Fate/Bonds Beyond Humanity

…..

78- New Girl In Town

…..

"And here is our main office. Well technically my office, but it is where you, me and Akeno are going to do most of our work." Rias finished the tour for her new subordinate and fellow pureblood devil Ravel Phenex who, much like the redhead, was wearing Kuoh school uniform. However the blond opted for a more conservative one with a slightly longer skirt and a sweater since even heat in the high of summer couldn't bother her. "That is your desk. It used to be Rin's desk but she is going to be focusing more on research from now on while also taking care of… other exoteric tasks so she will be moving to the library."

"Hmm, I thought your magician was the Mage of Swords. Or is he too incompetent at working on research to be of use." Ravel glared at Shirou who did his best to just smile and bear with it since the newest member of the ORC didn't take the reveal of his relationship with her new King well.

Suffice to say she was against it, completely and absolutely. "Don't talk to Shiro like that." Rias chastised delicately. "His focus is on smithing, Noble Gear development and mystic code creation, so having another magus for research is quite useful."

"And we have three, for all intents and purposes." Luvia pointed out while dropping several books on the tea table at the center of the room where Koneko and Liz ate several treats.

Rin did the same soon after, several Greek tomes spilling around for all to see. "Not to mention he is also working on other projects that shouldn't be interrupted. Or delayed more than they already have."

"If making a gem sword was easy, everyone would do it…" An apologetic tone was the best thing Shirou could offer the twin tailed magus but she didn't look either upset or understanding. Uncaring, was how everyone else saw the Head of Tohsaka. "Maybe the problem is that I need a bigger comprehension of what exactly is between dimensions."

The blonde Rook nodded in agreement. "That is, of course, the territory of True Magic." She reminded her rival. "Many of our peers tried something similar for centuries, whole families chafing under the weight of that pursuit. At least give Shero a few more months, Tohsaka." Luvia then raised a book about Divine interventions. "It isn't like we don't have other alternatives for that project."

Namely getting revenge on Aphrodite but nobody was saying that out loud as long as Ravel was around. Sure she made oaths and promises to Rias but that didn't necessarily make the Head of Tohsaka comfortable enough to reveal her secrets. Especially when those involved the plan to murder a goddess.

The Daughter of Phenex was still an unknown quantity for Rin and so long as the black haired magus didn't open up, nobody was going to reveal the enmity Rin fostered against the Greek Goddess of Love.

Besides, it wasn't like the Heiress of Gremory was telling a lie; Rin was doing research in general as well and wherever anyone needed a spell or had doubts about something mystic the girl would already have researched enough to write an encyclopedia by herself.

Which left the position of Rias' secretary vacant. "Until you have your own set of clients, your main job will be to take calls from everyone else's clients, dealing with our watchers and organizing our contacts in Fuyuki." The King began to explain what she expected from Ravel. "Procedure dictats that some of our peerage offers you some contracts to start off but none of them has a client they want to give up."

"I just got a few good ones." Ise complained as Kiba shrugged, Asia offered an apologetic smile, Akeno giggled a little while Luvia didn't even bother looking up from her research. On all that only Gasper had a legitimate excuse to not offer one of his as all his contracts were made online and Ravel already admitted to know little about computers. "Weeeeell, maybe I can give you one-"

"Oh my, are you going to offer her the magical girl?" Akeno asked with an excited smile. "Can't I convince you to give him to me? Pretty please?"

Ise shivered for several reasons before replying. "Sorry, Akeno-san but no. No way in hell."

"Why not?" Ravel's curiosity at watching the interaction got the better of her.

It grew stronger as the Red Dragon Emperor shivered again. "Because she's going to try and convince Kaichou to take Mil-tan…" He shivered a third time just thinking how bad things were going to get. "She's going to rip my ba- I mean, kill me if you introduce them. Worse if Serafall-sama somehow hears about him."

By the smile on Akeno's face everyone knew Ise was absolutely correct. Considering that Mil-tan was a giant man whose dream was to become a magical girl, he was definitely right. And the Queen wanted to see that happen and had been trying to poach that particular client from her Kohai for a while.

Only Rias' interference kept the priestess at bay. "You heard him, Akeno. No trades this time."

"Aw~"

Fake coughing in her hand, the redhead devil focused on Ravel again. "Anyway, the files were already separated and most of them are on the desk, including all contacts you are going to need." Gasper raised a hand timidly. "Yes, Gasper? Something on the matter?"

"Maybe we should get her a computer?" Everyone stopped and turned to Rin including the former dhampir who began to sweat coldly as the magus gave him a deadpan stare. "I mean- maybe she can use- she can learn to use a computer."

As one of the few people who didn't fear Rin, Setsuna added. "Good idea. It would even allow her more space on the table." The beauty in man's clothes commented as she practiced her violin.

"I can get the best model in the market today if you guys want." Azazel offered while relaxing on the couch.

Which made Ravel blink and turn to him with a suspicious look. "Is that going to add to my debt?"

"That would be a courtesy to your King, Ravel-chan." The fallen angel replied, amusement rolling from him in waves. "Besides, anything for my best friend's love." He added while hugging Shirou's shoulder and everyone watched as the Daughter of Phenex's gaze turned murderous.

After thinking for a bit, and ignoring the banter, Rias snapped her fingers and said, "Yeah, thanks, Azazel. That's going to be a big help." She nodded confidently before adding, "Certainly it will be better than when Rin tried to use one."

"I wasn't that bad-"

"Yes you were." The whole ORC, even Asia and save Ravel, declared in unisson.

Including Liz who just finished a huge brigadier. "Smoke, fire, destruction… death."

"You are exaggerating!" Rin tried to defend her honor.

"Girl, I swear it is like you are cursed." Azazel pointed out because since he arrived in Kuoh he had offered some of the most modern and resilient equipment for his allies to use. It was both a manner of endearment to the Heiresses and a peace offer for their siblings.

And despite Rias, Shirou and Gasper's warnings, he made it his mission to either find a computer that could survive Rin or build one himself. He failed miserably and after four different set ups blew up, one which was a prototype that didn't use electricity and lacked an internal battery, he gave up.

"She isn't cursed. Trust me, I checked three times." Medusa pointed out while reading a book on architecture. Her temple was still under construction and the time was short if she wanted to add anything. "She is just bad with modern technology."

"One of Tohsaka's many, many weaknesses. Ohohoho!"

"Why you-"

"Don't start. Both of you." Rias interrupted with a smile before resting a hand on Ravel's shoulder. "We should be welcoming our new recruit so please, try to make her feel welcome." A few grumbles from the Red and Blue Ogres of Kuoh later her attention turned back on her fellow pureblood. "Anyway, did you get everything you need to do?"

"Yes, Onee-sama!" The Daughter of Phenex replied with eagerness making Akeno eyebrow twitch as Rias smiled at the new title. One she actually already had on Kuoh but coming from Ravel made it far more special since she didn't need to share it with anyone. "Should I also set a schedule for team training while at it? I noticed our peerage doesn't… work together."

"Hah! They never work together. Besides Gasper saving Ise's skin." Xenovia pointed out with amusement.

Only for her former friend and former partner to retort with, "You say that but your team doesn't fight together either."

"I am on a team?" Asked the bluehead.

At which Irina nodded. "Yeah; you, Shirou-san, Liz. You all are technically on the same team loyal to the Mage of Swords." She then pointed to her fellow twin tailed haired girl. "Rin sometimes is included in that."

"Included into what? Emiya-kun's team?"

"Since you aren't part of a peerage and both of you technically work for Rias…" The Church's representative shrugged. "They kinda see you as his subordinate in a sense." Rin appeared to gag as Luvia let out a laugh full of joy.

"Everyone is just bundling us together, aren't they?" Shirou asked while massaging his temples. "You know what, I don't care. Who wants pancakes?"

"In the beginning of the evening?" Kiba asked with disbelief but the Mage just waved him off and moved to the kitchen upon seeing Koneko, Liz and Medusa's raised hands.

"I kinda want some pancakes too." Setsuna admitted with a blush.

Since nobody was going to disagree the redhead went to work as even Ravel looked at the promise of his food with excitement. 'It is the only thing he is really good for.' The blonde told herself before turning back towards her King. "What do you say, Onee-sama? I can get a schedule for everyone to train together in a few days at most."

"A few days?" While excited at the idea, the Rias found it hard to execute since everyone had their own contracts, training and even free time to work on their own thing.

Not to mention other responsibilities like with their families or whatever free time the peerage managed to get for their own affairs. While obligations and personal practice never got in the way of anything, the Heiress found herself more than once failing in separating time for everyone to train together.

It was a glaring hole in their team dynamics nobody bothered to fix neither knew where to start as most of them had different skill sets save a few exceptions; Rias and Akeno could train together just fine, Kiba always had Shirou or Xenovia to help him practice and Ise could fight anyone if needed.

But everyone training together at the same time and even establishing strategies hadn't been on the forefront of Rias' mind even if she had the idea once in a while. In reality she always fell short of implementing it because of their group's philosophy of individual power which had worked wonders.

The belief that if they were all strong there was little need for teamwork, something that Sona had chastised the Heiress more than once. "Are you sure you can do it? I mean, do we even need to work together at all?"

"Of course, Onee-sama. I am also sure that not only can I get a good training plan together tha will minimally affect everyone's schedules while also being something worthy of pursuit." Ravel replied merrily. "From what I observed back in our Rating Game, our team doesn't really need to work together. Our individual capabilities are all impressive enough." Acknowledged the blonde with eager nods. "But it is better to be safe than sorry, don't you agree?"

With an eager smile Rias embraced Ravel from behind and began to rub her cheek on her head making the wonder girl squeal with glee as she let out a sound that reminded everyone of a bird singing in happiness.

"Fried Chicken."

Then the happiness vanished as Ravel glared at her new classmate. "What did you say, Mangy Cat?"

"Just that you are a Fried Chicken, Fried Chicken." Koneko replied and Ise was quick to hold back his laugh as the two's rivalry began to pick up again and they glared at each other.

Most didn't know exactly when it started but Setsuna had a theory. "I knew nekomatas could be territorial but usually Koneko-chan is so calm that I forgot about it."

"Hmm, funny because Koneko-chan doesn't act like that with anyone else." Pointed out Akeno who watched the two young women trade barbs. In her head there was an image of a cat and a bird trying to scratch each other and she giggled. 'It would be more appropriate if Rias was holding Koneko instead.'

Yet that was exactly the issue as while the Rook had no problems with the other members of Rias Peerage, Ravel quickly became an exception since she started as an enemy and began to monopolize Rias hugs throughout the few days since she joined.

And since Gasper was still having his share, Koneko was starting to feel a little excluded. "Stop bothering Buchou. You are getting in the way of her work."

"I am making things easier. What have you done today before eating?"

Luvia clicked her tongue and shook her head with a pained expression. "That isn't how ladies should behave. They are fighting over nothing."

'Isn't that the kettle calling the pot black?' Xenovia asked herself while throwing a glance at Irina who did the same before they nodded at each other. None was willing to point out the magus' hypocrisy.

"Okay, okay. Enough you two." Rias broke the fight before it could really start. "Save that aggression for training. If Ravel can really get a schedule for us, we can actually work together on something other than doomsday projects."

"Hey, that isn't fair." Azazel started with mockingly. "We don't have doomsday projects. It isn't our fault that the cool stuff can also destroy a country."

That made Ravel pause. "'Doomsday projects'?" Only to fall into bliss again as Rias hugged her once more.

"Don't think too hard about it." The redhead half ordered half suggested as she patted the blonde's head. "We will give everyone's class schedule, our clients' lists and you will focus on making sure everyone can work together. Alright?" At the slow nod from Ravel, Rias giggled. "Fufufufu. It is so good to have someone better at organization than I am. So glad you became my Knight."

"This is outrageous!" Riser Phenex's fist slammed on the table and all sitting on it held their glasses and forks.

Zeoticus cleared his throat and glared at the younger devil. "Riser, I understand you are upset with the situation and everything else but if you ruin this meal, I will add to your troubles."

"Son, listen to our host." There was a pause as the man finished chewing. If anything he regretted talking in the first place. "This food is just divine." Lord Phenex commented before humming with pleasure.

"Your father is right, Riser." Lady Phenex said in agreement. "Now, if you want to negotiate, if you can call it a negotiation, behave."

"Eat as well. One cannot talk business with an empty stomach." Sirzechs said just as he finished chewing a spoonful of lasagna. "Seriously, Shirou, don't you really want to move to the Underworld?"

"No, thank you." The Mage replied with a happy smile as almost everyone in the room enjoyed his food.

Everyone but Riser who was the only one to not touch his plate and the only member of his peerage present. His maids were sent to not only help take care of the others but to update him the moment Ravel woke up. From what the doctors had informed the girl would be out for at least two or three days because of the potions.

Which left her older sibling and the only member of his Clan who still protested the contract to speak his mind in the dining room located on Gremory Castle. Pretty much everyone who was in the VIP box back during the Rating Game and the whole of Rias Peerage were there to celebrate and enjoy the food.

The former was hard to do as Riser glared at his former fiance with a mix between fury and bafflement. "That contract can't be legal!" He repeated the same thing he had said for the past few minutes, making Rias roll her eyes. "There weren't no other parts to serve as witness-"

"To be counted from everyone who watched the match." The Heiress tried to cut him off gently.

But the arguments kept going. "-where nobody heard the terms and no other person has read it besides my sister."

"Who has the bearings and the authority to sign by herself. She is capable and, by partaking in the Youth Gathering, considered of age." Rias took a sip of her wine before offering the blonde an uninterested look. "She already signed it, this argument is mute."

"In the middle of a Rating Game? That can't be legal!" In response the redhead Heiress rolled her eyes and kept eating while Riser tried another argument. "You pressured her by springing that contract on a place nobody could advise her-"

"She could have said no." Pointed out Rias with a frown. "If she signed it, it was because her brother wasn't there to pick up the slack."

Riser flinched and Ise couldn't help himself, "Uuuuh snap. Auch! My foot!" He looked to the impassive Liz who munched her food calmly even as her eyes held a warning.

'This is a discussion between nobles. Stay out to not give your King any more troubles.' As the brown haired boy flinched, she took another bite of her food and earned a smile from Grayfia who was sitting in front of her besides her husband and son.

Not dressed as a maid but instead in a long skirt, a long sleeved black shirt with gold highlights that showed her navel, a celeste colored cape wrapped around. The Ultimate Maid heard that Shirou was cooking and gladly took the rest of the day off, with the proper permissions and concessions of course.

Her hair was tied in a long ponytail with some of it tiled around the sides of her head in smaller ones, she also wore thigh high blue socks. In fact not a single speck of her usual attire could be seen as even the boots in her feet were the sort used by adventurers and explorers.

