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On The Bench (AOT/DxD)

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by ReadingDangerously, Nov 4, 2023.

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  1. Nightbat

    Nightbat Getting sticky.

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    Seriously, who is this guy?
     
  2. Cuban Pete

    Cuban Pete Making the rounds.

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    Thanks for the chapter. It's kinda funny that Mikasa went to join Eren in hell... which is DxD universe :V


    "Fuck that shit."
    - Armin Artlet
     
  3. Threadmarks: Picture
    ReadingDangerously

    ReadingDangerously I'm quite boring. Really... Stop laughing.

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    "Aunty, do you have a minute to talk?" Sona asked as she emerged from her teleportation circle.

    Mikasa looked up in surprise at the sudden arrival of her honorary niece. Sona felt bad about showing up unannounced, but she wanted to talk to her sister's Pawn without her Peerage around.

    Or her family.

    "I do," Mikasa said slowly, standing up from tending to her vegetable garden. She brushed herself off before giving Sona a long look. "I will put on some tea."

    Sona gave her aunt a soft, if slightly nervous, smile.

    That show of emotion, more than anything, had Mikasa giving her another look before she entered her small cabin, Sona following along.

    The young devil didn't know if what she was about to do was right.

    Satan's, she had fought against almost this exact thing a few weeks ago. But now, with the approach of the Young Devils gathering, Sona felt herself evaluating herself, her future, and what she wanted.

    So Sona had come to the only person she felt could provide her with the answers she needed.

    As always, Sona was struck by the humbleness of her aunt's residence.

    Mikasa's house was small, far from the opulence of her own family's estate or even that of most Sitri servants. Only one story tall and wide enough for a living room, a small bedroom, a kitchen and a bathroom.

    Despite technically owning more land than some countries, the only part of her property the Pawn used was a few acres of fenced-in yard with her garden.

    Mikasa lived a quiet, secluded life far from combat or politics. She did not have an official position or list of duties like other members of the Satans' Peerage. The only time she ever left her land was if Serafall dragged her somewhere or to visit Sona.

    It was a humble existence, one at odds with the incredible warrior Sona knew her aunt could be.

    The only hint of the woman's combat abilities was the half-decorative sword over the fireplace. Flat and palm-wide with two triggers for the handle, Sona noted idly that it looked like Eren's cane blade, only wider and with a different handle.

    But that was superficial at best.

    The thinness of Eren's weapon was designed to be inconspicuous and fit in a cane, whereas this was how the sword on the mantle had always been, according to her aunt.

    Mikasa had it created as a memento of her time fighting as a human. She never used it in actual combat. Odds were, as flimsy as it was, it wouldn't even pierce the skin of a Mid-class devil.

    Mikasa used regular enchanted swords these days. She still used them disposably, and Sona knew that most of her aunt's money went to keeping the storage item her sister had given her Pawn full of blades with assorted effects.

    A rich person's version of Blade Blacksmith.

    It wasn't like Mikasa had anything else to spend her money on, and her fighting style had heavily contributed to Kiba's crush on her when he trained under her for a summer as a child.

    Then Sona could distract herself no longer as her aunt approached with the tea.

    "What is the matter," Mikasa asked somewhat bluntly as she set a cup of tea in front of Sona before sitting on the opposite seat in the small living room. "And why couldn't it wait a few hours?"

    "I wished to speak with you away from my sister, my parents, and my Peerage," Sona admitted as she sipped the warm beverage.

    It was an ordinary green tea without a sweetener, but Sona still appreciated it. It reminded her of the many days she'd come to her aunt's little corner of the Underworld to read in peace.

    "First of all, thank you again for your help training my Peerage. We will need all the experience we can get to stand up to the likes of Sairaorg and Rias. Even Seekviara, Diadora, and Zephyrdor shall be a challenge to overcome, and I will need to put on a good showing. Your help is greatly appreciated in getting my team ready."

    The older woman looked Sona in the eyes for a long second before nodding and giving her a small smile.

    "I am happy to help." Then her smile faded, and Mikasa's eyes narrowed. "Why are you here, Sona?"

    Sona took another sip of her tea, looking anywhere but at her aunt.

    "I believe," the heiress hedged slowly. "That I may be developing an interest in a boy. Romantically, that is."

    Sona's ears burned in embarrassment as she stared into her tea.

    Nothing was said for a long moment, and eventually, the young devil had to look up as the silence got to her.

    Mikasa was staring at her, wide-eyed and mouth slightly ajar. An almost imperceptible flush to her cheeks.

    Catching Sona's eyes, Mikasa closed her mouth and cleared her throat, the flush spreading further along her cheeks.

    "I see," the Pawn said, a slight creak in her voice. She took a sip of tea, looking out the window so as not to meet Sona's eyes again. "I suppose you are at that age. I understand why you would not wish your sister to know about... that. But why not approach your mother if you have questions? Why me?"

    "He is human," Sona said plainly, and Mikasa gave a slight wince.

    Sona loved her parents, she really did, but they were pureblood devils through and through. They would be able to accept her falling in love with a reincarnated devil, albeit reluctantly, if they grew to High-class status.

    But a human?

    Forget joining a convent, Sona's parents would force her to become a magical girl on her sister's show.

    Much worse.

    "Are you planning to reincarnate him?" Mikasa asked curiously, looking at the younger girl again.

    "It... It is complicated," Sona hedged lightly, not wanting to get into the specifics of Eren.

    At least for the moment.

    Her initial reasoning for keeping him a secret from her sister and honorary aunt was still valid, after all. In a few years, she could explain everything.

    Or never.

    Sona liked 'never' better.

    "For the moment, he will not be becoming a devil," Sona said, brushing over the subject. She wasn't even sure Eren knew about devils, let alone that she was one. "But that is one of the things I wanted to ask about. My parents would not understand me liking a human, but you were one. So I would like your advice."

    "About what," Mikasa asked with a lightly furrowed brow.

    "Um," Sona cleared her throat lightly, looking away.

    Satans, this was awkward.

    Not just because it was about romance but because of what she was about to ask and the effect it might have on the woman.

    If there was something spending time with Eren had taught her, it was that trauma could crop up at the most unexpected times. Wounds could be opened by accident.

    Only Sona wasn't planning on accidentally hurting her aunt. Her question would be the equivalent of stabbing a scar with a new blade.

    Satans, how did Rias handle things like this?

    As Sona gathered her courage, Mikasa remained silent, face in her usual neutral expression.

    "Mortality," Sona eventually bit out, babbling at the awkwardness. "That is, humans are, I mean, they die and are fragile, and you never know, and we live for so long-"

    "Stop," Mikasa interrupted the younger girl. "Take a deep breath. Then speak. This isn't like you."

    Sona filled her lungs, held her breath, and let out the breath.

    "Right," the Sitri heiress nodded, some of her usual composure returning. "My apologies. I just fear the topic is sensitive and will cause you distress."

    "Don't be afraid of hurting my feelings," Mikasa said bluntly. "I can handle it."

    "Very well," Sona nodded and asked the question she was here for with her chin held high to meet her aunt's eyes.

    "If you were in love with someone who would die soon, would you tell them how you feel?"

    "Yes."

    The answer wasn't just immediate. It was instant.

    Sona didn't even have time to finish her question before Mikasa had spoken. Nor did she have time to be surprised because her aunt, in a rare moment, started talking at length.

    "I would not only tell them I loved them, I would show it. Every day, every minute they had left that we still had together, I would spend it all proving how much I loved him."

    "What if you are rejected," Sona asked. "What if they don't feel the same?"

    "So what," Mikasa stared into Sona's eyes for a long second before her gaze drifted out the window. "You are young. You do not understand how cruel love can be. Or how beautiful. Even if it hurts, those memories, those feelings... they are more precious than anything."

    Normally, Sona would have bristled at those words, her pride being unable to tolerate being dismissed because she was 'young.'

    The pain in Mikasa's eyes as they stared at a bird perched on her fence through the window quashed any hurt feelings Sona might have entertained.

    "It is one of the greatest disconnects I've faced as a devil," the older woman admitted. "It is so easy to forget when you have power, when you live so long. Death comes quickly. The swipe of a blade. Human or devil, it doesn't matter. There are always regrets. Never enough time. So, make the most of what you have. Even if it hurts. Even if he doesn't feel the same way. Because the moments you miss will hurt more than any rejection ever will."

    Sona adjusted her glasses as she thought over Mikasa's words.

    They were hard to accept.

    Not because she believed the Pawn was wrong, per se, but because the situation with Eren was just so unconventional.

    If he had a regular human lifetime, it would make sense. Or if they had known each other for longer.

    But Eren only had a year left, if that.

    Even if everything went perfectly, they would only be 'together' briefly. With such limited time, was it not better to simply remain friends and enjoy the current relationship?

    And that was assuming everything went perfectly.

    There was every possibility Eren didn't feel the same way about her, or even if he did, he wouldn't want to engage in romance with his impending demise.

    Would telling him about her devil status and the Evil Pieces be better or worse in that situation?

    Would Eren think Sona was trying to take advantage of his situation and possibly their feelings to reincarnate him?

    Would Eren give up his freedom for love if they did come to love each other?

    Sona was objective enough with herself, even if inexperienced with matters of the heart, to know she liked Eren. She cared for him, and she could see pursuing a relationship with him. But was that love? Sona didn't think so.

    Sona was not Rias. She could not easily give out her heart.

    Both a strength and a weakness, Sona reflected.

    "You don't believe me," Mikasa said, studying Sona intently as she sipped her tea.

