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Disclaimer: Code Geass isn't mine.

Beta'd by BigCC

"Kallen." - Speech

'Lelouch.' – Thoughts/mental communication

"{Die.}" - Geass Command

"Halt!" - Loudspeaker

"Roger." - Radio/Walkie-talkie

Chapter 41: A Clash of Demons

The Next Day

Laboratory, Secret Six Houses of Kyoto Base, Unknown Location

"So these are all of the defectors from our Science Division?" Kirihara asked as he rifled through the set of files that had been presented to him. There was not a great deal of them but still far too many for his liking. "Tsk, tsk. So many idiots that were too eager to mistake fanaticism for patriotism. I honestly expected such 'smart' men to have more common sense."

"You have my deepest apologies, Lord Kirihara." the man in front of him, the much-beleaguered head of the Six Houses of Kyoto's Science Division and Facility Head of their largest and most secure research facility, offered with a bow. "Due to my poor management of our personnel, I have caused quite a problem for both Kyoto and Lord Zero."

"Bah, raise your head man. Kadzuki chose his time and his targets well." the old industrialist waved one hand dismissively. "He might be a traitorous snake, but no one can deny that Kadzuki pulled off his betrayal almost perfectly. His little coup was obviously the result of years of planning and efforts, and he showed far more talent for timing, deception, and coercion than any of us had ever expected of him. I take it that his chosen recruits were all those who had egos far surpassing their technical ability or ambitions far surpassing their reach; just like the rest of the officers he drew into his little cabal. Am I correct, Akechi?"

"You are correct, sir." Nobuhide Akechi, a man who had put up with more than his fair share of jeering from his peers due to the namesakes of both his first and last names, replied with a brisk nod. "Rest assured, we have already taken steps to verify the rest of the division's loyalty to the Six Houses, and we have already ensured that all the credentials and accounts from the traitors have been purged from our systems. Our electronic security experts are already at work going over our computer systems and servers with a fine-toothed comb to ensure no bugs or backdoors have been left in their wake as well."

"Hm. Well done." Kirihara nodded. "What about the physical security of the base?"

"Our Chief of Security, Mamoru Suzuki, has already conducted a full survey of the base and its various access and egress points, and he believe that, even with the possibility that the location has been compromised, it will still suffice with a few modifications to increase security. His main desire is for a series of automated turrets to be emplaced near all entrances and exits; particularly the main entrance linking the facility to the underground sections since it is the most likely to have been leaked by the traitors to the Neo Shinsengumi."

"Fah, the original Shinsengumi are likely all spitting nails in the afterlife at the idea of their name being misused like this." the old man practically spat in distaste. Certainly, the true history of the Wolves of Mibu wasn't nearly as romantic or heroic as the stories most of the youths had grown up hearing liked to paint it as, but there was enough truth in them to be sure that every member would have been outraged at Kadzuki's cavalier assumption of their name for his own purposes.

Shaking his head to clear away that distracting line of thought, Kirihara nodded his head towards the researcher. "Was there anything else your Security Chief was requesting?"

"The entrance doors will need to be replaced with layered titanium-steel ones rather than the regular steel ones we're currently using." Akechi began listing off the requests from memory. "Mamoru-san doesn't believe that an increase in the guard contingent can be handled without further compromising the base's secrecy, but does request that the existing one's arsenal be upgraded to include full combat rifles and anti-Knightmare bazookas due to the increased risk of a full-scale assault including Knightmare Frames. There was also a suggestion that some form of hydroponics section be set up within the undeveloped sections of the base to increase our overall autonomy. The less people that are seen coming and going from here, the better."

"Hmm." the elder industrialist mulled over the listed requests for a moment before nodding. "Agreed, have Mamoru-san draw up a list of materials he needs to get everything set up and I'll have them transported to the site via the underground. This facility is vital for the eventual liberation of Japan, now more than ever. I trust that you have already had a team assigned and hard at work with the Knightmare that Zero was able to acquire for us?"