Her personality was also different as she didn't comment on anything with the same discipline as before, basically ignoring politics and just happy to engage her family and Azazel in conversation while giving her son and husband her undivided attention.

Still the maid in Grayfia recognized the other maid's action and if she was on duty Grayfia would be praising Leysritt more vocally, even if there was a biting comment about her lack of proper attire nonetheless.

But that was irrelevant to Riser who saw himself more and more cornered and decided to swallow his pride, turning to his parents. "Lord and Lady Phenex… Are you two fine with this?" He asked while raising Rias' copy of the contract for them to see. "My sister, your daughter, was tricked into selling her soul to another Pillar."

"Huh. Deja Vu." Rin couldn't help but say out loud, getting a few chuckles from her friends.

However Rias didn't show any amusement and instead growled before saying. "While it is true Ravel is going to join my peerage, I didn't trick her. I didn't cheat nor broke any laws." While everyone could feel the pressure raising with her power, only Riser grew bothered as that presence threatened to crush him. "To save your Clan, for the mess that you all made, she signed the deal. I offered her to keep fighting, to drag that game for days, even weeks, to give her some closure. So stop being pus-"

"Millicas, can you pass me the salt?" Sirzechs interrupted quickly when he noticed what his sister was about to say. Only then Rias noticed the scandalous looks of her parents and others in the room even if everyone from Kuoh just took that in stride.

Millicas for his part just looked confused even at the sudden request since, "But the salt is right there, father." He said while pointing to the Maou's right.

"Oh, you are right. Thanks son."

Clearing her throat, Rias controlled herself as Riser looked at her in utter disbelief. "Right, back to the point; stop complaining. She accepted the terms and even swore loyalty."

"Before the whole Underworld." Lord Phenex failed to hold back a sigh and began to massage his forehead. "Riser, even if we tried to fight this contract, which we can't, the whole world saw Ravel offer Rias her loyalty. Right now anything left to be done is just a formality."

Accepting that the Phenex Lord was taking everything in stride, Rias toned down her power and hostility to add, "Once Ravel wakes up we will begin the ritual to change Pieces." From her magic circle, the Heiress summoned her last unclaimed Evil Piece, a knight. "You also need to be present since at the moment she is your Bishop but-"

"I don't accept it." Riser said firmly with a stare that promised a fight. "I refuse to accept it, Rias. And without me there is Conversion or Trade."

"Are you trying to renege the Geas?" It was Venelana who asked but no devil could believe Riser was even entertaining that idea. "You know the consequences, right? If you get in the way you are going to suffer, legally and magically."

"I am ready to die if necessary!" Riser declared stubbornly and Rias rose to her feet for a retort as everyone else watched.

Shirou groaned in his hands as Xenovia patted his back. "All that work just for this. Maybe we should have left him back in his room." He said as his first lover tried to stop her former groom from doing something he would regret.

Seeing her lover's suffering, Rias wanted to punch Riser in the face. "Can't you see we are trying to do you a favor? Maybe I should annihilate the Phenex anyway just to not deal with this headache."

"Now, now. Let's not be hasty." Zeoticus raised his arms to try and calm his daughter down and since he was at the head of the table they were pretty much side by side with only Venelana between them. "Rias, you accepted her allegiance before the whole Underworld. Destroying the Phenex is no longer an option."

His wife was quite to add. "We know you want the public's support and can you imagine how angry they will be if you suddenly punish the Phenex Clan when their daughter swore herself to you." Everyone saw Rias wince and her mother nodded. "I thought so. Still, someone should be controlling Riser."

At the pointed look they received, both Lord and Lady Phenex began to try and talk sense on their son. Soon a full blown discussion began between the six nobles as the rest of the table didn't care or couldn't do anything about it.

"Hey, Senpai?" The Red Dragon Emperor leaned forward to talk with Akeno despite her being a few chairs away from him with Asia sitting between them.

However he knew the Bishop wouldn't be able to answer his questions and he didn't want to ask Kiba so the Queen was his best source of information. "Yes, Ise-kun?"

"I thought Fried Chicken's sister- I mean, isn't Ravel-san a Bishop?"

Irina began to nod from the other side of the table. "Yeah. That is true, she was a Bishop, wasn't she? I thought every peerage could only have two of those."

"And you two are correct." The Hybrid looked at the devil's discussing and decided to explain upon noticing most of the younger devils looking at her. "That is where Conversion comes about. It is the method that one Piece is replaced by another."

"Wait a minute, I thought that our Pieces were permanently part of who we were. That without them we would go Stray." It was Kiba who asked and Gasper raised a hand.

"Oh, oh. But we aren't losing a Piece, we are just changing them."

"'Trade' would be the better word for it but that is the process of exchanging Pieces." Akeno pointed out with an easy going smile. "But think about it for a moment; when two nobles have Pieces the other wants but not in the position they want it, a method to replace the pieces had to be developed. In fact I think Beelzebub-sama worked on it just before making Rating Games official."

"Correct, niece. Just before making things official, the guy was already adding the finishing touches to that ritual." Azazel chipped in with a chuckle. "As a fellow genius, I can appreciate the hindsight that takes to prepare something like that before making a sport. Kinda gives me the idea of making one…" The man began to rub his chin with a glint in his eyes.

"Who knows how many devils would be killing each other to steal Pieces if not for that." Xenovia commented with a chuckle. "It would be Civil War II: Electric Boogaloo."

Even the pureblood devils who heard the former Exorcist's comment couldn't really disagree with it since it was mostly likely true. Perhaps it wouldn't be as bad as the actual Underworld Civil War but a war would be had. Greed was a common sin amongst the Underworld's nobility and blood was shed for less.

Fortunately for all parts Ajuka was really a genius who understood the intricacies and behaviors of his society enough to predict such a disastrous outcome and take several steps to prevent it as smoothly as possible.

All in all by making something that would give the government control over Rating Games, who had which Piece, the transfers and free reign to monitor alliances in a natural fashion that nobody else would be capable of doing.

One of those steps was the system Akeno was about to explain. "And Beelzebub-sama probably thought about all that. That is why he added Conversion to the Evil Piece System."

"'Conversion'. Such words have a strong connotation, my priestess." Medusa grew interested in the conversation and turned to the ravenhead. "It speaks about change, transformation. Is that what it implies?"

"As expected of my goddess. So wise, fufufu." Akeno's expression was full of playfulness. "Indeed, you are right. It is all about transformation. Think about what our Evil Pieces are…" A hand rested on the area above her breasts. There the Hybrid felt the Piece which made her a devil. "They are Cores, or secondary hearts if you will, that convert mana into demonic energy and allow a 'line' between Pieces and Kings. That line is such a precious thing." She said softly and lovingly. "When the King is good it is like knowing there is always someone ready to look out for you, that your loyalty will always be rewarded. Us, Gremorys, have a lot of those."

Hearing the conversation, even the few purebloods who had Pieces on them couldn't help but agree with the assessment. They all could feel the 'line' between them and their Kings that did give the latter some privileges, like access to their magic circles, but also told their leaders they were alive.

They were safe.

Akeno kept speaking, speaking in a tone which pleased Medusa. 'Good practice for when I expand her duties.' It also showed that her singing lessons were paying off.

Because her tone was melodious, even when just speaking facts. "When we receive our pieces, especially those of us who Reincarnate, they don't stay in a solid state. They become a pulsing flux of mana that constantly executes its functions." She pointed at Ise first. "The pulse inside Pawns is steady and basic; just turning mana into demonic energy." Next she pointed to Kiba. "Knights have a faster pulse that circulates mana on their muscles with greater speed which results in greater acceleration." Next she pointed to Gasper who was on the other side of the table. "On the other hand, Bishops accumulate more mana than the others inside their pieces to be distributed whenever necessary." As Luvia was closer, the ravenhead pointed to her. "And Rooks have a steadier stream of mana that, much like Knights, circulates their body the whole time but at a slower pace, accumulating more energy."

"And then we have the Queen." Azazel decided to take over, motioning to his niece who smiled and bowed her head. "Pretty much an amalgamation of all Pieces even in function. The work Ajuka put into developing that particular piece." Kissing the tip of his fingers, he said extravagantly. "Chef 's kiss. A work of art that accumulates mana, distributed in different measures depending on how the devil adapts their own fighting style." He looked at the Red Dragon Emperor with a smirk. "Kinda like Pawns, really. The whole Promotion thing is just a trigger to make the games more balanced."

"It is more complicated than that." Grayfia entered the conversation after helping her son get a new portion of food further down the table. The young redhead was excited to prove dishes from Earth. "During production the pawns Evil Pieces are tied to an automated Geas so they can only unleash their full capability upon certain conditions."

The Cadre blinked in surprise and pouted. "That wasn't on the files that I got."

"Probably because it isn't part of the Evil Piece System itself." The silver haired woman shrugged. "Just a way to make Rating Games more fun. It's why, in case of an emergency, a King can consider pretty much anywhere on enemy territory as their base."

Shirou raised an eyebrow as he realized, "Sounds like a really flimsy contract. What happens if someone tries to cheat?"

"Gracious me, we told Ajuka the same thing but he insisted that it was the most efficient method. As for cheaters… the fines are so absurd that even the Gremory Clan wouldn't be able to pay." The revelation made everyone pause, look around at the luxury and fortune of Gremory Castle and ask themselves how expensive it would be to be caught messing with Pawns like that. Ise in particular shivered in fear at the idea of Promoting in the wrong place. "But that is not even half of it." Grayfia continued once she knew the younger present understood the dangers of cheating. "Rating Games are patronized by the State so after paying a bill so high that it will take several human lifetimes just to get even, the cheater will also suffer several consequences according to law."

"What sort of consequences, Grayfia-san?" Asked an interested Rin.

"Somewhere between two hundred years in prison or exploring the Underworld for at least seventy years." Seeing that almost no one understood how that was a punishment, the Queen added. "Just a reminder; the Underworld is almost completely inhospitable and with so many dangerous creatures, some that are as strong as the top dragons."

"As strong as Ddraig?!" Ise could already hear his Partner growling in challenge. Worse, everyone could feel the aura of malice escaping his right arm.

Casually Grayfia waved the question away. "No, not as strong as an Emperor."

The aura vanished and some could swear they heard a satisfied [Hmph.] from it.

"Mother, when do you think I will get my Evil Pieces?" Millicas couldn't help but ask with an eager face which didn't surprise anyone at the table.

With the Youth Devil Tournament going on and seeing Rias interactions it was obvious that a child like him would grow excited at the prospects of participating in matches or have a team of his own since both his father and aunt's teams treated each other like family.

"Hmm~ work on your lessons today and show me some progress in your magic and maybe I can see what we can do." It was a small lie because there were also laws to prevent children as young as Millicas from getting Evil Pieces too soon unless on special occasions.

Like being a Heir from a Pillar which he wouldn't become unless something happened to Rias or her parents. Nevertheless he was the son of Lucifer so there was a chance he would receive his pieces sooner rather than later.

"I can't wait for that. I already know exactly what sort of peerage I want to have." Something in the way he said, so excited like only children could but also certain like an adult, made everyone believe he really did.

Akeno felt they were rambling and raised her hand to ask. "Should I continue?"

"Hehe, sorry for taking over, Akeno." Grayfia waved away for her fellow Queen to proceed with the explanation.

"Oh dear, where I was again? Yes, how the Evil Pieces become our Core and pulse mana, correct?" Some nods and no corrections prompted the priestess to continue. "Since the pieces exist in a state of flux, they can be changed but only under certain conditions, usually rituals that demand too many resources and are extremely complicated to do in the wrong environment. Those are the Rituals of Conversion and, to make matters even more complicated, they have some conditions of their own. Although a few of them are enshrined in Law and not the rituals themselves." Raising a hand she had three fingers up. "First, a Piece can only change when trading between Kings to avoid people just changing pieces whenever suits them. Second, both Kings need to agree with the Trade, no ifs or buts." Waving to the ongoing discussion, she added. "Which is why they are still going at it."

"More like because Riser is trying to overcompensate." Shirou observed with a nod of understanding. As a brother he could respect the blond's position even if he knew Rias would treat Ravel well.

"Fufufu, anyway, if he doesn't agree, there is no Trade and no Conversion. Which brings us to the last detail." Akeno smiled before concluding the explanation. "A Piece can only change to another of the same value."

Irina raised her hand. "What do you mean by the same value?"

"In chess every piece has its inherent value or points; pawns are worth one, knights and bishops three, rooks five and queens ten." Akeno summarized quickly.

"Aren't those the same criteria for Reincarnation?" Asked the representative of the Church.

"Hehe. Got that in one." Azazel chuckled a little more. "That is pretty much it but how the Evil Pieces are made also… You know what? It is all too technical. Let's just say that every piece has a reason to their value."

After her uncle finished talking, Akeno continued. "Either way, if I was to be Converted for example, I could only become either a Rook by using two pieces or a mutation piece." She pointed to Ise and then Gasper. "Obviously Converting a Pawn who used every piece is way harder and nobody has ever traded a mutation piece with anyone else in the Underworld."

Xenovia leaned on the table to look at Gasper's eyes with an 'evil' smile. "Maybe Rias will trade you." She tickled his sides to get an even better reaction.

Successfully since the Bishop couldn't hold back. "Iiiihhhh! Buchou wouldn't do that!"

"She wouldn't, she wouldn't." Kiba did his best to calm down his fellow blond as several in the table laughed and Shirou retrieved a grinning Xenovia.

But then Irina turned to Azazel and asked, "Azazel-san, is that possible with the Brave Saint System? To change one's face card?"

Immediately Xenovia's attention turned to her former partner. "Isn't that the thing that made you an angel?" And admittedly the first time the bluehead heard of such news she had grown a little envious, a sentiment even Asia held in her heart for a long minute.

Nonetheless, Irina opened her white like cloud wings and a small halo appeared on her head because of her excitement. "Pretty much."

It was Heaven's attempt to repopulate the angel race and only possible thanks to geniuses Ajuka and Azazel. It was the thing the Cadre had been working on while helping Shirou inside the Vault of Prosperity and what Michael most wanted from the Peace Treaty short of peace itself.

A process to Reincarnate humans and potentially others into angels by using the Evil Piece System as a blueprint combined with the creation of connections with the soul from sacred gears, especially of the artificial kind.

Compared to it, helping Shirou with Noble Gears was pretty much a side hustle to Azazel and the man was especially proud of that accomplishment. Thanks to it Irina was amongst the first chosen as both because she was a devoted follower and for possessing a pure heart. Something judged as a necessity for a Reincarnated angel.