    "I do," Sona nodded, pulled from her thoughts. "It is..." Sona struggled to put the thoughts into words. "Unless something happens, I will live for thousands of years. He will not. I do not believe he would welcome becoming a devil, even if I offered it, so we are going to part no matter what. And I will have to find a husband eventually."

    Sona was not Rias.

    She would do her duty to her family. She had escaped her own arranged marriage but still intended to continue the Sitri house one day. It had been timing, more than anything, that had led to her rejecting the marriage. She didn't want to tie herself to another Pureblood devil until her dream was already underway.

    "I suppose I do not want my memories to be tainted," Sona admitted, looking down into her tea. "Whatever happens now, I will live with it for the rest of my life. And, knowing that I will outlive him, it doesn't feel right. Even if he felt the same way, he could give me the rest of his life, his whole heart, but I cannot promise the same. Like I am just allocating a section of my heart, knowing I will have to give most of it to someone else. And that feels unfair. He doesn't deserve that."

    "Do not do that!"

    Sona jumped at the suddenness of the order.

    Mikasa stared her adopted niece down and, for the first time today, Sona felt the force of the woman.

    Sona was a High-Class devil. While the likes of Sairaorg and Rias might overpower her, she was still one of the greatest devils of her generation.

    Mikasa was a Pawn with not a single drop of magic to her name. She had no Sacred Gear or unique heritage.

    Yet one of them had killed a fully grown Red Dragon Emperor.

    And it wasn't Sona.

    "Do not base your happiness on others!" Mikasa ordered. "Love. Always love. But never let love be chains."

    Always chase freedom. Never become a slave to it.

    "Nobody deserves anything," Mikasa said lowly, hand idly shifting her scarf. "Bad things happen to good people. Good things happen to bad people. That is life."

    Sona bit her lip.

    She knew her aunt spoke the truth. Knew that life was unfair. The rich get richer, and the poor get poorer.

    Power begets power. Weakness begets weakness.

    Education was the great equalizer.

    The pen to defeat the sword.

    It was one of the main reasons Sona dreamed of a school. One for everybody. Regardless of race, bloodline, or status.

    To build a school where everyone got the same opportunities and where effort and dedication were rewarded regardless of the unfair advantages of the outside world.

    Where the weak could grow to defeat the strong, and the strong could face their own weaknesses.

    Such a school would be the ultimate paradise for a girl born into wealth and privilege yet eternally cast in a frozen shadow.

    Sona still had a long way to go.

    "The man I loved died when I was your age."

    Sona blinked, torn from her thoughts.

    She looked up, but Mikasa wasn't looking at her anymore. She was staring out the window again.

    Her face was blank.

    Not the regular neutral expression of the woman who rarely emoted that Sona knew, but the blankness of a broken doll.

    Mikasa rarely ever talked about her past. She had heard it brought up maybe five times in all of Sona's life.

    Her aunt wasn't shy about the fact she came from another world, but getting any specifics about it was like pulling teeth. Partly, that was due to how quiet Mikasa was as a woman and her isolated lifestyle, but a much larger part was due to how the Pawn withdrew whenever she talked about it.

    All Sona knew was that Mikasa had been human, a soldier of some sort, married with a child, died of old age, and that her world had no magic. But every time a young, inquisitive Sona had tried to ask more, her aunt would close off.

    Like the pain and regrets sealed her mouth.

    Sona hated seeing her aunt like that. Like she carried a sadness with her that chained her to the ground. Sona usually avoided bringing up anything touching Mikasa's time as a human as much as possible. It was one of the reasons Sona had been so hesitant to talk to her today.

    Yet the heiress would be lying if she said she wasn't interested in learning more about the woman who had been there for her entire life.

    Torn between the desire to ask questions and the wish to spare the woman she loved the pain memories brought, Sona kept quiet.

    Whatever Mikasa said, it would be by her own choice.

    "We all knew he was on a time limit," Mikasa continued, watching the bird hop along the fence. "Yet I..."

    The Pawn stopped.

    The bird flew away.

    "I never told him how I felt. Not till it was too late."

    Sona had never heard Mikasa sound so small. So weak.

    "Because he was going to die?"

    "No."

    The porcelain cracked, and Mikasa's blank face twisted. Warped into such a subtle yet profound example of grief and self-loathing that Sona had only seen the like once before.

    On Eren, the day he told them about the woman he had loved and left behind.

    "Because I was scared," Mikasa admitted. "I always wanted to, but the fear choked me. Even when he asked me what he meant to me, I could not say the words. I told myself we had time. Years. When I was older, when things were safer, I'd tell him. I'd be strong enough to tell him."

    Mikasa's eyes met Sonas for the first time since her confession.

    "There wasn't more time." Mikasa's voice cracked from the heartbreak. "We thought we had years. When he asked me what he meant to me, it was his last chance. He was out of time. I have never regretted anything more in my life than not being able to say 'I love you' that night."

    Sona didn't know what to say, so she stayed silent.

    Mikasa's tea cup was gently placed on the table as the Pawn walked around and sat beside Sona. She pulled the younger devil into a hug.

    Sona let herself be held. Her aunt was always more conservative with physical affection, so these rare moments were always nice.

    "Sorry."

    "For what?"

    "That you are going through this," Mikasa said softly. Her own eyes were moist. "That I can't be more help. That you don't feel like you can talk to your sister or parents. I am sorry that your first love hurts. And I am sorry that I can't say it gets better. I learned to love my husband. Having Grisha and seeing him grow were some of my life's happiest moments. But the love and pain they never left me. Not a day didn't go by where I didn't wish for him back, for more time, or for things to be different."

    An admittance of weakness from a woman Sona had always seen as a pillar of strength.

    "Why can't things be simple," Sona asked in a small voice. Her own eyes were damp. "Why am I so weak? Why does he have to die?"

    "Children shouldn't worry about life and death," Mikasa said softly, pretending not to feel the dampness on her clothes.

    "We're devils," Sona shook her head as she pulled away. She surreptitiously wiped her eyes. "I learned how to drown a man when I was five. I killed my first Stray when I was ten. We grow up on stories of the Great War. Our racial hobby is a blood sport. Life and death are just a part of who we are."

    "That doesn't make it right."

    "Maybe," Sona said. "Fighting, killing, ruling. I am good at that. But it is love that I don't understand. That is complicated. What is the right thing to do? How do I make sure we are happy?"

    "There is no perfect answer."

    "Funny you should say that," Sona laughed lightly. Her voice hitched. "He said the same thing."

    "Sounds like a smart boy," Mikasa smiled gently at her honorary niece. "But I am not surprised. Our Sona would only go for the smart ones."

    Sona acknowledged the compliment for what it was but felt the need to correct her aunt, if only in her mind.

    Eren wasn't really smart. He wasn't dumb by any means, but he wasn't the intellectual genius Sona had often imagined herself with when she was younger.

    Eren was wise.

    A wisdom born from experience rather than intelligence. Paid for with blood and pain.

    Sona firmly believed in education. Her dream was to make it available to everyone. But she could admit that there had been a bias in her thoughts against those who were not educated.

    Then, someone who had never finished elementary school had seen depths and implications in a light novel of all things. Something Sona had read herself yet had never given much thought.

    That had been the moment.

    When someone Sona had thought of as a 'student' taught her something. Eren ceased to be a 'test for future students' and had become an equal.

    Maybe someone she could come to love.

    "Can I ask you for another favour?" Sona asked.

    Her aunt had helped clarify a few things in her mind. Sona, once she made a decision, was a girl of action.

    "Anything."

    "My newest member, Saji, is romantically interested in me," she explained.

    This would be step one: wiping the board clean.

    "I remember him. Your Pawn, right?

    "I can't see him that way," Sona admitted. "I do not feel right engaging in such a relationship with my Peerage."

    "Isn't that common for Kings?" Mikasa asked with a tilt of her head. Technically, the Pawn could start her own Peerage as she had her own Evil Pieces, but she had yet to see any point.

    "For others," Sona nodded. "But I cannot be that way. I need to be a leader they can trust to make the best decisions for everyone. A relationship with one or more of them would, by necessity, mean I am partial to them over the others."

    If the time ever came when Sona was forced to make a call to sacrifice the few for the many, or something equally as bad, she needed her Peerage to trust her to be fair and just. To not let her feelings blind her.

    "You were always such a responsible girl," Mikasa said fondly. "What do you need me to do?"

    "Talk to him," Sona said. "A few of my Peerage are interested in him, but his focus on me blinds him. I have already explained my position, but coming from someone else might help him understand."

    "I am not good with... talking like that," Mikasa admitted, shuffling in the seat beside Sona. "Not with people I don't know."

    "I know," Sona admitted.

    Her aunt spent most of her time alone, and today had been one of the most prolonged conversations they had held together. Barring Serafall, whose conversations usually involved the Leviathan doing all the talking, Sona was not aware of anyone else who had spent a long time talking to the Pawn.

    "I am sorry to ask it of you. But I recently saw how much an outside perspective can help in such matters."

    Now, if only Issei and Asia would stop being so lovey-dovey in front of Sona, she'd appreciate it.

    This would also give her aunt more time to socialize, even if Sona's Peerage was considerably younger than Mikasa.

    Serafall and Sona had been struggling to get the Pawn more friends for years. Talking to Sona's Peerage could help her open up more.

    If it worked with Eren, it could work with Mikasa, right?

    Sona was taking a play out of Eren's book, manipulating others for them to find happiness when they wouldn't chase it themselves.

