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"Kallen." - Speech

'Lelouch.' – Thoughts/mental communication

"{Die.}" - Geass Command

"Halt!" - Loudspeaker

"Roger." - Radio/Walkie-talkie

Chapter 39: Enter the Cold Blooded Strategist

Three Days Later

Meeting Room, Black Knights' Temporary Base

"So then, what do you all think of my, to borrow Rakshata's terminology, child?" Zero asked from the head of the table. He had just finished presenting his Engagement Suit, complete with a recording of the combat demonstration done for the Heads of Kyoto House, to his top brass.

While getting the approval of the Kyoto Heads was good, he also wanted to get the opinion of those with 'feet on the ground' to use a bit of military jargon. After all, the Black Knights would likely be the ones making the most use of his invention in the coming years.

"Well, I mean it sure looks awesome as hell, but what use is it?" Tamaki was, as always, the first to voice his opinion. The redhead absently scratched his head as he continued. "You said that a single solid hit from a Knightmare Assault Rife would be enough to turn these 'Ashigaru' suits into scrap, right?"

"You are thinking too linearly, Tamaki. Not all battlefields will be won in direct confrontations." Tōdō stated firmly, hands clasped in front of his face and eyes narrowed in thought. "Just from what we've seen so far, I would wager that these 'Engagement Suits' are not designed to act as anti-Knightmare combatants, correct Zero?"

"Indeed General, indeed." the Masked Man agreed, leaning back into his chair slightly. "The Ashigaru in particular was designed to make use of 'hit and fade' tactics; to quickly approach a target, strike, and then depart before a Knightmare company can be mobilized to properly counterattack. They can certainly damage Knightmares, but are best suited for ambushing lone or isolated targets in that regards. A small squadron of four or five of these could easily wreak an unholy havoc on any target that doesn't have at least a full Knightmare Squad on guard, particularly if they have surprise on their side."

"Hmm." Tōdō nodded slightly in agreement. "Much as I thought then, and I can certainly see the utility of such machines."

"Indeed." Urabe agreed, letting out a slight sigh. "If we'd had these things during the invasion, we'd have certainly put up a better defence. Granted, we'd likely have still lost ground, guerilla tactics can only do so much against the types of forces the Britannians were pushing forward, but we'd have done far better than a damned month before we were forced to the point of surrender!"

"Huh, what the fuck do gorillas have to do with the invasion?" the male redhead asked blankly, only to be cuffed upside the head by his female counterpart.

"Guerilla, not gorilla, fighting, you dolt!" Kallen snapped in annoyance. "Ambushes, sneak attacks, sabotage, hitting supply chains and raids. Basically, the kind of fighting we've been doing our whole lives before Zero arrived. Though, if we start using these things like that, won't the Brits just shift their defences to cover their rear areas more thoroughly?"

"He who tries to be strong everywhere, is strong nowhere." Zero quoted casually. "Yes, Cornelia will likely reposition her forces once she recognizes the threat, but in doing so she will reduce the number of forces she has available on other fronts. She is far too experienced to severely weaken herself by spreading her forces too thin. She will likely instead reinforce any target we hit, as well as trying to build a profile of our 'targets' and reinforce any other locations that meet the same parameters. The rest will likely only have minimal increases to their security forces."

"I must say, I honestly wasn't expecting you to create such an innovative child of your own, Zero." Rakshata offered with a languid smile. "You're truly a man of many talents. I can see where you made use of my work on the miniaturization of the Yggdrasil Drive and Power Fillers. I honestly never expected that research to be used for such a…unique creation, how marvellous."

"Thank you, Rakshata." the Regicide inclined his head slightly to the researcher before reaching into a pocket and pulling out a small thumb-drive. He absently sent it skating across the tabletop to her waiting hands. "The Ashigaru's complete technical specifications and blueprints, as well as those for the main weapons I've designed for them. I'd deeply appreciate your opinion; I don't doubt you'll be able to offer up some improvements to them."