Unlike the Evil Pieces which were based on chess, the Brave Saint System was based on cards and their suit, Spade, Heart, Club and Diamond. Irina was part of the Spade suit and was Reincarnated by Michael which helped her land the job as Kuoh's resident angel.

"Unlike the Evil Pieces," Azazel started with a cheeky grin, "the Brave Saints, or Royal Users if the name I wanted wasn't vetoed, don't need to Convert to work under another angel."

"But their powers are more limited." Sirzechs chirped in to defend Ajuka 's work with a grin.

"Bah, it doesn't matter." The Cadre raised to his feet with excitement. "What matters is that as soon as one of my siblings has a complete Deck, angels will be able to partake in Rating Games. Can you just imagine?!"

"Sounds like it is going to be an interesting time." Akeno pointed out before shrugging. "Anyway, that was pretty much everything you need to know about Conversion as well. Questions? Yes, Asia?"

"So if Ravel-san joins our peerage she will be a Knight?"

"She isn't joining!" Riser had been hearing the talk with half an ear as he ignored most of Rias' arguments.

Which made the Heiress lose her patience. "Either she joins, per the contract, or I will consider this a declaration of war." Immediately all three members of Phenex flinched as the redhead's eyes grew colder than the Poles. "And let me remind you all that I can crush your Clan with just a snap of my fingers. Public opinion or not." Then she snapped said fingers and the Lord of Phenex began to sweat cold while looking at his son with fear.

At that point however Riser knew he was defeated as the truth of the matter remained; without the contract which would give the Pillar a very needed break the Heiress could truly annihilate their Clan easily or at least weaken them enough that they would fade into irrelevance.

Riser's problem was that he had no leverage to hold over Rias to really bring her to the negotiation table. What was happening there wasn't a negotiation, it was an ultimatum born from Ravel's signing her contract and the previous mistakes his Clan made.

Which forced him to admit that trying to force things wasn't going to work. In reality the reason why he was there with his parents was just to make things more formal and his insistence could be seen as a break on the agreement. That Rias had indulged him enough to hear him out and only threatened something after a lengthy talk spoke of her patience.

Meanwhile Riser was sorting the situation in his head and her parents looked ready to hand the situation fully to her, Rias turned to Lord and Lady Phenex. "Do any of you have any objections about the contract?"

"... Does it matter if we do?" Lady Phenex asked sincerely. The woman was actually showing his thousand years of life from exhaustion and resignation. "The Geas is ironclad and has no room for error. Also Ravel officially recognized you as her King in front of, well, everyone." Her stress was clear and while she retained the grace of a noble, sadness masked her features. "After something like that…"

"What my wife is trying to say, no, what she is trying to ask," Lord Phenex started after licking his lips before lowering his head humbly, "is there anything we can do to even change this outcome that won't throw away our daughter's sacrifice?"

Pausing to think for a few moments, Rias shook her head. "No." Straightforward and simple but nonetheless the truth.

Fact was that the Phenex Clan made a habit of overbetting against Rias so she always went to the negotiating table with a winning hand. It wasn't even a mistake with Ravel as at least her contract guaranteed the Pillar's economic freedom so long as she worked under the Heiress of Gremory.

But someone didn't accept that agreement, Riser couldn't accept losing his sister like that. "This is cruel, Rias." The blond sat down at the table and made himself look smaller, head low. "You are punishing my sister for our mistakes."

"Not punishing, trading." Pointed out the future Lady Gremory. "I am trading your debts for something worth much more; a strategist that can fight and heal against anything." At least to a certain extent and the redhead was sure her capabilities would be reduced away from a fire covered battlefield but as a Knight, Rias was sure Ravel would be exceptional. "My reasons don't matter to you past this point anyway since she signed the contract. It is over."

Riser couldn't help himself but chuckle bitterly. "Not much different from when your parents signed ours." Lord and Lady Gremory flinched but their daughter just raised an eyebrow.

"Don't compare this to us." She said calmly and without much emotion other than apathy. "They signed ours, she signed hers. That is a big difference."

"... Yet both your parents and I gave you a way to escape it." Riser pointed out without a hint of shame considering neither party expected Rias to win. Zeoticus did his best to hide behind a glass of wine while Venelana took a long time to clean her mouth. "You had an escape route so it is only fair Ravel has one too."

Took a lot of effort for Rias to hold back a snort and she failed in the end, her amusement at the hypocrisy free to be seen. For a moment Riser feared his ex-fiance would hold back any mercy out of spite.

"Ten years." Yet he found himself surprised and caught off guard at the sudden declaration. "After ten years, you are free to challenge us to a Rating Game, Ravel will be free to leave if she so desires. Or do you want to challenge me earlier than this?"

"Can't it be whenever between today and ten years?" Rias actually laughed out loud at that request and Riser knew he wasn't getting any advantages. "I wouldn't just spring it on you-"

"Like you did your 'marriage' proposal? Should I be as generous and give you just ten days?" She asked with a raised eyebrow making all adults on the table flinch. "Not that I am not grateful, I wouldn't be the person I am today without those ten days." She threw Shirou a look full of love and he gave her his best smile. Turning back to her former groom, she chuckled. "Ten years for ten days. It is a bargain, you should take it. Unless, of course, you really believe you can win against us in a Rating Game with just ten days of training?"

Just hearing that proposal was enough for Riser to flinch both because of what he did before but also the fact that his peerage wouldn't be even close to ready in ten days. Unlike Rias Peerage they didn't have sacred gears and few were real fighters, several of them already reaching the ceiling on their potential.

There was also a lack of weaponry, the abstinence of a strategist since Ravel would have to fight on Rias' side and the time his harem needed to recover after their most recent defeat. A defeat against the peerage they just fought and were utterly destroyed by. A peerage who was actively holding back so his sister could have a chance to fight.

Rias then twisted the knife. "And for the record, in this unofficial Rating Game I won't give you a battlefield advantage. I won't play around or even give you respite." She grinned like a shark. "I will make plans, dismantle your team without mercy and have Akeno unleash the wrath of her goddess on you all from the start."

"I would love to see that." Medusa declared cheerfully despite the hostility in her cute face.

"I would love to do that." Akeno added and despite her smile not changing everyone felt the bloodlust.

"Fine." Not even considering all that, Riser had other reasons to accept the proposal. "Ten years isn't that much."

It hadn't surprised Rias how easily Ravel's brother had given up the fight once the minimum reprieve of ten years was presented. Riser was young by devil standards but the man was already getting to his second century of age. For them, ten years was a really short time period.

Which was far too amusing for Shirou, Akeno and, after some thinking, Rias herself as the two made the Geas with a proviso where Ravel could leave the Gremory Peerage after ten years so long she had fulfilled several obligations.

Which included and was mostly exclusive to settling things with Seekvaira via some form of compensation. As long as the Daughter of Phenex accomplished that she would be able to leave if she wanted, Riser wouldn't have to do a thing.

Of course Rias was both planning to make sure her new subordinate felt welcomed as well as talking to her about making some sort of plan to help find the proper compensation. Considering it was about the loss of an eye the Heiress knew things weren't going to be easy and getting in contact with her friend to ask a few questions proved itself hard.

Nevertheless the Phenex Clan had nothing to say and the Lord was happy to allow his son to believe he would work towards freeing his sister even if the redhead saw in his eyes the man had read the full contract unlike Riser.

And so Ravel was Converted from Riser's Bishop into Rias' Knight after recovering enough for the ritual. The ceremony itself could happen in several facilities located in the Underworld. As the Gremory Territory hosted the Vault of Prosperity, it didn't take her more than a minute to go through it and return to bed.

'I really need to get her and Seek-chan in the same room.' Yet Rias didn't leave the Underworld entirely satisfied. On Earth she had obligations so the minute Ravel recovered enough they had to depart and during that time her friend hadn't replied to any of her messages. 'If she is upset about how I solved things… well, too bad. What is done is done.' She held her new Piece tightly and grew giddy about how skittish and happy the younger devil was. 'She is so cute!'

Koneko pouted in a corner of the room watching the attention her King gave to the new Knight. When little she was the one who was showered with affection and even Gasper's arrival didn't diminish her hugs and kisses. Yet the white haired nekomata understood that as she grew more stoic, the second person she would call a sister didn't stop being affectionate.

She was just respectful, something Yoruichi was several times less and basically forced Koneko to drown in kindness even when she didn't want it. However the third woman she would call sister was back in the capital, working, while Rias was dumping her affection on the new devil in town.

Such a thing couldn't stand for the little Rook and so she stood up from the table, surprising Liz who returned to eating after a second of pause, and marched to the redhead still hugging the blonde with glee.

Approaching from the side, Rias noticed her arrival in an instant even if she didn't react until the Rook pulled her sleeve. "Something wrong, Koneko?" Already Ravel was growling but the redhead ignored that, focusing on the smaller girl. "Fufufufu. If you want hugs, just say it." Koneko blushed and Rias couldn't help herself anymore, hugging both at the same time. "Iiiiihhhh! So cute!"

Ise watched the events with some jealousy, especially because where the girls' heads were rubbing. 'Wish that I could be that small again.'

"What t'cha doing, Ise?" Irina asked as Asia and Irina helped her write and separate several stacks of papers.

Which got the Pawn curious. "Nothing but what are you two doing?" He read some of the papers and only felt more confused. "Emanuel, Zacaria, John? Looking for someone?"

It was the Bishop who answered after a shake of the head. "No, Irina-chan is helping the couples of Fuyuki to choose names for their babies."

"At least the christian ones." Pointed out Xenovia who kept writing every single name she could remember. "Had no idea we had so many of them in this town."

"Not really but as an angel, I must be ready to assist them in finding the perfect name. They usually come before the children are born and then return for the Baptism." Irina declared happily. Turning back to her childhood friend, she added. "That and the help of small miracles and prayers."

"Are prayers like our deals?" Kiba asked with curiosity of his own. "Also, I feel that I must point out but maybe you three should coordinate a little better.

"What do you mean, Kiba-san?" Since it was Asia who asked, the Knight actually hesitated.

For a moment before speaking with a nervous smile. "Well, you all are repeating each other everywhere." The three girls stopped and began to look at each other's lists with horror. Almost every name was the same. "Yeah, sorry."

"Haha, yeah, that sucks." Ise tried to be dedicated but soon he had an idea. "Hey, Gasper."

"Yes, Senpai?"

"You're good with computers, right?" After a nod he continued. "Can you help the girls make something to, I don't know, make lists they all can see and write?"

"What an excellent idea, Ise!" Irina looked excited again.

Only for the former dhampir to shoot their hopes down by pointing out, "Can't they use the Internet to look for names?"

"Also," Luvia approached and picked one of the lists, "most of those aren't Japanese. Christians or not, I believe most couples would prefer a name from their land, right?"

"Feh, if that is the case I can only think about 'Amakusa' something." Rin scoffed at her own lack of examples. Her family was technically a christian one so she expected more of herself.

A dark cloud covered the three girls' heads and Ise hissed, "Did you have to tell that to the Church Trio?"

"Church Trio? What an unimaginative name." The blonde Rook observed before looking at the trio again.

"Yet, fitting I suppose. Hey, Church Trio," the twintailed magus raised her voice slightly to point out, "just because not every name won't be used, some still might." At the happy faces of the girls, Rin glanced at Luvia. "See how you motivate people, Bimbo?"

"I am sorry, did you say anything from down there? I could barely hear someone from so low." Rin was about to get up and start a fight but Medusa's judging gaze and Azazel's amused one, held her down.

Still the Cadre leaned towards the goddess with a more serious expression and said, "I am not seeing what you are seeing."

The purple haired goddess noticed her priestess look up with a concerned look before departing to the hallway before turning to the fallen angel. "Perhaps it was my imagination but I will keep an eye on her at every opportunity."

"Well, if you have the time, you spend it as you want." He relaxed on his armchair, grinning as he waited for his lab partner's food. Then he remembered the reason why he went to the Heiress' office in the first place. "Oi, Rias, about the prototypes you asked…"

Still holding the two girls in her arms, who were subtly trying to tear each other apart, Rias turned to the fallen angel with a frown. "We need to talk with Seek-chan first." That sobered Ravel up quickly and Koneko managed to dislodge her from their King's arms, leaving the nekomata alone to receive the redhead's hugs while the blond pouted. "But she will most likely accept. Just wait until the next time we have to drop by the Underworld, I will officially schedule a meeting." With the Agares Clan to go around the stubborn Heiress.

"Or strong arm your way inside her territory." Shirou half joked as he returned with several plates. Liz and Kiba were quick to help him set up the dishes. "Don't look at me like that. We all know you aren't the most patient."

"I am not that bad."

"You aren't." Acknowledged her lover with a grin. "But your friend is avoiding you and you hate that. A lot."

Before everyone got their plate Akeno opened the door and announced. "Buchou, we have visits." She looked at Asia pensively before letting out a sigh and saying out loud, "Heir Astaroth is here."

All playfulness left Rias' face in an instant as the former Holy Maiden face grew hard and she stood up, determined in spite of the shaking which quickly worried several of her friends.

"Well then," the Princess of Ruin began slowly, "I suppose it is my duty to receive him. Where is lord Astaroth right now, Akeno?"

"I left him in the entrance hall. He came alone."

"Buchou." Asia looked at her King before nodding slowly.

Seeing the blond's resolve, Rias smiled gently before asking, "Are you sure?"

"Yes."

"What's going on?" Ise asked, clearly worried because he looked ready to punch something.

"Nothing that you guys need to worry about." Rias offered a reassuring smile, gesturing to the food. "Get something in your stomachs. You have work later."

"Start eating without you?" Kiba was the one questioning the action and even Koneko didn't dare to touch the pancakes. "Buchou, if you need us-"

Rias took out a deep breath and let out a long sigh. "Politics are annoying and I would love nothing more than to punch him and call it a job done." The redhead confessed with a hard expression. "But 'might not make right'… most of the time. Besides, this isn't your fight, not even mine. It is Asia's. After all, he keeps sending her unwelcomed gifts." Before the questions could begin she raised a hand. "And nobody is going to interfere. Don't worry, if Diodora dares to try anything-"

"I don't think Diodora-san is a bad man." The Bishop in question pointed out.

Only for their group's newest Knight to reply, "Oh no, he has a bad streak and without a doubt a maddening disposition." Ravel's words got everyone, especially her King, turning to the Daughter of Phenex. "Buchou, I barely needed to convince him to throw his match and he looked really eager to partake in my plot…"

Upon inspecting her new Knight's face the Heiress could tell there was something else the blonde wanted to say but was unsure of it herself. Regardless, the redhead got the message; Diodora was hiding something and the Daughter of Phenex had her suspicions but no confirmation.