    Sona was sick of seeing people holed up in the corner of a world waiting to die.

    "Can you not go to someone else," Mikasa asked.

    Sona just looked at her aunt with a raised brow.

    If her liking a boy would bring trouble from her family (read: Sister), then someone liking Sona but her not returning the feelings would lead to a second Civil War.

    Or an assassination of her newest Pawn by hypothermia.

    "The only other person I would trust with such a conversation is... well, he is the one Saji is jealous of."

    The idea of Eren giving Saji romantic advice, like he did with Issei, put a smile on Sona's face. She wouldn't do it, as it would just be mean-spirited, but the idea was amusing.

    "Ah," Mikasa said lamely. "I see."

    "So will you? Just a few minutes after training will be fine."

    "I guess?"

    "Thank you," Sona hugged her aunt tightly.

    Mikasa sighed lightly before returning the hug.

    Sona still needed to figure out if she would end up confessing to Eren but decided that it would depend on whether he accepted Rias' offer.

    Mikasa's words did have an effect, though. They had solidified Sona's resolve.

    Time was limited. Both Eren's and hers.

    If she wanted to change the world, to force her dream into existence, she needed to move forward more confidently.

    The Underworld could either keep up or be left behind.

    ********

    And so begins part 3 of the story. As promised, I'll release on Sundays until I finish Rapturous Rhapsody.

    I have had some questions/complaints/well-meaning threats about Mikasa's and Eren's eventual reunion. All I will say is I already have the rest of the story planned, and I want to explore both characters alone and together.

    Also, this is a friendly reminder that this story is utterly epilogue-compliant with AOT. Yes, even the parts you don't like. I know the epilogue is one of the most controversial parts of AOT, as is the relationship between Mikasa and Eren. Still, my goal has always been for this story to be a continuation. Something I can read myself when I am done and go, 'Yep. This is cannon.'

    If you've reached this chapter, you're halfway done. I hope you will stay with me until the end on the bench.
     
  4. darknessfalls

    darknessfalls I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    To be honest, the only thing I truly disliked about the ending was
    Ymir picking Mikasa to be the one to kill her.
    That made no sense and kind of ruined all the other plot threads the story was tying together.
     
  5. Hilight

    Hilight Not too sore, are you?

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    I just can't stand when the plot is dragged out because people keep playing the pronoun game when they have no reason to. Eren has said the names of many people close to him in his life all the way up to Armin, but never Mikasa. Sona has known Mikasa since she was born and has told her the name of her son, but not a single mention of Eren even in a conversation directly relating to him? Not even when she gives a little story of her own cowardice in being unable to tell him she loved him? Nah.
     
  6. Monarchist Guy

    Monarchist Guy Cheese Overlord

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    it fits however. The two's cowardice is each other
     
  7. Gwynx

    Gwynx Huh. You smooth talker, you sound like a princess.

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    It's a little painful to have a relationship that will only last a year, I guess you have to create beautiful memories that last, good job
     
  8. kz3838

    kz3838 Not too sore, are you?

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    Thank you for the great chapter, I really like how you wrote the conversation between Mikasa and Sona. Stay safe out there and keep up the good work!
     
  9. Speedshot

    Speedshot I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    Damn this was a really emotional read for me. You really nailed the characters of AoT, I think. Like down to a T.
     
    ReadingDangerously likes this.
  10. Nightbat

    Nightbat Getting sticky.

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    If Sona knows about other worlds, then why doesn’t she suspect Eren to be from one?
     
  11. Venyr4434

    Venyr4434 Well worn.

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    It's just something that's not come up. And with Eren's history in DxD, it all kinda lines up with how he shares his story.

    It seems that Mikasa hasn't name dropped anyone from her past.
     
  12. defenestrator

    defenestrator I clearly do not know where the happy button is

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    Ever since Mikasa's been revealed to be reincarnated into this world, the overall feeling for this fic has been like:


    And I agree, the pronoun game's getting overplayed. I understand Sona not mentioning Eren's name around her sister... but to keep on doing it in the privacy of her Aunt's home when she's trying to get some helpful advice for a problem deeply rooted in her own heart and feelings?
     
  13. Nightbat

    Nightbat Getting sticky.

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    What about the parts of his story where millions of people were killed and she couldn’t find anything that matches the details he gave about it?
     
  14. Venyr4434

    Venyr4434 Well worn.

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    Something that Sona interpreted into something else. She thought that Eren meant metaphorically, not literally.
     
  15. FicEater

    FicEater Know what you're doing yet?

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    Hated it. More specifically i hate the trope where 2 people talk about a person they both know, but aren't aware of it.
     
  16. Vanbers

    Vanbers Well worn.

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    ...Euuuuuuuuuugh.

    I've loved every chapter so far, but honestly, this entire one is just... Eugh.

    Dramatic irony isn't always cringe, but in thise scenario, where we've had Eren talk about MIkasa, and Mikasa talk about Eren, but JUST SO HAPPEN to have never said their names, despite Eren saying other people's names, and a variety of other things, just makes the whole thing feel drawn out.

    We know Eren is here. We know Mikasa is here. We know Mikasa is strongly involved in Sona's family. We know Sona is going to be strongly involved in Eren's business.

    But this just feels incredibly drawn out. Like an anime episode having a cliffhanger ending right before the big fight between John Protagonist-sama-kun-senpai and Lord Emperor Evil McBadGuy, but then the entire next episode right after is a flashback episode.
     
  17. Threadmarks: Summer Sun
    ReadingDangerously

    ReadingDangerously I'm quite boring. Really... Stop laughing.

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    Eren had changed.

    "Spread out your senses lightly, like stretching after a long nyaap."

    Eren grunted but kept his focus despite her joke.

    Kuroka took her own advice, stretching lazily out on the bench as her tails flicked idly behind her.

    This thing was incredibly uncomfortable, but if it finally got Eren to slow down and relax a bit, Kuroka would put up with it.

    That, and the uncomfortableness of the bench was contrasted by Eren letting her lay her head on his thighs. Her favorite position when they trained together.

    Gaining power, being lazy, and spending time with the future father of her kittens, all while napping in the sun? This was as close to heaven as a reincarnated devil like her could get.

    Now, she just needed Shirone to cuddle with, and everything would be perfect.

    "There are... two magical beings still in town, not including familiars. Only one devil."

    "Three. There are two devils, but one is trying to hide."

    Eren tried to reach out to find the one he had missed, but she felt his energy waver.

    Kuroka's ears flickered as she felt Eren's Senjutsu destabilize.

    "You are working with a lot less Ki than you used to have," Kuroka chided gently, one of her tails bopping Eren's cheek gently as he grit his teeth in frustration at his most recent failure. "No need to cover the whole city, nyaa."

    "I had it." Eren denied and Kuroka rolled her eyes playfully.

    Ok, Eren hadn't changed that much. He was just as headstrong as she remembered.

    But he had changed.

    Did he notice?

    "Why are you trying so hard to learn sensing," Kuroka asked as she summoned a clone to grab her a drink from the minifridge under the bench. "You said it wasn't needed, nyaa? And you already have a good grasp of the basics."

    "It isn't," Eren sighed, and she felt his Ki calm as he ceased practicing, pulling the layer of Ki back into himself.

    The clone also adjusted the covering so that the full glare of the sun wasn't hitting her face.

    Really, she had to thank these devil girls. They made this little park the perfect place to be lazy. All she had to do was keep up the illusions on those pesky familiars, and Kuroka had the perfect little setup.

    When she wasn't crashing at Eren's place anyway.

    But that was no fun without him. Kruoka could only play games for so long before she needed to find someone to mess with. Half in hiding as she was, Kuroka lacked the usual selection of targets, so she would have to settle for Eren.

    He had to make up for disappearing for a year anyway.

    "Then why," Kuroka asked again, rolling onto her back so she was facing up.

    Eren's hair was getting long again.

    Kuroka was of two minds about that.

    On one paw, Eren had great hair, and she loved to bat at it. It also made him look more mature.

    On the other, when he cut it short, it emphasized the angles of his handsome face.

    For now, Kuroka settled for idly twirling a finger through the strands that fell a few inches from her face.

    He let her.

    Eren had really changed.

    "I have nothing else to do," Eren answered easily. "The only reason I didn't learn it before was because there is nothing to sense in the Path. I couldn't practice it like Senjutsu or Touki, so it wasn't worth the time invested in the real world. Now, I have that time."

    Anyone else might have bought that excuse. It was in Eren's usual austere voice.

    Not Kuroka.

    Knowing him as well as she did, actively monitoring his Ki as she was, Kuroka could tell Eren was hiding something.

    Was it worth giving up her comfortable position?

    In the end, Kuroka's curiosity got the better of her.

    Like it always did.

    Sitting up, the nekoshou used her usual tactics against the Titan.

    "Nyahahaha," Kuroka giggled, leaning into his body suggestively.

    He didn't flinch. Eren was long inured to her lack of shame. Not even the breasts she was so proud of could make him so much as twitch. It certainly didn't help that he was covering his eyes with bandages.

    Still, he had his weaknesses.

    "Hey," she purred sensually in his ear, her breath warming his skin. "Tell me? Please?"

    Eren recoiled in surprise, almost falling off the bench in a sudden and violent flinch.

    Kuroka stared, wide-eyed, at the unexpected reaction.

    Eren had been immune to her teasing for as long as she had known him. Even when she got physically close, close enough to make him uncomfortable, Eren remained largely unfazed and acquiesced to her whims to get her to stop more than anything else.

