"You ever take off that mask?"

Lelouch glanced at the speaker. The words came from his opponent - one of many - seated at the opposite end of the table. He hadn't quite caught the question, attention having been briefly distracted by a particularly loud clack behind him, but the meaning was apparent from the way the surly man was eyeing the lower half of his face.

"Forgive me if I don't feel entirely comfortable with divulging my identity to present company. It's not as if this is an uncommon practice here."

A noncommittal grunt was given, clearly unsatisfied with his answer, but any further comment was suppressed. Instead, the man tossed a pair of cards into the centre of the table, having caught the double meaning in the words.

Don't commit.


The man's resignation from the round was taken without suspicion. It was, after all, the first time he'd used that particular sign tonight. The topic of conversation seemed to pique the interest of another member of the table though, and the rowdy voice could be heard quite clearly over the intermittent clacking of the billiards game in the background.

"Most people just hide the eyes though," said the man, obviously the youngest present - bar himself - wearing a cocky grin and a pair of thick, dark sunglasses. "You could've worn a surgical mask instead of prancing about like a deranged ninja."

The man's underlings, from their position by the pool table, shared a sycophantic laugh with their leader. The insult had basis, though. Most people in the room wore the same sort of shades as the man, regardless of allegiance. Some of the more nervous newcomers had even donned the surgical mask the man had mentioned in an effort to conceal themselves. They seemed out of place, here in the smoky underground bar, but above ground it was common enough. A habit of the Japanese; to wear when sick.

He levelled the man a cool look, violet eyes hidden behind a pair of brown contact lenses. He considered a response, but settled for revealing his cards at the dealer's prompt. A pair of aces.

The smug smile quickly turned into a scowl, though it was an unsurprised one. A callused hand was run through scraggly dyed-blonde hair in frustration; no doubt because he'd been winning all night. Evidently the game would be ending sooner than expected, for the dealer had begun stowing away the cards, dismissing the players as he did so.

He waited patiently until he had confirmed the exit of his secret partner, who had left with most of the other players. His temporary accomplice would be happy with tonight's winnings, and all it had costed the man were a handful of choice answers. He made to stand and leave himself, but paused after a step as he heard a throat clearing behind him.

Still seated at the table were two players; the young blonde, and a grizzled bald man with visible arm tattoos. The noise had come from the former; the latter preoccupied with the mobile held by his ear.

"Hold it," said the blonde. "You know, being a ninja and all, I figure it wouldn't be too hard for you to cheat. Now, I'm a nice guy, so I kept quiet during the match. But don't you think it's fair that you at least pay back what I lost to you?"

It was an obvious bluff. Even disregarding the confidence he had in his own ability, the scruffy gangster had all the observational skill of a drunken lout, and the bluster to match.

"Of course," continued the man, cocksure grin doing little to help the facade of innocence, "a little extra to help smooth things over would be appreciated."

Grins flashed on the faces of the blonde's underlings as they realised what their boss was after, and a few of them made to step closer to him, pool cues in hand.

The bald man on the phone grumbled something about the younger generation, but otherwise made no move to interrupt. The bar owner, who had served as the dealer for the night, frowned, but continued wiping the glass in his hands.

The advance of the men was halted when he pulled a gun from his side, waving it haphazardly in the air before re-holstering it. All throughout the lazy action, the look on his face strayed not a step from boredom.

The reaction was as expected, and his would-be assailants paled at the sight. The Japanese, even ones like these men, had little experience with guns.

He continued to walk, and even as he left the room, he could hear the blonde turn to the bartender, anger in his voice.

"The fuck was that?! I thought you said no weapons at the table!"

He didn't catch the reply, but knew what it would be from experience.

"The rule's for kids only, boy."

Britain, they called it here. A constituent of the United Kingdom, a name that served as a reminder to the dominant empire it had once been. A nation encompassing a near quarter of the world's landmass; before the colonies had slipped through its iron grasp as sand would through clenched fingers. The British Empire was relegated to the status of an antiquated moniker, and joined the history books as the name Britannia had before it.

He had laughed; a slow, disbelieving humour that had escalated into the hysterics of a madman. For who else but a madman would even so much as entertain the very notion of his situation? An adolescent daydreamer, perhaps, but he was anything but that, and no fleeting afternoon fantasy was as real – as vivid – as the world he saw before him.