"The fact you had a 'plot' was already part of the problem." The hanyou pointed out as she finished her music. Setsuna began to put away her violin while speaking out loud, ignoring Ravel's glare. "Present issue is to know if he just wanted to see Phenex win or just take advantage of it somehow."

Hypothesis crossed the minds of several people but only Ise voice his thoughts. "I don't like that bastard."

Luvia raised an eyebrow and pointed out. "Said the pervert about any good looking man." Not that her words had any effect as Ise just glared back shamelessly.

"You barely know him." Shirou was quick to point out with a frown. "But yes, I agree this is just too…"

"Suspicious?" Azazel asked with a shrug. "Never been so glad that angels, fallen or not, don't have a nobility." Sure they had Ranks but it was more about power and they were made to hold said Ranks. "So, here is a crash course of what I know about that kid; he is Ajuka's cousin, not even half as brilliant but apparently a hard worker since he wrote a small thesis about the use of Evil Pieces."

""He did?"" Rias and Ravel asked at the same time.

"Sure did. Mostly about the influences that a King should have in their Pieces. A shoddy work if I can call it anything. And incredibly boring with little scientific bases or premises." The Cadre commented with closed eyes and an amused smirk. "Even his cousin complained about that but it was archived anyway. Lets see, what else… middling power and a little attitude. Met him once, polite but not shy." It wasn't a long meeting. "Unlike several, he didn't come looking for whatever benefits the Grigori could give him so I think he believes in his own power."

Quickly Shirou understood the initial comment about nobility. "But he still lost to Ravel, right? Set up or not?"

Once again he ignored her glare. "My peerage, I mean, my brother's peerage, could have defeated him anyway."

Her words just confirmed his thoughts. "So the only thing the guy really has is that he is the Heir of a Pillar? Or did I get anything wrong?"

"Unless he is hiding his power, some sort of secret weapon, he is High Class in title only." Azazel replied basically in agreement.

"And he is waiting." Akeno cut off before her uncle could say anything else. "Weak or not, he is a noble and unless we want to make more enemies…"

Considering the other devil could have some influence, Rias nodded and began to leave the room. "Right. We should get going." Yet she still paused one more time, looking at the former nun. "Are you ready, Asia?"

All shaking vanished but the former Holy Maiden nod was still hesitant. "Yes, I am."

Ise, seeing her apprehension, tried to help by saying, "Kick his teeth in, Asia!" with a boisterous voice and raised arm. "And if you don't want to, let me do it!"

"Yeah!" Irina was quick to join her friend and punch the palm of her hand. "We can cave his teeth in!"

"Or castrate him!" Xenovia called Durandal and looked ready to do it.

Only for Rias to rest her hands on a smiling, but still very nervous, Asia's shoulder. "Don't worry. Akeno and I will be there just in case but I doubt Diodora won't do anything." Her smile was honest. 'And if he does, he isn't walking away from Fuyuki alive.' Didn't mean she wasn't ready to throw a body in the ocean.

"Aren't you all placing the carriage in front of the horses?" Medusa offered out loud.

But her priestess understood the metaphor. "True, you are putting Asia-chan on the spot." In truth the younger woman looked a mix between relieved and afraid. Some of the group looked properly chastised and Rias couldn't help but scratch her cheek with an apologetic smile. "Don't worry, Asia-chan. We won't start anything." The blond smiled with relief. "Only finish it."

The relief quickly vanished and Azazel let out a loud snort as the goddess shook her head with a small smile. Still the former nun took everything in stride and marched out of the room, Rias and Akeno right behind.

"Is he impatient?" The King asked the Queen carefully. While both were connected to the club's boundary fields, the ravenhead was better at using them.

Which she quickly proved by replying, "Haven't moved from his spot and don't seem to be fidgeting at all." Before whispering in Asia's ear. "Fufufu, it is almost like he isn't here to meet the love of his life."

It was both a playful tease but also something to reassure the girl that Diodora's feelings couldn't be true or at least pure. The words could also be interpreted as him being able to control himself but Akeno knew what Asia would think first.

The girl was too trustworthy and the priestess' words rang in her head more than any deduction she could do herself, something Rias noticed and elbowed her best friend's side as a warning to not play with Asia's head like that.

Since the redhead was confident in her Bishop's resolve she didn't want anyone messing with Asia to allow things to play naturally on her own resolve. But Akeno didn't share that same confidence nor sentiment, sure the ravenhead trusted the former nun but could clearly see how 'small' she was.

'She is shaking too much.' She spelled silently for her best friend who nodded in agreement.

Yet still spelled back. 'But she is still going.'

Neither was pushing the former Holy Maiden, she was afraid but still walking forward to confront the man whose life she saved once.

As they descended the stairs towards the entrance, Asia caught a glimpse of the pureblood devil sitting on the comfortable chair with a look of contemplation before he saw her. The young man was dressed in black and green, looking similarly at how he did during the Youth Gathering with just less fancy clothes.

Less fancy yet, regardless, the black garb and the long green cape still made him look like a prince out of a fairy tail at least from Asia's perspective. He also had a pure gold necklace around his neck with a small piece of amber above his chest and an earring on his left ear.

When his closed eyes finally turned to her, Asia saw a smile grow on his lips before vanishing and his eyes to open slightly revealing their amber, almost gold color, for the three to see.

"You aren't wearing them. My gifts." Diodora pointed out making Rias frown. Which he noticed and advanced towards the bottom of the stairs to grab Asia's hands before saying, "It doesn't matter. I am so glad to see you once again, Asia."

Such a shift was so small and sudden that Asia didn't notice. "Diodora-san, it is good to see you again. I hope… that you are well."

Hesitating again, the Bishop gave Diodora the opportunity to talk. "Never mind how I am. How have you been? Why aren't you using my gifts?" Then he made a surprised face and turned towards the other pureblood present. "Forgive my rudeness, lady Rias. I completely ignored you for a moment and-"

"I am here for Asia's sake right now." And while the redhead had much to say to her fellow pureblood, her main concern was what attitudes her friend was going to take. That was, after all, the former nun's fight. "Don't mind us. I think we all know why you are here."

"But do consider us chaperones." Akeno happily informed, for the first time earning Diodora's full attention. From his closed eyes she barely caught any emotion, a rarity considering her beauty and approachable disposition. "We wouldn't want you to do anything inappropriate. Right, Buchou?"

"Too true, Akeno. Too true." Rias studied her fellow pureblood for a moment and noticed a shift on the side closest to her Queen. 'Hmm, he is nervous? No, wait.' Took a second for the redhead to identify the emotion Diodora was doing his best to hide. However his shift, almost a step back, gave him away. 'He is afraid…' She had to hold back a groan because once the priestess noticed it she would grow quite smug.

Or more smug than Akeno had already been since the conclusion of the Rating Game against Ravel. Since she revealed her Blessings and power, not only Medusa's religion had grown by hundreds of followers, the average devil only could stare at her with two emotions.

Reverence or fear.

Those willing to follow Medusa to one day partake in the goddess' power saw Akeno as an example to be followed. The fact that plenty of the power Akeno used was her own made them admire her further.

Fear, however, was the most prevalent emotion even if that was mostly visible only on devils of the Low Class who didn't bother to hide it. Diodora was considered High Class, at least with Middle Class power Rias was if generous with Ravel's estimates, but he was also a Pillar. Showing fear was frowned upon unless in certain circumstances.

Akeno, a Reincarnated devil, shouldn't inspire fear in someone of his level. But she was and only the training Diodora had since childhood helped him keep it at bay. Not to mention he was family to one of the Maou, he should be used to standing around people far stronger than him.

However Rias had the same training and could see fear clearly in every twitch the Heir of Astaroth tried to hide.

'If he is afraid, then Akeno's performance had a bigger impact than I thought.' Because Rias doubted her was the only one and that fact alone could be either a boon or a problem. Especially when she saw her friend's violet eyes dance with mirth. 'Aaaaaaand she noticed. Great. Going to brag the first chance she gets, I just know it.'

Diodora controlled himself as best as he could and after throwing a last look at the Priestess of Thunder he started focusing solely on Asia. "Forgive me for taking too long, Asia. Several of my responsibilities kept me away but now I am here." Swiftly he took hold of her hand making her eyes grow wide and blood flow to her cheeks. Once her eyes focused on him, Diodora offered a smile that made a dozen maidens swoon. "Oh, Asia, my heart can't stop beating fast on seeing you. Just touching your skin one more time fills me with excitement. How I stayed away from you, I have no idea."

Every word was said in the most sweet and sincere tone ever conceived and the former nun found herself caught flat footed. Her head began to grow light and it took a monumental effort for her to not lose control of her breathing. She tried to free herself but the noble's grip remained firm but gentle as his thumb massaged the back of her hand.

Raised in a church, put on a pedestal since young, Asia never had to deal with such advances and even comparing to their previous encounter it was easy to see that Diodora was more bold and determined.

It was as if a man dying of thirst had suddenly stumbled on an oasis and discovered the place was very real and not a mirage. From books she read in the past the young woman felt that if he could, the devil in front of her would be praising God for her presence and beauty.

At least that was the impression Asia got and only made her unable to react as Diodora kept talking. "To be with you, no, to be without you for even a single more moment would be a torture that I wouldn't inflict on any man." His smile grew more eager as his eyes hid behind eyelids once more as he finally asked. "Have you thought about my offer?"

"Offer?" Unbalanced as she was, Asia couldn't help but ask.

Exactly what Diodora wanted if Rias and Akeno were right because the expression of shock he made was too rehearsed for the two women. "My marriage proposal. Nay, your hand in marriage!" Smoothly he dropped to a knee and called a magic circle. From there he collected a box which held a ring with a huge emerald carved on it. "Of course, of course. Last time I didn't do this formally nor properly. Asia Argento, would you give me the honor of becoming my wife, Lady Astaroth?"

Once again it was obvious for everyone else that Asia really wasn't in her element and hesitation filled her heart completely at the young man's eager face. He looked so honest and filled with love that the idea of rejecting the offer sounded like an offense too great to commit even in her own thoughts.

However that was the moment a hand gently touched her back and Asia couldn't stop herself from looking who it belonged. Rias was smiling sadly but also kindly, a reminder of the conversation they had weeks before.

Upon remembering that, Asia also remembered everything that happened since then, including the fact that Diodora hadn't said a word to her since the ball. From there the marriage proposal began to sound too sudden.

Too unreal.

With that in mind the girl freed her hand before the ring could touch her finger. "I am sorry, Diodora-san, but I can't marry you."

"What-"

"Also, I would also ask that you don't send any more gifts. I don't want them." She took a step back to watch the blonde devil with a kind smile. "I didn't save you for a debt. Your life is more priceless than any gift."

"But you deserve them and- and- They are the proof of my love!" Diodora stood up and tried to reach the former nun again but she kept her hands away. "Asia, why?"

"Because… I am sorry but I don't love you." His eyes opened again, that time with shock. Lowering her head, the girl drew strength from the presence behind her to move forward. "While I feel a warmth in my chest when I think about you, I know it isn't love. It is happiness that you are alive." She smiled at him but Diodora could see tears forming in the corner of her eyes. "I was so, so, so happy that you were safe."

"Asia… Do you regret saving me?" The pureblood devil asked and after the former nun shook her head, he took her hand again. "Then please, let me pay you back. I can give you the life you deserve. You will want nothing- I will give you everything even if you aren't my Lady Astaroth- palaces, riches, silk that feels like clouds-"

"You should give that to the woman you love-"

"But I love you, I fell in love with you-"

"... that can love you back." After a moment, Asia concluded with a kind smile, making his fingers let go of her hand slowly. "A woman who can love you back wholeheartedly and not just because she saved your life."

"It wasn't just that!" Noticing he raised his voice, Diodora pulled back and made himself look meek. "It was your kindness and heart. You saw a devil about to die and didn't even hesitate. Asia, you deserve the world, let me give it to you, please." Then he smiled sadly. "If not as a husband, then as a King. Come to my peerage." Turning to Rias, he said, "I am willing to trade one of my Bishops and offer a huge sum of-"

"But I am happy here!" Only to be interrupted by Asia who also raised her voice. The three stared at the small devil with clear surprise but a smile grew on Rias' face as Diodora's soured. "I am happy here. This is where I want to stay." Looking at the redhead noble, she asked, "And I can stay, right, Buchou?"

"Forever, if you want."

Hearing that, the former Holy Maiden nodded before turning to Diodora one last time. "Please, stop sending presents as well. While I appreciate the intent, I don't know what to do with them. It would be for the best if you saved them for a woman who can love you." She bowed once more, not seeing the small glare on her fellow blonde's face. Yet it vanished as soon as the Bishop of Gremory raised her head. "However, if you insist on giving me anything, please donate them or their value to orphanages or anything else where they will be more appreciated. Thank you."

Seeing that the conversation was pretty much over, Rias waved her hand and a huge magic circle appeared on the table in the center of the hall. From it several gifts, most still wrapped in extravagant paper, dropped in a somewhat neat pile.

"Those are-"

"Almost everything you sent." Asia assured the Heir of Astaroth calmly. "Unfortunately the flowers died and some were unwrapped because they arrived in the classroom and my classmates wanted to see them." The last part had a shy tone that quickly vanished when she glanced at Diodora again. Sadness took over as she concluded with, "I hope you have a wonderful life."

"Asia-" Before Diodora could say anything else, Akeno stepped in front of him and pulled the Bishop back.

"Oh dear, you need to learn to accept a 'no', Diodora-sama." Her tone was polite but nevertheless she saw the hesitation he was trying to hide.

"Akeno, Asia, why don't you girls join everyone else for dinner." Considering everything, Rias wanted to let her Queen play a little more but she also didn't want to waste time for almost the same reasons. "I need to talk with Diodora a bit, about the tournament and stuff."

Technically not a lie but there was a silent message behind her words that Akeno managed to grasp. "Well, you heard her, Asia-chan. Say goodbye to your stalker."

The flash of anger in Diodora's eyes was visible to everyone but Asia who replied, "Akeno-san, please don't call him that." She turned to the Heir of Astaroth and bowed again. "It was good to see you again, Diodora-san. I hope next time we meet, we can still be friends."

The pureblood devil gave her a slight nod but said no words even as the former nun and the ravenhead went back upstairs. He kept watching them the whole way until Akeno opened a door for Asia and gave him a look that made the hairs on his neck stand. Fear like such was odd to him but the blond managed to identify it regardless.

Only to bury that feeling under a tower of hate as his gaze shifted to an amused Rias. "What did you say to her?"

