Rias Gremory stared at the cooling corpse of Issei Hyoudou.
Crimson stained the area.
Blood had stopped flowing from the gaping wound in his chest as the heart stopped beating. Blood still pooled below his body, seeping into the dirt below in ugly splotches.
Regret welled up within the heiress as she stared at the body of her junior.
She had been so focused on training herself and her Peerage, on getting strong enough to reincarnate Eren, that she had let the task of ruling Kuoh fall to the wayside.
Issei had paid the price.
The boy had been a pervert and a nuisance to many, but he hadn't deserved this. Didn't deserve to die, stabbed to death in a public park and left to rot in the open for the morning birds to feast on.
His parents didn't deserve to stay awake at night, wondering where their boy was, not knowing he would never return home.
Rias could have stopped this.
Could have kept a closer eye on the Fallen in her territory. She might have gotten here in time if she had dedicated her forces to their appropriate duty instead of having familiars watch over Eren and focusing on training.
It was pure luck that Issei had a flyer to summon her in his last moments. After handing most of her duties off to Akeno and Sona, this was only the second time she had been summoned. He must have had an enormous desire to live in his last moments.
A part of Rias wanted to blame Sona, but she knew that was unfair.
Unlike Rias, the Sitri was fully occupied. She was busy with the Student Council affairs and the additional duties of running the school, and she also had to handle her own Peerage's training, education, and recruitment. And she was helping lighten Rias' burden when it should have been them both ruling Kuoh.
Another part of Rias tried to deny responsibility in this matter.
Yes, the fallen had shown interest in Issei, but killing him was utterly outside their standard behaviour.
For the last few decades, the Grigori had been on a hiring spree, snapping up every Sacred Gear holder they could find and recruiting them to their side. It was concerning, as it seemed like they were building an army, but the fallen organization hadn't made any hostile moves, so the cease-fire held.
For a group of fallen angels to kill a Sacred Gear holder on devil territory, one unfamiliar to the supernatural and with as little potential as Issei seemed to have, was so out of character that Rias felt it was completely reasonable to not expect this to happen.
All those reasons and more did not change the guilt and responsibility Rias felt as she looked at the unblinking eyes of a teenage boy who never got to live a full life.
With a long sigh, Rias internally cursed her kindness.
Once again, it was going to get her in so much trouble.
With a wry grin, Rias placed the pawn on the dead boy's heart and went through the motions and words of the ritual to bring him back to life as a reincarnated devil.
If there was one thing hanging out with Eren had taught her, it was to take responsibility for her faults.
And yet, nothing happened.
Blinking in surprise, the Gremory looked down at the boy.
Then she tried again with two pawn pieces.
That failed as well.
Finding Sacred Gears was in no way an exact science to the magical community. If it was, they'd know who had one of the Longinus as soon as they were born.
A big part of it was a simple 'feel.' Koneko was one of the best sensors around, and she had said Issei's aura was absolutely pitiful. Less than a devil child's.
Had she gotten lucky again? Could it be that Issei's Sacred Gear was powerful enough to make up for his absolute pitiful reserves of power? That had been the limiting factor in why she hadn't approached him before, despite seeing hints of a Gear.
Sometimes that happened, where a Sacred Gear was so unique that its abilities did not translate into power that could be felt but in some sort of utility that was extremely useful despite their low output.
The idea that Issei Hyoudou, one of the perverted trio and all-around average human, could have a Sacred Gear based on growth did cross her mind, but the most common of those types, Twice Critical, would not require multiple pawns from her after her recent increase in strength.
Rias couldn't think of others that would explain such a low beginning output yet still have enough potential to require three pawns from her.
Well, that wasn't strictly true.
There were two Sacred Gears that fit that bill perfectly, but the idea that Issei Hyoudou could have one of the Twelve Longinus was even more unlikely than the thought of Eren suddenly breaking into song.
For a moment of brief hope and a giggle at the mental image, Rias replaced the pawns with her last Knight, worth three pawns, and went through the process again.
Still, nothing happened.
Rias' mood fell back down to the bottom as she replaced the Knight piece with her last Rook.