"Likely." the Indian Polymath agreed as she pocketed the thumb-drive. "Though you should take pride in your child as it is, Zero. The Ashigaru, and the idea of the Engagement Suit itself, isn't something that I or any other researcher has ever thought to conceive. It is an innovative idea and will certainly fill a gap that even Britannia itself hasn't even considered, Knightmare Skirmishers."

"Skir-whats?" Tamaki asked, clueless once more.

"Skirmishers. It was a classification of troops back in the age of single-shot muskets and rifles, a loose-knit group of soldiers whose job was to move in advance of the army's main massed units and check for traps and ambushers, as well as probe at the enemy line for weaknesses." Zero explained offhandedly, since it was not just Tamaki confused by Rakshata's reference this time. "Nowadays, computers, drones, rangefinders and aerial reconnaissance have largely made that kind of soldier obsolete, but the role itself is applicable on a far wider range than a single battlefield. After all, one of the 36 Stratagems is to 'Attack where the enemy is not,' and I dare say that the Ashigaru, once adjusted and simplified for mass production, will prove to be quite capable of doing just that."

"What about simulators and training, Zero?" Mamoru brought up a new point. "I don't doubt that these 'Engagement Suits' will be a far different beast from handling a standard Knightmare."

"Not nearly as much as you'd first believe. The base controls and functions are similar enough that an existing simulator for a Guren-pattern Knightmare Simulator could accommodate it with some slight modifications." Zero responded with a nod toward the man in charge in training the main forces of the Black Knights. "The largest difference is the visor that pilots need to wear to make use of the external cameras. That in turn frees up room on the console that would be taken up by the various view-screens."

"A novel approach. I noticed that there doesn't seem to be a Factsphere Sensor System." Rakshata noted curiously.

"No. Given that even slight damage to the Factsphere can momentarily freeze a Knightmare's systems, combined with the Engagement Suit's relative fragility, I deemed the system was simply not worth the risk." Zero answered clinically. "Instead, the Ashigaru has a powerful set of main cameras and sensors built into its head with several backups dotted across the main body, including one at the centre of the top of its jingasa to allow it to view directly above it."

"Sensible reasoning." the dark-skinned blonde nodded absently. "Though it will likely cost your child a bit when it comes to its sensory abilities, the Factsphere System is near synonymous with Knightmares for a reason after all. The only Knightmares that don't make use of it are Drones like the York and Liverpool units. Still, this is a most intriguing line of development; I'll have a full report on suggested alterations and upgrades for the Ashigaru ready as quickly as possible."

"That would be most appreciated." the Revolutionary agreed with a nod of respect. "To move on, reports from sources within the Chinese Federation, courtesy of the Six Houses of Kyoto, indicate that an invasion is imminent. The forces will be 'led' by a man called Sawazaki. General, I believe you're familiar with the man in question?"

"Atsushi Sawazaki, the former Chief Cabinet Secretary of the Kururugi regime and the leader of Japan's so-called Government-in-Exile." Tōdō answered slowly, breathing in slightly as he picked through his memory. "I remember him, he was…fairly decent at his job, but he always seemed too willing to accept long-term backlash in exchange for a short-term gain. The fool likely intends to trade off the Britannian's yoke for the Chinese in exchange for some minor return of power or freedom."

"After those bastards have been shipping Refrain in to poison our people for over a decade!? Like hell!" Kallen growled out in fury, a thought that was quickly echoed across the room.

"Unfortunately, that is not the only disquieting information that Kyoto has managed to uncover." Zero stated grimly. "While we have yet to confirm it completely, several of our leads have started to point to the Chinese Federation being the ones with initially supplying the so-called 'Neo Shinsengumi' with arms and materials, in addition to the now-deceased traitors of the Six Houses."

"How sure are we about these leads, Zero?" Urabe asked with a frown, ignoring the angry muttering from Ohgi and Kallen about crazed samurai wannabes. "For all that Major Kadzuki was and is an utter bastard, he has always been a nationalistic bastard. He would never condone simply trading one overlord for another."