Japan was independent. The Americas had seceded from the British Empire a full century-and-a-half ago. This world hadn't even seen a full-scale war for the better part of a century. There had been conflict, as there always would be, but for the majority of the inhabitants of this world, life was a peaceful affair. Generations of people existed who were unfamiliar with the sound of live gunfire and the concept of warfare.

It was the kind of world he'd wanted; wanted for her, his beloved sister Nunnally. It was the kind of world he'd fought for, side-by-side with the oppressed and downtrodden.

It was the kind of world he'd died for.

He would've taken the second chance as a blessing, if not for the fact that it so clearly was a curse. Any sprouting feelings of elation he may have had at the fulfilment of the ideal of a peaceful world were swiftly shattered; ground under the heel of the revelations of what a new life in this world would mean.

The actualisation of his wish for his sister; meaningless in a world without her. The fulfilment of his dreams of a peaceful world; senseless without the companions he'd dreamed it for.

Intellectually, he knew this was not the case. His Zero Requiem had been played to the last note; he'd heard the celebratory cheers for his death even as the blade slid out of his chest. He'd tumbled down the walkway, smearing blood upon the Britannian flag in one final show of theatrics, and then he'd died, quick and ignobly, taking an entire world's worth of enmity and hatred with him. In his wake, his world – his in more ways than one, now - would be able to rebuild.

Nunnally would have her peace. Suzaku, Kallen, his Black Knights, they would restore Japan to its former glory. They had been deserving, and they had received.

Emotionally, however – and hadn't that forever been his biggest shortcoming - he was struck by a profound sense of isolation.

The emotion wasn't foreign to him; it had been a constant companion throughout most of his life ever since the death of his mother. Nunnally had been his remedy to it ever after, but with the conception of his Zero persona and his rebellion, that had been taken from him as he hid his workings from her, despite it being of his own volition. He'd never been truly alone, of course; he could list a hundred names off the top of his head, friends and enemies, people who, for better or worse, had intertwined their lives with his in inseparable ways.

Then again, he hadn't taken his current situation into account with that description.

In this new world he was nothing; had nothing. No identity, no family, no friends, no purpose. He'd even been stripped of his Geass; the ever-present pressure in the back of his mind had faded entirely. It would have been liberating, but the chains of uncertainty had taken its place.

This particular emotion was unfamiliar to him; few were the moments in which he was paralysed by doubt, crippled by indecision. His intellect had always been a defining trait, and even now he knew his options, what he had to do to make a life for himself here, but it was his will that was being shaken.

He alone was left to appreciate this new harmony, this tranquillity, and he couldn't help but feel that he was the least deserving.

In the end, he'd finally been spurred into action by his body's physical needs. Food and shelter required currency, and he'd been relieved to find that, among many other things, the monetary system was similar to his previous world. He would not accept charity, not when there were more deserving, not when his pride disallowed it, so he'd fallen back upon an old, lucrative habit of his.

The nearest gambling establishment had been within walking distance of the station, and when he'd been firmly - and somewhat pleadingly - asked to leave, he left with his pockets deeper and options open. It was easier from there, almost laughably so, and when all the legitimate establishments began to refuse his entry, he turned to the illegitimate; underground poker tables and online betting rings, donning a mask to conceal his identity from unsavoury attention.

The criminals and thugs that made the underground their home learned to not question the stranger with the half-mask. Questioning meant a challenge, and a challenge was as good as a guarantee that you would come out of the night in the red. Besides, it wasn't uncommon for people to conceal their identity. That was the sort of underworld this was, after all. The smarter ones saw an opportunity, and in exchange for information and a fee, they reaped the benefits of having a better player at the card table looking out for them.

A few losers, jaded after their unexpected dive in fortune, had sought to recoup their losses the only way a ruffian knew how. The sleek, black handgun holstered on their would-be-targets' hip placed him out of the reach of the common lowlife; in more ways than one.

The firearm was yet another reminder for him. It had been altogether a herculean effort to acquire, costing much in the way of newly made money and connections. In his previous world, as long as you were a Britannian citizen, a weapons license was easier to get than a driver's one. That was not even taking into account the vast amount of cheap, illegal firearms that were readily obtainable through any number of backdoor means.

Here in this world's Japan, the only owners of such weapons were figures of authority, regardless of whatever side of the law they held sway over. The ease with which he handled it only made him feel more out of place, and the familiar weight at his side served only to strengthen his discomfort.

