AN: HAPPY BIRTHDAY! I mean, it must be somebody's birthday if I'm uploading another chapter so soon. Feels weird. I thought this would take longer. It is kinda short, though. About 6K words compared to the usual 8 or 9k. But more importantly I've got a question for everyone.

What's up with the favorites for this story? I posted my first one, A Wizard's Game, and ended up hitting 1K after about a month and a half of posting. I've kept at this story for longer and I know that I'm a better writer now than I was then.

Is it the female character? I'm pretty sure that a part of it is because DxD is a harem anime and people look for DxD fanfiction for titties, fights, and sex, not a female perspective (Well I'm a guy making my best guess but still) and emotional conflict.

Or is it because DxD just isn't as active a fandom as RWBY, which is where my first story was. Maybe my writing here isn't as good? Come on, talk to me here, guys. I was putting it off but I'm a little worried here. I don't want to be doing something wrong. Favorites don't matter to me in the long run but I still use them as a benchmark for how well my story is doing. Advice would be appreciated.

Chapter 17

A rock and a hard place


I wasn't used to being the center of attention. I was always the slightly nerdy girl in school. I could be charismatic, sure, and I wasn't afraid of getting in front of a crowd, but I was never the high school superstar. I was more like the superstar's smart best friend. The Hermione to someone else's Harry Potter, though I was never so nerdy.

Being told 'I love you' in front of a high class gathering, where noblewomen were tittering and noblemen were making calculations, was scary. Even though I hadn't done anything wrong having so many people staring at me would have made me sweat if I were human. Instead I doubled down on a poker face and stared at the man who just told me he loved me. Stone cold, or at least I hoped I looked that way.

"Iris Gellian," Sirzechs Lucifer said slowly. "You're in love with Ajuka's apprentice?"

"I am," Riser nodded seriously. This whole performance the two had concocted was rehearsed, clearly. "She caught my interest with her power. I fell in love with her because of her tenacity and resolve."

"… You have good taste," Sirzechs smiled. It wasn't a kind smile. "But do you reject the arrangement of our two families?"

"My and Rias' marriage is done for the good of our lineage and the melding of our houses. I will hold to it, Satan, as is my duty." Riser made a sad but resolved expression, like his marriage was a burden he was willing to bear. Fucking liar, and everyone knew it.

"Good. Then I have an offer for you, Riser Phenex," a few mutters went through the room. "I and the other Satans have long decided that Iris would be welcome as a pillar house, should her bloodline breed true, as Ajuka wholeheartedly believes it will. She is in need of a husband to marry to be the lynchpin of a new pillar house. You are closest to her of all the devils. Do you truly desire to marry her?"

"I do."

"Good."

"And I have promised to do so," he continued. "When I reach the power to rival a Satan she has promised to bind herself to me." First of all, I said that he had to not be an immature asshole too. And I promised to be his familiar, not his wife. But it seemed like my opinion wasn't important here, unless I wanted to interrupt the leader of one of the world's most powerful factions.

"A good goal. A new house will need strong predecessors," Sirzechs praised him. A small grin was at the corner of his mouth, as fabricated as this whole act. "And I believe that we all know my sister's receptiveness to you as a husband. Yet I believe that her heart is gone to another. Isn't it?" He looked to Rias.

"It is." She said clearly. Not that anyone was surprised.

"Buchou." Issei said in admiration. She looked at him and turned away with a blush.

"No, I do not believe that you and my sister are fit to be together, not if your hearts belong to others. So I offer a compromise, a marriage for the good of devil-kind which will make every party happy. Ajuka, as a Satan and Iris' teacher and master do I have your permission to betroth Iris Gellian to Riser Phenex, for the good of devil-kind?"

He… he wouldn't, would he? "You do." Ajuka said. I wasn't angry, just… hurt. I wondered how long he planned this. I knew that we weren't exactly close but I thought that he'd at least hesitate. I saw some smoke in the air and realized that I was losing my form. My thoughts were too undisciplined to keep it stable. I collected myself a bit and wisps of smoke drifted off of my skin, making a small cloud around me. It was probably the best I'd get.