"No, but I would imagine that he's practical enough to make use of them until such a time it becomes beneficial to discard them." the leader of the Black Knights. "From what I've gathered on the man from yourself and the other JLF members, Kadzuki is both ruthless and cunning. He purposely underplayed his skill at warfare for seven years in order to build and secure his power-base; simply using the Federation's resources before cutting them off seems to be completely in step with we've seen of his modus operandi."

"Zero make a good point." Senba agreed with a nod. "Kadzuki's already proven himself to be a snake. Underestimating him again would be foolish."

"Wait, so the Neo Shinsengumi assholes're pretty much allied with Chinese for now, right?" Tamaki asked slowly. "So…they're likely going to help them attack the Brits when the invasion starts?"

"That's likely part of their agreement, yes. They're also probably supposed to target and weaken key points of Britannia's occupation before the invasion officially begins to aid the invading forces in securing a foothold." Zero agreed with a nod.

"Then why the fuck are they attacking us!?" the redhead asked with a scowl. "I mean…the bastards already tried to get rid of you and Kallen? Isn't that like picking a fight with two guys at once?"

"To put it bluntly, they are trying to eliminate the competition." Diethard Reid offered. Several people looked at the Britannian reporter in confusion, so he continued. "Sawazaki and his colleagues likely believe they can influence the Six Houses into going along with their plans once the invasion begins, and it's likely the Neo Shinsengumi were originally intended to gut the JLF from within before it began. The Black Knights, on the other hand, are a variable they likely never expected to have to deal with. Rather than risking us being a thorn in their sides later, they likely intend to either destroy us or weaken us to the point we will be forced to acquiesce and submit to their control. That would also explain their attempt to assassinate Zero at Port Yokosuka; without him, they likely hoped the Black Knights would fracture and easily be either absorbed or crushed underfoot."

"Traitorous bastards!" Chiba snarled out, slamming her fists into the table. "How dare they sell out our country like this!?"

"For the moment, we do not have enough intelligence to take action." Zero pointed out smoothly, refocusing the attention of the table onto him once again. "Nevertheless, I believe it would be best for us to tighten our security and up our readiness status for the time being. Guards are to be doubled at all entrances and exits, with regular changes to the lookout to ensure they are kept sharp. The Neo Shinsengumi currently represent a kind of threat that the Japanese Resistance hasn't had to deal with before now…a threat from within. The people of the Kantō region's ghettos likely already have a good idea of where our main base is located, if not the exact location. All it will take is one sympathizer with the Neo Shinsengumi and they will likely be able to strike with far greater fury than Cornelia."

"I wish I could disagree, Zero, but you're right. All it takes is one wrong person buying into their shite and those lunatics could be pointed right toward us." Ohgi offered with a shake of his head. "So, what's the plan?"

"We leave the appearance that this is still our main base, while in actuality we relocate most of our operations to an alternate location. All of our soldiers will be ordered to not speak of the relocation to anyone outside the Black Knights." the Regicide explained simply. "That way, if this base is still attacked, then we can at least be sure none of our troops have loose tongues."

"Hmm, we might try leaking small bits of false information about the move to different groups within our troops." Diethard offered thoughtfully. "That way if there are loose lips, we can narrow down our suspects considerably based on what information is acted upon."

Zero nodded, agreeing with the idea, before pressing on. "Now, to move on to more pleasant news, the production lines for the Jinrai are approaching the final stages of completion." the Masked Man continued briskly. "That means that the more elite units among the Black Knights, such as the Obsidian Knights and any special squads that are deemed worthy of them, will be able to have those as a standard. Meanwhile, a personal ally of mine has finished setting up a hidden factory for the production of Sutherlands and Gloucesters that we can use to equip the main body of our army. At least until Rakshata has prepared the Gekka and its eventual successor for mass-production."

"That is excellent news." Urabe agreed, a wide grin on his face. "The specs on the Jinrai are actually a bit better overall than those of a Gloucester. It will certainly be nice to have the advantage against the Britannian Army for once."