    She could feel it bothering him, but he never showed any reaction. Kuroka had never been able to surprise Eren once in their entire time together.

    Such was the price of trying to seduce a clairvoyant.

    That reaction...

    Kuroka's tails swirled in agitation, her eyes locked on to Eren hungrily as he righted himself and scowled at her.

    "Don't do that again."

    Kuroka was definitely doing that again.

    "I won't if you tell me why you are so set on learning to sense now?"

    Eren's scowl deepened for a second before he turned to face away.

    "I made a mistake," he eventually said, his voice small.

    "A mistake, nyaa?"

    "When I first arrived... I didn't recognize someone."

    "Who?" Kuroka asked with a furrowed brow.

    Sure, Eren couldn't see through the bandages he used to cover his marks, and while he was on the bench, he couldn't use his powers to make up the difference, but he was no fool. Anybody who could pull one over on Eren Yeager had to be an absolute genius.

    "...Sona."

    He said it so quietly that Kuroka almost didn't hear him, and it took her a moment to place the name.

    "Leviathan's sister, nyaa?" Kuroka asked in disbelief. "The Sitri Heiress? How did she trick you?"

    "I... didn't know she was a devil initially," Eren said, still facing away from her. "She was using a fake name. And I had only checked on Rias because of Kone-Shirone, so I didn't recognize who she was right away."

    The tips of his ears were red, and there was the slightest flush to his cheeks.

    Eren was... embarrassed?

    "How... how long did it take you to realize?" Kuroka asked, biting her lip between her teeth.

    "..."

    "What was that?" Even with her enhanced senses, Kuroka hadn't understood the words due to the low volume of Eren's voice.

    "... a year."

    Kuroka couldn't help it anymore.

    "Nyahahahahahaha," she howled with laughter, falling over and rolling around clutching her sides in mirth, not caring that she was dirtying her kimono. She laughed and laughed and laughed as Eren's face darkened further with embarrassment and rage.

    "It's not my fault," Eren tried to defend himself. "She didn't act like the devils I've met. And when Rias said she was a friend, I thought she was a contracted magician. Sona's that type. Only when I started learning to sense to replace my eyes did I find out she was a devil, and I only found out her real name a few weeks ago."

    His embarrassed ramblings just kept Kuroka laughing and laughing, and eventually, Eren simply decided to stay quiet and let the cat girl get her mirth under control.

    It took a while.

    "Nyahaha," Kuroka giggled as she rose back to her feet, casting a spell to clean herself up as she retook her seat beside Eren on the bench. "Is that why you are so focused on sensing magic types? To be able to tell devils apart?"

    "You know I am terrible at learning anything. Without cheating with the Path, I only got a vague sense of energy before," Eren nodded, his embarrassment fading into his normal world-weary tone. "I can tell you are more powerful than the other devils, and you have demonic energy instead of Light or regular magic, but that's it."

    "Why couldn't you just check through the Path?" Kuroka asked.

    Eren paused at the question, hesitating to answer.

    Kuroka was the only being on earth whom Eren had confided with the true scope of his abilities.

    Yes, he had absolute knowledge of the actual future in which he'd live, but he could also explore other possibilities. See the Paths he didn't take. He had sometimes used it to gain information that he shouldn't have by peering into timelines that never happened.

    There was no reason he couldn't have just looked at a timeline where he asked the Sitri Heiress what she was or seen in the future where he would come to learn about her true identity.

    It was one of the reasons Eren was so hard to trick. He was sharp, of course, but he could also know what future versions of himself would come to learn.

    "I don't just lose my future sight while sitting on the bench," Eren eventually answered. "The part of my abilities that allows me to experience my whole life at once and see possibilities is hampered by this bench. I can't see it or anyone who I meet for the first time on it. They are... protected, I guess. I can't see them at all in my future. They are completely immune."

    "I'm invisible, nyaa?"

    "No. Just those I met for the first time while I was on the bench. It somehow inhibits my powers, which is transferred to those who sit with me. There is only one exception so far: he didn't sit on the bench when we first met. And even then, everything around the bench becomes fuzzier and fuzzier the closer it is in time and place to the bench. It's... disrupting me and nullifying me completely while I touch it. Like a... curse or something. I don't know the specifics."

    Kuroka smiled. It was reassuring to see that despite the year apart, she was still the one he trusted the most. He answered almost every question she had without reservation.

    The only exceptions were details about his past before his rebirth.

    Kuroka didn't blame him.

    Eren's condition meant that if he ever talked about his past, he would be experiencing those feelings all the time because he would be constantly reliving that memory in the past, present, and future.

    Still, this gave her an idea. A hope.

    "They can change your future?" Kuroka tried to be sly about the question, trying not to alert Eren to her intentions.

    She should have known better.

    "No. They can't," Eren denied instantly.

    "But you can't see them."

    "Just because they are invisible doesn't mean they aren't there. Even with this bench, my future and my memories have not changed. And they aren't the only ones that I don't see. Billions of people all contribute to the future in a billion ways. I cannot see all of that, even with the Path. I change one thing, and a million things change in other timelines. Even with infinite time, I am still just one man. I cannot see every future. I can say one thing for certain, though."

    Eren sighed, his voice deadening further and further as he spoke until the exhaustion at the idea seemed to overwhelm him.

    Then, in the same tone he had on the first day they had met, empty of all hope, joy, and will, Eren repeated his words to her.

    "I will never have children."

    Drat.

    Still, Kuroka had learned more about the ability and discovered another avenue of weakness.

    Before today, the biggest one had been the fact that Eren couldn't read minds. He could see actions, events, and consequences, but he had to be the one to piece together motivations if nobody told him. Cheating by looking into the possibilities didn't help if no version of Eren he looked for ever learned it.

    And he had to actively look for it. He had infinite time to do so with the Path, but if he never had the idea or decided to look, he'd never learn something.

    Therin lay her most significant advantage.

    Kuroka would never, ever tell Eren she planned to go against him.

    Not under torture. Not under threat.

    She had long ago vowed that in no timeline would she ever betray Eren Yeager until she had the perfect plan, one hidden from his ability.

    It was the only way for her goal, the future she wished for, to come true.

    And she was close. So close.

    Eren had changed.

    More than Kuroka had ever dreamed of, Eren had changed.

    Eren was embarrassed. He was angry. He was talking to people and making jokes.

    Eren might not laugh or smile, but he was connecting to people. Even she, who had been with him the longest, and Vali, whom Eren had taken under his wing, had never been able to provoke half the emotions Kuroka had seen from the boy over the last few days.

    For as long as she had known Eren, he had been... empty.

    Driven to action, but not to will. A machine going through the motions, performing tasks without knowing why it did so.

    Occasionally, very occasionally, his real emotions would peak through, usually in bursts of rage and violence, but they were always the exception that proved the rule.

    Only now, on this bench, could Eren truly live.

    "You never know, nyaa," Kuroka said playfully, cuddling back into Eren's side. Just because she couldn't access the Path to train didn't mean she wouldn't still curl up in her usual spot.

    "I do," Eren denied, his voice unbending steel. "The Path is a bloodline. A connection between past, present and future to everyone who shares my genetics. If there was any Eldian in this world, now, in the past, or in the future, I would know about it. I'd be able to see what they see. I'd live every second of their life just as I do my own. But there is no one connected to me. No one before or after. The Path of this world was born and will die with me."

    As if Kuroka would let that happen.

    Eren Yeager did not get to die. Not until he had lived a long, happy life.

    With her, specifically.

    And Shirone.

    And a few dozen kittens, interspersed over their millennia of life.

    It would take a lot of practice, but Kuroka didn't mind. Devil fertility rates were notoriously terrible.

    Right now, it was just a waiting game. After Eren fulfilled that promise he had made all those years ago, after everything he predicted came true, Kuroka could put her own plan into motion.

    For now, she'd enjoy spending a cozy summer with the man she loved.

    The other devils would be back at the end of summer, and she'd have to be more subtle then, lest their scary siblings find out where she was and go cat hunting.

    Really, they were such Sis-cons that even the higher-ups in Khaos Brigade knew it. It was why Kokabiel had targeted them in the first place.

    Kuroka shook her head. Her thoughts had been idling for long enough that she almost fell into another nap.

    Curse Eren and his comfortable lap.

    Kuroka had Eren Yeager all to herself right now, and he was more open than ever before. If she didn't take advantage, she'd forever regret it.

    Kuroka could be lazy and procrastinate later.

    "Tell me about yourself, nyaa," the Black Cat said lazily. Ok, she could procrastinate later.

    "...What do you mean?"

    "Anything, nyaaaaaah," Kuroka yawned. "About your past? Your world? Your friends? I just want to know."

    "I..." Eren paused. "I don't know. What should I say? Looking back, there is so much and so little. It's all... tainted. By pain. By what happened later."

    "Tell me about good times," Kuroka said softly. "When you were happy."

    "When I was happy?" Eren asked as if wondering when such a time was.

    "What were you like as a kid?" Kuroka prompted. Then, just for emphasis, she took his empty hand and placed it on her head. It was just to provide Eren with some physical comfort and not because it felt good. Really. "You must have some good memories."

    Slowly, hesitantly, Eren started to move his hand.

    "I do," he admitted.

    "So tell me about them."

    "I... suppose." Eren was quiet for a long moment as if deciding what to talk about. "I was a terrible child."

    "Hmm?"

    "I was," Eren nodded. "Always getting into fights. Being lazy whenever I could get away with it. And I never knew when to keep my mouth shut. I still don't."