He indulged in his old habits to lessen the feeling, but found that they brought him no joy. Violet eyes dismissed words on pages with disinterest. Fine food; naught but ashes in his mouth. His fundraising outings were quickly relegated to the status of a chore. Even chess became a dull affair, the monochrome pieces losing their allure in the absence of skilled opponents.

Scowling at the chequered board in front of him, he couldn't help but think how much simpler it would have been if he'd never woken up after the blade pierced his chest. In moments of weakness, he would feel his hand twitching for a bottle of liquor; one of many lining the walls of his new residence. Gifts and prizes from his opponents.

Never would he stoop so low, though. He had once; when Nunnally had denounced him and his efforts for her, and the incensed reprimands of his Queen had been the only thing to stop the syringe containing Refrain before the needle entered his arm. That did not mean his brooding would leave him unaffected, however. Unable to bear the suffocating silence of his residence, he took to walking the nights, occupying his thoughts with the physical activity, of all things.

That alone would have amused his old friends to no end.

It was on one such walk, several weeks after his arrival, when he walked past Ashford Academy.

No… 'Kuoh Academy' were the words inscribed on the plaque by the school gate, in the colours of copper and bronze.

It bore a striking resemblance to his own Alma mater, if on a smaller scale. The western-inspired architecture and expansive open grounds made for a campus quite out of place in the otherwise conformist Japanese town. When he'd laid eyes on the school, the vice grip of nostalgia had seized him, locking him in place as he could only stand there and gaze at an unreachable past.

Kallen… when this is all over, would you go back to Ashford Academy with me?

A question posed by a Black King to his Queen. A now-impossible possibility.

A dozen reasons to not walk through that gate made their way into his mind, but as he stepped through them on a sunny morning the week after, clothed in the black-and-white uniform, the only thought that stuck was rather absurd and somewhat childish.

I never did graduate high school.

His introduction was uneventful; another foreign student come to study at a school where foreign blood ran thicker than most. The school seemed to be the gathering point for all the non-local youth of the town, and heads of hair coloured red, blond, and brown – and was that white? - broke the monotony of a sea of black.

In the weeks subsequent to his entry, he'd experienced almost exactly what he was expecting from the final year at a high school.

A passably challenging curriculum that despite which, he aced with little effort (He was interested to find that English contained many subtle differences to Brittanian, whilst Japanese remained more or less the same).

An expansive network of acquaintances and conversational partners among students and staff alike, courtesy of the polite and charming demeanour he carried himself with.

He'd even, to an extent, expected the noticeable – and really, they didn't even try to hide it – female attention he was receiving. It had been yet another reminder of his Ashford days, the tittering behind textbooks and glances from across the room.

What he hadn't expected was quite so much of it. Apparently, nobody had seen it fit to inform him before entry that up until a few years prior, Kuoh Academy had been the foremost educational institution for young women and only women in Kuoh town.

The attraction of his fan-girls – though he swore he had seen a boy among them a few times – seemed several notches above the attention he had received in Ashford; a fact he attributed to their lack of interaction with the opposite sex, and the frankly abhorrent examples of his own gender that also inhabited the school, making himself seem a veritable Casanova in comparison.

Hyoudou and his two companions acted in a way that bypassed indecent and bordered on criminal, and often he found himself wondering how the second-years hadn't been so much as suspended, let alone the expulsion he thought they were deserving of.

He received the answer to his wonderings when he observed Rias Gremory walking to school with the pervert in question one morning. Gremory was a classmate that received the devoted attention of the entire student body, even more so than himself.

Not that he was counting.

She also entertained a close friendly rivalry with the student council president. The stern disciplinarian Souna Shitori ruled with an iron fist, and was the initial prompt for his questions of Hyoudou's clemency; but if Gremory had taken a liking to the boy and also held the president's ear, then an explanation was obvious.

His deductions were further solidified when Kiba Yuuto, the blonde boy being one of his closer acquaintances, informed him over a shared mealtime that Issei Hyoudou had joined the blonde's own Occult Research Club, headed by none other than Miss Gremory herself.

He and Kiba had naturally gravitated to each other, despite his position at a year above the boy. They both endeared themselves to the school's population in their courteous, eloquent manner, and coincidental meetings when hiding from zealous fans had turned into occasional lunchtime conversation. It never quite approached friendship, as he had the distinct impression that much like himself, Kiba held secrets of the type that served as a very distinct border separating casual acquaintance, and close friend.