Could Ajuka actually do that? Wed me off? I recalled the contract and all it's boring, dry pages of legalese. Technically no, he couldn't. In reality he was a Satan and one of the most influential with Sirzechs as the most powerful. If they said I was getting married, staking their word and authority on it, what could I do? Jack shit, that was what, unless I wanted to be exiled from devil society altogether.

I was, after all, bound to obey the orders of the Satans, being a citizen of the underworld through my apprenticeship. Masters could also barter their apprentices in trade agreements, which it could be argued that an arranged marriage was. I was just about as fucked as I could get.

Really with the threat of the Satans enforcing this, a contract I myself filled out, and this whole scene I didn't have much choice in this. Not from a devil's standpoint, at least. I didn't even have any clan to advocate for me. I was an independent under their laws. Being unclassified as a low, mid, or high devil everything was a bit blurry around me legally. Not that the Satans needed legality to act against me. It just gave them a technical moral high ground.

"Then I declare it such. When you reach the levels of a Satan, something I'm eager to see, I will wed you myself, should you enjoy it. Remember, however, that Iris' heart is her own. I cannot and will not hand it to you." Sirzechs smiled again. It wasn't his normal smile but one directed specifically at Riser. It didn't seem like a big difference but something about the man made it such.

"Thank you, Satan Lucifer." Riser bowed, outright bowed to the man. The Satan laughed.

"Good luck, Riser. I have faith in you." He turned, his cape flaring dramatically, and walked the room. As soon as he left the silent room I strode up to Riser, amidst the excited talking and Rias freely crying tears of joy, her pawn and peerage trying to comfort her.

"Let's go talk." I said, my smile made of ice. I let smoke flow freely over my skin. It wreathed itself through my hair, which was flowing behind me in defiance of gravity, and snaked down and around my arms. That hurt that I had a moment ago? Now that I was looking at Riser in the face it was all boiling over to rage. Or maybe it was fury, given the quantity of it. I'd think it over after I'd eviscerated Riser. Had he fucked me over well enough to warrant castration? He'd recover, so maybe…

"Of course, Iris." He gave me his trademarked smile, teeth shining. I knew better than to take it at face value. His forehead was sweating from fear. I double checked myself and felt my magical power boiling over, just like my anger. It probably felt oppressive to the people around me.

Feeling it out it was spread all over the hall we were in. Everyone was looking at me nervously, now that I looked around, besides Ajuka, whose face was the picture of normalcy. I was too focused on Riser to notice any of them. In fact, I still was. I'd give a shit about their opinions later.

I pulled Riser along with me and, when we came to a door, I almost slammed it open with an application of telekinesis. I didn't have time for anything but whipping Riser's ass. Verbally. Maybe a little physically but not enough to seriously hurt him. It also wouldn't be a bad idea to see how close he is to a Satan. He might be more powerful than me as of now. I had been more focused on versatility and skill than pure power. I might need to change my focus. I already knew where to look if I needed raw power.

I quickly found an empty room, a bar room, apparently, and dropped Riser's wrist as I spun to face him. When we met eyes I didn't say anything, just crossed my eyes and stared at him. The classic tactic of women everywhere to unnerve their lovers or children and as effective now as it was millenia ago.

Riser was silently sweating for a minute until he cracked. "I thought 'well we're not marrying so I'm not breaking any rules," I stared. "I'm not marrying you until I properly sway you to love me. It was part of the deal between me and Sirzechs," I stared. "I did take your opinion into account! I thought about what you would react like! And it's not like you actually have to do anything. You just… as my fiancee I'm permitted to give you my bloodline. It's… supposed to help make any… future children stronger." I was silent. Riser sweated.

I finally broke my silence. Waiting too long would stop being tense and get awkward or make Riser lash out in anger. "You did not take my opinion into account," I told him in a patient tone, the kind that said that I'd kill him if he interrupted me. "You took into account what you thought was my opinion. You thought that I'd enjoy marrying you. But that's not what's happening. Instead I'm being pressured by you and your family, the Satans, and my social status in devil society to marry you, which is absolutely not our agreement."

"But we aren't married yet!" He argued. "And we won't be until I fulfill our agreement!"