    Kuroka wouldn't say that. Before Eren had left, getting information from him that wasn't instructions was like pulling teeth.

    "My mom was always scolding me, patching me up, or apologizing on my behalf. My dad... He never got mad." Eren paused again. "Looking back, I realize he was trying to let me be myself. To not impose his way of life on me. To make up for his mistake with his first kid. He didn't want anything special from me. He just wanted me to be happy."

    "The brother you told Shironyaa about?"

    "Yes. My dad was... terrible to him. I love my dad, but he made mistakes." Eren shook his head. "Not as much as me, though. He was a better man. He let go of his hatred. Even when my mom... even then. He would have let them go."

    There was another pause. Eren stopped petting her ears, so Kuroka shifted them back to happier topics.

    "What about Armin?"

    "Armin?" Eren blinked, coming back to the present. "Oh, right. I told you about him."

    "Did you not want to?"

    "No," Eren shook his head. "It's just I think that was the first time I ever said his name. Hearing it from you was unexpected."

    "Why?" Kuroka wasn't surprised that he hadn't said Armin's name in his life. If he wouldn't tell her, who would he tell?

    "Talking about him and... Talking about any of my past is hard, but those two... They're different. Even when the whole world was against me, when I declared war on the whole world and got one of our friends killed, they still would have sided with me. Not because I was the choice that saved them or gave them power, but just because it was me. They would have turned against the whole world for me. I had to do some... I had to give them motivation to not join me."

    As always, hearing Eren mention, if even obliquely, to the woman he had loved sent a pang of jealousy down Kuroka's back, and her tails waved in her agitation.

    Best to lead him back to happier thoughts again.

    "How'd you meet Armin, nyaa?"

    "He was being bullied," Eren shrugged. "I must have seen him get beat up a half dozen times. But no matter what they did to him, he never fought back. Not once. I wanted to know why. Was he just a coward?"

    Eren's voice took on a quality, a note of nostalgia? Whistfullness? Fondness?

    "He wasn't. Armin was the bravest, best of us all. The entire time they were hitting him, he was fighting a different war. One to be better. If he threw a punch, he'd lose that war. I admired that about him, but I wasn't him. If Armin wouldn't fight back, I would."

    "That's how you'd get into fights?" Kuroka grinned, imagining a chibi Eren standing up for an imaginary child. "You were defending your friend? How cute."

    "I lost," Eren shook his head wryly. "I'd see them ganging up on him because he wouldn't fight back, charge in without thought, and get beat for my trouble. If it wasn't for... Anyway, it was always the three of us. Before, and after... That Day."

    Eren took on a more pensive, whistful tone.

    "I don't think I would have made it through those two years after... after my parents, if not for those two. I know for sure I wouldn't have made it through training, or even my first mission, without them. That's how it would usually go. I'd mess things up, and they'd fix it. I was a terrible child. An awful friend."

    Kuroka idly wondered how much the 'Child of Evil' moniker Eren had gained had affected him.

    Then she shook off the thought and, once more, steered Eren away from his blue mood.

    Eren wasn't making this easy, but Satans damn it, she was going to make him happy.

    "Tell me about your training," Kuroka prompted. "What was it like?"

    "Hard," Eren said instantly. "Increadibly difficult. A third dropped out in the first week. Another third never finished. They either dropped out, were kicked out, were too injured to continue, or died." Despite his words, there was pride in his spirit. "But... they were good times. The world was simple. You train. You get better. Every drop of sweat or blood you shed in training was so you had that tiniest chance do not die later."

    Eren shook his head as if in disbelief at his younger self.

    "We were so young. So dumb. We had no idea what the world was truly like. But the 104th... they were comrades. Friends. A replacement for the families we had lost. After three years together, our bonds were strong. Unbreakable. Or I thought so, at least."

    Having learned her lesson from last time, Kuroka didn't give Eren time to descend into melancholy.

    "This was your military symbol, right?" She asked, tapping his cane.

    "One of them," Eren nodded. "There were three divisions, each with roles and their own symbol. The top ten in training got to choose which of the three to join, but everyone else was assigned their position. People trained harder to get to choose a cushier position."

    "Were you in the top ten?"

    "Number five," Eren nodded. Kuroka had trouble imagining four people better than Eren at anything physical but understood he hadn't always had his current abilities. "The position didn't really matter for me, though. I had always planned on joining the Survey Corps. They had the highest mortality rate and were the most desperate for volunteers, so anyone could choose them. Even if I didn't reach the top ten, I still would have joined them. I didn't train hard for the position. I just wanted to get better. To be able to kill more, to be free. And the Survey Corps represented that to me."

    Eren ran his fingers across the hilt of his cane, feeling the carved wood.

    "This symbol means to always to always go forward. To fight rather than die in a cage. To fight for hope, for a better future. For humanity. For a world where we didn't have to live in fear. If I was going to dedicate my heart to anything, it would be to the Wings of Freedom." Eren's fingers trailed across the two wings set into the handle. "Thank you for this."

    "I didn't manage to surprise you, nyaa," Kuroka pretended to pout. "You found out immediately when I started making it. You are the one who told me how to carve the handle. You cheated."

    "You decided to make it, not me. Just because I see the future doesn't mean your choices are any less yours," Eren shook his head. "Everyone makes that mistake. Even if I could control people, I wouldn't. Just because I've lived the future doesn't mean people don't affect it. They do. They are still free. They are still making the choices. I just see the result."

    "You're cheating," Kuroka summarized plainly.

    "If you want to think that way," Eren allowed. Then he paused, hand resting in petting her. "That first day, when we met, I already knew you'd give me this cane one day. That doesn't mean your feelings or choices mean any less to me. So, thank you, Kuroka. It is the best gift I've received in a very, very long time."

    Kuroka felt her face flush at the softness in Eren's voice. She had never heard him speak like that before.

    Kuroka knew, at that moment, that Eren wasn't just speaking of the cane but of all their time together.

    It was as close to a confession as she had ever heard from Eren.

    "You're welcome," Kuroka's voice was just as soft as she nuzzled deeper into his lap.

    Eren had changed.

    Kuroka hoped he could continue to change.

    The two spent the rest of the day together in quiet companionship. In the end, Kuroka succeeded in making the day a good one, even if Eren didn't make it easy.

    At some point, the two lazy lovers slipped into a doze and passed the day napping away on the bench.

    ********

    Before anything else, I want to touch on one of the most common complaints I saw after the last chapter. The fact that neither Mikasa nor Sona brought up Eren's name potentially revealed to the others they were speaking about the same person. I've already explained Sona's rationale in the story, one that fits her character to a T, so I won't go over that again. As for Mikasa, let me ask any of my readers this:

    Does anyone who has watched/read Attack on Titan expect Mikasa Ackerman to volunteer information more than the bare minimum to get her point across? I already thought I was making her more chatty than she should be in the last chapter, and only because she is a fully grown woman trying to teach someone she sees as an almost daughter.

    Make no mistake: Mikasa reuniting with Eren is a foregone conclusion, and nobody is more excited than I am for when that happens. But it will happen naturally. Not artificially lengthed or shortened, but when I feel it comes up organically.

    That's my piece on the subject. Everything else you will need to learn through reading the story.

    As for this chapter, one of the most misunderstood parts of AOT, at least in my opinion, is the idea that all the suffering and hardship is meaningless because Eren could have just mind-wammied everyone. It would fundamentally go against his character if he did that, as committed as he is to freedom. Not only could he touch the memories of the People of Ymir, but The only memories he actively manipulated were his own; the only other exception was the messages he left for others after he died.

    Everything else was him using the Attack Titan's power or only targeting Pure Titans. Not once did he use the Founder to control anyone, even when it could have saved the lives of people he cared about, such as Sasha. If he did so, it would go against everything that made 'Eren Yeager' who he was, good or bad.

    Once again, another week has passed. Another chapter released, another step forward. I will meet you all, next week, on the bench.
     
  18. Vongrak

    Vongrak There is always more books

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    While I didn't comment last chapter, my annoyance doesn't come from the fact that it was in or out of character for them to not mention Erin's name. It comes instead from the fact that it feels like one of those shitty romance story tropes or those guys who just say "he" when talking about the bad guy/the person who killed them. It's like "DAMMIT MAN JUST SAY THE NAME".

    Now, one of, and probably the main reason, I didn't comment last time is because despite how much stuff like that annoys me I do still understand why it needed to be done. It needs to happen becaue otherwise there's no story. Or well, significantly less story. Which might be satisfying in the moment, but less so long term. Even still... once or twice is fine, but if it piles up? I'd probably drop the series. I have simply stopped watching shows where stuff like that happens one to many times.

    It's a compromise. When you show the readers stuff like that it's saying "hey we know something they don't" but if it's just one little detail that changes everything? The readers can't help but scream at the screen. It's like in horror movies when you see the idiot seperating from the group.

    Meh, it's not like I stayed annoyed long. My annoynace was gone within like ten minutes of finishing the previous chapter... but I was still quite annoyed for those few minutes.
     
  19. kz3838

    kz3838 Not too sore, are you?

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    Thank you for the great chapter, I really like how you wrote Kuroka and her interactions with Eren here. I admit I am curious to see how Mikasa and Kuroka interact in the future, should they ever meet. Stay safe out there and keep up the good work!
     
  20. Gwynx

    Gwynx Huh. You smooth talker, you sound like a princess.

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    It was very nice, I loved the relationship between Kuroka and Eren...



    I think... I think I got dust in my eye... :(
     
  21. hypetraining

    hypetraining Getting sticky.

