sparse stars to light the blackness.


.̮͎̖̪̓͑̍͠.͎͉͎̏͛͌̂͛̾͆͟.̥͔͎͔͖̂̾ͅw̲̙̰̬̐ͦͦ͑ͮͣ͋h̲͇͋͆̊ͥ̐͢ãͫ̽t͇͗̽ ̸̙͛̏͋́̾ä͇̲́̒̀ͅrͤ̓̄҉̬̱͉̭̺̰ẹ̴̬͖̠̞̱͔͒͐ ̛̱͚̪͐y̬͇̟̬͚͕͈͛͂͆͗̂͒o͕̭̻̪͔͈͐̇ͬ͆͡u͕͈̪ͫ̃͗̐̊͑ ̠̩̱̯͉̭̮ͩd̺ͥo̦̰ͤͨ̔͗ͭ̊i̭̠̣̜͐̈́̈n͉ͮ̾̑ͦg̳̫̝̟̖̬ͬͅ ̭̞̩̠̬̖͢h̘̳̘̖̠͝éŕ̥ͤ̒̀̄e̴̟͕͙̤͚̩ͯ̒̈́ͭ̉ͅ?ͬ̾̈́̅̀̚


The voices were only the softest of whispers, but they were what I sought


T͓̖̙̫̫͂͛́ḫ̛͎̘͍͉̬͎̈́͑͛̃i̮̬̼̣s̳͇̀̅͊ͥͬ ̱̾͌͞p̸̘̝ͦ̑́̀̒l̗͇̩̭̭̞̳ͤ͛͂̊ả̵̺̦͎̱͚͐ͩͤͨ̍c̠͕͈̏͑̄̐ͤ̃͞ė̲̮̼̔ͮ̚ͅ ̛͉͕̯̑i̟̓̊̏ͧ̓̔s̛̱̥̦̫̔̄̆ͥͧ̀̉ ͇̼̠̣͔̬̈́̔̿͐̿ͥn͍͍͍̱̆ͫͬͫ̉̌̇o̹̬̾̎͞t̻̐̏ͩ̆̍͜ ̟̠̰̤̘̾̾́f̍͂ͯ͛ͩ͂ͫo̲ͯ̌̈́̈͊̀r͎̻͈͓͕̰̎̔ͪ̈ͣ͂ ̹̺̣̝̅̅̀m̭̳̎̍ǫ͉̯̩̠͙̀̈́̂̍̌͆ṛ̠̳͓̑̇͋ͩ̚t̒͑̎̒aͣ̔͛͏͇̭l̰̟̥͖̽̀ ̷ͬ͗ͪ͋ͭm̤̟͕͂̈̒͆̌̿ͣͅi̠͍ň̷̖͛̃̃̃d̼̗̗̠ͪ͊̋ͭ̇s̸̹̜̲̳͚ͮ͗̔ͪ.̜̭̙̂̈́ͬ̐̚


F̳̹ͤ̌̐̓ͅõ͍̝͌̾̿̆̃r͖̫̱̝̅̍ͭ͐̄ͦ̇ ͎̪͠t̜̩͚̩̮͚̖̂ͤ͑ͯ̋ͨ̚h̶̲͋ͪͫ̐i̳̅͂ͥs̫̱̝ͥͤ͘ ̻̲̝͉̤͖̲r̲͕͕̤̒͠e͖̠̞̱̺̤ͧ̔͢ȁ͍͍̬̰͊͆͆̒ͦ́s̮̏ͦͩ̈́o̡͎̣͍̱n͍̝̱̤̑ͪͣͥ͟ͅ ̜̲̳͔̈́̽͗ͅa͔͚̠̰l̥̝̪̭̖̮͑͟o̸̹͎ͥn̪̣͚͕̙͚͍ͧ̑̈̽̎̄̅e͓̬̰͍ͩͤ̃͐̅́ ̽͗y̭̫͖͓͙͙̟͛͌o̮̬̍ͬȕ̟̺͎̲̼̙͉̿̂ ̿ͯ͊͐̾w̷ͥ̓ͪ̈̉̎̉ē͉͕̲͔̜̖ͦ͊͌ͅṟ͙̪͠e̦̰̝̹̻͙̓ ̹̭͎͖̺b̧̓̑ͥͪͤ͛r̙̺̮̙̦̮̱͋͋͛̑̉̊ͭo̓̂̔ͫ̏͏̩ǘ͖͖̥̠̪̼͑ͨg̢̳ͧ̒͋ͨ͂h̟͖͎t̡̖ ̴̭͔̩̋̂̓͗ͯͥf̨̖̮̳͍̼͊̅̋͂̊ȯ̺̠͔̜̦͂ͭ̔͌̓̄͘ͅͅr̠̯͘t̟͔̯͔̽̅͐̏h̩̠̱̀ͬ̀̊͛̏̅͡ͅ.̫̥̣̰̤̳̽̿͌ͮͭͦ


D̫̭̯͈̯̠ͦͧ̆̍̉̈́͢ō̬͇̑̎̆̄ͩ ͓͔͚͙̱͐̒̊͐̄n̢͍͚ͬ͌ȯ̖̗̂̏̏ṯ̺ͮͣͪ̐̇͆̔ ̗ͧ̆͂̓̄͆̉f̭͕̬̍͋ͫ̌̒̓ͧ̕o̠ͤ̒rͪ̄̍̿ͩ̋̑͏g̏͑̃̀̄̆͒͏͚e͓̜͎̼̤̔͑͒t̵̞͇͎͛ ̞͎y̆̎̏̃ͬȍ̠̠͕̗̼̬ͧ̋̍̈́ͦ͞ṷ̰̙̮͕ͯ̉̑ͥr̬̞͕̦̃ͬ̏ͤ̉̎̎ ̵̉͊ͤͧr̢̫̹̹̗̹̒̈́̈̓͂̔ͮo̪̟͔̅ͮͩ̅ͬͮ̏l̰͙͈̰̙͢ͅͅe̶͉̭̝̥̽̈́͐ͮͣ.̻̞̰͔̝̇ͯ͗̾̅


I steeled myself, and spoke.

'I seek a W͈͚̦̭̞͉̠͛̍Ḁ̱̫̹ͨ̾́̋ͪ̓Yͤ͒̕.'

A spark of interest, a galaxy rising and falling in the blink of an eye.


Â̩͉͎̟̾ͪ W͈͚̦̭̞͉̠͛̍Ḁ̱̫̹ͨ̾́̋ͪ̓Yͤ͒̕?ͩͩ́


It mused.

I crossed my fingers, hoping it was in a helpful mood.


Ẉ̧̝͖̺͓̻ͨ̉̉̌ȇͮ̂̀҉̼͓ ͈̞͈̦͓̰̠s͔̬̲͆̆ͯ̊ȅ͈̘̞͔͔ë͇̬͈͈͕̳̰ͬͬ̒ͩ̾.̤̘͇͔̓̈́͋̎̍͆ ̆҉͖̣W͍̗̭̺̐̈ͬ͑́ͅe̲̰̽ ͎̙̋ͣ͊͗ͬ̌͡s͉̗̓hå̊ͯͮ͂̕ľ͈̝̮̭̻̫ͥ͆͛̉ͧ̊l̡̫͈͗ͨ̚ ̧̗͉ͫͬ̂͊̚g͓̰̟͕r̟̻̯̗͓a̪̰̙̖̭̽ͪ̏ͭ͌ͩ̋n̖͇̝͙ͧ̓͐̈́̈͘t̐ͯ̃ͯ ̊͊͢t̶̥͎̟̱̪̽̑̈́ͣ́ͦͩh̦̼̖̀iͦ̊ṣ̲̩͖ͤ ̑ͦ͌͏̬b͉̻ͣ͒ͭ̀̋̈ͩ͞ͅo̶̦̥̾͗̆͛̍̑ó̙̯̖̦̺̈́̎͂n̦͎̥͇̆ͮ̄̊̈̾͞.ͯ


It finally decided.