A Rook was worth five pawns. If even this wasn't enough to reincarnate Issei, Rias didn't know what she would do.
She still had to save as many pawns as possible for Eren.
If Issei was worth six or more pawns, would she let him die to try and save Eren?
Even knowing there was an excellent chance the sickly boy would still turn her down, even if she became strong enough in time?
Issei was an innocent if mischievous teenage boy whose greatest crime had been peeping. His Sacred Gear had to be incredibly powerful to make up for his own lacking abilities. He might even be the key to breaking off her engagement. Given that she still had years before the due date, it would be plenty of time to train him to a useful level, regardless of his Gear.
Eren Yeager, by his own admission, was a mass murderer who had killed innocent and guilty alike. Even if he was reincarnated, it would be years before he was 'useful' with his Ki. Touki and Senjutsu just took longer to train than almost everything else by their nature. Her cousin had been trying for years without success.
Issei might not deserve to die, and Eren might not deserve to live. Both came from vastly different backgrounds.
The choice between the two was evident.
From a strategic standpoint.
From a moralistic standpoint.
Would Rias Gremory let Issei Hyoudou die for only the possibility of saving her friend?
Guilt reaffirmed its ugly head as the answer came to Rias.
She would let Issei die if it gave Eren a chance to live.
The intelligent answer was Issei.
The one Rias Gremory chose, in her heart, was Eren Yeager.
Rias Gremory, for all her youthful cunning and ambition, had never chosen based on strategy or morals.
At her core, Rias Gremory was a greedy devil who would choose her family, her Peerage, and her friends over morals, herself, or even the world.
It was no wonder she got on so well with the Devil.
If the Rook piece failed, she would let Issei die.
Yet, Rias Gremory was still a lucky girl.
The Rook sank into the chest of the dead boy as he glowed red in the crimson light of the Gremory magic circle.
Rias breathed a sigh of relief as the hole in Issei's chest knitted itself together. A healing process based on Phenex tears and one of the reasons Evil Pieces were so valuable. It would see Issei in perfect physical shape in a few moments.
Picking him up quickly over one shoulder, Rias teleported him to the address listed in his wallet. A light touch of hypnosis on his parents sent them to bed early after getting directions to his room.
She needn't have bothered. Only one room was covered in anime posters and porn magazines.
Rias did spare an appreciative glance at his collection of figurines. She'd have to ask where he got that rare Goku. Most depicted either black hair Goku or post-Super Saiyan.
A mid-transformation figurine was pretty rare, and the hall at her family's home dedicated to her hobby had more than enough shelves left for one of her own.
Her job done for the night, Rias returned to her nightly training.
Only very rare cases required her direct attention regarding a summons. An hour had passed between getting called and getting Issei settled in his bed. No significant time had been lost, and now she had another cute Rook to join her little family.
A good night, despite the tragic start.
Tomorrow, she'd call him to the club room and give him a basic explanation of his new situation. She'd also need to start getting the Grigori to recall their agents. It would take a long, convoluted string of messages passed between intermediaries that Rias wasn't looking forward to.
Both factions were technically still at war, even if they were in a cease-fire.
Still, she and Sona couldn't tolerate them killing people in her territory. They might get away with it this time due to Issei not even being a contractor, but it would send the wrong message to the vultures that watched the two heiresses if it happened again.
And Issei deserved some justice.
Guilt, gratitude, and enthusiasm rose within Rias at the thought of her newest servant as she reappeared in her training grounds.
Issei might not have been as close to her as Eren was, but now he was her newest Rook. That could change as they spent more time together. They were family now, after all.
Rias didn't even want to think about how much Issei would have cost her if she had tried reincarnating him before she started training in earnest. It would have cost at least seven pawns if not all eight.
She might not have been able to at all, leaving a boy to die due to her inattention.
The self-reflections of the night continued to weigh on her.
Rias Gremory didn't think of herself as a bad person. She hadn't been lying when she talked about being a 'good' devil. The Gremory family was famous for treating their servants well, but Rias was incredibly kind even among them.
Some chalked it up to youthful nativity that would change with age, while others saw it as a symptom of the peace the current generation faced. Either way, compared to most devils, Rias Gremory was practically a saint.