"And what is our agreement?"

"That when I became as strong as a Satan you'd marry me."

"And?"

"And I had to be more mature. And I am! I'm politicking with Satans! I'm the second most powerful devil in my family after my father! There was talk of making me heir! I refused, actually, but… well we can talk about that later."

"Of course," I allowed. "But you have something off. When you meet the conditions I'd become your familiar. That was the agreement."

"I can make you fall in love with me by then." He said with a certainty.

"No, you can't!" My temper broke and I yelled. Riser leaned back a bit in surprise. I'd only lost my temper with him once and it wasn't a pretty sight. I reeled my anger in. "You can't make someone love you, Riser! Love is a mutual bond between two people! You can't force love! And I sure as hell wouldn't love somebody who forced me to marry them under the threat of the Satans!"

"But I'm not!" He insisted. "We are not married and we won't be until I fulfill the conditions! And I personally consider your love to be a condition."

"Riser, that doesn't help what you did! And can't you see that Sirzechs is using you?!"

"No he's not!"

"He gets his sister out of the arranged marriage, gets a new pillar house, you become more loyal to him since he set you up with me, and he looks absolutely fantastic, having been responsible for setting up a new pillar house. Everything works in his favor!"

"And how does this harm me? I know he gets what he wants. So do I! Rias is just… fighting her and even before that I found that I don't really want to marry her. I want to marry you, Iris!"

"And I don't want to marry you, Riser!" That hurt him. He shrank down a little, a bitter look in his eyes. "I'm touched by how much you want me and inspired by how hard you've worked if your peerage's praises are any indication but you haven't changed a bit! You say you want me but then you ignore what I want and stick to your own ideas! I wanted to be treated equally but you refused and look where that left you! Now you're doing the same thing again, just steamrolling over me and my own decision!"

"These two events are different! I was insulting you last time out of ignorance. Now I'm abiding by our deal!"

"Your vision of our deal, not mine," I said angrily. "What do you even know about me, Riser? That I'm pretty and the only person willing to say no to you?"

"That you're kind and cruel, beautiful and smart, talented and hardworking, you've taught me more in a few encounters than others have in years, and you want nothing more than to do just as you please." He said, once more with certainty.

"And who is my best friend? What's my hobby? Do I live a life when I'm apart from you? Do I have people I love? People I hate? You know who I am but hardly enough to marry me!"

"I don't believe that. I know you." He said, once more self-assured.

"I don't think so." I snapped. "I'm going to go and see what I can do about this mess you've put me in. If I'm lucky I won't be branded a stray devil if I have to walk away from this." I walked past Riser when he grabbed my wrist.

"Iris," he told me.

"What?!" I turned and got a face full of lips. On mine. Riser was… oh hell no.

He separated from the kiss and grinned. "I love you." I felt an eye twitch. My body was too weak to properly slap him and let him feel it so I compromised. A force of telepathy reached out and knocked on his brain. I felt how his vision went blurry and his stomach rolled. I slipped my hand free by turning it to smoke and walked out of the room, biting back the words 'I don't love you' as I walked. I lost my temper, something I had hoped I wouldn't do. No need to be a bitch on top of it. Even if he utterly deserved it.

I walked straight down the hall and found Rias walking towards me. "Iris!" She called to me, walking a little faster. "I want to help." I stopped to hear her out.

"With Riser?" I clarified. She nodded and looked down.

"I didn't really break the contract. I lost. And… you took my place. Thank you," she looked back up to my eyes. "I know you didn't volunteer to be his bride but you're still taking my place. I owe you. Whenever you need my help just ask. And if it helps insult Riser I'd do it happily." She grinned at me, like we were allies in this. I let my scowl fade a little bit.

"Thanks, Rias. I know we don't know each other well-"

"We met one time and barely talked."

"Not well at all," I agreed. "But thanks for this. It means a lot. You live in that Kuoh town, right?"

"I do. It's a wonderful place, you should visit sometime!" My scowl faded entirely at the invitation, a faint smile in its place.

"I think I might. Here. My number," I made a slip of paper from magic and handed it to her. "Just send me a text and I'll mark you as a contact. It's nice to reach out to me like this. You didn't have to do that. As far as I'm concerned we're even but if you want to help with Riser I wouldn't say no. Let's meet again sometime, alright?"