"Of course, sir." the division chief nodded sharply. "They are some of my best and brightest and are all profoundly honoured to have been selected to reverse-engineer the Somerset. From my own understanding of their process, they are fist dissecting and examining the technical manuals and experimental data that Lord Zero provided with the Frame itself. So far, all of their preliminary examinations seem to align with his theory that the initial designer, Wilbur Millville, had intended for the Somerset's design to be optimized for its Jet Mode with only minimal considerations made for its Knightmare Mode."

"So the man truly did let his familial pride in their previous industry lead him by his nose and refused to accept that Knightmares have become the new face of warfare." Kirihara stated with a shake of his head. "And the flight technology itself?"

"Ah, yes. It is a very intriguing piece of innovation." Akechi agreed with another sharp nod. "Lord Zero was once again correct that it was indeed rejected for mass production due to its rather inefficient fuel consumption; and once again this is mostly down to Millville's obsession with highlighting the machine's Jet Mode over its Knightmare Mode. The Somerset can certainly fly, and quite well in Jet Mode, but the transformation and operations in Knightmare Mode are incredibly inefficient. My team is planning on first correcting all of the most glaring deficiencies in the Somerset's Knightmare Mode and striking a better balance between the two modes before looking into on improving and adjusting the flight system and then working on updating and fine-tuning the machine itself overall. Fortunately, with the extensive documentation Lord Zero provided us with, they are optimistic that they can complete the first two sections within a two-to-three month period. But that raises a serious question, Lord Kirihara…"

Akechi looked his leader in the eyes. "If we were able to discover these issues so easily, with both our limited resources and experience with Knightmares, then there is no question that any Britannian Research Institute would have been able to do the same in far less time. So why did they choose to completely abandon the Somerset Flight System?"

Kirihara nodded grimly, it was a fair question. "From what Zero told me of the incident, there are two key reasons for this. The first was simply that the design received a black mark to its reputation due to its association with Millville's little terrorist group. The second, and far more serious reason, is that the Britannians already have an alternative Flight System that is far more complete and has already won approval among Britannia's upper echelons." he stated coolly. "This is why the development of our own Flight System is imperative, Akechi. If we do not have one ready before the Britannians start ensuring that their battleships and Knightmares all come equipped with their own version as standard issue, then Japan will truly have no hopes of rising again."

"Sir, I will personally ensure that the team I have assigned understands just how imperative this task is." the base chief stated firmly. "Would it be possible for us to share data with Doctor Chawla? She is one of the top minds available in the field of Knightmare Development."

"I will need to speak with Zero on that, but I very much doubt that he will refuse such a request." Kirihara agreed with a nod. "Zero is just as aware as I am of the importance of this project. You can expect a positive answer within the next few days. We can establish a means of communication without risking the base's security then."

"Thank you, sir!" Akechi offered another bow. "We will give our all for the sake of Japan."

"I have full confidence in you and your people." the old industrialist replied solemnly. "Now I must be off. Paperwork is sadly a requirement of any person in a position of authority, and I refuse to let the pile on my desk grow any larger."

"Agreed. I do wish that some of my researchers would stop trying to slip in their ridiculous requisition requests." the facility head offered with a sigh. "I mean, just where would we be able to get a Gloucester of all things? Really…"

"Put that request on the back burner for now, Akechi." Kirihara chuckled a bit. "Zero has already proven to be a man with a surprising amount of resources, after all."

The Next Day

Streets of Iwaki Ghetto, Former Fukushima Prefecture, Tōhoku Region, Area 11

Rolo had done many difficult and uncomfortable things in his time as an agent of the Geass Order, but his current assignment was swiftly becoming the most unpleasant experience of his life. The old aphorism was proving itself true for him in this case; hell truly was other people.

Or, in this case, other Demons.