That kindness had never cost her anything, she realized now.
It might have if her luck hadn't been so strong. Sometimes, she suspected her brother or family of orchestrating things to her benefit. Still, baring the situation with Koneko, none of her other servants had shown any sort of manipulation. In fact, in the case of Yuuto and Gasper, her family had been actively against their reincarnation.
For Rias, kindness usually came with rewards rather than costs.
But tonight, she had confronted a part of herself she didn't think she liked.
Even when she had first approached Eren, she had expected to be able to reincarnate him with one pawn. His sickness and her family's rejection of him would have hurt, but his experience would have been worth such a paltry cost to her.
At least, that was how she justified it to herself looking back.
It would have been a price, but not a large one.
Choosing Eren over Issei, when it had been partly her fault the perverted boy had died in the first place, had been eye-opening.
Words spoken a year ago floated to the forefront of her mind.
"When someone is a good person, it just seems to mean someone who's good for you. Nobody's good to everyone. So if someone doesn't help me, they're a bad person."
Did it matter if she wasn't a good devil?
As she destroyed another of the training blocks, each as dense as an entire mountain condensed into the shape and size of a human body, Rias let her frustration at herself flow out.
Things had worked out this time, too, and if she continued to work hard, everything would turn out well in the end.
Rias Gremory would make sure of it.
"How do you do it?"
Rias took a moment to think about her words. The question had slipped out almost unconsciously as she packed up her manga for the night.
Questions about Issei, herself, her actions, and her guilty conscience had plagued her all day. She had tried to proactively address all she could to take her mind off the subject.
Sona knew about the Fallen's actions and her newest Rook.
Rias had started the process of having the Grigori either remove their agents from the town or having them declared as rogue agents.
She had introduced Issei to the club, explained the basics of being a devil, and gave him the tutorial on the new world he had found himself in.
Issei had been a bit out of it. He had died the night before, after all, but the mentions of High-Class devils getting peerages and the possibility of a harem had the boy as motivated as she had ever seen anyone.
Then, they had set about trying to manifest his Sacred Gear.
That was partially why she was so late to meet with Eren today.
It looked like a regular Twice Critical, but it couldn't be. Not with the cost of reincarnating Issei. So that left...
Had she been willing to let a Longinus slip through her hands, of becoming the first devil to reincarnate a Dragon Emperor, all so she could potentially reincarnate one dying boy? One who might reject her?
Once again, once Rias searched her heart, she had found the answer, and it continued to torment her.
"Your choices," Rias ended up saying. "How do you know when you make the right ones?"
"You don't," Eren shrugged. "Nobody does. Sometimes you make the right ones, sometimes you don't. Only after time has passed, at the end, do you know if what you did is correct. And sometimes, there is no right choice. I learned that the hard way."
"And if you make the wrong one? How do you deal with the guilt?"
"What is this about, Rias?"
The redhead sent Eren a smile he couldn't see at his showing of concern.
"I have a new club member," she started to explain. Eren nodded for her to continue. "I'll introduce him to you later. He's... lively."
The idea of the perverted Issei Hyoudou and the sombre Eren Yeager sitting and talking on this bench tickled Rias' funny bone.
"And you feel guilty towards this boy?"
"Yes," Rias admitted easily. Baring the supernatural, she had no secrets from Eren these days. "He was hurt badly due to my inattention. His invitation to the club was partly to make up for it. We are quite popular, you know?" She bragged with a smile.
Eren didn't smile.
"Do not let guilt make your decisions," he cautioned. "Taking responsibility is important, but never let it exceed your own actions. If you take responsibility for other's actions, you are absolving them of their own sins."
"Speaking from experience again?" Rias couldn't help but ask, always eager to learn more about the boy.
"Not mine," Eren shook his head. "I took responsibility for my actions in the only way I knew how. Years ago, a man felt so guilty for the crimes of his ancestors that he decided that not only should he pay the price, but untold innocent people should as well. He had options, so many possibilities, but he chose one of the worst because of his guilt. But Fritz's," Eren practically spat the name, venom lacing his voice. "Actions were his own. So are yours."