"Uhh~ What could I have said?" She asked playfully and for the first time Diodora didn't bother to hide his emotions, his eyes opened with a soft glow of power and pure hatred. Those were quickly crushed when Rias allowed her aura out in challenge. "Tut tut tut, you forget whose city you are in." She stepped forward, looking down on him since she was slightly taller. "Also your peerage isn't even around and mine is just upstairs. So do you want to start this fight now?"

As quickly as it came, hatred and power vanished from his eyes and he took a step back to bow with an arm across his chest. "Forgive my rudeness, lady Rias. I just lost control for a moment upon seeing the object of my desire slip from my fingers."

"You are starting to slip." She joked and he gave her a glance but besides standing straight did little. "Heh, you really aren't the person you presented yourself as but an excellent actor… or farce."

"What did you tell her, Rias?" All the amusement and politeness was gone as his eyes were opened in a glare towards the redhead.

"Ah~ and the mask drops at last. I can see why you keep your eyelids semi closed," Rias said while waving her finger, "you suck at hiding what you are really thinking. 'The eyes are the door to the soul'."

"Feh. Plenty of people fall for it anyway. You Bishop being one of them." Diodora's expression grew cautious even as the Heiress of Gremory smirked. "What did you tell her?"

"Nothing." Rias chuckled at his surprise expression. "Nothing at all. You know how innocent and kind Asia is… I would hate for her to lose it upon knowing that the devil she saved and lost her home for it, was the scum of the Earth." When his look changed to unimpressed, she knew that wasn't news for her fellow noble. "How much of that story is true? Did she really save your life?"

"That she did. I would have died from blood loss otherwise." Diodora's smirk held some malice but it was honest. In fact Rias could say she was speaking with the real Diodora for the first time. "So it was Ravel who talked…"

The Crimson Haired Princess of Ruin began to walk around the man with a cautious expression. "That she did. She told me how you didn't fight about her idea of remaining away and letting her fight with an advantage. How she planned to undermine my position and then you could 'arrive as a prince to the rescue, offering to help me for Asia'." Diodora followed her with his eyes, his head turning slowly to keep up with her. "You didn't even question it, if anything you looked excited. Is Asia really your type, or is someone like Ravel more of your taste? Both are blondes."

"Ah, but one has innocence and is a good plaything," he felt a spike of demonic power at his back but only smirked and turned his head the other way to keep up with the still moving Heiress, "while the other is very much like myself. Someone who relishes in the suffering of our enemies." Clicking his tongue, he added, "She would make a great Lady Astaroth."

"You never planned to marry Asia."

"Only add her to my peerage and… have some fun. She would have loved it." More power escaped Rias and Diodora raised a hand. "All my family knows where I am, Rias. You do anything and my cousin will be… quite upset. He may not love me as much as your brother does you, but my family cares enough."

Gritting her teeth, Rias asked, "Does your family know your true character?" His casual shrug gave her nothing. Eventually she stopped in her original position, face to face with Diodora. "So your plan was to lure Asia in with expensive gifts and make her a pet or something?"

"Rias, Rias, Rias… we both know she would be the 'something'. No two ways about it." His smile was full of lust.

Which convinced the redhead he was telling the truth, bile raising on her throat. "I want to kill you so badly right now."

"To be fair, you wouldn't have known if she had come willingly." Diodora informs easily. "But if you want to negotiate-"

"There is no treasure or power on the planet that you can offer me that will convince me to ever allow you to lay a finger on Asia." Rias' expression was murderous but Diodora's smile didn't budge. "Ever."

He raised his arms in surrender. "Of course, of course. Having a Holy Maiden like her…" His tongue danced on his lips before Diodora cleared his throat. "I apologize. This is the first time I am being honest with my appetites to anyone and the excitement is getting to me."

"So you have a thing for nuns and Holy Maidens? That is why your whole peerage dresses like them?" Diodora's smile only made Rias' disgust grow. "Did you-"

"They all Reincarnate willingly, I can sign any contract, swear to any oath, that will prove as such." His confidence was absolute and his posture far more relaxed. "Nevertheless, I heard Ravel is dropping our little competition. Is that true?"

"'A King can't compete in the same tournament where they are fighting for another King'." Rias quotes the rule from memory. "Besides, technically she doesn't have a peerage anymore. Her brother took all his Pieces back before beginning his training."

At least she could say Riser was a changed man since he wasn't wasting any time and going straight to business, all for the sake of 'freeing' his sister. If she wasn't talking with someone like Diodora, Rias would have let her amusement out. Unfortunately she was and with every word she learned more about how horrible her fellow purebloods could be.

From memory alone she could already say that Diodora was the worst.

"And so there are four." He commented with a grin, making the Ruin Princess watch him warely. Noticing her caution, he asked, "Didn't you know? Zephyrdor is also out of the tournament. Apparently your cousin traumatized him."

"Hmm. I see. 'And so there are four' indeed." Rias then smiled with a particular thought. "Speaking of Saira, he wasn't too hard on you, was he?" The two had fought in the last round before her match with Ravel.

Once again Diodora showed an ugly face of genuine emotion; disgust. "That Powerless fool didn't give me the time of the day-"

"Careful." Ruin Princess cut him off with a menacing tone. "It is my cousin you are insulting."

Diodora glared at her and continued as if he wasn't interrupted. "Instead of challenging me, a proper Heir, like he did that sit warmer, the Powerless idiot sent his peerage to do the deed."

Getting angry because of the insults towards Sairaorg, Rias debated blowing the Astaroth Heir up. "Lo and behold, you still lost even if Saira never took the field." His glare proved words were the best choice. "Can you blame him? My cousin loves a challenge and you threw the game with Ravel. Fufu, I can already imagine his scowl when watching that."

"At least someone won from this. Sona got a 'bye' from the round." However he also knew words could hurt and saw how Rias paused at the mention of her friend. A friend that didn't bother to show up in her match against Ravel. "With Ravel out, that means Sona is going to face your cousin…"

"And you are my next match?" Away from the Underworld, she would only receive the news days later.

Unless she spoke with Sona but even Rias was avoiding that as they both know the Sitri Heiress had plenty of opportunities during class but hadn't directed a single word to the redhead for weeks.

Caliburn standing proudly on Kuoh's soil, in view of the Student Council President's office, every single day wasn't helping matters. 'Another thing to fix.' Pinching her eyes closed, Rias soon recovered enough to say, "Is this the part where you ask something to throw our match as well?"

"Please, like I would surrender to someone like you." Diodora's posture screamed hostility and his eyes had a malicious shine behind them even if no power was present. "Since Ravel failed and broke, it is up to me to teach you some manners. Especially after you stole my toy."

"Call Asia that again-"

"Toy, toy, toy, Asia Argento is a toy for us-" A cut suddenly appeared on his cheek and the Heir of Astaroth glared at the Ruin Princess who had a crimson gun on her hand.

"Next one, is going straight to your forehead, consequences be damned."

Despite his anger, Diodora knew the warning was very real and so took a step back to get some distance while replying, "You know very well that is all she will-" Mana gathered inside the gun and he stopped talking. "Fine, fine. I suppose she isn't a toy but your 'precious Bishop'." While the sarcasm was there, it wasn't enough for Rias to pull the trigger again. "But you know I am right. For many of our peers, Pieces are just instruments to our will."

Rias examined Dioroda's words carefully. "And to many, they are family, close allies, essential parts of our lives." She managed to reply while observing the devil with suspicion. "I wonder how you managed to complete your peerage with an attitude like that."

Suddenly all his aggressiveness, caution and malice vanished behind his eyelids as the charming smile returned. "What can I say? I am good at what I do. And if Asia became my… lover, she would want for nothing." Diodora's shrug was amicable and appeared honest. Not that the Ruin Princess believed in it for a single moment. "Sure she can't be Lady Astaroth, they will never accept a Reincarnated devil as the next Lady of a Pillar… or Lord."

Took a lot of effort from Rias to not groan. 'I can't blame anyone but myself.'

During the match with Ravel, Rias had declared for all the Underworld to hear that she was in love with someone. Of course reporters and paparazzi pounced on it and during the few days it took her new Knight to recover the Gremory Castle received several requests for interviews.

Everyone wanted to know who managed to capture Rias Gremory's heart since not only because she was immensely popular thanks to her position and actions but also however she ended up marrying would be Lord of Gremory even if just as a consort.

Of course the press wasn't alone on that and several nobles already sent inquiries or demanded answers. Others tried to get ahead of everyone and propose weddings with the hopes the person she was interested in was their sons.

Meanwhile all that was happening, Akeno and her parents laughed at her expense the whole stay in the Underworld to the point that Rias blew up a room to get them to drop the subject since they all knew Shirou was the person she loved.

A human, someone who definitely wasn't going to be accepted as Lord Gremory for several reasons, both legitimate and not. Forgetting the prejudice which was present with the older nobles, the chances of conceiving a devil child with a human were extremely low. That was the only justifiable negative Rias would accept.

The rest, like lifespan which was her parents' main concern, she would solve or die trying. It was the sort of thing she even already placed plans in motion. Plans that counted with the help of a certain yokai nekomata whose love she shared. Plans that her whole family was on board.

"That isn't your business." Rias said after one second, brushing off Diodora's implications.

Still the man reached his own conclusions. "The Knight or the Red Dragon Emperor." When he saw Rias' stunned look, Diodora's mood improved. "Hahaha! Please, it is obvious to see they are the best candidates around you. Both with a decent power level as well. Sure if they were born devils then they wouldn't be half as strong and the pervert's only quality is being Ddraig's Host but hey, at least nobody will complain if you give birth to a half dragon devil."

When her poker face almost broke, Rias hid her mouth with a hand and turned to the side. 'Oh my- don't laugh, Rias. Don't laugh.'

Those actions confirm Diodora's conclusions. "So it is the Red Dragon Emperor? Is that your play for the future? Have a powerful son with dragon blood?"

'For all that is sacred don't laugh, Rias Gremory! Let him think whatever he wants-'

"I mean, it isn't a bad plan if not one far too slow to be worth anything in the present. Perhaps mixing the Red Dragon Emperor's blood with devils will increase your prestige eventually but he still isn't someone worthy of the title of Lord Gremory…"

Turning even more to the side so Diodora couldn't see her eyes, Rias let out tears of amusement. 'Good grief this is hilarious! My stomach is starting to hurt! Holding back laughter like this can't be healthy!'

Everything just made the other pureblood devil believe he had the advantage. "You are still going to need a proper husband and me to keep this whole thing a secret." A smug smile grew in Diodora's face as he could no longer keep it down. "Not that people won't figure it out who the real father is, of course, but with another Lord's support you could easily make that child the Heir-"

That did it and Rias couldn't hold back anymore. First her shoulders shook before she let her laugher out with all the amusement she had been holding back. Diodora stood there astonished by the event as the redhead kept laughing merrily for quite a while. Sure she tried to stop a few times but a look at his face reminded her of everything that had been said.

Laughter would come out again, melodious but chaotic, pure but not gentle. Surely it wasn't mean or cruel in sense but the Heir of Astaroth felt like he was being mocked.

After a few minutes Rias managed to control herself but once again it was just looking at Diodora's face that everything came back full force and her control slipped one last time. It was also obvious the other pureblood devil was growing increasingly frustrated by her actions but he was in her territory and could only stand there and take the laughter.

His hand began to shake with anger after three extra minutes of the Heiress of Gremory laughing at his face and for the Heir of Astaroth that was enough. "I can't see what I have said that could be confused with jest!"

"Hahahaha, it is just- hahaha. Wait, wait. Give me-" A few more chuckles escaped but Rias finally controlled herself. It took a few extra deep breaths after the laughter was done but she succeeded. "Give me a moment. Oh my, I haven't had a good laugh life that… ever. Thank you, Diodora. It makes it worth it letting you go even after you insulted Asia like that. Just barely."

"So you have no intention of giving her to me?" Diodora dropped all pretenses and asked plainly, sobering up Rias quickly. Folding her arms beneath her breasts, the redhead watched her fellow devil with a hostile expression. "Knowing that you are making an enemy of me? Of all Astaroth?"

"Well, well, well. Looks like Asia isn't just a toy if you are willing to fight so badly."

"She is mine. She should have been mine when that fall-" Diodora bit his tongue but it was too late.

The slip was done and Rias was watching his face very carefully for any reaction. "Diodora…" His name was said with so much malice and vitriol that it was like the redhead was ready to kill him then and there. "Did you know the fallen angels were going to capture Asia?"

Remembering he was in enemy territory and in absolute disadvantage, the blond pureblood needed to think fast or lose his head because in that moment he was sure that the Ruin Princess wasn't bluffing; she really planned to kill him regardless of consequence.

However, much like her, Diodora was raised to be a Lord of the Pillars. "Of course I kept an eye on her. Asia healed a devil, obviously the Church wouldn't allow that to stand." And he knew it very well. "So I sent some agents to make sure she was safe but they screwed up and I only learned about the fallen angels when it was too late."

Rias' eyebrow raised with doubt but calmed down slightly. 'On the surface, that sounds reasonable since Asia saved his life but…' Seeing her fellow noble with new eyes, she asked. "Diodora, how did you get hurt in the middle of Europe? Close to Church territory, of all places even…"

"Unlike you, I don't have a city to help me practice for when I will become Lord Astaroth." He replied seamlessly. "So my Lord father sent me to take care of some business first in Turkey then Greece and finally France." Diodora let out a frustrated sigh. "Things went wrong and I ended up in Italy by mistake during my escape."

"What went wrong?"

"That is Astaroth Clan's business. Not yours." Again Diodora showed rage but it was on a different intensity than before. More subdued and full of frustration. "Isn't there anything that I can give to you for Asia?"

"There, that is why I would never even conceive of the thought of 'giving' Asia to you." Rias replied with hot anger under her tone. "She isn't an object." Diodora shrugged but she wasn't done. "Stay away from her, Diodora. From her and from the rest of my peerage or else…"

"Or else what? Are you going to shoot me? Think you can get away with killing a Heir?" He began to laugh at a joke only he knew. "Fat chance. You may portray yourself as the rebel but we both know the truth; you won't raise any sort of hell, not while your brother is in charge and you have your peerage to lose." Opening his eyes slightly, Rias saw real malice behind them. "Not like a true devil would." The eyelids were lowered once more and he let out a sigh. "A pity we couldn't reach an agreement. Don't worry, I will get out of your hair."

With a wave of his hand a magic circle appeared to collect the gifts while Rias asked. "So, we are done?"

"We are done. I can't convince you so I will bow out."

Rias tilted her head in disbelief. "Sorry but you don't sound like a quitter."

"A complement if I ever heard any." Diodora replied before looking around. "Could you please escort me to your magic circle? I don't want to go back into town to get the one inside your guards' base. This place is too full for my tastes."