"In terms of machine specs, yes you'd be right, but don't forget that the Britannian Army has a great deal more experience when it comes to Knightmare pilots, particularly when it comes to large-scale battles." Zero cautioned the room at large. "Particularly Cornelia's personal troops, Victoria's Pride. They've fought across battlefield after battlefield for the last five years, and they're one of, if not the most, combat experienced and battle-hardened units in the Imperial Army. Only the personal troops of Lord Wallace, the former Knight of Four, are more experienced than Cornelia's personal unit."

"That the guy that that smug bitch Ernst replaced right?" Tamaki asked with a scoff. "Hope she didn't get the old guy's troops as well when he retired."

"Luckily that's not the case. All of Lord Wallace's personal unit were direct liegemen of the Wallace Family, so they were removed from service with him and returned to guarding his lands in Area 7." Diethard stated. "Considering that Wallace himself celebrated his 73rd birthday just a few months ago, he honestly should have retired decades ago, but the man was a diehard warhorse. They ended up having to threaten to medically discharge him for multiple heath concerns just to force him to finally retire. Ironically, the lack of action seemed to make him pass away not long after retiring."

"Bet the Emperor wasn't too happy about losing one of his best Mobile Battalions like that." Chiba offered with a smirk.

"Recently, the Emperor has mostly withdrawn from direct rule, leaving the Prime Minister and the Knight of One to rule in his stead actually." Zero pointed out. "Most of his decrees over the last decade have been orders to invade certain territories and countries. Otherwise, it has been Schneizel el Britannia and Bismark Waldstein who have made executive decisions regarding the Empire."

"That's freaking weird, thought the royal asshole would be more involved than that." Tamaki snorted. "I'll never understand how the Brit nobs think."

The meeting continued for a while yet, but eventually broke up to allow the members to return to their usual workload. Zero noted with approval that Kallen's recent bouts against the Four Holy Swords in the simulator had already begun to bear fruit; not once had that ass of a man Asahina spoken up during the meeting.

Kallen, even if reduced to 'just' a Gekka, equipped similarly to the standard loadout of the Four Holy Swords' own machines, had fought ferociously against the Shiseiken in every match, forcing a draw in her very first one, and was now regularly managing to claw out victories against the four elites.

While the Four Holy Swords were excellent soldiers, Kallen held several advantages over them when it came to Knightmare piloting. First, she lacked their prior military training from an era before Knightmare Frames, meaning she lacked many of their preconceptions and hang-ups left over from adapting to the 'new' machinery. Second, she was simply far more naturally talented in piloting a Knightmare Frame, the kind that would have the Imperial Colchester Institute slavering at to have enrolled in their Officer Training Program. Third, Kallen possessed an instinctive sort of spatial awareness; she always knew where she was in relation to everything else around her.

All of those put together meant that the only real advantages that the Four Holy Swords really held over her were numbers, teamwork and experience, all of which were suffering from dwindling returns as Kallen become more and more familiar with how the Shiseiken fought. Pretty soon, he imagined that Kallen would start winning soundly, rather than by the skin of her teeth.

The Next Day

Student Council Room, Ashford Academy

Rivalz Cardemonde was something of a goof. That was something he had accepted, and even embraced, a long time ago. Serious conversations made him itch, and he honestly just couldn't take most things seriously like a 'normal' person. He was always the first to try and lighten the mood with a joke, and he honestly enjoyed making the people around him happy. Particularly his friends and especially his not-so-secret crush Milly.

When Milly's mother had started trying to set up an arranged marriage for her with a bunch of men old enough to be her father, he had been honestly outraged and angry on her behalf, even if he wasn't completely surprised by it. Those kinds of marriages were still surprisingly common among the Nobility of Britannia, as he knew thanks to his relation to the Baron Cardemonde.

He was also not blind. It became blatantly obvious, after seeing the two interact for a while, that Milly was in love with his best buddy Lelouch, just like Shirley Fenette was.