Understanding he was prodding for more explanations, Rias continued to word it as best as she could.
"I am not feeling guilty for what I actually did," she clarified. "It worked out in the end. But..." She paused, trying to find the words to put her struggle in terms Eren could understand. "Helping Issei, that's my new junior, by the way, cost me nothing. But it could have. And if it did, I don't think I would have helped him. And, I guess I feel guilty about that. And I wonder if I can call myself kind, good, nice, or anything like that if I only do those things when they don't cost me anything."
Eren was silent, and Rias appreciated that he gave her worries appropriate thought.
"I don't understand the issue," he eventually said. Rias frowned at him but let him continue. "You know my thoughts about 'good' people, but you are you, not me. If being kind or good is important to you, then yes, you will have to pay a price for that. But that is how life is. Everything has a cost, whether in time, resources, or life itself."
"I know that," Rias sighed, frustrated that Eren wasn't seeing the problem. "It's just... what if, next time, I have to pay something I am not willing to pay? Even if I want to do the right thing? Even if it's the correct choice? What do I do then?"
Eren continued to frown in thought.
"I still don't get it," he admitted but held up a hand to stop her from saying anything.
It smacked her in the face.
"Sorry," he apologized, a hint of sheepishness in his normally placid voice.
It hadn't hurt at all, and it was her fault for sitting so close to him to hold his hand and press into his arm to get more skin contact to heal him. If he cared at all about her prodigious breasts pressing into him, he never commented.
"Anyway," he continued. "As I said, I still don't get the problem, but I can give you my own advice and the advice of my friend."
"Your friend?" Rias asked, hoping to get a more specific answer.
Sometimes, Eren spoke of people, places, and events they hadn't been able to track down. They had gotten a clue recently when he had mentioned 'remaining four years' during their surprise party, but they hadn't been able to link that time frame to a concrete event.
The more information he provided, the better their chance of understanding who Eren actually was and what he had been through.
"My best friend," Eren nodded. "The smartest man I've ever known. And one of the kindest. Despite that kindness, he used to have this saying. 'Someone who can't sacrifice everything can never change anything.' Only when you are prepared to sacrifice everything, even your humanity, kindness, and morals, can you accomplish your goals."
"So I should give up on being kind?" Rias asked.
That didn't sit right with her.
"If that's what it takes," Eren shrugged. "This is where my advice differs from his, even if he is smarter. You need to sacrifice something to achieve something, but only sacrifice what you can afford to lose. You have to choose what you absolutely cannot let go of. You hold onto that and never let it go, even if it means sacrificing everything else. Sometimes, you don't know what that is until it is time to make that choice. Sometimes, you think you know what is most important, but then you make a different choice. But, when you do, when you make that choice, make sure it is one you can live and die with. Even if it is not the kind, good, or correct choice."
"Is that what you did," Rias couldn't help but ask. "After... the party?"
"It is," Eren nodded gravely but not sadly. "I chose, knowing I was sacrificing almost everything for it. It was the wrong one from absolutely every standpoint but my own. But it was one I could live and die with."
"And they made a different choice? Your friends?" Rias asked, but she already knew the answer.
"They did," Eren nodded. He didn't sound sad, just regretful. "I could sacrifice my humanity for the future I wanted to build. They couldn't. They made a choice."
"Even if you were doing everything for them?" Rias felt infuriated at the thought that Eren, who had sacrificed so much, had been betrayed by his friends. He hadn't said as much, but she could read between the lines.
Why else was he here in Kuoh, left to die alone in exile?
"I do not blame them," Eren shrugged. "And neither should you. They made the right choice. The one I pushed them to. I am happy none of them were as monstrous as I am."
"You aren't a monster," Rias replied instantly. Eren didn't look convinced, so she plowed ahead recklessly. "That was the problem I was having. Helping Issei almost meant I couldn't help my friend. And, if it did, I wouldn't have helped him. Even if it was my fault. So I am like you-"
"Don't be like me!" Eren interrupted sternly, and her mouth clicked closed at the steel in his voice. "Never become like me!"
"No, Rias." Eren interrupted again. "I am not someone to be admired, looked up to, or imitated. If a god exists in this world, he will ensure another Eren Yeager is never born."