Glasya-Labolas was an utter brat, foul-mouthed, and a constant pain the ass. Gusion literally had almost no personally to speak of and was so lazy that he was often tempted to check and see if the man still had a pulse. Eligos was an annoyance, nothing more, nothing less. Worst of all was Vassago. Vassago who constantly looked down on him. Vassago who treated him like some sort of defective fool. Vassago who critiqued and judged his every action and constantly found him wanting.

He didn't see why she seemed to have such a serious issue with him being trained solely for assassination missions. It was better to specialize in something and be the best at it, then to be a jack-of-all-trades and only possess mediocre skills in everything, right?

'The issue with that argument, Naberius, is that you do not have even basic skills outside of those areas that you have 'mastered.' You are quite literally a hammer in a world filled with far more than nails.'

That had been the female Demon's response the one time he had tried to voice that bit of common sense to the leader of their Hand.

'And then,' the fawn-haired assassin grumbled inside his own head as he followed the rest of the Hand through the streets of the ghetto, 'she gave me that damned look! Almost like she…pitied me! Like my trainers had somehow intrinsically wronged me by focusing my training! What the hell is going on!?'

Rolo had never experienced anything in his life that had prepared him for being pitied by someone else. He had been hated, despised, and reviled and knew what to do when faced with those emotions. He had been a source of fear, outrage, and even greed, and knew how to make use of those emotions to his advantage. But he had never been pitied before and it was…very uncomfortable.

"We're here." Vassago announced tersely, pulling Rolo away from his thoughts and making him look up. The building they were standing in front of was obviously the crumbling remnants of some form of factory, a fairly large car factory if he recognized the 'Suzuki' symbol hanging from the sign outside the ruin's rusted and utterly desiccated fence correctly.

Rolo honesty thought it was a bit of a shame that the company itself hadn't survived the invasion and had instead been absorbed into the Homeland's Britannian General Motors Company. He had studied cars quite extensively for one of his missions and had grown…somewhat fond of the subject, and Suzuki had made quite a few impressive cars before the invasion.

"Great, this place is easily big enough and isolated enough that it could have turned into an utter death trap without anyone noticing." the sloth, Gusion, groaned out. "And we aren't authorized for any explosives on this mission outside hand grenades, so no just brining it down on his head, wonderful. Guess we're doing this the hard way then."

"And if Valefar has set up any monitoring, then he likely already knows we're here and has evacuated anyone who knows anything. That means that your and Naberius' Geass will be all-but useless here." Eligos added. "Hell, if he knew a Hand was coming for him, then Valefar likely has this entire place rigged with nothing but automated defences. Trying to use normal humans to fight against Demons is a pointless endeavour."

True, that was the most obvious conclusion in Rolo's opinion as well. Against the Ward of Absolute Terror, the Ward of Absolute Feminine Captivation, the Ward of Absolute Sensation, the Ward of Absolute Intoxication and the Ward of Absolute Suspension, normal human combatants were all but useless as soon as they entered one of their Geass' area of effect. Robotic turrets and other mechanical defences would honestly be the only logical countermeasure to face a Hand of Demons.

"…are we really just going to walk into what is an extremely obvious trap?" he asked aloud. "For all we know, Valefar could have an entire wall of machine guns set up to fire the second something passes through the entranceway."

"Not a bad idea, Naberius, but I know how Valefar likes to operate." Vassago stated with a shake of her head. "He wouldn't set up an instant-death trap like that, particularly not in the main entranceway. As I said two days ago, the man considers watching others struggle against 'adversity' the finest form of entertainment. He will ensure that there will be some way for us to make it through whatever he's placed in this little fun house of his, otherwise it wouldn't be entertaining for him to watch. And he will be watching, of that I am sure."

"Wow, talk about having some weird hobbies." Glasya-Labolas snarked with a roll of his eyes. "Guy sounds like a total dick."

"Language." Vassago once again scolded the prepubescent.

"Oh will you give that a rest already!?"