Once they were in the correct room, Rias asked one more time. "Are you really giving up on Asia?" Diodora stopped short of the center as the redhead studied him carefully.

"... Fufufu. What else can I do, Rias?" Diodora asked out loud while shrugging melodramatically. "Just don't blame me for bleeding you in our Rating Game. We are up, after all."

Deciding to say nothing, Rias lowered the spells which would stop Diodora from using her magic circle and watched him leave before raising them back up.

'First professes his love and later calls Asia a toy.' It really had taken a lot of will power for Rias to not blow his head then and there. 'How honest were you today, Diodora?'

The Crimson Haired Ruin Princess believed that Rias should take most if not all his words with a grain of salt, save his real thoughts on Asia. The Heiress of Gremory retorted that while she had a bad feeling, the other pureblood technically did nothing but speak out of turn.

Either way Rias had already decided to keep Asia as far away from Diodora as possible and was glad the former nun rejected his advances. Another benefit was that Asia would never have to know that the person she saved wasn't someone nice. Evil even, if the Heiress was to give her own assessment.

'Just let it go… he hasn't done anything yet besides being a creep…' Rias took a deep breath and returned to her office where she saw that everyone had been waiting for her to start eating.

Not everyone was really everyone as both Liz and Koneko were already devouring their pancakes but the nekomata at least had the decency to stop and look ashamed. Just seeing her cute face like that was enough to melt her heart and forgive any wrongdoing. Sure enough the same could be said for the unashamed maid but that one didn't care.

Of course none of that mattered when Asia practically jumped on Rias' way, "Buchou, Diodora-san… is he-" A pat on her head interrupted the former nun.

"Diodora is going to be fine. Sure he was upset but better now than when you are in an unhappy marriage." 'Or when he is in a shallow grave because I heard he did something to you.' However that was a truth Rias would hide behind a smile and a nod. "So don't worry, he will recover. I mean, even until the end he still wanted you in his peerage. That means he must want your happiness, right?"

Hesitation filled the Bishop once again but her King's smile and the discreet look she threw to Ise helped Asia to find some joy in the situation. "Right."

"The best thing to do now is find your own happiness." Azazel's voice caught almost everyone off guard but they all turned to him as she cut a slice of his pancakes and just before taking a bite. "After all, if he really cares that much, he will want you to find joy in life, even with other people."

By his tone of voice it was clear the man was speaking from experience. "Whoa." Shirou exclaimed out loud. "Sometimes I forget how insightful you can be."

"I have been around." He mumbled while chewing his food.

The Mage shook his head and raised a bowl and a jar. "So, cream or syrup?"

"Again, in the evening?" Kiba asked sarcastically but his plate had enough syrup to fill a glass of water.

For hours the ORC ate together and enjoyed the treat, a sort of reward from coming back victorious from the Rating Game but also a small party to welcome Ravel who snagged Rin for a conversation, to learn exactly what her job would entail besides being a strategist.

Yet she found fast friendship with Setsuna who despite not being a devil shared some of her hobbies which included music and dance. Although where they diverged was how they fought and the hanyou started a debate about the merit of weapons that could complement one's ability.

With Ravel feeling welcomed, Rias sat on her desk and watched her peerage warmly if the smile on her face was any indication. Soon Akeno had dropped by with a cup of tea and the redhead was able to forget her troubles for a moment.

The fact her two oldest friends were effectively avoiding her since Ravel entered her service was bothering the Heiress of Gremory more than she showed and that small party was an excellent opportunity to unwind.

Unfortunately it wouldn't last long because throughout it several people were observing some events that were odd and peculiar within their group. Certainly not everything bad or negative as Asia had grown more open and relaxed, beginning to try and flirt with Ise. If it could be called flirting at all with how she was doing.

The former nun was awful at it, stuttering left and right without really knowing what she was doing, but the attempt was something new, proof of who she actually wanted to stay with and adorable to anyone watching.

Which prompted Xenovia to elbow Irina's side several times and push her to, "Get in there or you will lose your man… or have to share him," the last part said with a grin and dancing eyebrows which made the Reincarnated angel blush before she marched towards Ise.

'Oh my Father, these two have absolutely no 'game'.' Azazel thought while hiding a chuckle. Theoretically he would have to step forward and stop Irina from falling in case lust was involved but they were so adorable he doubted it would happen. 'Good thing there is no alcohol involved… And Ise has more 'game' than I thought!' The girls were doing everything short of throwing themselves at him and the brown haired boy was basically not reacting. 'Wait, there is something really wrong with this picture.'

He wasn't the only one who noticed that. 'Irina is following Xenovia's advice and smushing his arm between her breasts...' And Shirou knew for sure it was his third lover's advice at play there. 'But Ise is… after blushing a little he is barely noticing they are there. No, he knows they are there but… His mind is elsewhere?' The redhead wanted to shake his head at the thought. 'No, that isn't it. He is engaging them but not how I expected and not how they want it. I mean, any other day and he would be salivating at what Irina is doing…'

'Ignoring a pair of breasts like that isn't like Ise-kun at all.' Akeno placed her empty plate to the side while watching the scene. 'I should know, his eyes can't leave mine when I am in a bikini. Oh, Asia-chan is trying the same thing. Good luck, Asia-chan! You have a chance…'

Finishing her fourth pancake, Medusa was about to go for a fifth when her eyes caught sight of Asia trying and failing to get Ise's attention. 'To be fair, the other girl isn't getting that much luck either.' The purple haired goddess licked her lips as a huge drop of syrup covered her plate. She was enjoying more of the delicious food when she felt that something was off. 'Hold on, I can feel them trying to catch his attention; the emotions, the love, they are trying to offer him and yet…' Amethyst colored eyes focused completely on the devil and she frowned. 'Usually the Red Dragon Emperor is a pit of insatiable lust even for the women he can never have and yet that feeling is muted. Just yesterday he found Shidou Irina to be quite attractive, didn't he? What changed?'

Those observations ended up in the back of their minds as the four grew occupied with other things but the train thought never left and from time to time their attention was on two girls attempting to do something that should be the easiest thing in the world; caught a pervert's attention.

Yet the phenomena was fascinating to watch as said pervert treated them more respectfully than he did other students during the day if his 'dillidances' with the kendo club were any indication.

Akeno in particular decided to make a little experiment and manipulated the conversation to a point where Rin and Luvia would get in a fight. The ravenhead knew their new member needed to grow used to their friends' eccentricities anyway. So, with a subtle spell, she also made sure Luvia's dress revealed one of her breasts for a few instants.

The blonde cared enough to cover herself, mostly because her rival commented on how 'common' her bra was, before resuming the fight. But it was Ise's reaction that Akeno and others paid more attention to; his eyes were locked on the Blue Magus' chest for several moments after it was covered, basically trying to lock the event on his memory.

Much to Irina's chagrin and Asia's disappointment even as they returned to compete for his attention just after. Nevertheless the priestess got what she wanted and when looking around she caught Shirou shaking his head in disapproval even as his sharp eyes were also focused on Ise.

Later everyone began to leave for their duties after all there were deals to be made and research to be collected. At that point Luvia wouldn't help Rin anymore for the night as she had her jobs and had insisted that if the twin tailed magus wanted any extra assistance she would have to pay her fees.

Tohsaka had dismissed with a wave of her hand and hasn't changed her mind since, not wishing to deal with the extra cost. Neither there was animosity between them about that since they both knew Luvia's dream of becoming someone great in the Underworld. To do that she needed to be promoted to High Class, at the very least, as quickly as possible.

Regardless as almost everyone left the office, Azazel acted quickly. "Say, Shirou, want to take a break today? I was thinking-"

"Just trade a couple of ideas and not turn to mold in the workshop?"

"Great minds think alike!"

Lots of confused glances went around but nobody thought much of it. "Master, are you tired?" Xenovia asked dutifully as Liz got up and dragged Shirou to sit in a chair.

"Not really." A nod from Azazel was reciprocated by the Magus.

Before anyone could ask what that was about, Medusa clapped loudly, turning to her priestess. "We also need to talk about some news about my dear priestess." Her hair raised a tablet which had a list ready and waiting. "Thanks to your videos we managed to get several offers for you to sing certain songs." Many turned to Akeno with surprise and were treated to the astounding rare sight of the Queen blushing. "Several agents also sent offers to try and get contracts. Your path to idol hood is growing brighter." Flipping the tablet in her hands, the goddess concluded with, "Truly the Internet is a marvel. Without it we would have to waste months just to get this much attention without contacts."

"Which the Gremory would be happy to supply if you let us." Rias pointed out with mirth at seeing her best friend squirm a little.

"Barakiel would kill me if I don't support my niece." Azazel said next with a chuckle. "Need an agent? I can get you the best in the business, not just from Japan, oh no, from all Reality."

"She has an agent; me." Medusa's decree silenced any dissidents. "And we have to start thinking about moving from just videos to shows."

"Perhaps it is a bit too early, my goddess." Akeno tried to think of an excuse. "Maybe we should focus on expanding the number of your faithful? Sure we can boast a few hundred from the Underworld but we are on Earth and away from them."

Medusa waved that excuse with ease. "I can still hear their prayers just fine."

"So devils are really praying…" Kiba mumbled with wonder and nobody blamed him.

"Are they getting benefits too?" Ravel was the one to ask.

Only for Gasper to raise a hand politely. "Should we… pray to you?"

"If you want. I shall do my best. Honestly, you all already get most of the benefits without it." Weak as she was, Medusa couldn't do much but guide. "But if I suddenly hear that you guys are going to other gods-"

"How many gods actually would accept prayers from devils?" It was Setsuna who asked the very important question.

One that had Azazel humming. "More than you think. Especially those mostly forgotten." The Cadre raised his hands defensively at the look their resident goddess threw in his direction. "Hey, hey, you're not forgotten. Everyone knows Medusa, right guys?"

"Not as a goddess." Rin bluntly pointed out. Ignoring the glare from the divinity and priestess present, she pointed out. "Don't you all have deals to go collect?"

"Yeah, I better get going!" Ise, who needed to reach every client by bike, raced towards the exit.

And while she didn't have the same problems, "Wait, Ise-san. I am coming with you." Asia decided to get a ride like she used to in the past.

Something that had Irina reacting and jumping from the couch, "Wait a minute! You guys go by the church, right? Take me with you!"

'At least that spared us asking her to leave.' Shirou, Akeno and Azazel thought at the same time while Medusa watched Rin as she did plenty of times over the last few days.

If the Red Magus noticed the divine gaze on her back she didn't show it as her aqua eyes remained firmly on the text in her hands. That scroll in particular had been procured covertly by Sirzechs and while the Maou said nothing there would help her, the Head of Tohsaka wanted to investigate by herself.

While something concerning on its own, everyone understood Rin's reasons and train of thought so they kept helping as they could and chasing leads where it was possible to find them, something that explained the other scrolls and books on the table, some of them the Governor General of the Grigori's gifts.

Nonetheless that wasn't the problem on the forefront of the man's mind in the present. Neither his nor the Mage's, priestess' or even the goddess'. Once most of the devils left and the number of people in the room was ten, they all looked at each other.

"Well, they left…" Rias started, having noticed the quartet making efforts to stay in the room while her peerage, plus Irina, departed. "So, anyone wants to explain the excuses."

"They weren't really excuses." Shirou offered while trying to relax, Xenovia sitting on the chair's arm and allowing him to hug her waist. "But yeah, I think we have something to talk about with you. I know that Akeno also noticed-"

"Should I leave?" Ravel asked immediately, knowing it wasn't long ago when she was their enemy.

It was her new Queen who replied first. "Not at all. This is a more personal issue that comes with being part of our little family." She informed the new Knight with a generous smile as Rias grew curious about what it was about. "Besides, you are still learning your duties so…"

"If she needs help, she can ask." Rin drew a dictionary with old Greek and a piece of paper to transcribe a passage that interested her. "Just don't hope to give me my old job back. I like my new position."

Hearing both black haired beauties, Ravel lowered her head, "Thank you for your kindness, " and got back to work sorting out several documents while recording Rias Peerage's clients to find the best time for them all to train together.

Ignoring the byplay for the moment, Medusa looked at Rias and asked. "Didn't you notice anything odd in the last thirty minutes?"

The Heiress raised an eyebrow and began to count. "Well, Koneko ate two less dishes than usual, Kiba seems fundamentally concerned about his caloric intake even if training will solve it, you and Akeno have only mention going live in the last five minutes or so, Asia and Irina were basically throwing themselves at Ise which was amusing enough and-"

"Stop. That one, the last one."

Azazel shook his head with a mix of exasperation and amusement. "Medusa, any good leader is always busy with some aspect of their job so sometimes it is easy to miss certain details." He pointed to Akeno, Shirou and then Rin before adding. "Which is why we delegate. I couldn't be the main point of contact between our factions if I didn't have Shemhazai and Penemue to watch my back."

"Read 'pick up the slack', please." Xenovia joked as Azazel threw her a pout. "What? Most of the time I see you doing experiments or playing video games."

"You also play a lot of video games!"

"Because my main job is bodyguard and bed warmer for this guy and he works at home a lot." The bluehead said while hugging Shirou's neck.

From his part the redhead saw an annoyed look on Setsuna and Ravel's faces and cleared his throat. "Right, back to the point; Ise wasn't… reacting how we expected him to react."

"Either dancing in celebration that two girls were fighting for his attention or entering a coma from shock, thinking everything was a fever dream." Akeno described while Shirou and Medusa nodded in agreement. "Either of those or smiling like a loon."

"The boy is too honest." Azazel added a second later. "When he sees something he likes, you can tell by his face. His eyes shine whenever he is with his friends, grow thoughtful whenever he is confused, or obscure when he doesn't know what to do but wants to help." The Cadre chuckled and rested his head on a hand. "Hyoudou Issei is very much an open book and one easy to read."

"Not that easy since we are dancing around the problem and not talking about it directly." Rebutted Medusa and nobody challenged her on it. "For as much of a pervert the Red Dragon Emperor is, he didn't react when having two beautiful girls showering him with attention."

Flushing a little, Setsuna proposed that, "Perhaps they are not… the right size?"

"Irina certainly is!" Xenovia shot back. "I caught him looking!"

"Which girl in Kuoh didn't?" Rin asked rhetorically.

Rias scratched her forehead before saying, "I can see the problem."

All of them could see it, even Ravel who had only one day of classes already knew about her generation's Red Dragon Emperor's reputation. She even banked on it during her Rating Game and was mostly successful.

Learning he had a reputation as a pervert in his town wasn't surprising but the extent of it was mildly impressive; member of the Pervert Trio, Peeping Tom, self-proclaimed Harem King, all titles deserved in a way or another.