F̠̦̙̞̜̫̭ͧo̻̬̱̔̆̆̋̇̑͠r͇̲͕̪̝͇̔̔ͣ́ ̈́̈͂͌̆̽̈t̽̒̅͞ẖ̰̫̎͛̿̈͒͑ͭe̙̪͌͒ ̴̊ͬ͆͐fͤ̾̊̅ͣ͏̗ụ͖͎̌t̡̠̭͚̙̉̽̆́̚ų̹̝̹̄͑̾ŕ͙͈͔̲̹eͧ͌ͤ͆ͦͯ҉̬̰̘ ̸̣̬͓̫̃̓͐o̹̦͚ͤ̃̿̔̃f͇̗̟͋ͅͅ ̰̥͕͓̤̌͒̆̈̾t̙͔̬̤̱̰̑̂ͥ̈̑̈́̍̀h̛̩̫͌̎̈͆̚è̃ͦ̔͏͓͚̖̟̤̤̖ ͔̘̹̦̹̮̘̉̽̉̉̔͂p̷̭̀̾̓ͤ̇͌̍ͅa͟s̛̱͙̦͙̫̮͐t͑̊ͨ͛́,̦̦̭̳͔̥̘͌͒ͫ̋ͣͣ͟ ̯͕ͬ͞ͅw̝̲͎̅̿ͧ͌ȇ͙̫͈͚͍͕͆̿̐̉ͫ ̺̯̥̮s̘̫ͨ͛̇ͯ̎͟h̛͎̣̊̽ͧ͑a̘̲̞̳̼̰͙l̸̳̖̰̭̪͙̉̔͌̇̽͂̂l͘ ͨ̓͂͊ͪ̊͜e͇̺̼̖̩̓͆̓m̱̌̑̄̇̔͜p̶͓͉͎̜̭͂ͯo̩͖͙̓̽̂̀w̬͗ͣ͒̃ͨ͋͘ĕ͓͘r̎ ͕͚̇ͨ͊͟y̙ͤ̀͐̃ò̥̫̥̠͇̒̑͆͊͢ȕ͎̰̝͖̰̙ͧ͆͂ͅ.̲̦̬̓̾͑.̹̣̼̳̣͚̏ͧͫ͒̔͝.̟̝̼͊


The whispers rose to a shout, nebulas growing and shifting, devoured by stars and making way for new planets.


.̝̙̖̤̤̦͊̓̚͜ͅ.͚̪̲̃̌̎͆ͮ̚.̧̣̪͑ͯ͋̓͗ͮB̧̞̞͓̲̐̍ͤͅU̸̬̱̳̭͛̃͐ͬ̅́͗T̢̯̖̞̊̓̅̈́ ̙̰̥̓D̿̀̓ͯ҉̣͇O̢̭ ̝͈͂́͛N̡̟̳̩̘̯ͬͩ͐̋̈́̽ͥͅỜ̆T̨̪̯͈͉̠̣ͧ͗̇͐ͣͫͥ ̶̙̖̜̎ͣ̐̽̊̄F̮̮̽͌͗ͮͦͣ̀O̐͊ͯR̙̝̩̲͇̃ͥ͐G͏͙Eͤ҉͕̠T̥͕ͥ ̹̦͍̦̱͞ͅT͙̺̹͕͓H̬͇̒͂̍ͭ͝ͅͅE̠̺̤ ̍͛̓̓҉̙͇͖D͒R͍͓̊ͬE̮͎ͥ̐ͤ̑́ͦ̃A̟̥̥̱̞̟̭ͧͦ͐̇M̠̻̟̙̺̭͇̄̓ͣ̔ͩ͊ͣ͝S̳̪͇̣͖̥͋̅͂ͦ̓̀ ͓̭͚̪̱̇̋̑́̓ͤ͠O̺̰̘̳̫͒̎̄F͐̔ͦͫ͏͖ ̨̮̪̰̣̇ͩͮ͂͌̊̚T͉̼ͧ̅̄H͎͈͂͌ͩ̓̂̚͝Ė̝͈͇̦͈̳́ ̡̩̈ͧ͛ͦ͋̅F̻̝̯̭̱͖͝Ḁ̖̞̠̒̿̇͆̎ͨĻ͛̂ͯͧ̈́̍̌Ḷ̞̘̓̔̃͊ͧͦ̽E͇̯͚͎̳̳͛͐͗̃Nͣ̊.̵̔͊ͦͯ̂ͧ͋


I shivered, shutting the tenuous link to my Marble. That was what had survived the trip between dimensions, and it had never truly settled within my body. It had no will of its own, however, which was why it had restored a previous version of itself to act as its physical embodiment. Namely, me.

My soul created a part of itself from of the ashes of the past so that it could influence the present. Wasn't that a terrifying thought.

I opened my eyes, feeling an incessant tug that I followed without question. Powerful as it was, my Marble never lied or went back on its word. It was, in essence, an extremely powerful tool. But it only was such when it chose to aid me. Hence why I preferred not to chance it.

I fed the 'feeling' into my Talent, closing my eyes and blindly walking forward without hesitation. I didn't pause for an instant as I moved, concentrating on the vague feeling drawing me closer. One hand outstretched, my feet moved from dry gravel to soft sand, from smooth tile to sharp stones. I felt the elusive feeling grow closer, and I smiled. The ground beneath my feet became soft, pliable, and I could have sworn that I heard pine needles crunching beneath my feet. I continued walking, moving until my hand made contact with something rough.

I opened my eyes, only to be greeted by the sight of an enormous forest of trees. They towered above me, their massive red trunks extending almost endlessly towards the sky and branching outwards. On each branch grew millions of tiny pine needles. Each tree was easily older than my father, possibly surviving from before Abraham's Flood. Any one of them would make a tremendously powerful focus in the right hands, but I wasn't drawn to any of them.

I glanced down at the tree my hand rested on. It was a truly tiny tree, growing only to about my height. Only had a single tuft of needles grew at its top. It was, essentially, a stick of wood planted at the edge of a forest.

Past experience had taught me not to judge by appearances… but still, this?

I hit it with ))Structural Grasp((, and my hesitation was replaced with awe. This tiny tree was the only remnant of a truly monstrous pine, one that was easily older than Kokabiel. It had weathered fires and floods, lightning and winds, storms the like of which I had never seen and never would again. While the part on the surface was a far cry from being one of the oldest in the world, as I began to look deeper and followed it down into the earth beneath, I came to realize that what laid beneath was significantly older, and the further I reached, the more ancient the roots became. It stirred as my mana brushed against it, slowly awakening at a speed that put Shirone to shame.

I patiently waited, allowing a thin stream of my mana to continuously feed into the ancient tree. Finally, it woke, a small thread of its consciousness stretching out and connecting with my mind. It didn't seem to mind the whirling dyssynchrony of my thoughts, accustomed to anchoring itself through the chaos of a changing world.

'Odd… for… an… Outsider… to… seek… the… aid… of… we… who… last… seven… ages…' It creaked, not a voice as much as a series of feelings, impressions, and memories.

I smiled. It seemed the tree spoke the Old Tongue best. 'I may be an Outsider, but even one beyond the Gates must anchor themselves,' I whispered, trying to place as much meaning as possible in each 'word.'

It may have had no feelings, but I still got the sense that it was amused. It simply brushed against my mind once more, coming to a decision. 'I… shall… aid… you,... young… blood…' It sighed, like the wind through the treetops.

There were no desires, for there was nothing that could desire and nothing that could be missed. There was no sadness, for there was nothing to weep for. There was no joy, for there was nothing to be joyful about…

'I… have… not… many… years… to… last… Do… as… you… wish…'

And with that, it withdrew, falling once more into its endless slumber.

I blinked, but decided not to think too hard about the tree's odd speech. Instead, I concentrated, sending more and more mana into the ancient tree until it glowed. Faint motes of light began to appear from the branches and the coarse bark that clung to every inch of the smooth wood. It wasn't long before the features of the tree were enveloped by the light. The amount of demonic power that coursed through the tree in front of us was blinding.

No, seriously, ouch.

I had to squint against the sheer brilliance that it produced and eventually had to shut my eyes completely. I could still see its form clearly in my mind: the outline of the tree and the changes that were shaping its entire form. The most obvious ones I could feel were in the outermost roots and branches. They were beginning to draw back into the trunk of the tree, little by little, as if time were rewinding. As the roots rescinded into the body of the tree, I felt my feet begin to sink into the ground as it became unstable and the earth began to crumble beneath me.

The world around me was bathed in a deep red glow as a result of the demonic energy that I was pushing into the tiny tree. I watched the shadows and the overlays of light as they shifted and moved, the outlines fading in and out as more and more of the ancient wood gathered into my hand. The earth beneath me continued to destabilize as the root system vanished.

There was no bright flash or magical occurrence that signified the end of whatever it had been that I had done. One moment the world had been awash with the brightest of lights, and the next, there was darkness. I was now holding a small staff about the width of my wrist. It looked as if it had been carved rather than drawn from the ground. It was light, maybe ten pounds in total, and six feet long. Straight-grained and perfectly smooth, though it lacked any luster. A red so deep that it was almost black in places, yet light enough to pass for pink in others. It was dull, unassuming, and not even remotely flashy.

It was perfect.

I grinned, taking the staff and lifting it. My magic hummed to life around me, rushing out of me in a great flood as I slammed the base of the staff into the ground. An invisible ripple shook the earth, but not a drop of magic leaked into the surrounding air.

Fuck. Yes.

'I just wish I had thought of this earlier. Nothing says 'I know magic' like a staff, after all.'

I hefted the staff and instantly felt a deep rush of familiarity rush through me. It was like another limb, and I effortlessly let my mana flow through it. And if my little test run was any indication, the staff also reduced my cast time to nearly zero.