'And these are the feared and dreaded Demons of the Geass Order.' Rolo deadpanned to himself as Vassago and Glasya-Labolas started bickering once again.

"Yo, Boss Lady, you think we should get this show on the road already?" Eligos apparently had similar thoughts if his exasperated sigh was any indication. "As much fun as it is to watch you verbally spank the brat, we are on the clock right now, y'know."

"Who are you called a brat, you bastard cyclops!?" Glasya-Labolas demanded, only for Vassago to cuff him on the top of his head. "Yow!?"

"Stop swearing or I swear I will literally take you over my knee." the Hand Leader ordered flatly. "And Eligos has a point. Final checks on all your gear, then we head in."

Rolo quickly checked his own pistol, along with several preprepared magazines, and combat knife before moving to the brace of fragmentation grenades he was wearing, just in case. A no-frills load-out, but one that he knew worked well.

Vassago seemed to prefer throwing knives much like the annoying asshole Desmond had, but even from what little he'd seen of her, he knew she was far and above that dead pain-in-the-ass in every aspect of their use. She had at least three dozen secreted across her body in various hidden sheaths and pockets. She also carried a pair of modernized hold-out derringers up her sleeves in specialized quick-release holsters on her wrists and a combat knife sheathed along the small of her back.

They had sparred in knife fighting exactly once since they had been assigned this mission and Rolo would freely admit that she was even better than him in a knife fight.

Eligos seemed to favour a single heavy pistol. In addition to normal rounds, the older agent also carried several magazines of specialized flechette rounds. Next to useless against even modest body armour, they would still be highly useful against unarmoured organic targets or even exposed machinery.

Glasya-Labolas was fairly young, even for a Geass Order Agent. Yes, Rolo had used a standard pistol as far back as to when he was eight for assassination missions, but doing so had always left his arms and particularly his wrists sore as hell after firing even a single shot. So he was a bit envious that the bratty little Eleven had a pair of custom-built revolvers with inbuilt recoil suppression. Since when had the Directorate started to go that far when it came to equipping its Demons?

And the ever-lazy Gusion had an even more customized set up! Since the man was apparently so lazy that even holding a weapon was too much of an effort for him, he instead had donned some form of mechanical gauntlet with a submachine gun built into it, complete with an ammo feed connected to the small backpack he was carrying. That man was truly the embodiment of laziness.

Most of them also had one or two grenades, but he was the only one that had bothered with a full tactical vest full. Not surprising, Demons rarely needed them thanks to their Geass making normal people, even professional bodyguards, mercenaries, and soldiers, all but sitting ducks for them. Unless they overused their Geass, grenades were simply an unnecessary afterthought most of the time.

"Alright, time to move." Vassago stated grimly, one of her knives appearing in her hand, ready to throw. "Hand Four."

There were a small number of formations that every Geass Agent was required to memorize, just in case they were ever called upon to be included in a Hand. Hand Four was one that required them to assign positions beforehand, but made optimum use of their various weaponry. Vassago was in the centre, with Glasya-Labolas was behind her, Rolo on her left, Eligos on her right, and Gusion taking the front position.

The five-man team then moved forward at a stead pace toward the factory's entrance, which was little more than a gaping hole in the ruins, whatever doors that had secured it having long been torn away. By the looks of damage to the sides and the nearby ground and fence, it seems that they had been torn off and dragged away by some kind of large vehicle years ago.

"Could he really have used this place as some kind of hideout? Or even as a trap house?" Gusion asked dully. "This dump looks like it's one good shove away from collapsing."

"Gusion, it's the only lead we have, so even if this isn't some kind of trap and is just a red herring to lure us away, we still need to search this place from top to bottom, so get a move on!" Vassago snapped out.

"Alright, alright. Jeeze, just saying." the lethargic man grumbled out.