Even if a couple of people raised in his defense, if just because he was part of the ORC with one of the Great Onee-samas of Kuoh, there was a fair reason; sure he looks but he doesn't touch and a couple of girls were appreciative that he let them beat him up a little every time they caught him.

Almost like there was a silent agreement between the pervert and the women who, while frustrated because of his habits, respected the fact he only complained when his friends managed to escape and he wasn't.

Nor he tried to trick his way out of punishment. Once captured, Ise faced it as shamelessly as the action that landed him there in the first place.

Considering he was the Red Dragon Emperor, a being of pride and power, their appreciation was more warranted than they knew but nevertheless few had anything good to say about him and his habits.

Point was that Ise liked the feminine form, loved it even.

Sure he had a preference for big breasts but in general the boy had an eye for beauty when it came to women. Asia and Irina were both beautiful in anyone's eyes, perhaps pretty if one was trying to nitpick. That was before becoming a devil and an angel respectively which made their skin lose any flaw while enhancing their appeal to anyone who paid attention.

Really the two of them could get a boyfriend with a snap of their fingers if they were so inclined and it stood to reason that while they didn't out of choice it wasn't a matter of appeal.

Yet Ise hadn't reacted and that sounded several alarms in the present's heads. "Very well, I will ask." Rin the pen she was using with a glare at the others for investing her in the subject. "Why hasn't he reacted?"

Many had the answer but they hesitated, especially Azazel who was avoiding everyone's eyes like the plague.

"Trauma." Lo and behold, Liz wasn't one for micing words. The maid focused solely on the Cadre before concluding with, "Fallen angel."

Fact was that she didn't even remember the woman's name so she wasn't trying to be mean but reminding everyone of her race sure did an excellent job on casting everyone's attention on Azazel.

Which helped them witness his flinch and how his shoulders dropped as he leaned forward and massaged the bridge of his nose. Clearly the man felt bad even talking about the subject, not even mentioning the reminder of how his subordinates acted behind his back.

But only Shirou knew the truth of how bad everything really was. How Raynare was actually the man's daughter. That no matter how distant he was from her, he still lamented her death.

That alone made him act fast if just to move on from the subject. "We know the problem, we need solutions." The Mage of Swords spoke with a firm voice, everyone's attention turning to him. "Supposing that is the real problem-"

"I don't see how it wouldn't be." Rias admitted with a sigh. "His first 'girlfriend', the first person he invested himself in and thought about having a future with..." She messed up her hair in frustration. "Normal people already get upset about a breakup in these conditions… and she tried to kill him."

Akeno frowned before pointing out, "But he isn't afraid of women or fallen angels. He doesn't even hate them. I agree that may be the core issue but-"

"Just because someone isn't showing their emotions, doesn't mean they aren't there." It was Azazel who said it and he wasn't really comfortable in doing so.

Only for his niece to shake her head. "You said it yourself, 'he is an open book'. Ise-kun has always been easy to read. That is why I can say for certain he also has feelings for Asia."

"Well, crap. Does that mean Irina has already lost?" Xenovia asked but nobody found humor in the question.

Yet Rias answered regardless. "Ise's dream is to be a Harem King. That implies a harem…"

"Can an angel even join a harem?" Rin asked academically and all turned to Azazel again.

"Fallen angels, yes. Pure ones? We are trying to find a solution for reproduction itself. The method we have so far involves a connection of pure love in the time of conception and a room with no distractions." The scientist explained swiftly before cutting to the chase. "So she being a harem, sure, it is possible. She just won't be able to partake much or share her lover with anyone at the time since multiple people involve a lot of lust."

The former Exorcist shook her head with disappointment. "That is too bad."

"Back to the main issue at hand," because Shirou felt hot under the collar at what his lover was implying and saw Akeno's interested eye, "I could recommend therapy. It doesn't fix everything but can help a lot."

After a brief pause, Setsuna added. "Isn't that the sort of thing one needs to be willing to talk about before anything else? Would he even do it for a therapist?"

"I can offer him one but you are right, Ise would have to take the offer." Rias still had the number of the few who tried to help Koneko and Kiba.

However, before any plans could be made, Medusa revealed, "The Red Dragon Emperor doesn't even know something is wrong." The goddess nodded solemnly as all eyes turned to her. "His emotions when he noticed the girls grew… clouded, for the lack of a better term."

"And you can detect emotions like that?" Azazel asked before anyone could. "Is that because-"

"Because my powers are growing but also because it falls in my Authority." The purple haired goddess revealed. "I am a Goddess of Idols and Beauty and Love…" Medusa wanted to elaborate more, especially her missing parts, but shook her head. "Beauty and Love… the more followers I gather, the more these Authorities made themselves known. Just Charming people isn't enough, I need to understand their hearts to be a full fledged goddess."

Ravel nodded in understanding and asked, "Your comprehension of your own power grew and with it what you can do with it. Not that much different from us, devils."

"But on a whole different scale." Azazel pointed out, utterly fascinated. Despite his long life, that was his first chance to study a goddess' growth up close.

Once again Medusa nodded. "That is right… I always could feel my own bloodlust and hatred clearly… to the point I grew mad." Steel filled her gaze before her expression grew soft again. "But now I can feel more positive feelings. At least feelings of Love and lust."

Rias facepalm echoed in the room. "And Ise is usually full of those."

"Fufufufu. At least one." The divinity said playfully. "So do several of you by the way but back to the Red Dragon Emperor's issues." All amusement was drained from the room as she continued. "Trust when I say that he noticed the girls, I meant. Their attention and mostly their bodies-"

"Lust in general." Setsuna pointed out with a frown.

"-but an instant later… it was gone." Everyone stared at Medusa with disbelief. "Perhaps not gone but blocked. Compared when my priestess messed with the blonde magus' clothes," and Rias threw her unashamed Queen a small glare but the ravenhead just promised to apologize to Luvia later, "it came back but in a different tone. Only lust to be found there."

"But it was there." Azazel rubbed his chin in thought as he tried to crack the puzzle the goddess had presented everyone with.

If she was a full fledged goddess Medusa could explain better or even deep dive on Ise's feelings to explain exactly what was going on. Wouldn't be a challenge since everything discussed partook in her Domain in one shape or another. However that power was still beyond her reach, leaving only bread crumbs for them to follow.

Follow those they would and Rin was the one who came to a conclusion first. "He doesn't know about his own problem." Exclamations of shock and surprise filled the room as the magus continued. "Simple enough conundrum; if something vanishes without reason but nobody notices it is because nobody knew it was there in the first place."

"That logic is a bit distorted, Rin."

"But it is still logical, Buchou." She tapped her own temple with a smirk. "The reason why our resident goddess can't see the emotions properly is because Ise's own mind is keeping them locked away." Her expression turned serious as the magus began to focus on her research again. "Don't underestimate the power of the mind, especially when someone is desperate."

"... It makes sense." Acknowledged Medusa.

"Can't disagree, theory fits." Azazel said, certain that Rin was correct.

With that in mind, another problem rose. "So Ise-kun has a problem that even he doesn't know about?" Akeno shivered, not liking the notion at all. Then her gaze turned resolute. "Either case, the best way to solve it would be facing it."

"But he doesn't know… should we just dump everything on him?" Ravel asked carefully, feeling like she didn't belong in that discussion.

Yet everyone took her words in stride before Rias shook her head. "That was too traumatic so maybe we should be careful."

Xenovia waved that thought away. "And how much is 'careful' when he doesn't even know the problem is there." The former Exorcist pointed her thumb to the Queen. "I think Akeno is right and we should tackle the problem from the front. It worked with Gasper."

"Gasper was another issue entirely." Rias was quick to say. "He was just a little too shy and bullying him didn't entirely solve that either."

"At least he isn't in a box anymore."

"Or trying to use a bag." Azazel pointed out, making Rias pout.

"Most of the time…" Shirou pointed out with a frown before raising a hand. "But we should talk to him-"

"If it is a trauma, making him realize it is there would be for the best." Ravel cut the Mage off, glaring at him. "That way he can take steps to heal faster."

Medusa shook her head almost in a panic. "While that approach may be the best, wounds on the heart don't heal instantly. Especially those which leave scars."

"We still need him to realize the problem in the first place." Setsuna pointed out. "That is a problem on its own."

With a playful smile, Azazel threw his suggestion. "Maybe I should take him to a brothel on Grigori's territory?" His grin grew at the glares he got. "Hey, we don't know if it is an emotional contract or just physical. Who knows? Perhaps finally getting a woman will heal him… and maybe even tame his lust a bit."

The Heiress of Gremory and Xenovia shook their heads in unison. "That would break Asia's heart."

"Irina is going to try and kill you the second she hears about that."

"Sometimes I forget how crass you can be, Azazel." Medusa concluded with a look of disapproval and the fallen angel shrugged. "That could also make things worse. Way worse."

"How can things get worse?" Akeno asked her goddess with a tilt of her head.

"He could fail to perform." Rin suggested which made Shirou and Azazel automatically wince. However she wasn't done. "That could have a butterfly effect and render him incapable of 'getting up' as it was."

The Cadre glared at the magus before covering his eyes with a hand. "Erectile dysfunction? Damn it, woman! Now I actually feel bad about my suggestion." By the smile on her face the black haired magus found it hilarious.

Still the other girls had sympathy for the men. "That… definitively would ruin his life." Akeno observed, getting several nods of agreement.

"More like end it." Xenovia held Shirou with fear that something like that happened to him. "I mean, can you imagine a pervert like that unable to have sex? What would be the point then?"

"Of being a pervert?" Her lover asked with understanding.

She nodded and held him tightly to show he was right. "I know I couldn't live without it."

"Plenty of people do just fine!" Setsuna blushed at the looks she got after her outburst but cleared her throat and recovered her composure. "But yes, for someone like Ise that would be the end of it."

Rias rested her head on the desk and covered it with her hands. "Please don't say it like that."

Realizing her faux pas, Setsuna let out a sigh. "Apologies. I understand the circumstances aren't ideal and the situation looks worse so what I said was insensitive." Not because Ise was a dragon but because he was a young man, barely not a boy. Losing something like that could truly break him. "That said, does anyone have a real idea how to help him?"

"The best thing I can think of is just talking to him." Shirou confessed. "But that would imply…"

"Helping to realize something is wrong in the first place which would in turn involve forcing him to relive his trauma, in a sense." Medusa pointed out with a sigh of her own. "We are running in circles. Since that is the solution-"

"Shirou, you are up." Liz spoke just as she would in the gym to call a student to do a task.

"Ah?" The redhead magus froze at the sudden shift and declaration.

Yet the maid wasn't phased. "Good luck."

"What do you mean? We haven't decided-"

"Actually, Sensei has a point." Akeno interrupted with an amusing grin as she leaned forward. "If there is someone who can deal with tough talks, it is Shirou-kun."

Chuckles escaped Rias and Medusa with the former saying, "Well, he does have a talent to force people out of their shells, doesn't he?"

"Wait, hold on. This situation is-"

"And a habit of saying what people don't want to hear when they need to hear it." The goddess added with a smug tone and a single eye open in his direction.

While those were things Shirou couldn't disagree or challenge, there was a huge problem. "Calm down. Calm down. If you girls want me to be the one to talk with him, I am fine with it… But most of you remember that I did my best to give you all time and a place where you could work yourselves up before even trying anything."

With Rias was the training camp, with Akeno was an arena where her sadistic tendencies could be used to push her to new heights. Xenovia and Medusa it was mostly about saying what they already knew but needed to hear, one the concept of happiness while the other just honest words of support.

"I didn't need to force you girls too much-"

"I remember a half blown forest, a missing mountain and several arrows." Rias cut him off with a smirk.

Azazel whistled at the description and asked, "Can we hear that story?"

"Cliff notes? I was being blind to what I wanted, putting duty before my freedom and Shiro showed me how much I actually wanted the latter." The Heiress of course skirted the details as she always did even when Akeno tried to interrogate her in the past. Those memories were hers and Shirou's alone. "Sure I don't expect the same end result, neither him or Ise swing that way."

"... Maybe we can convince Irina or Asia to do something similar? Or force him into bed to coach him through." Xenovia suddenly offered and Rias shook her head in disagreement. "Some aphrodisiacs may also help… I also always wanted to try one…" The last one was a mumble only Shiro heard.

"Asia is too shy and Irina is an angel."

The Cadre nodded in agreement. "Yeah, we still haven't fixed the kinks on the 'reproduction' process." He made quotes with his fingers for emphasis. "So having Irina 'stimulating' him isn't recommended. Unless she is willing to fall-"

"Michael will have your head." Shirou said immediately before retracting. "No, that guy loves his siblings too much to do that outside of war. He will castrate you though." He took a deep breath and messed his hair in frustration. "Look, I am glad you all have faith in me but Ise's problem isn't something we can just spring on him. Those things take more than just one conversation."

At that argument Rin snorted. "Only if you want to protect his feelings which will end up hurting his feelings anyway when Asia begins to cry why Ise gives more attention to other girls. The more big chested ones, I mean." Which was proven still affected the brown haired Pawn.

It was a retort no one liked but it was realistic and Ravel found herself speaking in favor of it. "Ripping off the band aid early will be for the best and we have a solution already." She pointed to the Mage of Swords with all the haughtiness of a noble. "Do your proper duty to the Gremory and go assist the Red Dragon Emperor regardless of whatever he will throw at you."

"Why do I have the feeling you want my death?" Shirou asked out loud, much to several of the present's amusement.

Not Xenovia's for she also noticed the intent. "Master already said it isn't that simple."

"Just because you are caring for the feelings of a boy and stopping him from becoming the man he can be." The Daughter of Phenex declared confidently. "Harsh truths need to be heard."

"It is more than just harsh truths. It is how you say them!" Durandal's Owner shot back with a glare. "Saying the right thing can save someone, saying the wrong thing can break them in a second flat. And Master doesn't want to break Ise because this isn't exactly a good thing to talk about."

"Or there is no good way to go about it." The Mage acknowledged with a frown as he felt like the answer was right in front of his nose and he couldn't see it.

A scowl grew on Ravel's beautiful face. "So you are saying we need someone capable of speaking the wrong thing in the exact right way without the risk of breaking the Red Dragon Emperor? Good luck finding-"

"Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck!" Everybody froze upon hearing Shirou curse like that as his face rested in his hands. A growl of frustration escaped him and they grew increasingly worried when he said again, "Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuck!"

Confusion was present on almost all but Azazel recognized the symptoms. "You just found the solution," the redhead nodded but the fallen angel wasn't done, "and you don't like it. Hohoho, you don't like it one bit."