"I'd love to." She pocketed the number and smiled at me. I walked past her and continued looking for the person I needed to talk to. The devil himself. Maybe Ravel if I saw her. Getting her take on this would be nice and I didn't spend as much time with her tonight as I'd have liked.

Entering the hall, where people were still gossiping, I was quickly stared at while topics changed or voices were lowered so I couldn't hear. Ajuka quickly walked up to me. I was about to tell him off when he spoke.

"Sirzechs is waiting for you." He said simply. I paused.

"Take me to him." He nodded and walked away. I followed.

We went through what must have been twelve hallways before we arrived at a room that looked the same as all the others. A plain if well made wooden door sat innocently in it's frame. I pushed it open and saw the Satan sitting patiently, his feet propped up on a footrest. Beside him was his wife, who stood dutifully with her hands at her front.

"Iris! It's good that you're here." He smiled at me like we were best buddies.

"Sirzechs," I said unhappily. "I'm not exactly thrilled to be forced into a marriage."

"And that's what we're here to discuss. So what do you want to hear about first? Why I did it? Please, talk however you please apart from just yelling at me. I'd prefer to leave this room as friends than enemies." I narrowed my eyes at him. He was being entirely too nice.

"First of all, no mind controlling this time. Willing or otherwise. I'm still not sure exactly how you got me to agree to it last time since I erased the memories."

"Of course."

"But as for questions let me take my guess as to why. You get a pillar house and the credit for forming it. I'm under the umbrella of devil society and all my power and the potential progeny I have. Riser is finally motivated and will certainly become another powerful devil loyal to you. And your sister is happy. She and the red dragon emperor will probably be doing the deed by next month if all goes well."

"Issei's a good kid," he said cheerfully. "Right now he's a bit… well you haven't met him but I'm sure that in time he'll cool off a bit with a bunch of beauties, my sister first among them." I forcefully didn't think about that. I just knew that I didn't want to talk to Issei all that much.

"So that's a yes to everything?"

"It is. I got all that, Riser got a chance with you, my sister and Issei get theirs, the crowd got a show and the potential for a new pillar house, I get credit; really it works out for everyone. All you're missing is that Issei is going to shape up now that he realizes how weak he is. Riser wasn't gentle even if he didn't humiliate him. It'll do him well, which of course helps me out. Especially if he and my sister work out. My plan has it's risks but they almost all lie on you and any possible outside interference."

"And what if I requested a rating game like you gave Rias? If you denied I could cry favoritism."

"I think you're underestimating Riser a bit but if you won that, which you probably would, then there would be no pillar house and I'd have to encourage my sister and Issei more directly before my father and Lord Phenex request to renew the marriage. I'm stepping on their toes right now. Neither of them agreed to this. Only lord Phenex is mad about it but he can't do anything with Riser, Rias, and myself dissolving the arrangement. Riser is too powerful and with me behind him he can do as he likes, even against his father."

"So I'm the kink in your plans?"

"I'd say that you're the lynchpin." I nodded at that.

"You know that I don't want to marry Riser. At all. Why in the world would you think that I'd agree to this?"

"You don't have a reason," he confessed. "So I'm going to give you one. Right now all that's keeping you from doing something drastic is your desire to keep all the work you've put into devil society. Ajuka, mainly, and your friends. Am I wrong?"

"I'd rather not be hunted down and brainwashed to love Riser." Sirzechs looked a little more serious.

"I wouldn't do that," he said. It sounded like a promise. "That sort of action is what caused the old regime to grow rotten, and why I and my friends destroyed it. I'm a politician, a king in all but name. But I promise that I won't force you into anything unless I have to. Brainwashing is one of the few crimes that go punished in our society, even in the upper class. The evil piece system used to force people to feel loyal to their masters. It was outlawed as soon as I was able to draft the bill. Not it can't compel you to feel one way or another. It can force your actions but your mind is yours. Apart from the natural influence of the racial change. That's unavoidable but not drastic, anyways. Some people aren't affected by it at all. But anyways, no, I won't force you into marriage."