Despite this, he found a pleasant enough meal companion, and Kiba seemed grateful for a male confidant that didn't begrudge his popularity for once.

His days passed in the familiar yet unfamiliar life of a student, and his brooding was suppressed by daily classes and nightly walks, the latter of which being occasionally interrupted by his outings.

It rankled him now, that he held likeness to a common criminal, but efficiency and discretion stayed his hand from more ambitious operations.

On a particular day where he had been alone at lunch, Kiba having made some inane excuse or other; he found himself making his way past a dilapidated church at the edge of town after a particularly lucrative outing in the evening, his winnings in a bag slung over his shoulder. He had walked past the building before, crossing its path on several of his many walks, and not for the first time he entertained the thought of entering for a confession. It would almost be worth it to see the look on the priest's face.

His sarcasm was discarded in favour of curiosity when he caught sight of a trio of people by the entry to the church, and from his vantage point by the gate near the road, he watched as a petite female figure with white hair kicked the thick, wooden double doors that were at least thrice her height, making them groan with stress as they swung fully open.

He had enough time to make out the other two individuals as Issei Hyoudou and Kiba Yuuto – with a sword of all things strapped to his side - before the three entered the church proper. His curiosity was only inflamed. Their presence meant that the white haired girl was most likely Koneko Toujou, another member of Kuoh Academy's Occult Research Club, the only thing the two boys had in common.

He would've dismissed the three's so-called sneaking into the church as adolescent social games, if not for the girl's unnatural display of strength and blade at Kiba's side. He entered the rusted-open gate and made his way to the threshold of the church, doors left ajar by the previous intruders, and peered into the room that was several shades darker than the exterior; the strong moonlight being filtered through stained-glass windows.

What he saw was entirely not what he'd expected.

Kiba, in his academy uniform, stood with plain broadsword drawn, facing a young man with a mop of dirty silver hair and clad in priest's robes. The man's face was twisted in the grotesque mockery of a smile, made menacing by the oversized silver handgun in his right hand. In the left hand, a sword, one lacking a cross-guard. The luminescent blade seemed almost ethereal

Hyoudou was by Kiba's side, a crimson, segmented gauntlet-and-bracer combination upon his left arm marring his otherwise mundane appearance. Serrated, wicked edges were set in even lengths along the boy's forearm, comprising the main body of the armour piece. A large, green gem was inlaid upon the back of the hand, and a pair of polished, sharpened horns jutted upwards and out of the entrance end of the bracer.

The final occupant of the room, Toujou, stood to the side of the confrontation. Her golden eyes were focused on the priest, aiming the entire church pew she was lifting into the air with one, slender arm. If he were not utterly lost for words, he may have found the inspiration to laugh.

Four pairs of eyes flicked to his position in the doorway; three containing shock, the fourth widening in maniacal glee. He caught the sight of Kiba's mouth opening to frame hurried words, but they were drowned out by the crack crack crack of the bulky silver gun that had suddenly come to life, discharging three bright flashes of light at the blonde.

Kiba dashed backwards in an inhuman feat of speed, ending further away from the priest. The positional change did not go unnoticed. The silver haired assailant broke into a mad run for the door, firing wildly behind him to deter any form of pursuit. Distractedly, He noted that the man's silver firearm had spewed far more ammunition than what even a full, oversized magazine could hold, and was still firing even as its owner yelled profanities over the crack of the gun.

"Come back without your fucken' friends next time blondey! Kill ya later!"

It was evident from the angle of the man's blade that the intent was to cut through him on the way out, and the panicked expressions on his three schoolmates' faces told him they had realised this too. He finally gathered his wits and, avoiding thoughts of what had happened the last time a sword was coming at him, he took a single step back to brace himself, discarding the cumbersome bag slung over his shoulder and drawing his own firearm in one smooth motion.

The sharp sound of gunfire echoed through the church four times as he fired at his assailant; two to the chest to lessen momentum and provide a slower target, then two at the right knee to arrest movement entirely. He had never been an expert marksman, but experience served as an adequate teacher, and while the third bullet missed its mark, ricocheting off the ground and into the thickened wood of a pew, the other three found their targets. He was treated to the sight of the robed man collapsing, letting loose a shriek of equal parts pain and surprise as he fell.

Not even a handful of seconds had passed since he'd stepped through the entrance.