I turned, using the smooth staff as a walking stick. I blinked, pausing as I felt my Talent wrapping around the ancient wood and making it hum with power. I hesitantly took another step, and I could literally see space warping around me. I traveled about four miles east, making me grin in delight. I spent some time just walking back and forth, tugging myself this way and that, just for the hell of it. It still wasn't controllable… but it felt more like flying a kite than skydiving while blindfolded. Less power, but more streamlined and usable.

'…Again, why the hell didn't I do this earlier? Oh, right. I thought I'd accidentally blow it up. Well, at least I have it now, I guess. And indeed, it is an epic, epic staff. I shall name it something epic to honor it. But what to call it? Hmm…' I scratched my chin, ignoring the stubble. 'Well, I suppose it came from an ancient tree, so… huh.' I mulled it over for a bit, slipping through a stable door and into a desert. 'Ah, I know!'

I brandished the staff. "I christen thee, Ages Past!"

Nothing happened, and I suddenly felt veeery stupid for talking to a stick. I pushed the memory to the back of my mind, returning to my aimless hike.

Soon enough, I was at the door to an old house. I didn't bother examining it, stepping through and continuing on my way.

'I wonder what else I can do with this thing. I mean, it's an Earth-Type organic focus, so I could probably go from fire to ice with zero resistance. The Earth-Types are all extremely adaptable. Could I…?'

I paused next to a snow-covered bush, slipping from my previous Force Magic to Power of Destruction with unnatural ease. I focused on the bush, and the world went red. Ten seconds later, I was gaping at the building-sized crater before me.

'…On second thought, I need more practice with this thing. A lot more practice.'

And with that, I pretended that the crater had been there the whole time, casually walking away and hoping no one had seen me. I stepped through a dilapidated cabin, out of a closet, and into my room.

Ruby was irritably scratching out an equation at the desk, and the blonde duo was working on their science while chatting. Sera was petting a purring Shirone, looking bored as she flipped through a thick book. As I entered, she perked up. "Millicas-sama! You're back!"

I shrugged, brushing the snow from my hair. "I got a bit Lost- had to take a detour."

Sera carefully set aside her purring kitten, rising and tackling me in a hug. "Well I'm glad you're back. It was sooo~ boring. I mean, I—" She froze, noticing my staff. "You got a magic wand?" she gasped in excitement. "That's awesome! Did you get me one?"

I winced. "Er… no?" Sera's obsession with anything remotely magic-y had completely slipped my mind. I wasn't sure how I was going to get out of this one.

She glared, cheeks puffing out. "Millicas-samaaaa…"

I sighed. "Look, it was kind of a spur-of-the-moment thing. I can take you to get a staff later, but I doubt you'll find one. It's almost impossible to find a natural focus that fits perfectly."

"Then how did you do it?" she whined.

I gave her a cheeky grin. "I cheated, of course."

She stared at me for a few seconds longer, cheeks puffed out, before exhaling and standing on her tiptoes to kiss me on the cheek. "I missed you," she murmured, nuzzling into my chest.

I smiled, using a quick ))Requip(( to store Ages Past and picking up Sera in a bridal carry. I walked over to the bed, setting her beside me and letting Shirone crawl onto my lap. Both girls seemed content with their new positions, so I decided to start in on the rest of my problems. I pulled my notebook out of my jacket pocket, flipped to a new page, and began to sketch down ideas.

Sera and Shirone watched silently, leaning against me and occasionally shifting positions. We stayed that way for hours, my adorable girlfriends simply snuggling with me as I planned. Finally, Sera pointed to a complex runic diagram and spoke. "So what's that one for?"

I glanced at it, pausing. I was running Memory Partition at full blast, so it took me a moment to remember what it was that I was looking at. "It's the final design for my Runic Array. It's built to siphon off the 'bleed' of my spells and feed it back into my Core. It'll make all casting I do completely invisible without me having to focus as hard."

She frowned, finger moving ten centimeters down and pointing to an odd sketch of a simplistic white staff. "And this?"

I glanced at it. "A possible design for a focus. I wasn't sure what to get Michael as a gift from the Devils, so that's a possibility. It'd take some work, though. I ))Structurally Grasped(( my staff the entire time it was bonding to me, so I should theoretically be able to recreate it."

"I…see." She hesitated. "…Isn't that the staff of Gandalf the White?"

I grinned. "Why yes, yes it is. I seriously doubt that Michael's seen the Lord of the Rings, so he won't even notice." I smirked. "But everyone else will. It'll be epic."

She nodded slowly. "So you're making magic wands for the Faction Leaders? All three of them?"

I shook my head. "No, just Michael. Besides, Azazel already has one." I grinned. "You know, the Blazer Shining Aura Darkness Blade?"

She burst into giggles, and the other three girls looked up in confusion. "The what?" Ruby asked.

My grin grew to shit-eating proportions. "One of the earlier Artificial Sacred Gears Azazel thought up. It's also known as The Dragon Slaying Blade of Light and Darkness.

Gil snorted. "And I thought you had terrible naming sense."

I frowned at her. "Hey. Firstly, my names are epic and fitting. Secondly, I don't want to hear that from the girl who named her biggest attack 'Sky Scorching Current Chaser.'" I paused for emphasis. "'Of the King.'"

Gil's cheeks warmed slightly, and she coughed into her hand. "I-in my defense, I was seven."

I shrugged, returning to my work. "Whatever you say."

"Are you sure this'll work?" Kokabiel asked, eyeing the machine.

I sighed. "Look. This spell is ridiculously complicated and at least half theoretical. I couldn't possibly cast it the same way twice, even if I were given ten more years to study it. That would make any attempts to later alter the spell on the subject extremely complicated. So I have the machine doing it instead. Every one of the Homonculi in the Tree already went through this, and they're all fine. Just stop being chicken and get in the damn box."

He looked over the mass of wires and runes one last time, then relented, albeit reluctantly. "All right, fine. But if I die, I'm haunting you."

I snorted. "Please. If you die, I'm dragging your ass back from the grave to try again."

He cracked a grin. "Fair enough."

And so, he crawled into the casket-like box, which bore a striking resemblance to a coffin.

In hindsight, that's probably why Kokabiel had been so reluctant to enter it.

It sealed with a quiet hiss of air as I began checking the figures one last time. Then I grinned, cackling evilly as I flipped the switch. Light shone from the plexiglass top of the 'casket,' setting the small lab aglow.

It was at times like this that I loved being a mad scientist.

White wood formed into a perfect replica of my blueprint as I marvelled at my own awesomeness and genius. I carefully picked up the result and sent a pulse of Light through it. Sure enough, it glowed brilliantly and began focusing power to the top of the staff.

I held the thin card up to the light, giving Ajuka a grin. "It's perfect. Do you need to do anything more to it?"

He shook his head, stacking the other seven cards in front of me. "It's as good as I'm going to get it. The System is set, the rules are defined, and their box has been enchanted with almost every protection I know. All that's left is for you to duplicate them."

I nodded once, placing the card on its stack and tucking all eight cards into the box. "All right then. Time to put on a show."

She blinked, stumbling to her feet. "W-what?" she murmured, examining herself. "How?"

I smiled, stepping forward. "Mrs. Shrine Maiden, I do believe we have some explaining to do. But before we do that, I'd like to make sure I have the right person. Would your name happen to be—?"

I handed my father both the white staff and a box of cards. "You already have everything else, right?"

He raised an eyebrow, but nodded. "It's somewhere safe. Is that the rest?"

I nodded. "As well as a last-minute add on. I couldn't call the Tree a proper 'gift,' so I whipped something else up."

He nodded, examining the white staff. "Interesting. And what exactly is this?"

I gave each of my girls a kiss, bidding them goodbye for the moment. Sera and Asia, who would be attending as well, joined me as I stood before the open ))Gate((. I concentrated, drawing power from the air around me as I began to form my clone.


I exhaled, opening my eyes to see another me smirking back. As always, we made sure neither of us knew who the 'real' one was, each believing himself to be the original.

Same story, different circumstances.

I sighed, waving as Other Me walked through the ))Gate(( with Sera. Asia warped light around her, vanishing from sight, and took me by the hand. I cast the transformation spell to turn me into 'Red' and stepped through my bedroom door. Long halls stretched, reality warped, and I was Lost. I cast ))Avatar(( after a brief moment of thought, pulling out my staff and using it as a walking stick while I waited for the signal.

I wandered about, visiting Norway and grabbing a bite to eat before skipping over to the United Kingdoms for a bottle of Scotch. I hated the stuff, but Azazel was sure to be quite appreciative. I whistled a jaunty tune as I began walking once more, ignoring the random extremes of hot and cold while I munched on a box of fries. Asia didn't say much, far too used to this method of travel by now to be perturbed. She was polishing off a box of macaroons, courtesy of a trip to Italy near her hometown.

…Jesus Christ, what was taking so long!