"Not like you did Rias, huh?"

"Rias could always say no. She would be disowned but she could say no and leave to make her own way in the world. It wasn't a good choice but it was hers to make. She chose marriage over exile." I nodded at that. If I wanted out so badly I could just leave; cut my ties and try my hand somewhere else. The church would love me if I decided for a more permanent relationship. Or maybe the angels would scoop me up. Jeanne's offer was always open if I wanted to be a terrorist.

"So why should I stay?" I got to the meat of the matter.

"Because I asked, firstly. If you accept your part in this plan of mine I would owe you. You know how far my word goes. People have done more than marry for less from me." I nodded. It was a good reason, though not enough for me. I didn't need Sirzechs' favor.

"Secondly is because Riser is yours in every way that matters." I frowned at that.

"What do you mean?" He looked at me for a moment.

"Grayfia, strip." He commanded. I paused, not expecting that at all. A glance at Grayfia showed that she was, indeed, stripping. After just a few seconds the queen was completely naked, everything off of her. She didn't try to hide anything. He looked at his wife, ignoring everything but her eyes. "You didn't have to do that. Why did you?"

"Because that is what you commanded, my lord," she said, staring back at him. "And because I love you. If this didn't actually prove your point, however, I would knock that smile off your face." Sirzechs laughed nervously.

"Okay, okay, maybe that was a bit much."

"Ya think?" I muttered.

"Um, you can go get dressed, Grayfia." She huffed and quickly pulled her clothes back on.

"I think somebody's in the doghouse." I murmured. Sirzechs sighed as Grayfia glared at him.

"My point in case, and I mean this seriously, is that love is powerful. More than any amount of hatred. Grayfia wouldn't have stripped if she hated me. She saw my intention and stripped in front of you, a stranger, because she loves me and because she serves me. Riser loves you and if you pushed he would serve you. You already set the requirements to be his familiar, after all. Why wouldn't you be able to make them for your marriage? Whether or not you love him isn't an issue. If he loves you he'd do anything for you."

"You're giving Riser to me." I felt chills at that. Sirzechs was giving me a gift that wasn't even his. That was political bullshit at it's finest but he was still doing it. Somehow.

"In a way you already have him. I'm just showing you that you do with him. But that's not enough, is it?"

"I'm not that interested in a… whatever I could make Riser. I see what you mean. I could and would control the marriage but it's still tying myself down."

"Is it? Being married doesn't mean that you'd have to stay in hell, doing laundry. Lots of young couples go on trips, devil or not. If you left for ten, twenty years to who knows where nobody would blink an eye. So long as you had an heir within the next fifty decades you would satisfy the nobles and public."

"I guess not." I still felt unsatisfied. These were good points but I was still tying myself down. I felt like it just wasn't worth it. From a purely pragmatic perspective maybe it was completely reasonable to marry Riser. It still felt… I didn't know. I didn't want it yet.

"I thought that wouldn't be enough," he didn't look mad, more amused. His head turned to my right. "You were right, Ajuka. She really doesn't like being tied down."

"I told you." I glanced at my supposed 'master', who was shelf sitting, half standing on the armrest of a chair. He still kept his normal face on, showing nothing.

"Power doesn't interest you, otherwise you'd be snapping up ancient relics left and right. People don't interest you as Riser's shown. You'll have as much control over your own life as I can give. What more do you want?" Sirzechs was leaning forwards, interested in what I had to say. I was at a loss for words.

"I don't know… I never thought I cared about having a husband so much." I was torn. In every way the marriage seemed like a good idea but I didn't want to do it. Having a husband I didn't love seemed wrong.

"Love, then?" Sirzechs smiled understandingly. "I completely understand. I wouldn't have married Grayfia if I didn't love her." The maid, now fully dressed again, blushed. "… Ajuka, is she compatible?"

"She is. More than expected due to her ability to absorb power naturally, though there is the trade-off of not being a devil. I'd say thirty times."

"Compatible?" I frowned. This sounded shady."

"Sirzechs are you thinking of those pieces?" Grayfia frowned at her husband.

"I am."