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    MARTHA!

    Sorry, couldn’t resist :)
     
  22. defenestrator

    defenestrator I clearly do not know where the happy button is

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    I mean that's the thing about Fanfiction. Any post-story development happens and the direction it does only with the fanfic writers say-so. You said that Mikasa had gotten enough off-screen post-canon character develooment to share this much information with a surrogate daughter... But you still set the stopping point to right before actually saying Eren's name, adhering to the really annoying tropes.

    It might have been more believable and less trope-y if Mikasa had tried her best to give some sort of advice but revealing less about her past. It might not have resonated as well as it did with Sona, but it preserves Mikasa's private nature. Or if her regret was that powerful, that there were so many things she wanted to say to him, that such grief and a full lifetime of lessons learned before she got reincarnated made her to be a more open person... then why was she still reluctant to simply say the name of the person she loved so long ago?
     
  23. Basilisk

    Basilisk I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    Just curious, not sure if it has been asked before but would changing Eren with the Graal not work? After all he technically wouldn't be "Eldian" anymore, though that's if your dna is what makes you Eldian. Mikasa isn't on the path for whatever reason even though the both of them are reincarnated so it is more than something spiritual as well. I don't remember AoT perfectly though.

    Who knows, just throwing possible theories out there, mine could be horribly wrong
     
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2024
  24. Threadmarks: Night of the Devil Ceremony
    ReadingDangerously

    ReadingDangerously I'm quite boring. Really... Stop laughing.

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    Rias was surrounded.

    In enemy territory, with no allies to call upon, she faced her foes alone, armed with only her wits and will.

    It wouldn't be wrong to say Rias was fighting for her very life.

    But she would not back down.

    She would fight and die on this hill if that was to be her fate, and she would do it with pride.

    "Gurren Lagann is the peak of Mecha anime!"

    "Rias, Rias, Rias," Seekvaira Agares shook her head as if looking at something pitiful. Her every movement was graceful, as expected of the heir of an archduke.

    Backed up by her Peerage, she was the epitome of a young noble devil.

    She was also completely wrong.

    "The beauty of Mecha comes from the details," Seek-chan pontificated. "From their feasibility. The mechanics of their creation. The stats, the gear, and the possibility of one-day building and piloting one yourself. An absurdist rendition of Mecha cannot properly accentuate the majesty of the genre. You lose the gravity, the majesty, the weight. When something becomes too unbelievable, you lose perspective. That is to say, Gundam is better… Macross is also an acceptable answer."

    The Peerage surrounding her nodded in agreement with their King's words.

    Rias scowled. After not seeing her for over a year, she had come to talk to her friend, and they had devolved into a familiar argument. She didn't even have Akeno to back her up, as her Queen was talking with Sairaorg's Queen.

    She would have to win this battle on her own.

    "We are devils!" Rias argued back passionately. "The struggle to survive as a race! The chase for power! Gurren Lagann speaks to us on a level no other Mecha does. Should we not grow until we stand astride the universe, 10.45 trillion light years tall? Our power must become the drill that will pierce Heaven!"

    So in awe was everyone around Rias (in her mind) that they could not mount a counterargument without careful thought.

    "I always thought Evangelion was the best Mecha anime."

    Silence.

    Dead silence.

    Like broken dolls, all heads slowly turned to look at the speaker.

    One of Seek-chan's Peerage, one Rias didn't recognize, flushed under the attention.

    "What," he squeaked in a quiet voice, his nerves failing him.

    "My apologies, Lady Rias," Alivian, Seekvaira's Queen, said as he bowed regretfully. "He is a newly reincarnated Pawn. He is young and foolish and does not know of what he speaks."

    "Hey!"

    "I have been remiss in his education," Seekvaira sighed, giving Rias a nod of apology as well. "Trust me, when the gathering is over, I shall spend some time… re-educating him on what constitutes proper Mecha."

    "See that you do," Rias nodded imperiously. "Maybe you will finally gain a Peer with true knowledge and appreciation for the genre."

    Seek-chan's eyes narrowed, but she didn't argue further. Her Peerage was the one to make such a calamitous blunder.

    Really, Evangelion. As peak Mecha? That was like saying Naruto was peak Shonen.

    ...Ok, that was an exaggeration, but still.

    Rias enjoyed both Evangelion and Naruto, more so the former, but some standards needed to be upheld.

    They may be devils, but they weren't barbarians.

    "We shall continue this conversation at a later date," the Agares Heiress said primly. "It was good to speak with you again, Rias."

    "You too, Seek-chan."

    Rias walked away with her head held high, her victory accomplished.

    Sometimes, an incompetent ally was worse than any competent enemy.

    At no point did Rias self-reflect that all her friends, baring those that were part of her family, were those she had somehow cajoled (read: badgered) into engaging with her hobby.

    Seeing as she had a few more minutes before they would be called, Rias looked around the waiting room for the Young Devil Gathering. Most of those gathered remained within their Peerages, talking in almost hushed whispers and shooting concerned glances around the room.

    Rias received more than a few fearful glances herself, but she bore them with the grace of a lady.

    Rias could understand their concerns. Not only were they going to be presented in front of the Lords and Ladies of the remaining 31 Pillar Families and the Four Satans as was standard for these bi-centennial events, but this was a precursor to the first time representatives of foreign factions had also been invited to watch.

    The Peace Treaty was only a few months old, and it was already having a significant impact on their lives.

    There would be Gods at their debut Rating Games to judge them as they declared their goals for the future.

    Being nervous was expected.

    So why was Rias... not?

    Oh, there was some apprehension. Rias was going to declare her dream in front of her peers and her family, including her brother.

    But... that was it.

    Maybe it was because, unlike everyone else here, her dream was simple. Small. Selfish.

    At the end of the day, whether she received the approval or disdain of the attendees was irrelevant.

    Rias would accomplish her dream.

    ... Man, she sounded like an anime protagonist.

    She should totally say that during one of their training sessions when the camera was rolling. It would be a great moment in the montage she'd show her children one day.

    Lost in thought of crimson-haired children, all sitting with her as they watched her 'epic journey' together, Rias almost flinched when a voice called her.

    "Rias," Sairaorg interrupted her thoughts, his towering form almost bursting from his perfectly tailored outfit with his every move. "I liked what you did earlier."

    "Cousin," Rias greeted warmly. Though he had been banished from his family because he lacked the Power of Destruction, a power she had inherited, their relationship had remained strong. "And it was nothing. A trick from a friend."

    "I hope you have more tricks. I hope to see all of them when we fight."

    "You want to fight everyone," Rias laughed lightly, not taking his bluntness as an insult. "It seems like I am doomed to always be surrounded by battle maniacs. I shall introduce you to the White Dragon Emperor if I have the chance."

    "I'll look forward to it," Sairaorg grinned, but his eyes narrowed. "I do want to fight everyone in this room, but only two fights have me excited. The Red Dragon Emperor. And you."

    Rias didn't know how to take that.

    "You're in luck then," she deflected. "You only need one Rating Game for both of us. If Issei doesn't beat you first, I'll have to fight you."

    The Bael didn't say anything for a second; then his eyes widened, as did his grin.

    "You haven't realized," he laughed.

    "Realized what?" Rias asked, furrowing her brow.

    "Let me be the first to congratulate you then." Sairaorg's grin was as amused as it was proud. "The number of devils who made Ultimate class in power, if not in status, at your age can be counted on one's hands. That there are two at this generation's gathering might be a record."

    "What?" Rias asked, the words not making sense to her for a long moment. "I'm not Ultimate class."

    "You are," Sairaog's smile was definitely one of humour now. "Barely, but you are. It must have been recently, too."

    That couldn't be right.

    Surely Rias would have noticed an increase in power... no.

    She had noticed her power increasing, but it had steadily been growing since she had started training whenever she had the chance.

    And hadn't it been increasing faster now that she had more partners to work with?

    Whether it was Issei transferring her power so she could work on control with more significant reserves, Akeno's Holy Lightning being a great counter to her Power of Destruction, or even just Asia healing her so she could get back to training faster.

    It would make sense that the rate would pick up with all the extra options she had.

    And didn't she have more motivation than ever? Yes, the Phenex situation had been handled, but Eren's deadline drew ever closer, and Kokabiel had shown them just how far they needed to go.

    Devils were creatures of desire. While those desires lead most of them to squander their potential, they also gave devils one of the most significant growth potentials of all supernatural species when properly channelled.

    Rias had been channelling her desire to save her friend for almost a year to grow stronger. She had faced down not only a fully grown devil, one who had outclassed her in every respect, but had also fought for her life against one of the oldest enemies of her race.

    Kokabiel had killed some of the original 72 demons, and yet Rias had fought him and lived. Hells, she had wounded him.

    Rias had also spent the last few weeks non-stop training with her mother in the finer points of her power. The original Ruin Princess was an Ultimate class devil, stronger than many of her brothers' Peerage and even her father.

    With all those factors together, it was possible, if unlikely, that her internal reserves had crossed the bare minimum to be considered Ultimate class.

    Unlike other classes of devils, there was no upper limit on Ultimate class, but there was definitely a floor. The basic of basic metrics were internal reserves of power, though combat ability was also a factor when officially acknowledged as one and given the corresponding rank.

    It wasn't rare for a devil to have the reserves of an Ultimate class being but be unable to use it in such a way to prove they deserved the promotion.

    Theoretically, now that she had crossed the threshold, Rias could go to a specialized facility to be tested to see if she deserved to be called an Ultimate class devil.