{Oi, Sera!}

{Oh, Millicas. Right. I forget that you can't see things like you would through a Shadow Clone. Kokabiel just arrived, and he's doing the whole 'grand entrance' thing. Any minute now I'll call you in, so start heading over.}

I nodded, relaxing slightly. I set my mental course for 'Kokabiel' and began the familiar trek between two hills, a bog, and a marsh. I tightened my grip on my staff, concentrating on hiding my approach. Asia reluctantly released my hand but didn't fall behind as I sped up. Soon I was walking down the familiar hall of Kuoh, standing just outside the door of the abandoned classroom which was currently being used as a meeting room. 'Any second now…'

I concentrated, listening as Kokabiel's speech wound down. "…But that's what we're here to discuss, isn't it?" he asked rhetorically, and there was the sound of a chair scraping across the tile. "We all know what happened, and I'm here to fix it. We're a mess, and it's time we did something about it."

"How so?" A calm voice spoke up, unfamiliar to me. I mentally placed him as Michael.

I could almost sense Kokabiel's delight. "Simple. If the Factions can't police themselves, then we might as well do it for them. I declare the birth of a new Faction, standing for the cause of lasting peace. A Faction built from the ashes of our past war, to ensure such a travesty never again occurs."

{All right, come on in!} Sera sent.

I placed my hand on the knob, waiting a few more seconds for Kokabiel to finish. "I'd like to introduce you to the leader of the new Faction, a being powerful and well-known enough to inspire the change I so desire."

I threw open the door so hard it bounced off the wall. "Hello! Sorry I'm late, did I miss anything?" I strode forward, a wide smile on my face as I saw all heads snap towards me. "Gotta love rush hour, traffic always ties me up. And then I had to find a parking spot, which was a nightmare all on its' own. Honestly, you lot need to invest in a parking garage."

All three Faction leaders blinked. Sera waved cheerfully, giving me a smile. "Ohayo, Mi-chan!"

I snorted. "Serafall, it's obviously afternoon. Come on, the phrase to use is 'Good day.'"

Azazel glanced pointedly at his watch. Unsurprising, considering it was well after sunset. "…Right. Afternoon. Whatever. Well, since it's my first time meeting the famous Red Man, I'd like to introduce myself. Name's Azazel, Governor-General of the Grigori."

I smiled at him. "Hello, Azazel-dono. My name is Mira, but people see fit to call me The Red Man." I frowned. "Not sure why, though."

Kokabiel coughed. "You're still in your disguise."

I blinked, glancing down at my ))Avatar((. "So I am. Should I take it off?"

"Please do," Azazel replied easily. "We're all friends here."

I grinned, dissolving the spell. And, just for the hell of it, I cast ))Douchery((.

Wide blue-green eyes peeked out from a doll-like face. A single, fang-like canine poked over my lower lip. Rather than my Avatar's lab coat, I wore a thick, fluffy, hooded robe of pure white, trimmed with an embroidered, golden ribbon. My delicate gown was a soft red, matching perfectly with my hair. The very image of an innocent little girl, cloaked in the strongest protections the world had to offer.

There was a beat of silence. Azazel choked, my father's delicate smile cracked, and Michael opened and closed his mouth several times.


I glanced down at myself. "I still don't get it. How am I a man, again?"

Azazel shrugged. "I wasn't the one to make the name, milady."

I huffed, crossing my arms beneath my budding chest. "Well it's dumb."

Michael cleared his throat, finally managing to speak. "…If I may… how old are you?"

I frowned. "What's with you people asking my age? First Kokabiel, then you. I don't know the exact year, but I'm somewhere close to forty-five."

He blinked. "Forty-five?" He glanced at Kokabiel, confusing written on his face. "Pardon me, but—"

Kokabiel sighed, cutting him off. "She means centuries, not years."

I didn't bother correcting my General. He drew his own conclusions from my whole 'beyond time and space' spiel, and I wasn't not above misdirection if meant keeping my identity safe.

The Archangel took a moment to absorb this. "I… see. Then did you perhaps know my Father?"

I frowned, tilting my head and screwing up my face in thought. My ahoge curled and swayed as I 'concentrated,' drawing a stare from Azazel. "Adonai, right? The troll? I remember something about a venomous duck-billed beaver."

"Platypus," Michael muttered, glancing away. "And it was my birthday gift."

My eyes sparkled as I decided to push the joke a step further. "Oh? Then who got the death ray?"

There was another beat of silence as all the Angels, Fallen or otherwise, exchanged a look. "There was no… death ray," he finally replied. "And, out of curiosity, what was this death ray meant to do?"

"Boost TV reception," I stated matter-of-factly. "In theory, at least. It still kills stuff just fine. I just learned that it could connect to a reception dish. I've been getting free cable for months, now."

Sirzechs coughed, and Sera stifled giggles. "I do believe that we got that. It's currently hooked up to my roof."

I sighed melodramatically, mentally patting myself on the back for that one. "Pity. I'd hoped that Adonai was getting reception in Heaven, God bless his soul." My face lost all semblance of cheer, turning as cold as ice. "Unfortunately, I'm not here to talk about the past. I'm here to make way for the future."

I finally took the time to observe the room. It seemed that Xenovia had taken Irina's place as Michael's Ace, and was staring at me with an even expression. Issei stood beside Rias, but Sona stood alone. The rest of their Peerages were either absent or sitting in chairs next to the wall. There was one more person missing, though, one which made me significantly more nervous. Vali Lucifer was nowhere to be seen, and from what I remember, he never showed up to fight Kokabiel either.

Butterfly effect it is, then.

I sighed, glancing at the dark-haired man beside Azazel. Barquiel, I assumed. It seemed that Kokabiel had indeed managed to arrange that. Good. At least that part of the demonstration would go well.

Azazel smirked, speaking up at last. "Oh? Finally getting serious, are we?"

I nodded, tapping the tip of my shoe on the floor. "I'd much rather our conversation be private, however, so I'd prefer our guests step out."

Translation: Shit's about to get heavy. Clear out the small people, or they'll get smashed.

Sirzechs smiled genially. "Of course. However, as host of this event, I need a bit more presence to lend weight to my authority."

Translation: Not a chance in hell.

I sighed, glancing at Kokabiel. "Plan B it is, then. Mind alerting the troops?"

He nodded, pulling a slim device from his pocket and holding it to his ear. "Mobilize and surround. No one gets in or out."

I smiled, turning back to the leaders. "All right, last chance. Anyone leaving?"

There was a pause in which no one moved, which, although expected, was slightly disappointing. I sighed. "So be it."

I lifted my staff and slammed it against the floor. Reality itself rippled, and the tiles began spreading from the tip of my staff. The room grew larger and larger, sections of the wall breaking in repeating fractals as the world became entirely subject to my whims. Soon, we were in a room the size of a lecture hall with the table sitting squarely in the center. The chairs that the Peerages sat in hadn't moved either, and several of them glanced confusedly back at the distant wall. I smiled, sinking into a plush chair that appeared beneath me. "Well, then. Let the Three Factions Meeting begin."

Azazel raised an eyebrow, eyeing the expanded walls appreciatively. "Nice spellwork. Space expansion?"

I smiled sweetly at him. "Please. I used a Mirror Dimension."

"Impossible. I would've noticed moving from one dimension to another," he scoffed dismissively.

I puffed out my cheeks, my ahoge bouncing. "Well, that's what I did. Now hush. I'm talking."

I reflected for a moment how awesome this idea was. Nobody could take my loli form seriously when it insulted someone. Perfect for both keeping with 'Red's' personality while avoiding treading on anyone's toes. Pity I had to scrap the idea of acting like a princess, though. That would've been awesome.

I turned to Kokabiel, who was smirking at me. "I trust you already spoke to them?"

He nodded, face turning serious once more. "I told them of the issues with simply declaring peace, which they agreed with. Then you arrived."

I sighed, crossing my legs. "Well, good. I've been working at this for too long to just have them ignore me. So. One thing at a time. Who's going first?"

Sirzechs raised a hand. "I will." He cleared his throat, regarding me with a neutral gaze. "You speak of a peace force meant to keep the lines drawn between Factions. How do you mean to utilize it? And how are you sure that it won't just make things worse?"

I frowned, ahoge drooping.

…All right, so the ahoge might not be the best idea at the moment. But I'd been told that people tended to listen to me more when distracted. Plus, I wanted to. So there.

"Well… first, it's a system I already put in place," I began, tapping a finger against my chin. "In order for an organization to be stable, they need three things. A chain of command, a base, and a source of income. They can survive a hit to one for a while, but not for long, so it's important that I firmly ground them before we even take the first steps. Their base is established, their chain of command is forming, and they have theoretically infinite resources. Beyond that, it's just a matter of distribution of effort."

I glanced at him. He seemed to be paying attention so far, meaning that I was doing a fair job. "Second, I don't. The idea behind the force is that the boundaries between our Factions are slowly dissolved in a controlled environment rather than simply opening all ye floodgates and forcing the opposing armies together like magnets. In time, the peace force will be delegated to minor scuffles and diplomatic security, and we will fade to the background."