"I'd appreciate knowing what you're talking about." I sounded just a bit annoyed. I shouldn't have been rude like that but I was already pissy with my new marriage being set up without my consent. But I was apparently ignored.

"Hand it to me, please." Ajuka stood up and walked over to Sirzechs. He performed some sort of summoning magic and handed a chess piece to Sirzechs. A king piece. Wait, what? Devil peerage systems didn't have king pieces. Just all the others. King was an honorary title for the person the pieces were linked to. But there were actual king pieces? What?

"This," Sirzechs held up the red piece. "Is a king piece." I gave him a flat look. "It was outlawed and covered in red tape for being too powerful." Now THAT caught my interest.

"In the original days the king piece would be inserted with a pureblooded devil, drastically magnifying their powers, though the amount was unpredictable, though the weaker the recipient the more powerful the effect. If you're strong enough it would kill you as it exploded inside you from power overload so for people like the Satans it's more than a bit useless. It was only designed for being used on pureblooded devils but, thanks to your natural magic, you can absorb it and, well, become a devil. Permanently according to Ajuka."

"How much does it magnify power? And why was it outlawed?"

"It multiplies a person's power anywhere from ten to a hundred times," my mouth fell open. That was insane. And Ajuka said I'd get forty times my current power?! Sirzechs chuckled grimly. "A rogue devil would go from a nuisance to a serious threat or a serious threat to a calamity if they got a hold of one of these pieces. War hawks would cry devil superiority from the rooftops and the other factions would attack out of pure fear of what we could accomplish. I don't want that. I want peace, as do all of the Satans. The same goes for Azazel and the Seraphs. The devils have enough power. Now isn't the time to prepare weapons for war. It's the time to prepare our culture for peace."

"I'm feeling pretty happy for that right now." My voice felt hollow. A hundred Risers, a hundred Sirzechs', appeared in my mind. Holy shit, they'd be unstoppable. Devils would sweep over the earth like… like wasps on some innocent, fluffy thing that didn't expect to be murdered by a million superpowered wasps. Fuck, I couldn't even think.

"You're offering ME this? The spirit? I'm already more powerful than almost any spirit alive. I'm made of magic. I have almost as much as the most powerful ultimate class devils even if I'm wasteful with it! And you're offering me this?!"

"That's why I'm comfortable offering you this," Sirzechs explained. "You don't want war and you'll be quiet about this piece's existence. You're smarter than most devils. With some experience I've no doubt that you'll be a terrifying politician. Our goals are aligned, if you'd like to think of it that way, though I personally think that's a creepy way of saying it." That lightened my mood a little, making me laugh at just how absurd this offer was. I would be an ultimate class, no doubt about it. Maybe creeping into that realm of the absurd, those people like Sirzechs that whole armies feared. That was, if these devils were telling the truth. I'd been screwed over by Sirzechs once today.

"But that's not the reason I'm offering this. If you took this piece you could and would have a peerage of your own. A harem if you choose to make it one. Riser could complain if you took lovers on the side but a peerage? You could have as many lovers as you wanted and true love isn't restrained to one person. Not only would it make you more respectable to fight in rating games but it solidifies you as a member of our society, which is the obvious trade off for this power. And of course as much as I doubt you'll use this in a way I'd outright hate, Ajuka will be making a kill switch for the piece. Not for you - I'd never install what amounts to a bomb in a potential ally - but to shut down the piece."

"And you could probably deal with me yourself if I did turn on you." I muttered.

"I would." He confirmed. I was silent. It was a lot to take in.

"I don't expect an answer right now," the Satan passed Ajuka the piece, where it promptly disappeared somewhere. "It's a big decision, a serious commitment to our race, something I know that you've avoided. But someday you're going to want to settle down. Why not do so with as many lovers as you want, all the riches of the Phenex clan, and a powerful position in one of the world's strongest factions? This is an offer of friendship, not a prison sentence. If you really don't want to accept my offer then challenge Riser to a rating game. I'll approve. It's the least I can do for the help you've been able to give my sister. Think it over." He smiled one more time and stood up to walk out of the room. He and Grayfia left, leaving me with Ajuka alone.