The Hand quickly advanced into what had likely once been the factory's primary work floor, the long belt where car frames would have the doors added onto had long been reduced to the skeletal remains of their housing, every valuable or even remotely usable part having long since been scavenged away.

"Damn, the Elevens have really stripped this place down to the bones. It looks like they didn't even leave any of the nuts or bolts behind." Eligos mused aloud, a form of fascinated disgust in his voice. The man had proven himself to be more than a bit of an equipment snob, and he absolutely loathed the idea of using scavenged gear.

"Their entire nation was conquered in a single month and they then lost access to the basics of whatever lives they once knew. That they chose to scavenge whatever they could from the broken remains that they could no longer use was simply a logical decision." Vassago replied irritably. "Numbers they may be, but one must respect their willingness to do what they must in order to survive."

"Aw, what a truly heartfelt and sincere speech!" a new voice suddenly offered, echoing from all around them and putting the entire had on edge. "Why, if I didn't already know that you have all-but-bathed yourself in a small lake of Number blood, Vassago, I would be well and truly touched!"

"Valefar." the Hand Leader bit out calmly. "You might as well come out and now and save us all the effort of dragging you out of whatever hole you've managed to dig into. You must know that there will be no happy ending for you, no chance to ride off into the sunset victoriously. The Geass Directorate does not tolerate betrayal, particularly from one of its Demons. You cannot hope to escape our reach, and not even your new 'allies' in the Neo Shinsengumi can hope to protect you."

"My, my; you have certainly done your research, haven't you? I suppose it is to be expected of 'Vassago the Cruel Demoness'." Valefar's voice, electronic, disguised, and distorted, seemed to come from multiple directions at once. Likely the result of multiple speakers secreted up high. "Didn't you earn that particular little moniker after burning down an orphanage in Area 5 on your first official mission as a Hand Leader? All just to kill a single low-level agent who'd gotten cold feet after he learned just how deep the rabbit hole went."

"An empty orphanage! The entirety of the staff and occupants were out for the day attending a picnic in a nearby park!" Vassago growled out. She loathed being reminded of that incident. "There were only three other casualties that day other than my target, all members of the public that that stupid little traitor had tried to take hostage. I am an assassin, an enforcer, not a psychopath."

"Whatever is the difference?" Valefar asked back, distorted voice sounding vaguely amused.

"One is a profession, the other is a mental condition. Murder is a tool, not a passion." the girl growled back, clearly already losing all patience speaking to their former colleague. "At least have the courtesy of telling me exactly why you decided to become a turncoat?"

"Ah, poor Vassago…still utterly loyal to that senile little hobgoblin with a god complex. Such a shame." this time there was no mistaking the pitying tone in the former Demon's voice even through the heavy distortion. "Did you know that the 'Great' V.V. has been steadily losing his touch for years now? His decision-making skills have all been taking a steady and sharp downturn over the past decade. Poor choices. Shoddy planning. Disregard of consequences. Impetuous and erratic behaviour. I did a bit of backtracking and it has actually been happening for roughly twenty years now, it just started to become far more prominent a decade ago. Stay a part of an off-the-books organization where the big, immortal boss, who can have anyone and everyone liquidated with a single command, is clearly going senile? I think not. Nope, that is just not in the cards for this smart cookie. Not to mention that working for the Directorate is pretty damned boring."

Rolo had the oddest feeling that Valefar's betrayal was likely 90% due to the latter reason rather than the former. From the look of sheer, utter rage on her face, Vassago was likely having the exact same feeling.

"Can we please just hunt down and kill this prick already?" Glasya-Labolas asked dryly.

"Ah, Glasya-Labolas, the Directorate's second-favourite murder-munchkin. Still swearing like a sailor to try and compensate for the fact that you're not tall enough to ride a roller-coaster, I see." Valefar jabbed, causing a vein to pulse visibly on the young Eleven's forehead.

"Huuuuh?! You looking to get shot in the ball-sack, you damned bastard?!" the brat snarled out.