He nodded calmly, looking over to Azazel and Michel. "I'm satisfied, at the very least. I was planning something of this nature myself, actually, but I couldn't figure out how to ensure that no discrimination was shown between members of the Factions." He glanced back at me. "And how, might I add, do you plan that part?"

I was impressed. Sirzechs had pointed out a flaw in my plan without making it seem like he was being overly critical. Luckily, I had prepared an answer. "Simple, really. Kokabiel?"

He stepped forward. "Yes, milady?"

"Show them your wings."

He nodded once, and there was an audible hum in the air. Paper-thin hexagons of brilliant gold flowed from his back, extending until they reached the floor. There they spread out, half-forming the rims and filling the empty space. They glowed softly, the gaps between the hexagons radiating white Light and the metal itself exuding a silvery sheen that defied conventional physics.

Twelve perfect wings, fashioned from solid gold.

The wings flexed, and the Clockwork Angel rose into the air with a speed belying his stocky build. He laughed, spreading the wings and sending out a pulse of power. They glowed like a dying sun, brilliant in their intensity.

I clapped, smiling happily. "Good, good! Excellent demonstration, Koka-chan!"

"Indeed," the Crimson Maou agreed. "But it still doesn't answer the question."

My smile slipped as I turned back to the table. "Sirzechs-dono… my organization is called Asylum. It wasn't originally meant as a peace-keeping force, but it still works regardless." I shook my head for emphasis. "No, it was originally meant as a haven for those who needed a better option. How many Strays, do you think, have deserted you because of their cruel masters?" I paused, turning to look at Azazel. "How many Fallen turn to violence and greed after they tire of the squalor in which they dwell?" My gaze shifted to Michael. "How many of your brethren fell to experience the fullness of life, never again to cross the Gates of Heaven?"

Azazel sighed, flashing a brief glance at his fellow leaders. "Well, since no one else'll say it, I will. Too damn many."

I nodded. "My point exactly. The System, something that was necessary centuries ago, hasn't been able to advance with the times. Even the humans have grown in their roles, while we're trapped by the same archaic rules that bound us ages ago." I looked hard at each leader, preparing to make my pitch. "The System needs an overhaul, but that's not something I can do anytime soon. What we need is a stopgap, yes? Some way for us to lessen the issues without removing their side-effects completely."

I gestured to Kokabiel, who had landed and stowed his wings. "I introduce a neutral Faction, one has no culture of its own. One that uses its very nature to remove bias. It'd be a mixture of all the races, one that deadlocks the System by introducing conflicting data. No matter the crimes another race commits, they can come to us and be welcomed. However, we would be governed by our own rules and guidelines, independent of you."

"So you want to join the peace treaty as a neutral party, designed as a stopgap for existing issues as well as any new ones that crop up," Michael said slowly, and I could see him warming to the idea.

"That is correct," I agreed with a nod of my head.

He smiled. "I, for one, have no issue with something of that nature. Your reputation as an extremist precedes you, and I can hardly imagine you approaching this with any less than your usual enthusiasm."

"Not so fast," Azazel called, smirking. "How are you even sure there will be a peace treaty?"

"Oh, there will be!" I chirped cheerfully, ahoge twirling. "Because you're not leaving here without one!"

Dead. Silence.

"I see." Azazel's voice was hard. "I'd be interested to see how you plan to enforce that."

"I do believe you're underestimating me, Azazzy!" I said, mustering the brightest, most lethal smile. "Do I need to do something extreme?"

He spread his arms. "Go right ahead. Impress me."

My smile turned a few shades colder. "If you insist." I rose from my chair, all four and a half feet of me glowing with power.

The Fallen leader tensed slightly, and I noticed the telltale glow of a shield spell flicker over his skin. Apparently he was just testing me and hadn't expected me to take him up on his offer. I already knew one of the Factions would be a bit difficult, so I had something planned to shut him up.

"I'm not going to strike you, Scapegoat. Instead, I shall do something you cannot." My eyes gleamed. "Would you like to see that?"

He chuckled, rising to his feet and dropping his shield. "All right. Show me the goods."

I raised my staff, pointing it at the table. "Watch closely, now~!" I flexed the mental muscle that led to my Sorcery, and I felt the familiar hum of power. And like that, I tore a hole in reality.


Azazel blinked, staring at the definite nothingness before him. "…What am I looking at?" he eventually said.

I smiled. "Absolutely nothing." I stepped down from my small dais, my robe trailing behind me as I walked forward. "That, right there, is nothing. It never has been, and it never will be again."

He blinked a grin crossing his face. "So, what, is it a black hole, or—"

I snapped my fingers, and an explosion of power rippled from the anomaly. The orb of Nothing devoured itself, glowing with the soft shine of a star. Then it began to grow, from its previous baseball size to well over a basketball, and further still to a beach ball. The tiny star began to draw everything around it as its gravity grew to tremendous magnitudes. I made room for it by altering the Mirror Dimension around us, smiling as it lifted off the table and consumed it whole. My 'little' creation was now easily the size of a car, and still growing fast. Then I clicked my fingers and it shot into the air. It rose higher and higher, until I had to crane my neck to see it.

{Asia, if you would?}

{Sure!} she sent back, concentrating. A pulse of her Talent rippled toward the young star.

And then, the star Broke.

There was no incredible flash, no whine of gas escaping. Instead, it began to gather in the center as the pressure in the room built. Different colors could now be seen as parts of the star fell apart.

And then it exploded.

Azazel stared up at the former star, mouth opening and closing. "That," he muttered, almost to himself, his voice hoarse with disbelief. "Is a supernova."

I nodded, smirking. "It is, indeed. Aren't you going to ask about the numerous laws of physics that I broke, just by allowing you to watch that?"

"…I'm good," he decided, turning back to the table. "You win. I'll be good now."

I laughed. "Please. It's not over yet." I reached into the pocket of my fluffy robe, and pulled out a large glass orb. I threw it into the air, cranking Thought Acceleration as I did. The next bit, while tricky, required perfect timing. As the dying star began to expand, I snagged it in the Array I had put up there while the others were distracted by the light show. It shone too brightly to see for a mere moment longer, then it vanished. The orb began its descent, only for me to capture it midair, the entire spectacle vanishing before everyone's eyes.

In its place, a perfect replica of the supernova gleamed within the glass of the orb, still spreading its gaseous tendrils.

"A gift." I set the orb lightly on the table with a mock bow. "Don't fight too hard, now."

Azazel snatched the softball-sized orb, examining it with a critical eye. "How the hell? Glass shouldn't be able to contain plasma, no matter what spells it has."

'It doesn't. It just uses a cleverly designed pocket dimension to hold the star while still allowing you to see it. But you don't need to know that.'

"All right, so Azazel has been quieted for the near future," Michael remarked duly, unruffled by my demonstration. "Rest assured, there will be a treaty. We've fought and bled for this since God died. We just haven't gotten around to the hand-shaking quite yet."

I smiled serenely at him. "Then I would appreciate the hand-shaking happening a bit quicker. I've got loads of nice toys to share, and I'd like to think that they can help smooth things over a bit."

"All right, let's declare peace or whatever," Azazel groused. "Just tell me how the hell you're fitting an actual star inside a glass ball!"

Barquiel spoke, finally breaking his silence. "Azazel, I doubt you should be focused on that right now. And I believe that was a gift to all three Factions, not just to you."

Sirzechs nodded, eyeing the orb appreciatively. "I can think of a certain Devil scientist who'd love to take a look at that."

Azazel reluctantly set the orb aside, sighing and leaning back in his chair. "Fine, whatever. My guys won't attack you as long as you don't attack them, all right?"

Michael seemed pleased. "That sounds fine to me. And with Red-dono's force preventing any skirmishes, we might actually have a shot at lasting peace.

Sirzechs nodded. "I propose an exchange of gifts, then, to both facilitate goodwill between our species and to cement lasting bonds."

"An excellent idea." I motioned to him. "Care to share?"

He chuckled, reaching into his pocket. "I would, indeed. I trust that you aren't expecting any gifts?"

I shook my head. "Not in the least. I'm just streamlining the process."

He nodded, setting three small boxes on the table. "Very well, then. Who's going first?"

Michael gestured to Azazel. "Let's go in a circle."

My father nodded, taking the box of what looked like cards and sliding them across the table. "Go ahead, then."

Other Me, having hovered at the edge of my vision for the entire conversation, leaned forward in anticipation. Apparently, I wasn't the only one looking forward to this.

Azazel raised an eyebrow upon seeing Other Me. "That your kid, there?"

Sirzechs smiled politely. "Just open the box. All will be explained in a moment."

The Fallen shrugged, pulling the tab of the seemingly flimsy cardboard box and pulling out eight cards. A man with a bow, a contorted figure with a large blade, a skull-faced man with nothing on save a pair of black silk pants. More cards that I couldn't see lay under them. Azazel blinked, examining them. "So… is this like a cereal box collector's set or something?"

"Or something," Sirzechs agreed drily. "If you can count an entire Reincarnation System under the banner of 'or something'."