"Sirzechs is my greatest friend and the greatest man I know. I'm sorry for my… betrayal. I was the first to offer to use the king piece on you. If you'd prefer I could make a less powerful variant of the piece or pull some strings. I, myself, though, would take the deal. There is no dream that can't be achieved with blood, sweat, and ingenuity, but an honest offer should never be turned away. And this is, in fact, an honest offer." He left the room without me having to talk to him.

I sat in that room for a long time. I needed to talk to someone about this.


"No!" Jeanne yelled. She slammed her hands on the table of the french restaurant for emphasis. Some of the people around us gave her dirty looks for interrupting their peaceful meals. She didn't seem to care.

"I should have expected this." I sighed, nibbling on a breadstick.

"DON'T become a devil, DON'T let your eternal soul get corrupted and DON'T take what they're saying at face value!" She was beyond pissed. She seemed angry on my behalf that the devils would even offer this to me. "This is what the smart devils always do! They pressure you into an offer and you accept because it seems fair! Then they do it again and again and again and before you know it you've tied yourself into a knot with the devils holding a leash around your neck!"

"That's the slippery slope fallacy." I pointed out.

"It's a pattern!" She insisted, dabbing her own breadstick into some sort of garlic butter sauce. It was good but I wasn't in the mood for good food right now. I needed to talk.

"They're offering a lot for me and giving me a lot of trust here. I get a high ranking position with no real strings attached until later."

"It's like a loan. There's interest, even if you can't see it. Iris, they could make you do anything after you get back to them. A devil with your powers? Holy powers? And the eyes of a powerful pillar devil? You're worth your weight in gold - no, a hundred times your weight. Besides, they betrayed you once. They could and will do so again!" She punctuated her statement by tearing off a piece of her food and staring righteously at me.

"Did they betray me? They sprung this on me but there's not much stopping me from calling them out and refusing to get engaged to Riser. They're staking a lot on my cooperation and being honest about it."

"Why not be obvious about it? It's politics, and not the backstage kind. You'd see what they're doing anyways and Ajuka knows it. And if he knows it then his butt buddy Sirzechs knows it. Telling you only helps them by making you trust them more!"

"And the king piece?"

"If that actually does what they're saying it does then yeah, they're trusting you. They're also able to deny it exists if you tell anyone. Their society is under their thumb, or more specifically Sirzechs' thumb. You might be dangerous knowing that they exist but what can you do with the knowledge? Not much."

I thought it over. Knowing about the king piece was a show of trust but in the end what was I supposed to do with the knowledge? Find one for myself? They were willing to hand me one and let me loose on the world. The knowledge was effectively the same as knowing that God was dead. It was important but it wasn't useful. What would I do? Tell everyone? How would that help me? The answer was simple. It didn't so it didn't matter that I knew.

"You're right," I conceded. "On the knowledge. They offered what seemed like a lot of trust but they're not really taking any risks, are they?"

"The house always wins." My friend said ominously, before she started sucking the garlic sauce off her fingers. Ominous indeed.

"Right. And they didn't betray me blatantly but they did violate my trust. Ajuka especially with that apprentice contract. At least it wasn't magical. And come to think of it he was probably lying about the political pressure to make me an official apprentice. There hadn't even been whispers before. Nobody would make a move on me now out of nowhere."

"Devils are filthy liars that corrupt innocents! They all-"

"Jeanne," I interrupted her, feeling annoyed. "I get that you don't like devils but don't just group them all together. Some devils are good. Rias seems alright and Ravel's never tried to hurt anyone. This is caused from Sirzechs and Ajuka, not every devil everywhere."

"They still suck. They have institutionalised slavery for goodness' sake." She grumbled.

"The race aside I still don't know what to do." I frowned.

"You have three." She said, laying it plain.

"And I don't like any of them."

"Join the devils and marry that jerkass that's crushing on you - DON'T."

"I'm not!"

"Screw them all and walk away - I'm personally all for this. Enerena or not Georg and I would love to have you."

"I don't want to alienate Ravel and Riser's an idiot but a well meaning one."