The crash of wood upon stone brought him back to his surroundings, and he looked over to where Toujou had dropped her held pew, mild surprise colouring her features. A dull thud diverted his attention yet again, and he looked back to where Kiba had suddenly sped to the collapsed figure on the ground. A second thud resounded as the blonde boy kicked the sword out of the silver-haired man's hand, the shining blade of the weapon disappearing as it lost contact with its owner, and the hilt spun across the floor to the other side of the room. It joined the silver gun that had met a similar fate.

Their owner continued to writhe on the ground, now clutching a shattered knee as he unleashed a tirade of obscenities, this time directed at him.

"Ah, fuck! You're human too aren't you?! You should've just let me kill you! Why the fuck are you siding with these- "

That was all he was able to get out before Kiba's blade carved through his neck, and the decapitated head rolled once, twice, before settling onto its side, dirty-silver locks stained by a growing pool of crimson.

He surveyed the room and saw that Hyoudou, still partially frozen in surprise, had now gone pale at the gruesome sight. Toujou simply looked away, a lack of expression masking her face once more. He looked at Kiba and found the boy staring back at him, uncertainty clouding the blonde's grey eyes.

He opened his mouth to ask for an explanation, but what came out instead held a guarded note of accusation.

"What did he mean when he asked if I was human?"

Kiba seemed to come to a resolution at the words, and the previous uncertainty disappeared. "We'll have to explain later," spoke the boy. "We're rushed for time and it would take too long. You can stay here if you want, just don't attract attention."

Turning around, the blonde then addressed his two companions.

"Issei, move the altar. We'll need to get going if we want to rescue your friend in time. Koneko, ask Buchou and Akeno to get here as soon as they can. Lamperouge being here changes things. The three of us alone can't protect him in the event the fight gets dragged up here."

The words spurred the pair into action, and as Hyoudou rushed over to the raised stone platform, pushing it aside to reveal a set of descending stairs, Toujou's eyes dimmed slightly; losing focus as her delicate lips traced inaudible words. Her trance broke off shortly, and this time her words were clearly heard, if soft.

"I let them know."

Kiba nodded, and the three headed for the stairs.

He noted with interest the disregard with which they treated the headless corpse. Hyoudou had seemed the most uneasy, but his reaction was several degrees less violent than expected. Perhaps this world wasn't as peaceful as he'd previously thought.

Seating himself at the edge of an untouched pew, he quickly decided that following Kiba's instructions for now was the wisest cause of action. The three hadn't shown any hostility, and he would get his explanations, in time.

Even as the three walked out of view, his mind was already racing with possibilities.

Rias Gremory was rather lost for words when it came to the scene before her.

A cursory glance at her Queen beside her told her that Akeno was sharing the sentiment.

When they'd received the message from Koneko asking them to join them at the church due to unforeseen circumstances, Rias had been confused. She had been confident in Kiba's ability to handle the situation single-handed, let alone backed up by Issei and Koneko. Her Knight had always been capable, and would help Issei achieve his goal of rescuing his friend to the best of his ability. Koneko simply provided insurance.

Evidently, something unexpected had occurred, if Koneko had seen fit to send her a message. After she had brought a swift end to the three Fallen that had made a pathetic attempt to distract her, she had transported herself and Akeno to the church via magic circle, fully expecting to be thrust into the midst of a pitched battle.

Instead, she was faced with the decapitated corpse of Freed Sellzen and a classmate of hers seated calmly on a church pew. A handgun was placed next to him, but he did nothing but observe them with piercing violet eyes. Strangely, there was no reaction of shock or surprise as he watched them step out from a magic circle, appearing out of thin air; only a steady, calculating gaze. It was not a response she was used to from humans, when they first came into contact with Devils.

"…Your companions are down there," the raven-haired boy remarked, breaking the standstill by indicating the descending staircase several paces away from where she stood. "It sounds like they've been engaged in combat for a while now. Our respective explanations can wait, I'm sure."

Indeed, if she strained her ears, she could make out the sounds of blade striking blade, accompanied by the muffled shouts of combat. She beckoned to Akeno and both of them made their way to the stairway in quick, purposeful steps. He was right in that this could wait. There were more pressing matters to deal with.

The Fallen Angel Raynare had been allowed too long a leash for too long a time. The trespassers transgressions in Kuoh Town would not go unpunished, especially when they had involved her peerage, a group she considered as good as family. As she increased her pace down the steps, taking them two at a time, she allowed the Power of Destruction to flood her mind for the second time that night, and the black coils of energy eagerly heeded to her call.