He hadn't been able to understand why neither girl had made a move at first. A bit of time around Shirley had explained her reasons clear enough, the girl was shy and indecisive, caught fluttering between what she wanted and being scared to death about how her crush would react.

Apparently, Lulu's 'Ice Prince' act was a bit too effective in her case. Poor girl.

As for Milly, that was a lot more complicated. Rivalz knew they had history but hadn't been able to figure out how far it went…before there wasn't any need to anymore.

"Hey, Lelouch…" the bluenette offered once they were alone in the Student Council room, sorting through the leftover paperwork from this semester's budgeting. Shirley was off at Swimming Club, Nina was god-only-knows-where (she had been…distant since the Lake Kawaguchi disaster), same with Kallen (he was still trying to get a read on the new girl) and Suzaku (nice enough guy if a bit too serious for his own good) was helping Milly taking care of the heavy lifting with the filing. Celesta Crossroad (another pretty new girl who seemed to dig his buddy, lucky bastard) had just left a few minutes ago, throwing him a nod from just behind Lelouch's back as she walked out. Apparently, she'd somehow noticed that they needed a private talk and was giving them some space.

Nice girl, he'd have to do something to say thanks.

"Hm?" his friend offered, looking up from the paperwork he'd been sorting through. From the elaborate stationary, he assumed it was another one of the Equestrian Club's inane budgeting requests. Bunch of pompous snobs, them and their horses.

"You and Milly are an item now, aren't you?" Rivalz asked bluntly, deciding to rip the band-aid off quickly and (relatively) painlessly.

Lelouch seemed to jerk at the question, his head suddenly coming up and around to stare at Rivalz for a moment before the raven-haired teen seemed to relax as he began to chuckle ruefully. "You know, you are a lot more observant than people give you credit for, Rivalz. Yes, Milly and I got together a few days before her parents were assassinated. What gave us away?"

"The Prez has been super happy recently, like almost glowing." the Secretary stated matter-of-factly. "At first, I thought it was because her bitch-mum was gone and she didn't have to worry about being sold off anymore, but I noticed that it seemed a lot more obvious when you're in the same room with her, and she occasionally shoots you these looks. And you look at her a lot more softly than you usually do when you don't think anyone's watching."

"Huh, I thought we were a bit more subtle than that…" Lelouch admitted awkwardly.

"Most people probably wouldn't have noticed, but I know the two of you a lot better than most." Rivalz responded with a shrug, before he sighed. "Well, I always knew that any chance I had with her was a long shot, but I guess that dream's well and truly dead. Aw man…"

"I…I am sorry, Rivalz." the other boy offered apologetically. "We should have told you directly afterwards, but…after the entire 'assassination' incident things sort of spiralled out of control and it all got away from us."

"Thanks bud, I understand." Rivalz smiled sadly at his old friend. That was just like the two of them, now that he came to think about it. Both of them hated seeing their friends unhappy, even if Lelouch did what he could to always feign indifference and distance.

"So…has the Dean given his blessings yet?" he asked cautiously.

"The man knew almost immediately after the fact and has been insufferably smug since." Lelouch answered while rolling his eyes. "Just about the closest he's came to actually expressing his feelings is saying, 'well it's about damn time!' to us a day or two after Melisande and Roderick died. Honestly, the man's an utter brat."

Rivalz choked a bit at hearing his best friend talk about the Dean like that. Then again, Lelouch had never been very respectful to…just about anyone unless he actually did respect them. Even then, he tended to be fairly blunt whenever he offered his opinion of them.

"Jeez, you really do never change, do ya pal." he muttered under his breath as he worked to recover his composure. "Just two things, okay? One, make her happy or I'll do everything in my power, and likely fail miserably, to make your school life a living hell."

"I intend to make her happy, Rivalz, you can rest assured of that." Lelouch nodded seriously. It was honestly the closest to a shovel speech that…well anyone acquainted with his lovers had tried to give him, so he accepted it as his due. "And secondly?"