    She wouldn't, though. At least not yet.

    For one, Rias didn't feel confident she could fight well enough to deserve the rank. For another, she had never sought the promotion to Princess, Dutchess, or Archduchess that came with the rank.

    No. As always, Rias Gremory's motivation had been purely selfish.

    But she had done it.

    She now had the bare minimum of qualifications to offer Eren a place within her Peerage.

    And she would.

    Once she returned to the human world, Rias would make the offer.

    She'd explain the supernatural, who she really was, and what she was offering. She'd promise Eren anything, so long as he accepted.

    Eren would say no.

    Rias knew that.

    But it would be out in the open. Rias wouldn't need to hide the truth of what she was from him anymore and could work on changing his mind.

    It didn't matter if Eren turned her down a thousand times.

    He just had to say yes once.

    All the while, Rias would keep training. Just because she had the bare minimum to make the offer didn't mean she was guaranteed to be strong enough to reincarnate him. She'd train every day until Eren was safely her Pawn.

    Then...

    "That's a good look in your eye, cousin," Sairaorg's rumbling voice tore Rias from her plans. His smile was no longer one of mirth but of hunger. Like a beast spotting its prey. "I am really looking forward to fighting you now."

    "I can't say the same," Rias shook her head. Now wasn't the time or place to get lost in thought. "I did not miss that you said there were TWO Ultimate class devils here. And how did you sense my power so clearly when I couldn't even tell?" Sairaorg's smile was all teeth, but Rias didn't need him to answer. "You achieved Touki, didn't you?"

    Touki was not Senjutsu, though the latter usually meant the former. Touki was just the complete control, awareness, and ability to use one's Ki. That perfect awareness of 'self' was known to have a multiplicative effect on the physical and magical senses, even if it didn't grant a true Sage's almost omnipresent sensing ability.

    To have sensed something that even Rias hadn't, Sairaorg had to have achieved his goal.

    The laugh that escaped the older devil drew all the attention in the room to the pair, loud and boisterous as it was.

    Rias put her plans for Eren aside for the moment and allowed herself to feel pride in her cousin's almost unheard-of achievement.

    Like Sairaorg had said, they weren't unique in achieving their rank at their age, even if it wasn't official yet and was rare.

    What might very well be unique was someone achieving that without the bloodline advantages the Pillars enjoyed.

    Rias had the Power of Destruction, had been born with prodigious reserves, trained regularly for years, and over the last year, had dedicated almost her entire life to crossing that threshold.

    She had barely crossed it.

    Sairaorg Bael had none of that.

    His magical reserves were decent for a High-class devil, but that was it. He had no bloodline ability. And he had no support from his family after his 'disability' was discovered.

    Everything he had achieved was through pure effort, willpower, and training.

    And it was all physical.

    He didn't have the luxury Rias did. He could not train and enjoy his hobbies at the same time. It was a grind, day in and day out, all on the slim chance to prove the world wrong.

    And he had done it.

    After experiencing a fraction of the effort her cousin must have gone through, Rias felt her respect for him skyrocket.

    The pair might not be the first Young Devils to reach Ultimate class, but Sairaorg might be the very first to do so through physical training. Their race was simply more predisposed to magical training than physical. He was undoubtedly the very first to do so with Touki, an ability only a handful of devils had ever attained.

    What a monster.

    "Not just stronger," the older devil grinned down at her like a lion, uncaring that the gazels watched them. "You've gotten sharper. Is this what they call 'real experience?' I should try it."

    "No," Rias denied. "I just have good friends. Don't go challenging cardinals because you want to experience it."

    "Probably for the best," Sairaorg sighed, not even denying that he had been thinking of it. "We are at peace now. I hope the Khaos Brigade attacks me at some point. Maybe the White Dragon Emperor."

    "Careful what you wish for," Rias cautioned the man, a shiver of fear running down her back. "Some of their members will wipe the floor with us, Ultimate class or not."

    It was only luck that Black Cat Kuroka hadn't actually planned to catnap Koneko, or Rias wasn't sure they could have stopped her.

    Grayfia could probably have beaten her, maybe, but stopping the Stray Devil from catnapping Rias' cute Rook would have been almost impossible with Kuroka's use of magic, Youjutsu, and Senjutsu. That was how absurdly dangerous Yokai got as their tails increased in number.

    The power wasn't additive; it was multiplicative.

    "Then I'll work my way up the ladder," Sairaorg, far from being deterred, looked even more excited. "Sharpen my fangs on the legs until I'm ready to bite the head off."

    Before Rias could caution him some more, the door to the waiting hall opened, and a servant let them know they were being called to enter.

    The cousins shared a nod as they rejoined their own Peerages for the journey.

    It didn't take long for the six young devils, attended by their Peerages, to be standing in front of the gathered Lords and Ladies of the Underworld.

    It was a layered seating arrangement in the amphitheatre, with the four Satans sitting at the peak and the dozens of devils and guests in rows below looking down on the stage. It was a placement designed to evoke a feeling of being looked down on and judged.

    Like their worth was to be determined.

    Already, there were murmurs and whispers around from the gallery that surveyed the groups.

    More than a few were about Rias and her Peerage.

    Far from feeling intimidated, Rias felt her will firm.

    "Welcome," Sirzechs Lucifer, the highest ranking person there, warmly greeted the young men and women. Rias caught his eye for the briefest of moments and saw the pride in them. Would he still be proud in a few minutes? "In order to check the faces of you all, who will carry the burden of the next generation, we have gathered here."

    Serafall was much less subtle in her acknowledgement of her sister, waving around a small blue flag that said, 'So-tan is the best!' Aunty Mikasa, the Leviathan's plus one, stood blank-faced behind her King as Sona flushed in embarrassment.

    Despite having extended family members among the group, the other two Satans were much less invested.

    Lord Beelzebub held a red vial in his hand, magic circles swirling around it as he ignored the world around him in favour of his research.

    Lord Asmodeus was asleep.

    "I admit," her bother chuckled as he looked over the group. "I expected some of you to come to blows while you were waiting. It is almost a tradition. That you didn't speaks well of this generation's wisdom."

    Rias kept her back straight as Akeno giggled beside her, and the other young devils shot her looks.

    It wasn't her fault Zephyrdol was making an ass out of himself to Seek-chan. The new Glaysa-Labolas heir should be thankful Rias had been the one to step in instead of Sairaorg.

    It also gave Rias a great excuse to put her Eren Voice (TM) to practice.

    Rias wondered if everyone in this room had been secretly watching the ante-chamber and knew what she did? If so, then her brother's words were no doubt a subtle way to raise her position in the eyes of those gathered.

    ... Was Sairaorg right? A year ago, Rias doubted she would have caught on to such a subtle political play. Did spending so much time with Sona and Eren, as well as her focus on minimal details in training, make her sharper?

    A part of Rias chafed that, even now, her older brother was not letting her stand on her own.

    Another part felt his warm concern and knew she was increadibly lucky to have someone looking out for her. Others lacked such family.

    Rias stood, back straight, as she contemplated these questions. Around her, the ceremony continued, and eventually, they got to the part where the young devils were called to proclaim their dreams.

    "My dream is to become a Satan."

    Sairaorg's proclamation, the first to speak after Sirzechs had asked, had already sent the room into a tizzy. To declare such an ambition so plainly and without reservation was admirable.

    There was also a layer of scandal behind the words.

    No devil of the Great King family, the Bael, had ever given up the name willingly, even to become a Satan.

    Sairaorg's story was well known, from member to exile to heir. To give up the title he had fought to achieve was a slap in the face to the Bael. It was a declaration that they were lesser.

    How juicy.

    "I shall become a Satan when the Underworld feels there is no choice but for me to become one."

    Rias knew Sairaorg's statement alone would fuel the elite's rumour mills and gossip halls for the next few years.

    Yet, in this gathering of young devils, his proclamation of grand ambition was destined to come in third place.

    "My dream is to build a school."

    Sona stood in front of the gathering of the Underworld, back straight and eyes narrowed, as she looked over the hall.

    Like she wasn't the one being judged, but they were.

    There were some murmurs around the crowd, then one Lord called out.

    "What type of school?"

    "A school for everything and everyone. Magic. Rating Games. Our race's culture and history. That of other races as well. Math. Science. Language. Every subject that can be taught will be taught."

    "So, just a regular school," the same Lord sighed derisively. "There is already an academy for Rating Games and others for magic."

    "That admit only High-class devils," Sona rejoined, not deterred in the slightest. "My school shall for everything and everyone. High class and Low class. Devil and Angel. Human or Yokai. Strong or weak. Healthy or crippled. So long as they wish to learn, my school will be there to teach. That is my dream."

    There was a beat of silence.

    Then laughter.

    """Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!"""

    "That's impossible!"

    "This is just brilliant!"

    "I see! So you're a little girl who dreams big!"

    "It's good to be young! However, for the next head of the Sitri family to state such a dream, I have to say thank goodness that it was here at this introduction before your debut."

    Sona Sitri bore the laughter and the mockery with a straight back.

    The sneers and the jeers. Even as her Peerage shuffled in agitation, prepared to defend their King as they glared back up the gathered devils. Aunty Mikasa held her King back as the Levithan frothed at the mouth to get to the fools laughing at her darling sister.

    No matter what, Sona Sitri stood firm.

    Then, when there was a lull in the derision heaped on her from the crowd, she spoke.

    Her voice was not louder than before, nor was it agitated or hurried. It was the same cool, measured tone as ever.