By the time she was done with Raynare, there would be nothing left.

Lelouch Lamperouge had resolved to remain unsurprised at any further unexpected events. It was a tactic built from the experience of commanding battlefields, where flustered was the state a step before defeated. It wouldn't do to become caught up in seemingly unbelievable phenomenon only to miss crucial information that could serve useful at a later date.

So, when a series of unfamiliar crimson runes and sigils manifested out of thin air, only for his classmate Rias Gremory and her friend Akeno Himejima to step though, all he did was to file the sight away for further consideration and wave the pair through after their friends.

The subsequent period of time was spent in reflection and investigation. The terms 'magic' and 'inhuman' came easily enough, but were too broad to be useful. Inspection of the corpse seemed to indicate the dead man a member of some catholic sect, from both the clothes he wore and the cross lying where his neck had been.

Examining the man's weapons further consolidated this, as they both had cross designs emblazoned upon their respective hilts. Pulling the trigger of the gun produced no effect, and he could not find a way to remove the magazine, if it indeed existed. Grasping the hilt of the sword also proved unproductive, he could find no activating mechanism. Personalised weapons then, at least to a degree where a common person could not make use of them.

The word 'exorcist' came to mind, quickly followed by 'demon'. Conventional knowledge had the former as good and the latter as evil, but he often found experience trumped convention, and the priest had seemed altogether too bloodthirsty.

Perhaps a rogue factor? From Kiba's words, it seemed as if the priest had allies currently holding a hostage important to the Hyoudou boy. Did that place the Occult Research club as a supernatural branch of the church, come to bring justice to an escaped ex-member?

No, there were obviously too many contradictions there. He needn't waste time with fruitless speculations from fragmented pieces of information. The club members would return soon enough, and he'd have his answers. For his own explanations, the truth would suffice, though he'd withhold it for now, until they proved trustworthy. Perhaps they could shed light on his revival at a later date.

He heard them before he saw them, the soft clack of shoes on stone as they ascended into view. Gremory at the front, with Himejima at her. Following came the rest, with Hyoudou at the back carrying an unresponsive young, blonde girl garbed in the shreds of a nun's outfit. From the tear tracks on the boy's eyes and the sombre looks on their faces, he could guess at what had occurred.

The sight spurred a twinge of sympathy in his chest, though he was unsurprised. It was an obvious possible outcome of a hostage situation. His mouth formed words of consolation.

"I'm sorry for your loss. If you'd like some time, we can convene tomorrow, at school."

He meant it, too. Whatever explanation they had could wait until they had properly grieved. For all their composure at the sight of corpses, it didn't seem as if they were used to fallen allies.

The brunette, Hyoudou, looked up at him and smiled, far too wide for someone in mourning.

"It's okay," the boy said. "Buchou says she's going to bring her back! Um, actually, Buchou, could we do that now? She's starting to get cold…"

Despite his resolve to remain unshaken, he felt his body stiffen.

He could only watch, frozen in place, as Gremory produced a chess piece, of all things, from the folds of her clothes. He watched even as she gave Hyoudou a kind smile while pushing the bishop into the girl's breast. He watched as the girl's cheeks regained a faint colouring, her chest beginning to rise and fall in the steady cadence of sleep.

The image of two other girls superimposed themselves upon the unconscious one, replacing blonde hair with flame orange and vibrant pink. Their solemn visages broke in favour of small smiles, and it was all he could do to reduce his outburst to a small, choked, sob.

The noise brought their attention back to him, and Gremory must have mistaken his reaction for something else, as she turned to speak.

"I must say, people tend to be much more surprised than that when we Devils make a display of our powers. Your composure is rather admirable, given what you've witnessed tonight."

He inclined his head in a gesture of gratitude even as his heart continued its rapid pace. It was clear they had no reservations about whether he would abuse the information they were giving him.

Either they trusted him enough to let him know or, more likely, were planning on ensuring his obedience in some way. It could just be that they knew nobody would believe his revealing their existence, not that he was planning to. It could also be that they didn't acknowledge him as a threat, despite the firearm he had shown no hesitance in using. He suspected otherwise, though, and his suspicions were confirmed when he heard the next few words out of the redhead's mouth.

"The fact that you're so calm makes it easier to wipe tonight's events from your memory."

Correctly reading his expression as one of panic this time, she continued.