"And lastly is that rating game. But you're still pretty much accepting that you're a devil citizen because rating games are for devils. It's sitting on the fence. They'll come after you stronger next time and now that devils know that you're in the running for making a new pillar house they'll all try and screw you over. You wouldn't have any allies either since you pushed away the satans and your boy toy." I knew what she meant. The rating game was an option but it was a bad option. I'd be alone and the center of attention, a bad combination for anyone in politics.

"… I hate this." I sighed. I slouched in my seat as I tried to come up with some sort of fourth option. A decent one that worked out for everyone. I didn't want to be a devil or have to leave the underworld as some sort of runaway. "Why do I have to choose between bad and worse?"

"Because the devils are willing to push hard to get you to join them. And being scumbags they're willing to screw you over to drag you in." I frowned and thought in silence.

"What do you have against devils?" Jeanne scowled and neither of us talked.

"This is going to take a minute. Just promise me that you won't tell anyone but Cao Cao about this. He already knows."

"I promise. I'm not going to reveal your secrets to anyone, Jeanne. We're friends, you know?"Her scowl lessened a bit and she took a deep breath.

"Devils screw everyone over. When I was about eleven and people had discovered that I had the spirit of Joan of Arc and a sacred gear I had a lot of stuff piled on top of me. Expectations, mostly, but also responsibilities. I used to suck with… most things. I was only good at swordplay and being devout. But as a vessel for a saint's spirit I needed to be better. More well spoken, more proper, more… everything. And people weren't shy to tell me that. And then, after a year of being constantly overwhelmed by expectations and told that I wasn't good enough a devil found me. Paul Winchester. He offered to help me be more like Joan. More well spoken and saint-like.

"Paul and I got closer. I had a crush on him after awhile. He was my only friend, after all. I had people I talked to but they were fake friends. Hanger ons, I guess. Eventually he took my maidenhead and asked me to help him. He wanted to show people that devils were people too and wanted me to advocate for him. Being a saint I could help, right?

"It went terribly. I made a speech to two hundred members of the church with Paul, telling people how devils weren't so bad. I told them about how he helped me without even asking for much. Nothing that I couldn't easily give and nothing that hurt the church. Obviously they turned on me. Called me a false saint and claimed that Paul corrupted me. They attacked us but, like we planned, I didn't fight back. Paul went back on his word and ran away, leaving me alone. He killed sixteen exorcists on his way off of the church grounds. I was stripped of my title as a saint and excommunicated. I'm lucky that they didn't kill me. I was homeless for three years doing freelance exorcist work before Cao Cao found me and offered a place with him. And that's that."

"… Wow," I said, not expecting all of that. "I can see why you hate devils." She had her trust betrayed and she heaped all that hate on the whole species. And all the terrible stuff she doubtlessly saw as a freelance exorcist must have made everything worse. I'd seen some horrible things done by stray devils and I only worked a year.

"Maybe there are good devils. I've never seen any," she shrugged, her normal pep and energy lost. Telling her old story really brought her down. "Iris. Please, as my friend, get away from the devils. They treat their own like pawns at best and everyone else as an opportunity to take advantage of. Don't join my faction if you don't want to but please don't become a devil… I-sorry, I should go. Good luck." She stood up from the table and quickly walked away. I saw her rub her eyes once before she left my sight.


AN: Jeanne doesn't have a canonical backstory in the show or LN. So I made one.

My other idea than the king piece was to have Ajuka offer to put her in his peerage but alter it so she didn't have to accept orders. Seemed reasonable but it also felt like that would be pulling punches compared to the king piece, which, during the conversation with Jeanne, was explained to be a tactical reveal of a secret to make Iris trust the devil's offer more. If I was in the devils place I would use the king piece because A: it offers her more independence, which Iris clearly wants, and B: it immediately allows her to get a peerage of her own, whereas if she was a peerage member that benefit would be off the table. And as we all know, you get more flies with honey than vinegar and this is very, very sweet honey.

And finally Sirzechs' plan comes to light. Can you guys see it? The conspiracy? … Fate, y'all. Iris is finally thrust into the conflict of the story. This isn't something she can really run from. It's Khaos brigade or Devils now. Good guys or bad guys. There's no escape from the plot and the conflict that comes with it. It's like a black hole.