    "I do dream big. I dream a dream so big that the whole world will look at my dream in envy. I take pride in my dream. I am dedicating my entire heart to my dream. If you cannot say the same, if you claim my dream is impossible, that just means your dreams, your ambitions, are too small."

    Silence.

    Absolute silence.

    Sona was not the strongest of the young men and women here.

    She wasn't the most well-known or talented. In a society that valued power, she was middling at best among High-class devils in terms of potential.

    Yet, in this record-breaking Young Devil Gathering, the Sitri Heiress' dream and her challenge sealed her position as the greatest of the Young Devils to watch.

    Rias stared at her friend in wonder, not believing what Sona had just done.

    While Sona had a stubborn streak, she was also a cautious individual. Even better than Rias, she knew how much politics would play in achieving her dream.

    These were the movers and shakers of the Underworld. Getting them on her side would be paramount to achieving her dream. If she failed, if she made enemies of them, it would become all but impossible.

    And Sona had just insulted them all.

    "The world has changed," Sona declared into the silence. "We are at peace. No longer will killing our enemies until we are all that is left be possible. We will disappoint our ancestors if we remain chained to old traditions and do not exploit the opportunity before us. We must win through other means. My dream shall be a stepping stone towards something no devil has ever attained. Permanence. An institution that shall outlast everything else. You can laugh. You can fight. You might even kill me. But you cannot kill an idea. My school, my dream, will come true. You can either join us or be left behind."

    Sona stepped back, rejoining her Peerage as they beamed around the room in pride.

    More silence.

    Someone clapped.

    It was not Serafall Leviathan.

    All eyes landed on Zekram Bael as he slowly brought his hands together.

    "Now that is a dream befitting a devil."

    Unsurprisingly, Serafall Leviathan was the first to break the silence of the Great King's declaration.

    "WHHOOOOOO!!!" The satan hollered, waving her flag energetically. "Go So-tan, go So-tan, go So-tan."

    Behind her, Mikasa beamed down at her honorary niece in pride. Though you could only tell if you knew her since her face barely changed.

    The other Satans, even Beelzebub and Asmodeus, who had woken up, also clapped.

    With pressure from above, both the New Satan and Great King factions were forced to join in the applause.

    Some genuinely, but many didn't look happy.

    "Um," Ise whispered behind Rias. "What just happened?"

    "I'll explain later," Akeno whispered back.

    Rias didn't blame her Rook for not getting it. She wouldn't have either if she didn't know Sona so well.

    As it was, Rias barely believed Sona was making such a bold move.

    Sairaorg declared that he'd become a Satan when the population of the Underworld decided there was no choice BUT to make him one.

    In contrast, Sona had skipped over the process entirely and forced the gathering of Lords and Ladies to support her dream.

    She declared peace with the other factions had not stopped the Great War with their historic enemies. Just shifted the type of war fought. Devils were no longer in a hot war but a cold one.

    A culture war.

    And Sona had put her dream, her school, at the forefront of that supposed conflict.

    If her school did become what she wanted it to be, the greatest the world had ever seen, it could influence every other faction through their education, slanting things in favour of devils.

    A way to win a war while adhering to a peace treaty many old devils disagreed with. Money, power, and fame would all come flowing into the hands of the side that won.

    It also would help answer the problem the Pillars were having with reincarnated devils, as they, too, would be influenced by Sona's propaganda.

    Sona had called out everyone who didn't support her dream as unambitious, stupid, and a hindrance to devil society.

    Either they supported her, or they would get no benefit from her school. Worse, they would be making enemies of those who stood to benefit and supported her dream.

    It was an incredibly deft political movement, turning Sona's dream from a far-fetched goal of a young devil to one that needed to be accomplished by devil kind to win this new war.

    If that had indeed been Sona's goal, it would have been a raging success.

    It wasn't.

    Rias knew her childhood friend, her rival.

    Knew her beliefs, abilities, and dreams.

    Sona would never turn her school into a center for devil propaganda.

    She would undoubtedly teach the devil's history and culture, but she would make things as objective as possible. There would be no slanting, no brainwashing, and no winning a culture war.

    Sona's dream was just a school that taught everything to anyone willing to learn.

    While her declaration of her dream had garnered her the support she'd need to get started, once those supporters learned she wouldn't be teaching reincarnated devils, angels, fallen angels, or anyone else attending how great they were, those supporters would turn into enemies.

    Sona was betting on herself.

    She was betting on being successful enough, influential enough, and her school being ingrained enough by the time that realization hit that her dream would not doom her.

    If Sona failed, if her dream school never reached the heights she desired, she'd lose it all.

    The people who knew her realized this. The Satans knew this. The Great King knew this.

    More than that, she had to prove she had the ability to back up such a radical dream. Everyone would be watching her now, looking for even the slightest sign of weakness. If Sona faltered, even once, she'd fail.

    Sona had gained support, but she was more alone than ever. It was all up to her now.

    Truly, a dream befitting a devil.

    For the first time in her life, as she joined in the applause, Rias compared herself to her rival and felt... small.

    Selfish.

    Petty.

    And... Rias was all right with that, she realized.

    Rias was all right with her small, selfish, petty, dream.

    Rias Gremory was not the type of girl who dreamed of changing the world or reshaping society.

    Rias was perfectly happy with her family, Peerage, hobbies, and tiny, selfish wishes.

    She was content to support those with big dreams.

    Whether it was helping Sona with her school, subtly nudging things to help Issei build his harem, scouting venues for Yuuto's bakery, or any number of other ways to make her life, and theirs, just a teeny-tiny bit better.

    So, after the applause died down, and it was time for the other four young devils to declare their dreams, Rias felt none of the nervousness the others felt when she stepped forward.

    Rias wasn't worried about being upstaged or being found wanting. She wasn't trying to become a Satan. She wasn't promising to change Underworld culture forever.

    'Rias Gremory' was simply Rias, and that was enough.

    "I don't have a dream." Rias declared boldly to the room. She didn't shout the words. She stated them. They were fact. "I have a promise."

    The room stirred. Already, this gathering had turned out very different than any before it. This generation of Young Devils was one for the history books.

    What new surprise was this going to be?

    Those expecting some grand proclamation of ambition were disappointed with Rias in the coming weeks.

    Those who understood her deeper meaning knew that her promise, her small selfish promise, was only behind Sona's in terms of difficulty.

    "We will be free."

    'We' not 'I.'

    Free to chase their dreams.

    Free to be who they wanted to be.

    Free from fear, pain, loneliness, and sadness.

    Free to live in a world where children were not abused, turned into soldiers, or cursed for being born.

    Free to live.

    A dream, a promise, not for herself but for her friends and family. For those who supported her, she'd support in turn.

    A declaration unbefitting a devil, yet perhaps the most devilish wish of all.

    "And we will destroy all who try to take that freedom from us."

    ********

    I've had this scene in my head since the start of this fic. In my opinion, the Youth Devil Gathering was one of the most significant missed opportunities of DxD. A chance to really cement some characters as more than 'waifu bait.'

    Instead of declaring an ambition that would show how much she's grown since the start of the series, Rias declares she's going to be 'Rating game champ,' which she has never even mentioned before now. Sona is both better and worse. Her dream is better, but it also doesn't go anywhere. The school she wanted to build never went about, and far from upending devil society as promised, she went on to become the head of the house, giving up practically everything.

    That entire situation was more about setting a tournament arc and introducing rivals to Issei, like Saji and Sairaorg, than it was about any growth in story or characters.

    Well, in this story, Eren, and to a lesser extent Mikasa, have had an effect. One that is both obvious and subtle. Rias still wants to win rating games, of course, but that has become tangential. A byproduct of what she sees as her true dream. From the beginning, being free to live as 'Rias' is a central theme of her character, and aiding her friends in having that same freedom, along with herself, I feel is a dream much more befitting her. Everything else will come with that purpose.

    Part 3 is all about a turning point, a hinge on which the characters, the story, and the world change. Not necessarily the source but the result. This chapter, plus the next three planned, are some of the most exciting I've been to write.

    I will be waiting for you all next week on the bench.
     
  25. Spearow

    Spearow Respect the bird

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    Same dream as Rizevim Livan Lucifer them, to be free to explore and conquer beyond the dimensional gap, that is the great wall of the dxd world.

    They have a natural physical point of access to the multiverse, no crazy machine needed, no need to get universal powers or some long lost magic or bloodline, you can literally fly to other universes in dxd, as long as you are sturdy enough, bit stronger that ultimate class or you need to be protected by someone beyond ultimate class, fucking digimon lesser copy of power system.

    That is one way to look at that declaration.
     
  26. Gwynx

    Gwynx Huh. You smooth talker, you sound like a princess.

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    Rias suddenly became a Shounen protagonist

    nice work :)
     
    A.K.4, Xmaster3000, Frescko and 6 others like this.
  27. brv

    brv Getting some practice in, huh?

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    Hmmm, what was Mikasa's reaction to Rias' dream? Bet it sounds real familiar to her
     
  28. Tortonium

    Tortonium Getting sticky.

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    Thanks for the chapter! [​IMG]
     
  29. kz3838

    kz3838 Not too sore, are you?

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    Thank you for the great chapter, I really like how you wrote the Young Devil Gathering. The way you wrote the reactions to Sona and Sairaorg's dreams was amazing and I am very curious as to how Mikasa reacted to Rias' Promise. Stay safe out there and keep up the good work!
     
  30. DracoArgentum

    DracoArgentum Lazy Dragon

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    Mikasa: "Oh dear..." *Rumbling flashbacks intensify"
     
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