"One punch to the face?" Rivalz asked seriously. "Just so that I can get it all out of my system."

Lelouch merely nodded serenely. "Go ahead." he agreed, standing up and moving away from the table.

"Thanks buddy." Rivalz offered, truly grateful for the understanding as he stood up, moved toward his friend and socked him squarely across the jaw with a fairly solid right hook.

The wiry former prince had, unnoticed by his friend, turned his head with the punch, diffusing most of the force from it. What was left was still a pretty decent punch, and Lelouch was silently grateful he hadn't pushed his friend to the point of a fistfight.

"That was a surprisingly good punch." he offered aloud as he gently massaged the side of his jaw. "I knew there was a reason we became friends."

"Heh, my uncle taught me to box when I was a kid." Rivalz admitted as he absently massaged his hand. For such a frail-looking guy, Lelouch had a remarkably sturdy jaw. "Haven't actually practised in ages, but some lessons you just don't forget, ya know?"

"All too true." Lelouch agreed absently, his mind going to one of the few positive memories he had of his…the Emperor. It had been shortly after he'd turned eight, and he had personally escorted Lelouch to the Imperial Firing Range to give him a thorough lesson on how to hold, carry, shoot and clean a pistol.

"I first learned how to do this when I was eleven, in the early days of the Emblem of Blood. Never use a gun that you have not cleaned and prepared yourself, my son; preparing a weapon with your own hands ensures that no one has sabotaged it, as well as meaning you are intimately familiar with how it works."

No matter how much he'd come to hate the man, he'd never discarded the memory of that lesson, simply because it had always been far too valuable to forget.

"Well, I think that's enough work for today." Lelouch said with a sigh, banishing thoughts of his sperm donor from his mind. "How about we go out on the town for the night? It's been a while since the two of us have headed out to the Settlement."

"Sure! Sounds like a plan!" Rivalz agreed happily, accepting the olive branch for what it was. "Want me to drive you in my bike like old times?"

"Sure. Just let me call Sayoko to let her know I'll be out late so she can tell Nunnally." the black-haired boy said, pulling out his mobile phone and hitting a speed dial. "Hello, Sayoko...?"

Rivalz headed back to his seat to start putting everything away for the night while Lelouch talked on his phone with Sayoko. The rest wasn't urgent and could be finished tomorrow...even if it would make Milly a bit pissed at them. Still, re-bonding with his best friend was a bit more important than telling the Realist Art Club that no, they couldn't have a nude picture session with the Student Council girls for the umpteenth time.

Bunch of damned creepers.

Two Days Later

The Office of Schneizel el Britannia, Central Headquarters, Britannian-occupied Euro Universe Territory

Signing a final document with his accustomed elegant handwriting, the Second Prince of the Holy Britannian Empire placed the document to one side and replaced his quill-shaped pen (a birthday gift from little Euphie that he found reasonably amusing) in its rest at the side.

"Kanon, is this the last of the paperwork we needed to have done before we depart?" he asked his aide.

Earl Kanon Maldini, looked up from his own pile of papers and nodded. "Yes, Prince Schneizel. That should cover everything that needed to be dealt with for our scheduled trip tomorrow."

"Excellent. In which case, I shall retire to my rooms for the night." Schneizel said with a gentle smile. "Try not to stay up too late, Kanon; jet lag is annoying enough to deal with, without compounding it by overworking yourself."

"As you say, Your Highness." the brunette ducked his head in embarrassment. "I'm almost finished myself; I should be done within the next half hour."

"Very good. Have a pleasant night's sleep, Kanon." the blonde man said before getting up and walking out of the door, allowing a member of his Royal Guard to escort him to his private chambers. Once inside, he removed his clothes and had a quick shower before donning his pyjamas.

Once you were no longer considered a child, usually by the age of ten-to-twelve, tradition among the Imperial Family dictated that you must be capable of at least caring for your own basic needs, without the need for servants to do something as simple as dressing you. It was a fairly new family tradition, dating back to the 95th Emperor, who had been exceedingly progressive for his time and had wanted to do away with the 'stupidly large amounts of servants needed to wipe everyone's arses around the palace', or so a historical record had said.