"Ah, don't worry, it doesn't hurt at all if you're willing to comply. You'll simply wake up tomorrow and go about your day remembering today's events a little differently. It's easier for both of us this way; it doesn't tend to end well when humans stumble into the affairs of devils. Akeno, if I may ask you to…?"

Even as the dark-haired girl nodded in affirmation and stepped forward, he had already grasped his gun and aimed it directly at Gremory, finger curling around the trigger.

"No," he spat. "Make any attempt to mess with my head and a bullet goes through yours."

Despite the threat, the only person to react with any sort of panic was Hyoudou. The others had simple surprise on their faces, something his vindictive side took a semblance of solace in.

The surprise quickly morphed into more varied emotions. Hyoudou looked nervous, Toujou disinterested. Kiba seemed distinctly uncomfortable with how events had played out, and Himejima settled for outright hostility; a cold smile on her delicate features that didn't even attempt to reach her half-lidded eyes.

Gremory just seemed amused, and the emotion coloured her tone as she spoke.

"There is really no need to be so antagonistic. I swear it will not bring you any sort of harm if you simply comply with our instructions. Please, lower your gun. It wouldn't be enough to harm me anyway."

He believed her. The specialised weapons of the now dead man had told him as much. He supposed he even believed her claim that it wouldn't hurt. Certainly, it couldn't hurt as much as his last experience with mind alteration.

It had never been about the pain, though. The way his mind had been invaded, violated, as he clung to the shreds of his memory, only for each to be easily ripped from his grasp, remained a fresh experience. He had begged – him, begging – the Emperor to stop, not wanting to lose his sister, his mother again.

Charles zi Britannia had never been a merciful man.

He didn't lower the gun.

"Really now, I assure you that you will be much safer having no knowledge of our world. This is going to happen one way or another, so do stop being so difficult."

Gremory's tone had become exasperated, and Himejima had started forward again, striding towards him confidently. Time was running out, and a cursory look at Kiba showed that despite some discomfort, the blonde was willing to let this happen.

Words seemed unlikely to help in this situation; he had nothing to say to convince them of a different course of action. What could he-

Two more steps from Himejima, and his mind provided a solution. All he had to do was something he'd become very used to doing, since coming to this world.

Shifting his firearm to aim at a different target, he gambled.

Himejima stopped in her tracks, frozen in shock. The emotion was shared by all her club members, and even Toujou's stoic demeanour had shattered to make way for disbelief. Silence reigned as five pairs of widened eyes focused on the sleek, black, barrel of his handgun, and where it was directed.

Against his own temple.

"You will not," he stated, tone calm and deliberate, "make any attempt to access my mind, much less alter it to your own design. Do so, and I will end my own life. I want your most binding guarantee, whether it be by supernatural ability or by simply swearing upon that which you hold most dear, that you and all of your associates will comply with this demand."

His own heartbeat seemed deafening in the silence that followed his words. He wasn't sure if this would work. He'd seen the disregard with which the priest's corpse had been treated, and for all he knew, it extended to all humans. He was relying on the hope that the masks these people wore at school were not entirely fabricated, and he had evidence for both sides of that argument.

"You're bluffing," said Himejima, the first one to break the stunned stupor that had taken the room.

He tapped the barrel against his head. The faint sound produced a visible flinch from all five members of the Occult Research Club. He fought the urge to smile at the sight.

"I am not," he declared, "bluffing."

The last word he emphasized, drawing out each syllable as he looked Gremory in the eye, daring her to object.

Violet eyes met blue, and blue faltered.

"…You have my word as Rias Gremory, heir to the Gremory clan of the 72 Pillars, that no attempt will be made to access or alter your mind by myself or my associates here. This I swear upon my peerage and family, both of which I hold above all else."

He relaxed, slowly uncurling his finger from the trigger and lowering the gun as he did so. He only flicked on the safety when he confirmed that no attempt to renege on the promise was being made.

"My place of residence is quite near here," he informed them. "We can talk there, if you have no objections."

His nonchalant words drained the tension from the room. Gremory gave a hesitant nod, and he walked his way to the entrance, picking up his discarded bag as he went. The others, seeing their leader's affirmation, made to follow, albeit at a nervous distance. Hyoudou took the rear, still carrying the unconscious blonde girl.

A question from Kiba made him pause and glance back from his position before the doorway. He'd almost missed it entirely, so quiet was the boy's tone.

"Would you really have done it?"

"Yes," he lied.

Though he wasn't entirely sure it was one.