There was a beat of silence as both Fallen present stared at the cards in shock. "A… System?" Azazel finally choked out. "You built an entire Reincarnation System!?"

"I didn't," Sirzechs corrected, lips twitching. "My son and my best friend did. Over the weekend, when they got bored. It was quite hilarious, to be frank."

"Explain." There was no emotion in the man's voice, just clinical detachment.

Other Me stepped forward, smugness written all over his face. "It's rather simple. One Ruler, and seven Servants. Saber, Assassin, Archer, Lancer, Berserker, Avenger, and Caster. Each Class Card can be used to either empower an existing Fallen or transform another species."

"Can it raise the dead?" Barquiel interrupted, suddenly realizing where this was going.

The smirk on Other Me's face softened into a smile. "As a matter of fact… as long as a new body can be reconstructed and the soul can be found, it can revive the long-dead."

The black-haired man was on his feet in an instant, putting his odd invitation to the meeting together with the new System. "You had a test subject, didn't you?"

Other Me—Ah, fuck it. Millicas turned, still smiling. "As soon as we fleshed out the details of how it worked, yes. Would you like to meet her?"

There was a gasp as Akeno, still sitting on the sidelines, realized the implications of the question. Barquiel swallowed. "I-I would."

Millicas reached into his pocket, pulling out a small phone. "All right, if you insist." He tapped a few buttons, then held it to his ear. "It's time." He paused, listening. "Yes, him. Yes, your daughter is here too. Just use the Gem." He tapped another button, then tucked it in his pocket and turned back to the Fallen. "She should be here in just…"

A flash of light lit the room for a moment, and a moment later, a tall, raven-haired woman stood beside Millicas. Her hair was done in a loose ponytail, and tied back with a blue ribbon. Her eyes could only be described as 'motherly', and her smile threatened to split her face as she caught sight of her husband.

"S-Shuri." Barquiel whispered reverently.

The woman sighed, crossing her arms. "Well, you silly man? Are you going to kiss me or not?"

Choking back a sob, the large man took the five steps necessary to bring them together and pulled her into a deep kiss. Akeno was there the next instant, burying her face in her mother's back and beginning to cry.

I considered grabbing popcorn, but decided that would be too dickish. Even for The Red Man. Instead, I made a show of rummaging through my pockets as the touching scene continued. I pulled out a small disk drive and an even smaller box, setting them on the arm of my chair. I politely waited as the tears dried up and the moment passed, then cleared my throat. "If you're quite finished…?"

Barquiel nodded, wiping his red eyes and blowing his nose. His wife gave him a quick kiss on the cheek, then followed Akeno back to the spectators' seats. All parties involved settled down once more, and the meeting resumed.

Sirzechs gave Azazel a small smile and a nod, then turned to Michael. "I have two gifts. The first might or might not be my son's idea of a joke—" Millicas coughed, hiding a smirk. "—but it's no less valid."

He slid a polished wooden cube the size of a music box across the table. Michael, slightly apprehensive, pulled it closer to him and opened the hinged lid. He peered within, reaching inside and drawing out a long white staff.

He blinked. Twice.

"…How?" he murmured, glancing down into the box. "This staff is over six feet long."

Sirzechs merely smiled. "Try channeling a bit of Light through it."

The Archangel frowned, hesitantly pushing a bit of mana into it. The top glowed with light, and the air became charged with energy.

Azazel burst out laughing, but muffled his snickers before Barquiel could smack him.

Almost reverently, Michael lowered the staff and examined it. "It's flawless." he whispered reverently, running a finger over the impossibly smooth wood. "What is it?"

"A focus," I called, tapping my own staff against the floor for emphasis. "One built to withstand God-level powers. It's like attaching a spigot to an ocean. Gives you incredible control, streamlines spells, and all-around great to have. Hard as hell to make, though." I gave Millicas a thumbs-up. "Nice job, kid."

Adjusting his grip on his new weapon, Michael carefully placed it back inside the box. "I am aware of what its function is. I have a blade with much the same effects back in Heaven. But that was a sword custom-made by Father Himself. For a Devil to not only replicate it, but improve it?" He shook his head. "Impossible. One would have to wield Light at an almost unheard-of level."

I sweatdropped. '…Well, you're not wrong.'

Millicas simply smiled. "My girlfriend has a gift. Let's just leave it at that."

I fought back a smile of my own, and Asia shifted invisibly beside me. 'All of my girls are incredibly gifted. Asia's no different.'

Michael sighed, sitting once more. "All right. I can't force you to reveal your sources. Just try to warn me if I have to track down a leak."

Sirzechs's smile turned strained. "Michael…"

The leader of the Angels simply waved him off. "Come off it. I know they exist, I know they're a problem. But we're not here to talk about one Faction in particular. Now, I believe you said that there was a second gift?"

My father nodded, pushing a small box into the center of the table. "This is one that can be used by all the Factions. It's less of a physical gift than one of information, but I figure it's only fair to share what we have."

He leaned back into his seat, and gestured for the other two men to open the box. Azazel reached out and pulled the top off, and Michael pulled out its' contents. There was an audible pause as both the Fallen and the Angel stared at the odd fruit. It was unlike any earthly fruit, perfectly round and smooth with a sheen of gold.

Both the Fallen and the Angel reacted violently, one dropping the fruit like it had scorched him and the other leaping back as if the small prune-sized object would explode if he strayed too close. Michael knocked over his chair in his hurry to step away from the innocuous fruit, mimicking Azazel as he stared at it. Finally, Azazel spoke. "That's an actual fruit from the Tree of Knowledge." His face was rigid, refusing to take his eyes off the seemingly innocuous fruit. "Where the hell did you get that?"

I frowned. "Better, how did you get past the wards on my Tree? I swear, I had that thing warded to hell and back. Nothing short of a World-Class spell should've so much as scratched those things." I levelled an intense glare at my father. "There's some seriously dangerous shit in there, and it needs to be protected."

The redheaded Maou shook his head, holding up his hands to placate me. "My friend Ajuka managed to get past them into one specific point the size of a refrigerator. And that was only possible due to dumb luck on a blind transport."

I blinked, cocking my head. My ahoge twirled. "Odd. I could've sworn… never mind. I'll patch the hole soon enough."

"Context. Give. Now." Azazel ground out.

I sighed. "The Tree I made was a restored version of the one destroyed in the Fall of Man. God gave it to me to fix, and I decided to put it somewhere I knew it'd be safe. I have supernatural guardians inhabiting the Tree at all hours of the day, and every inch of it is warded beyond all reason. Not to mention the preliminary defenses, none of which have been so much as touched since I planted the damn thing."

The two of them stared at me for a moment. "God's own Treasury… is being kept in the Underworld?" Azazel checked.

I shrugged. "Well, more like my treasury now. I watch movies there with my girlfriends all the time."

Michael blinked in surprise. "Wait, you're—"

"That is correct," I agreed. "And if you have a problem with lesbians, I will shove that star up your ass."

"I was going to say 'using the most powerful gathering of arcane knowledge in history as a home theatre,' but that works too." The Archangel said dryly.

I shrugged. "Hey, it works. And the big guy probably wouldn't care even if he knew. Now can we get back to the meeting? Yeah, I have the Tree of Knowledge as my home base. We were just discussing that five minutes ago. Time to move on."

I gestured with Ages Past, and the fruit flew into the box and the box shut itself. Both Faction leaders returned to their seats, and the meeting resumed. Azazel cleared his throat, picking up the box and setting it aside. He gestured to Issei and Xenovia. "I already gave my gifts, as did Michael, if memory serves."

Sirzechs nodded, turning to me. "And you? You seem to have gifts ready."

I shrugged. "I might."

"They're right there." The Fallen leader deadpanned.

I smirked. "I dunno, I might just be planning to—"

"Mira!" Sera called sharply, making everyone look at her. I frowned, but stopped.

I reached into my pocket, drawing out a small bracelet. "First Azazel, since he seems convinced that his gift is next to me." I tossed him the bracelet, and he caught it with both hands. "It's a device that removes the need for sleep by converting collected kinetic energy into mana and hyping your regeneration factor. It only works for a maximum of a week, but as a fellow researcher…"

He smirked, tucking it into his pocket. "I love it already. I hope you don't mind if I make copies, though."

I grinned. "Try all you want. It's sealed tight."

Sirzechs cleared his throat impatiently. I sighed, picking up the finger-sized box. "Yes, yes." I rose, walking over to the Maou. "Here."

He picked it up, opening it and pulling out the contents as I returned to my seat. A pitch black )King( Piece greeted him, causing him to blink in shock. Before he could speak, however, I beat him to it. "No, this is not one of those devices sealed away for their corrupting influence. It's more, yet less." I paused, thinking. "I suppose you could say it has much the same in terms of features, though I made it so it acts much like the Reincarnation Pieces rather than the additive it was originally. It grants the same random power boost, but it also renders them unable to directly attack or defend while it's in effect."

Sirzechs narrowed his eyes. "And how, exactly, did you design such a Piece without the knowledge of Ajuka?"