Shirou let out a loud groan of irritation but nodded. "I know a guy." He said with hands sliding on his face as he looked up to his first lover. "I know exactly the sort of person who can say the right thing in the most bitter way possible and still have people grateful about it."

Some looked with confusion, others looked with worry. Xenovia connected the dots first which was fair.

Only she could really know who he was talking about. "You aren't suggesting-" A slow nod from him had her cursing, "Fuuuuuuuuuuuuck!" just before facepalming. "He is the exact right guy for the job, isn't he?"

"Whoa. Two for two." Akeno joked as she grew worried. Everyone was worried.

"There has to be someone else…" The former Exorcist almost begged and worry was turning to legitimate concern.

"Can you think of anyone else who wouldn't have a problem with this? Who would be delicate exactly where they need to be and at the same time as cruel as necessary." The Magus retorted.

Fearing the dread the two were displaying, Rias slammed a hand and asked, "Is this person capable of helping?" They looked at each other, gave themselves a single nod before turning to her and nod three times comically fast. "Great. I will trust your judgment. Bring him here-

"That would be a terrible idea." Shirou said quickly. "We should keep him as far away from Asia as we can."

Xenovia nodded quickly again. "In another city if possible but that isn't an option. Actually, can we do this at the church?"

"A devil getting into a church to get therapy? Sounds like the beginning of a bad joke if I heard one." Shirou would have laughed if he wasn't worried about how things could still go wrong.

"Okay, enough with the dread and suspense." Medusa rose to her feet and glared at the two. "Who are you two talking about?"

…..

'Why the hell am I here?' Ise, still dressed in his school uniform asked as he walked behind Shirou and Xenovia, the former wearing a polo shirt and jeans while the latter was using a top with long sleeves that still left her shoulders and biceps open and shorts. 'They look like they are in college.'

Looking to himself Ise remembered his King calling him later the previous night after his rounds and saying he would need some casual clothes the next day. At the time the Pawn was planning to stay up late playing some games and the end result was him waking up a little later and rushing to get ready for school.

Rias ended brushing it aside anyway before ordering him to go help Shirou with something as soon as school ended. "Ravel will take care of your contracts for today so you don't need to worry."

"Not that he has much of a success rate for us to take care of."

That memory made the brown haired devil shove his hands on his pockets and growl. 'Stupid Fried Chicken's sister! My clients like hang out with me and-'

"Something wrong, Ise?" Shirou asked when he picked out the annoyance from his friend. A feat that Ise took notice of since they were in the middle of Fuyuki and surrounded by people.

"I'm fine." The Pawn shrugged off the question but the redhead stopped, prompting Xenovia to do the same, and looked at him. Ise saw their faces and raised a brow with curiosity. "What is wrong?"

"That is what Mast- I mean, Shiro asked." They weren't either in the club or the Underworld so her title for him would be out of place. She knew that for sure if his small smile was any indication. "You can tell us if there are any problems."

Baffled that Xenovia was giving him that much attention, Ise decided to take advantage of it. "Okay- I mean, yeah. Sure. Can I ask why I'm here?" Moving his arm he began to flex. "Do you guys need me for something? Are we… Hunting Strays today?"

After Medusa started watching over the town it had become much easier to find those and usually they didn't send everyone to deal with whatever crazy devil betrayed their King and lost themselves to demonic power.

Not that they had to deal with that many hunts and it was more usual for a criminal of some kind to drop by Fuyuki for its ley line. Those were also dealt with pretty easily by whoever was closest and Ise had to deal with an insane magician who thought the secrets to the Root were in their town.

Pretty much by himself too since the only support he had at the time had been Asia and the former nun really wasn't a fighter. Rogue magicians like those weren't really the strongest so it only took a Boost and punch to knock the guy out, almost killing him. Fortunately that had been Asia's time to shine and she saved the man's life.

He still cursed the Pawn for ruining his plans all the way to whatever cell the older devils were dragging him to. The Red Dragon Emperor didn't know those sort of crimes usually had life sentences like becoming test subjects or working as mana batteries for nobles. The Clocktower took advantage of every offender or killed them if they were deemed worthless.

Nevertheless that wasn't the Red Dragon Emperor's concern. What interested him was that this wasn't the group he usually works with. When it came to hunting he was either with Kiba or Koneko with Asia always as support. Once he worked with Saji, Issei and Momo as they crossed paths just as Sona called about a Stray.

A couple of seconds passed as the night life in Fuyuki began. "You are here… for an intervention." Shirou finally replied.

"'An intervention'?" Ise repeated with disbelief. Not that he believed the Mage was lying.

Everybody knew Shirou couldn't lie. "Yeah. An intervention. That sounds a good way to describe it." He turned to Xenovia who shrugged, not knowing how to explain anything either.

[Is it my imagination or the two of them look skittish?] Ddraig asked in his Host's mind. [Not that matters, your King gave your orders, didn't she?]

"Right, Buchou said to follow you and do what you said." Ise said out loud as they began walking again. He was just a step or two behind the pair. "But this is just odd. Why do you need my help with an intervention? Who're we 'intervening'?"

"That isn't how you use the word." Shirou pointed to buy time while scratching his forehead but Xenovia held his arm.

"Just follow along. You will understand." At the weird way the men looked at her, the former Exorcist asked, "What?"

"Ominous." Ise pointed out with a frown and a chuckle. "Sounds like you two're taking me to a trap."

Xenovia scowled. "Like we need a trap-"

"This is for Asia's sake." Shirou said suddenly, silencing his lover and catching Ise's undivided attention. Perverted as she was, when he heard the Bishop needed him, the Red Dragon Emperor took things very seriously. "Also for Irina's sake. Don't worry, if everything goes well, you will thank me later, I promise." He offered a half depressed smile to the other two. "After hating me for a few days, maybe."

"Yeah, sure, okay. If it's to help them, I'm in." Ise replied confidently. "So let's do this intervention thingy."

With that they upped the pace going towards the most busy part of town. Their meeting spot was better than the church and in the middle of the path for convenience. It was also Shirou's choice since he knew the owner thanks to his neighbor who was also one of his teachers.

The more they walked the more people they saw leaving their jobs or starting their shift in the area as a couple of bars opened up. Most of the people around them were adults in a way or another as even in the middle of the week there was someone celebrating something. At least those who didn't need to wake up too early the next day.

For those it was easy to imagine they were just indulging a little with their friends before going to bed or perhaps being too irresponsible for their own good. Since it wasn't a weekend, those were legitimately in the majority. Not that any of it to Ise, what was relevant was that sort of hour, in that part of town, belonged to adults and office workers.

Not the place of a highschool student. 'I stick out like a sore thumb.' Much to Ise's chagrin who had to cover his eyes from the bright lights doing their best to catch his attention. 'Damn, is it always like this? Never been in this part of town.'

Ise knew he was exaggerating as while there were plenty of places for people to drink, chat and eat, there wasn't anything around that could be considered 'truly' adult entertainment. As far as he knew Fuyuki didn't really have anywhere that could be classified as a 'Red Light District' because if it did he and his friends would have tried to get in a long time ago.

Worse thing Ise saw was a parlor with several pachinko machines which he could also see several warnings saying that only people of a certain age could enter. In his school uniform and a boyish face that was just recently losing the last of its baby fat, he knew the burly guard would stop him at the door.

If Ise let him. 'Kind weird to think about but if I wanted I could go anywhere, right? Sure I don't have an ID but…' Looking at his hand, the boy was reminded how much he changed over the last few months. 'I am the Red Dragon Emperor…' He thought with reverence which pleased Ddraig. 'In Fuyuki, only my friends could stop me from doing whatever… just like the forest.'

[Now that is thinking like a dragon.] Ddraig commented, obviously very pleased. [Not that you need to do it but if we want, we could take this whole place down, take all women and riches for ourselves. Nobody could stop us.]

'We won't. Stealing is wrong and-'

[But you shouldn't.] The being inside Boosted Gear acknowledged without troubles. [This is not the jungle, civilization moved on. The world isn't one where a dragon can just claim a plot of land and call himself king without worry. Even without challengers.] A chuckle escaped his throat. [Besides, why break something so beautiful and pleasant? Power will always find work and with the kind of work we can do… it wouldn't be hard to have a palace with hundreds of maids to tend to our every whim.]

Ise lost himself in dreams and possibilities, almost bumping on his friends. Shirou turned around and saw the brown haired Pawn's face of glee before looking back ahead.

"Almost there, huh."

"Shiro, I know you are worried but everything is going to be fine." Xenovia said with a confidence neither really felt. Considering whose help they asked, he didn't blame her.

"Yeah. Everything is going to be fine." Shirou tried to be optimistic but failed a second later. "Ise isn't going to leave this traumatized at all… Is it wrong that I don't trust him that much? Technically, we are friends."

A surprised swordswoman raised a brow before asking, "Didn't you hate each other?"

"I said 'technically'." The redhead replied instantly. "We get along and understand each other better than most. There is a camaraderie there, I guess.".

Approaching the Mage, Xenovia whispered. "Sorry Master but I can't help. If I was in your shoes I would cut him down and be done with it."

"No, you wouldn't."

"I would if I could get away with it." She replied with a shrug while stepping back. "Won't lie, that guy gives me the creeps. Every time he speaks it is like he can read your mind."

"Which is why we need his help with this." Shirou commented while pointing a thumb to Ise who was still lost in dreamland. "Because calling him introspective would be generous."

Despite not hearing what was said about him, Ise felt mildly offended for some reason. "Wanna start something? It isn't because you're dating Buchou that I can't kick your butt."

Unsurprisingly Xenovia wondered. "Maybe it would be easier if you two fought."

"Hey look, we arrived." Shirou announced before he was forced to give an answer.

His two companions looked at the two store buildings with surprise as Ise read the name written on a plate with a cartoonish drawing of a cat with huge eyes above his head. "'Copenhagen'? It 'sa bar?"

"Pup."

"What is the difference?"

"Lots of different drinks, not all alcohol and so we can enter with an adult." Shirou explained with a smile.

That had the Red Dragon Emperor frowning before pointing at him and Xenovia. "Well, news flash, Sherlock, we aren't adults."

"Oh dear, would this be the best time for us to enter the scene?" An elegant feminine voice asked with some amusement.

The three turned to greet the expected arrival and the unexpected one.

In that case the woman was the unexpected sight of Caren Hortensia who had changed from her nurse's outfit to her priestess robes from the time of the Youth Gathering Ball. Truly the woman was a member of the clergy even if the trio was sure few if none of Kuoh's students would believe it.

With her was the one Shirou expected to meet that night. "Kotomine, Hortensia-san. Good evening."

"Good evening and well met you three." Kotomine Kirei either didn't know nor cared about the concept of heat by the heavy cassock he was wearing. Although his golden cross wasn't visible, Shirou was sure it was out of courtesy and the man had it somewhere in his person.

"Good evening, Shirou, Xenovia, Pervert Number One." Greeted Caren, making Ise almost drop on his knees of depression.

"'Pervert Number One'?" Xenovia asked with a snicker before anyone had the chance.

The silver haired woman nodded with a small smile. "Of course. I don't have time to remember every single perverted student who faked an injury or a sudden bolt of sickness." Despite her gentle expression, the sole Pawn present felt like he was stabbed in the back several times.

And a few more when Shirou let out a disappointed sigh and looked at him. "Ise, really?" The brown haired boy scratched his neck with a chastised smile but didn't retort. The redhead shook his head and turned to the representatives of the Church. "Sorry about him. Depending on how tonight goes I will make sure Rias knows about this."

"Oh, not at all. If anything he is the most bold and amusing of the students." The nun commented with a smirk. "Never before I saw such a creature so prideful of their own perversion. That is why he is Number One."

"...I don't know if I should be proud or sad about that…" Ise mumbled just loud enough for them to hear.

A smiling Xenovia glanced at him and said, "Your parents would be crying." And laughed a little when the boy bent like he was stabbed on the chest.

The other three chuckled with Kirei commenting, "As expected of Griselda's child; a tongue as sharp as your sword."

"High praise." Caren added while covering her mouth even as her shoulders shook with amusement.

Earning Shirou's attention. "Sorry if this sounds impolite but why are you here, Caren-san?" Golden eyes met each other and he saw hers dancing with even more amusement.

"Oh, I heard the situation was quite delicate and decided to offer my assistance." Her smile was truly beautiful and as pure as the morning snow.

Both Shirou and Xenovia could feel the danger of said snow but only the swordswoman could translate that feeling. 'You came here for your own amusement, didn't you?' She barely held herself back from asking out loud but Caren's eyes turned to her and the bluehead winced. 'Is she reading my thoughts?'

"Maaaaybe~" The nun declared playfully.

Making Xenovia step back in surprise. "Bah!" But she soon focused herself and cleared her throat before asking in challenge, "'Maybe' what?"

"You tell me."

"Enough playing around, both of you." Shirou requested and he could see both Caren and Kirei's disappointment.

Nevertheless the taller man knew how to hide it better. "Indeed, I suppose we should begin. Is my patient ready?"

"Patient? Are you a doctor now?"

"I will inform you, Shirou, that I am perfectly qualified to be a medic."

Caren closed her eyes and nodded in exasperation. "Father just never bothered to get a license. Neither here nor in the Vatican."

"My credentials always assured those I treated that they would receive the best care." Kirei pointed out without much care. "Experience and skills were always judged more important in our line of work so I never bothered to get a license." Looking at the entrance to Copenhagen he mused, "Neither this is a normal case. Then again, per request, this isn't an unusual spot for visits. Not even for a priest. I hope this environment is really more comfortable." He threw a glance at the Red Dragon Emperor.

Who, after having recovered from the previous 'attacks', chuckled. "Hehe, well, that's for your patient to figure out. Let's get this intervention going, I wanna get back home to beat Emperor of the Big- I mean, my game."

Kirei and Caren looked at him with amusement before turning to a frustrated Shirou and a skittish Xenovia who was avoiding their eyes. That moment the redhead decided to follow Ravel's advice and rip off the band aid.

At least about one little thing. "Ise," he placed a hand on the Pawn's shoulders and let out a sigh, "the intervention is for you."

"Eh?"

"Quite so." Kirei added.

"Eh?"

Xenovia placed a hand on his other shoulder. "Don't be afraid. We are here for you… and in the worst case scenario, there are plenty of drinks."

"Eh?!"

"Actually I think none of you can drink." Caren pointed out helpfully.

And Ise was already panicking. "Eeeeeeeeeehhhhhhhh!"

Many in the streets looked at them and Shirou could only let out a sigh. "It is going to be a long night."

"The best kind of night." Kirei was pleased and his day was improving.

…..

Support my work and read two chapters early on:

P a treon

Apprentice of Life or

P a treon . com (slash) ApprenticeofLife

Until next time.