Schneizel often wished he could have met Archibald ce Britannia. The man certainly sounded like a refreshing change of pace if nothing else.

As he took a seat in his favourite armchair (one of the few extravagances he allowed himself was that he always had his favourite, well-worn armchair transported with him for his personal quarters) for a bit of light reading before bed, he paused for a brief moment to muse about the state of the world. Charles zi Britannia had been withdrawing from worldly affairs more and more as the years went on, leaving more power in Schneizel's own hands, which constantly puzzled the Second Prince. He knew that his father was aware of the subtle manoeuvring Schneizel was performing among the nobility and parliament members, all in anticipation of having himself crowned Emperor when his father eventually died, so why was he purposefully giving him MORE power without announcing him as Crown Prince?

While his older brother Odysseus was still technically the Crown Prince by virtue of age alone, such a station was in no way secure. An Emperor could, and had in the past, appointed a different Prince or Princess as the Heir Primus and Crown Heir by virtue of suitability. Given his father's character, it wouldn't be beyond his usual modus operandi to turn up the pressure on Schneizel by doing exactly that. The fact that he hadn't, when combined with his growing aloofness, made Schneizel come up with only one conclusion.

His father no longer cared about the future of the Empire.

A large part of Schneizel el Britannia was grossly offended at the very idea. He had dedicated his life to fulfilling the expectations placed on him as a Prince of the Empire. He had studied, trained and worked diligently as a Prince, as a politician and as a general, all in order to better fulfil his role. He was even now preparing to claim the throne as it was his duty as the best and most talented of the next generation of the Imperial Family.

And his father, the Emperor, a man who had fought and bled for the same crown, could no longer bring himself to be concerned with 'such mundane affairs.'

What the bloody hell did that even mean?

Sighing, the Second Prince, turned the page and shifted his thoughts elsewhere, to the most interesting events that had occurred in recent years.

Zero. The Masked Man who had murdered a Prince of the Empire, Clovis, and had the tactical and strategic skill to humble Cornelia not just once, but three times. Who had at least two subordinates with the skill to face members of the Knights of Round on one-on-one duels and emerge victorious. Who had access to several 7th Generation Knightmare Frames, where the Empire only had a spare handful scattered across the globe.

Schneizel was aware that his lack of emotional reaction to the death of any of his siblings meant that there was something wrong with him mentally, and he had even deduced exactly what it was, but his mind was always focused on who had managed to kill one of his siblings, as it meant a possible opponent who might make life interesting.

Over the last decade, if one did not include Lelouch and Nunnally in what was now Area 11, five of his siblings had been killed across the globe. Most had been due to their own stupidity, such as Annabeth eg Britannia, who had been murdered by one of her jealous swains in bed, or Montgomery fa Britannia, who had been stupid enough to charge at armed rebels on horseback while armed only with a bullwhip.

Two had died in spite of them being in secured locations. Helen ta Britannia had died in mysterious circumstances in Area 14. She had been in a locked room, armed with a pistol, and she'd died from a knife through her throat. Even now, nothing was known about who had killed her.

And then there was Clovis la Britannia. He had died from a single pistol shot from close range, on the bridge of a highly-secure Command G-1. More than that, every single officer who was supposed to have been on the bridge with him had mysteriously awoken in the onboard brig with no memory of what had occurred. None had been able to recall any details of what had transpired, even under the most severe and thorough interrogation techniques.

'Zero...I sincerely hope that you don't disappoint me.' Schneizel thought as he laid a bookmark in the pages and closed it up, placing it on his bedside table before flicking the reading light off and shifting locations to his bed. 'I have been winning far too easily here in the EU; I sincerely hope that you will provide more of a challenge than they have.'

As darkness filled the room, no one could see the slight, cruel smile that crossed Schneizel el Britannia's face before he slipped into sleep.


Next Chapter: The Demon's Hand