I waved him off. "Please. I've been leeching information from the background for ages, now. I read your files, and you read the files I allow you to steal. It's a game I play with Ajuka. Anyway, the Piece has one additional ability, which grants the user the ability to overpower the will of others. Less 'absolute command' than 'shut them down,' but there's still some similarity. And even then, it's temporary. I'll leave the rest to you to decode."

I turned to Michael, smiling deviously. My childish features didn't portray the wickedness of the expression as well as they could've, and my gently waving ahoge was hardly menacing, but I still pulled it off. "Now, for you… a bit of information that you seem to lack. As my gift I plan to overhaul the System eventually, but for now, you need a way to reproduce." My smile stretched as he narrowed his eyes at me. "Oh, don't be like that. It's nothing creepy like that Lust-prevention ritual. In fact, it's just a little loophole God never got around to telling you about."

"…Go on." He urged as I fell silent.

"Well, it's not that hard…" I sighed melodramatically. "You probably wouldn't need it. You would've tried it already if you had an ounce of common sense."

I could hear the Angel's teeth grinding together, and I finally let him off the hook. "All right, fine," I grumbled. "Jeez, tough crowd." I straightened, looking the Archangel straight in the eye. "Tell me, Michael the Archangel… was God against sex, or sex before marriage?" I paused for emphasis. "You never tried getting married, did you?"

There was a dead silence.

"It couldn't possibly be that simple," the leader of the Angels protested weakly, but I could hear the fight being drained from his voice.

I raised an eyebrow. "No, actually it isn't. Angels can still Fall after too much Lust, but it becomes a 'three strikes, you're out' methodology rather than a single action damning you. You can still fall if you perv on random girls, but it stops you from falling if you perv on your wife."

"Not possible," Michael repeated.

I shrugged. "No, I'm quite sure that's what he said. You could always find willing volunteers, and I'm sure not all the Angels in Heaven are keen on the 'no sex ever' rule."

There was another silence, then Azazel began to laugh. Sirzechs merely sighed, shaking his head. "All right. Gifts have been exchanged, goodwill received, information shared. Can we please shake hands now so we can get to fixing our problems? I, for one, would like to get home sometime tonight."

I nodded in agreement. "I have a contract to have you sign if you need it."

"Not quite yet." Michael sighed. "We still have to get our people used to the idea of peace before signing any binding contracts."

I pouted, crossing my arms. "Fiiine."

Sirzechs rose, as did Azazel and Michael. They shook hands, one after another.

…I was underwhelmed. That was a hell of a lot of planning for one lousy handshake. It didn't even last more than a second.

All three men sat back in their chairs, visibly more relaxed, though all a bit on edge.

"Can Mira-chan sit on my lap, now?" Sera asked out of the blue.

We all blinked at her, but she just smiled. "Well, she doesn't have to be the big, scary diplomat anymore, and she's adorable. I want to hold her."

"Serafall…" Sirzechs sighed.

I shrugged. "Sure. I'm game." I paused, glancing down at my somewhat average chest. "…I could always use some extra cushion."

Kokabiel made choking noises that might have been muffled laughter, but I ignored him. I took the few steps necessary to reach my little Maou, smirking at Millicas as I did so. She held her arms out, and I slid onto her lap. She squee'ed and wrapped her arms around my adorable form.

"…And now I'm back to little girl in fluffy bathrobe." Azazel deadpanned.

I stuck my tongue out at him. "I'll have you know I'm the height of maturity."

The Fallen snorted. "Oh, please. Spare me. Now let's get the basics down before we try for anything complex."

I pulled out a whiteboard and a handful of dry-erase markers, glancing over at the silent spectators. "You might want to send them away for this bit. It's going to be long and boring."

Sirzechs nodded absently, waving them off. "Go on."

"Wait." Azazel held up a hand. "I have a few questions, first."

We all paused, waiting for him to speak.

"First, Red Dragon Emperor." He pointed to Issei. "What do you think of this peace? Will you defend it?"

Issei blinked, surprised at being put on the spot. "Hm? I guess. I mean, there's nothing good about war. Even in peace times, I have more than enough people to fight."

"And does the Dragon within you agree?" The Fallen raised an eyebrow. "The White Dragon has yet to be found. Doesn't Ddraig want to fight him?"

Issei blinked. "I'm sorry, who?"

"Ddraig. The spirit of your Sacred Gear."

My student snorted. "Please. Don't bullshit me, old man. I've never had any spirit in my Gear. Why do you think I can't figure out Balance Breaker?"

I froze. 'Issei, this is not the time to be messing with me. Just shut up.'

Azazel sighed, shaking his head. "Well tell me when he wakes up, then." He shifted his gaze to Millicas. "Now, as for you… from what I've seen so far, you're going to be one hell of a big shot once you grow up. Powerful enough to one-up Zekram of all windbags, but smart enough to keep it under wraps. You're probably fixing to join the R&D Division once you get enough to your name, yes?"

Millicas nodded slowly. "That is one plan, yes. Why?"

"Just a moment." The Fallen turned to me, smirking. "Do you think this 'neutral Faction' of yours could host a Research and Development Division? I mean, if we're all pouring resources into this thing, we might as well benefit from everyone's efforts, right?"

I blinked. "Interesting. Unexpected, but interesting nonetheless. I don't see why there couldn't be one, but I would have to restrict some of my sciences to make sure nobody does anything stupid."

"How stupid?"

I snorted. "Mutually assured destruction. All across the map. I have a weapon in my armory designed to wipe out the Moonlit world entirely, leaving humans as the sole denizens of planet Earth." I gave them a sweet smile. "Naturally I'd rather avoid that eventuality, but I am a supposed terrorist. If push comes to shove, and it's either you or us, I will not hesitate to perform the Sundering of Names."

Everyone in the room older than five hundred tensed imperceptibly. Azazel coughed. "Right. You should probably hide things like that. Last time that was used…"

I nodded. "Exactly. I keep my worst weaponry close to me, but smaller things like that are the object of study within my organization's Soul Society. Names are powerful things, after all, and I would rather my men know theirs enough to prevent Name Magic being used against them." I tilted my head, twirling a strand of sunset hair around my finger. "Is that all you needed to ask?"

The Fallen leader hesitated. "Ah, actually… where did you get that whiteboard from?"

I shrugged, glad that the game of 'my stick is bigger than yours' seemed to be over. "Elsewhere. I thought it would be good for jotting down ideas. Now do you have any questions for our spectators, or can I send them away?"

"No further questions," Azazel confirmed.

I smiled, planting my staff onto the ground. The world rippled, and the room began to shrink. "Mind the gap, and make sure that my men aren't messing about." I called. "Oh, and you might want to use a shield spell. Kokabiel, would you mind?"

"Of course not, milady." The Clockwork Angel gave me a savage grin. "Permission to use Tier Magic?"

I waved him off. "Nothing higher than Super Tier. We don't want to leave this place in a smoking crater."

"Very well." The General of Asylum bowed low.

Issei seemed to catch on. "I take it there's a fight outside, then?"

I nodded. "Quite the rude bunch, too. I'll send you to the safe zone, but I doubt you lot can resist joining the fight."

Millicas sighed, glancing at his wrist. "Issei, same rules as Kokabiel. No Super Tier."

The blonde shrugged. "Fine with me. Tenth Tier is still enough to Summon an entire Legion of Demons."

"Don't do that," Millicas advised drily. "They don't take kindly to being summoned, and Minato is the only one who has their respect. He's probably already on the scene trying to minimize the damage on our side, so find him if you plan to join in."

I sighed. "I tire of waiting. You have ten seconds prepare yourselves, I'm going to be opening a Portal."

{Asia? Care to fight?} I sent, sensing her boredom. {I gave you the Mask, and it has the Identity Blocker spell built in.}

{Can I join?} Shirone begged.

{No. The battlefield is too well protected for you to get in or out without alerting everyone on it. I'd rather you play it safe.}

{U-um, I'll go.} Asia agreed softly. {Be careful.}

{You too.}

I tapped the floor once more with my staff, and everyone not at the table flickered out of existence.

"Now." I uncapped an EXPO marker, smiling deviously. "Let's get down to business."

"I fucking HATE politics," I groaned, reclining on the bed with Shirone and Asia lying against me. "Remind me to punch my past self in the face for thinking of that."

"So… was that it?" Ruby asked, ignoring my griping.

I sighed. "I doubt it. I mean, Kokabiel's new force proved its' effectiveness by intercepting the Khaos Brigade before we even knew it was there, but there are still several problems with that alone. There are several follow-up meetings to discuss various issues, so that'll be something to do for the next few months. I managed to talk them into moving the location of the peace talks to the Tree, at least, so that's something."

"So you're going to be meeting with them again?" Shirone asked, ears drooping.

I took a moment to appreciate how adorable my kitten was.

"No, not too often," I soothed. "First we need to let the Three Factions get used to the idea of peace. Then we can meet and start discussing the larger changes."