"I am happy you were born!" Rias insisted, tightening her hold on his arm.
"So am I," Eren sighed, the stubbornness seeming to drain out of him as he rubbed a tired hand over his face. "This isn't me saying I shouldn't have been born. But Rias, part of the reason I did everything was to ensure nobody was forced to become like me ever again. What makes you think I'd want one of my friends to become me instead?"
Rias didn't answer.
That had been the first time Eren had ever called her a friend.
"Choosing your friends and family over strangers does not make you a bad person," Eren said, resting his other hand on top of hers so he could hold both in his hands. "Nor should you be kind to everyone equally, especially if you are faking it. That pisses me off. But you should always be aware of what you are sacrificing. It is a cold calculation. If you decide your friend is worth more than your kindness, their happiness is worth more than yours, or whatever you give up is worth it, that is your decision. I refuse to take that choice from you or from anyone. I just wish you never have to make the sacrifices needed to become me."
"But what if I have to?" Rias couldn't help but ask.
That was the source of her fear and her guilt.
Not what had happened but what could have been.
"You will make hard choices," Eren said simply as if predicting the future. "You will have to sacrifice something. That is the only way you will accomplish anything. But you will never become me. You are too kind for that. Just as they were. And I am glad for it."
Rias hadn't gotten an answer to her question.
She still felt guilty the next day when she saw Issei and sent him off on his bike to deliver flyers. Rias still didn't know if she was happy with the revaluations of who she was or what choice she would make in the future.
All she knew was that she didn't like that Eren had compared her to his old friends.
Eren Yeager clearly didn't understand how selfish a Gremory devil could be, but he'd learn.
Rias Gremory would never give up on her friends. Not on her family, her Peerage, or the boy waiting on the bench.
Thanks to my beta: Old Man of the Mountain/Darklord331
We're officially in canon time now, and things will both speed up and slow down, story-wise. I mentioned in the last chapter that it was the end of part 1. That doesn't mean in story length or even chapter numbers. I'm dividing this story in my head based on key moments rather than length.
Boosted Gear was worth 7.9 pawns for Rias (A powerful young devil with enormous potential), and Issei was worth .1 pawns. That was the only reason she could reincarnate him in canon, and (as far as I am aware) no other Boosted Gear holder ever became a devil.
For those who hope I will Issei bash or do something similar, I am sorry to disappoint you. I stick as closely to cannon characteristics as possible, the good and the bad. His character is worth exploring, and I can go deeper into the others, too. Also, don't expect me to have Eren suddenly become someone else to shoehorn him into canon situations.
Finally, I have been getting a lot of questions regarding 'fanon' and such about DxD. As I mentioned, I steer clear of anything that explicitly goes against canon, but the nature of DxD is such that it was written with barely any long-term planning, unlike AOT.
Take the Riser situation. It occurs in volume 2, and it is mentioned that it was pulled forward from initially being set after Rias finishes her education. It isn't mentioned at all in Volume 1. But it wouldn't make any sense for her not to at least think about it, have some plans about it or consider it. A lot of fanfiction paints her as lazy or unmotivated, but we have to understand that, as readers, we only see what the author writes. If he doesn't write about something in one volume, it doesn't mean it isn't happening in the background. It's just that the story isn't relevant till later.
Could canon Rias have trained more, gone actively searching for specific recruits, or dedicated her entire life to getting out of the marriage? Sure, but that would be a boring character to read about and go against every other aspect of her character. Especially with serially published stories (manga, anime, light novels), we always have to be ready to recontextualize what we know of characters in light of new knowledge.
Here is an example: From the position of knowing the ending of AOT, knowing that it is a future explicitly designed by Eren and Ymir, reread the manga or rewatch the anime. If you do that, almost all the questions and problems most have about the story are easily answered. (Not all of them. There are still issues, but they are small compared to the most glaring ones people point to.) (I highly recommend doing this anyway. It is even more enjoyable when you know the end, as you see the secrets Isayama hid along the way and get the subtext instead of just what is explicitly stated.)
Either way, I hope you will continue to visit me on the bench.