Asia's soft wings wrapped around us as she joined the hug. "Just don't work so hard you forget about us, m'kay?" she asked, oh so sweetly.

Shirone frowned, poking her in the side. "Hey, I'm on cuddle duty. Stay away. You already had your fun today."

I fought back a laugh at Asia's adorably indignant expression. "After the day I've had, I'm ready to skive off work entirely. Let's have a cuddle pile and watch a movie," I offered, diffusing the incoming fight.

"Wow, Millicas Gremory is suggesting that we skip work to have fun?" Ruby gasped dramatically.

Asia giggled, leaning in and kissing me. "Oh, come on Ruby. You know you want to."

Ruby smiled, poking Gil in the side. "Aren't you going to join in?" she asked, rising to her feet.

The blonde Phoenix set aside her book, stretching and making a show of reluctance. "W-well… I suppose…"

Her reluctance flew out the window as Ruby evidently decided that Asia was her newest victim. The poor Angel suddenly found herself in a deep kiss with the smug Dragoness, and Gil was sitting on my other side in a flash. "S-stop it!" she squeaked, face red.

Ruby pulled away, frowning at the King. "Oh? And what makes you think she's not enjoying it? Just look at her."

Asia's face had a dreamy expression, satisfaction oozing from her thoughts. Gil had no words as Ruby giggled, continuing to render the Angel speechless. Shirone leaned into me, tail twitching contentedly as she watched the show. I suspected that she would eventually decide to mimic Ruby using either Gil or I, but I doubted that that would come before she fell asleep.

A ))Gate(( opened beside the door of the room, and Sera walked through, looking less than happy. "That took forever!" she groaned. "Never in my life have I been so quiet during a meeting." She turned her glare towards me. "And don't think I'm not mad at you for leaving before they started their dick measuring contest."

I gave her a wry grin, pulling my attention away from Asia's molestation. "Hey, if they're trying to have a dick measuring contest with a little girl, they must've started with the world's cruelest handicap." We shared a brief laugh, and I gestured in the vague direction of where her Gate had vanished. "I'm surprised you didn't take a bigger role."

She puffed out her cheeks, crossing her arms beneath her bust. Ruby and Shirone stared unabashedly, while Gil sighed and rubbed her temples. Unaware, Sera spoke. "I had to keep quiet the whole time, just so I didn't trigger my Talent."

Asia leaned forward and began to kiss Ruby once more, making Shirone twitch. Her Gluttony must've been driving her insane just watching the scene.

"That's the burden of Talents," I grumbled to no one in particular, thinking back to my own escapades. "They're dead useful when you need them, but you have to avoid them otherwise. The stronger the Talent, the worse the handicap. My Talent protects me from practically any harm, but to avoid using it on accident, I can't move at all."

Sera blinked. "I… never really thought of it that way. You did say that Talents are hard to control at first, but I can't really picture you getting Lost all the time. You seem too orderly for that."

Shirone burst into giggles, and the Link flared to life with memories of me repeatedly making an idiot of myself. Small things like getting on the wrong transporter, larger things like getting lost in an empty room and confusing the hell out of my father. I grumbled to myself as the room filled with laughter, and I felt myself beginning to relax.

It was good to be home.

Sera wiped her eyes, flopping onto the bed next to me. "So…" she began, eyes twinkling. I had a feeling something bad was about to happen. "I still haven't gotten that skintight bodysuit I wanted. You know, that little black number those Church girls were wearing?" She gave me a sultry look. "Because according to Iri-chan, they don't wear underwear under those…"

'…Never mind, this just got Dangerous. Abort! Abort! Abort!'

"The meeting went wonderfully, I believe," Ajuka remarked as I entered his lab. "Wonderful job disguising your signature, too. I never would've thought to use a focus."

I shrugged. "Devils are traditionally focusless mages. They see foci as below them because of how many humans use them. But the Factions aren't really clear on what The Red Man even is, so it's a good show of unity to act as a human."

The Maou nodded, sliding a sheaf of papers over to me. "The attack from the Khaos Brigade was ultimately unsuccessful, with their initial plan of capturing Gaspar thwarted within seconds of its' implementation. Something about him summoning a giant wolf?"

I blinked, idly remembering that Gaspar's familiar was a Grim. "Right, that makes sense." I picked up the report, scanning it over. "Two casualties?"

"Yes." He agreed, pointing to another stack. "Waeglim and NaRae. A young Angel and one of your forces, I believe. The Angel has been properly buried, but your… Clockwork Angel, was it? Well, he dissolved into golden powder before we could touch him."

I grinned, mentally cheering. "Oh, don't worry about him. I have a system set up for that. A few items in God's Treasury have unique uses that don't seem all that handy, but work incredibly well together."

"I see," Ajuka said, even though his confusion was evident.. "I know better than to ask questions by now, but at least tell me whether or not I should be moving towards my bomb shelter."

"You're fine." I waved him off, setting down the papers. "Just something I'm trying. It takes a shitload of mana, but it seems to be paying off."

"Glad to hear it," he replied, turning back to the report. "So how is your other project going?"

I frowned, lowering my voice. "Look, that's just a crazy experiment that I thought up to try and illustrate a point."

"It was just a crazy experiment," he corrected, giving me a serious look. "Now it's a viable method of stabilizing a power vacuum."

"Wishes from nowhere will cause more problems than they'll solve," I argued.

"Which is why you create rules for them," he countered. "You said it yourself: they're actually an incredibly stable system on their own. A stable, magically significant number of orbs built to contain tremendous power, with each charging from Ley Lines over the course of a year to grant a limited wish. You took less than an hour to come up with working prototypes that automatically gathered from Ley Lines without so much as a hint of leakage."

"It is absolutely possible to create them," I agreed, growing impatient. I didn't want to argue with this man. "I'm not contesting that in the least. All I have to do is hook seven orbs into an array scattering them around a planet after they run out of energy. But what you seem to be missing is…" My calm façade, slipped some of my Wrath flowing out and tinging the room around us with a faint red glow. "Wishes. Are. Bad. Very bad. How long before someone asks for something we couldn't possibly think of? How long until someone asks for the power to kill anyone he touches? How long until mass destruction ensues from our fuckup?"

Ajuka shook his head. "Millicas—"

"No." I cut him off harshly. "Not until we've planned for every possible eventuality. Not until we can say, without a shadow of a doubt, that this won't end up biting us in the ass. There's a reason I keep my inventions so close to me, and that's because I know full well what they can do in the wrong hands."

The Maou sighed, holding up his hands in surrender. "I understand. I'll come up with something more solid for guidelines. But still…" He gave me an even stare. "You can't deny that having a wish-granting mechanism that can only be handled and operated by humans would give the supposed 'weakest race' the world's largest advantage."

"No. I can't. And that's why I even told you about this experiment in the first place," I answered tiredly, my Wrath dissipating as quickly as it came and leaving me exhausted. "But I know you, Ajuka, and I don't trust you with a wish. You'd do something stupid and get us all killed."

He gave me a wry smile. "I probably would, you're right." He set down the papers at last, an uncharacteristically pleading expression on his face. "But someone out there deserves that wish. And please, if nothing else, do it for the good of humanity. They've gone a long way, and they have even further to go. They need all the help they can get."

We sat in silence for a time as I wrestled with the dilemma. Ajuka was right, the idea of giving humans an absolute power over the other races would automatically ensure that they would never again be considered cannon fodder. Pawns, perhaps, but pawns are still better than spare blood. But on the other hand… history had proven time and time again that absolute power corrupts absolutely.

"Just… give me some time." I sighed, shaking my head. "I'll figure something out. I have some time before the next meeting, I'll come up with a contingency plan."

Ajuka nodded, as if he already knew what I was going to say. "Of course. I trust your judgement on this. For now, Azazel has some questions on the System we built."

I grimaced. "Great. A distraction would be nice, I guess."

"Let's go, then." The Maou rose, gesturing towards the door. "I believe you have some manner of teleportation magic?"

I nodded, gathering my power. "Where to?"

Ajuka smiled.


Wow. I did not expect that much feedback over announcing lemons. And yes, that last chapter was a bitch and a half to write. Worth it, though.

Now, I did drop a little easter egg in this chapter. A reference to my other story, if you would. Let's see who catches it.

Until next time!

Oh, and to those of you who haven't read my other story, I have a new Beta reader now! Say hello to chessru!

B/N: Wooo! Hi everyone! So I'm here mainly because my favorite thing to do in life is show how awesome I am compared to everyone else by criticizing them for things that barely matter. Then I decided that being an editor allowed me to do just that! So here I am.



I take my inspiration from Shane Koyczan when it comes to the Soul-Bond visions. He's a wonderful poet, you should really check him out.


You try denying a pushy cat. They're hard to argue with, especially since they don't tend to have the word 'no' in their vocabulary. :)


It was my understanding that Ultimate Class Devils had twelve wings. Rizvim did, at least. Am I wrong in giving Issei twelve?