"Pardon me while I stand quivering in my armoured booties." the traitorous Demon laughed mockingly in reply. "Now, let us move on to tonight's entertainment. I have, in my infinite generosity, decided to give you all a chance to find me. At the opposite end of my little fortress of fun that you're all standing in, just five rooms along, I have left you a tasty little clue as to where I am currently located. Make it there by going down the straight-and-narrow while overcoming my traps and tricks and it is yours for the taking. Try and be clever by pulling an out-and-around trick and I will detonate the remove incendiary devices I've placed around it and leave you with nothing until I get bored again and drop another oh-so-obvious clue and we just rinse and repeat the process all over again."

"…I sincerely want to punch this asshole in the dick." Gusion offered aloud, the normally lazy bastard sounding just as surprised by his own proactivity as the rest of them. "I sincerely want to hunt down and hurt this asshole. Huh, haven't felt anything like that in a while."

"Good for you, now get in line." Vassago growled out. "Last chance, Valefar. Submit or suffer the consequences."

"Sorry to say but that just isn't in the cards, my dear Vassago. I just don't fancy the idea of letting that deranged midget turn my brain into blended gelatin with his Code, so if I am going to die, I might as well go out having as much fun as I can." Valefar replied with a chuckle. "Now, enjoy the fun-house, I'll be watching!"

With a resounding click, it became blatantly obvious that they weren't going to get anything else out of the traitorous Demon.

Vassago then processed to eloquently begin swearing in no less than seven languages. Rolo recognized English, Japanese, German, Swahili, Spanish, and what he thought was Urdu mixed in with at least one or two that he didn't recognize.

Glasya-Labolas was left gaping at her in a strange mix of shock and awe.

The female agent continued her diatribe for several minutes before suddenly halting, taking a deep cleansing breath, and then speaking as if she hadn't spent the last ten minutes turning the air blue. "Alright, it looks we are going to have to go through this little maze, beat that pain-in-the-ass's little puzzles, find their current location, hunt them down, shoot out their fucking kneecaps, and then drag them back to Lord V.V. to be tortured to death." she stated with a quiet, deadly intensity. "Questions?"

"Can we make them bleed a bit when we get our hands on them?" Eligos asked.

"As long as they are still alive and relatively sane when we hand him over, knock yourselves out." Vassago replied blandly. "Now, let's move."

Finding the entrance to Valefar's 'fun house' didn't take long, it was a crudely assembled wall of scrap metal that rose several meters high. There was a single door installed that was even made to look like Valefar's damned mask.

"Jeez, this guy really does have an ego on him, doesn't he?" Glasya-Labolas asked, eyeing the door with more than a bit of disdain.

"No, this is a calculated move on their part to try and make us lower our guard." Vassago disagreed. "Never forget that Valefar has been an active field agent and trouble-shooter for the near-entirety of their career with the Directorate, and that they know far more about us than I am comfortable with."

"Feh, great. I hate having to deal with this kind of psycho-analysing bullshit." the brat spat out from between his teeth. "Let's just get this over with."

Opening the door was rather easy, it slid to the side with surprisingly little effort. Unfortunately, after the last member of the Hand stepped through, it quickly slammed itself shut behind them, and Rolo was fairly sure it would be far harder to open this time.

"Well fuck." the fawn-haired assassin offered mildly. Thankfully, the new room they were in had dim lights dotted throughout, showing a suspiciously empty room…save for the dozen or so razor sharp spinning circular saws that were jutting out of the floor and walls. It honestly looked like the kind of trap you'd see in some low-budget horror movie. Several of the whirling blades had even been decoratively coated; it was certainly blood, or at least some convincing substitute.

"Naberius, frag out." Vassago ordered out calmly. "Put one in the middle of the floor."

"Roger that." Rolo replied casually, slipping out one of his grenades, pulling the pin and accurately tossing the small explosive exactly where directed before the Hand dived to the ground on either side. The grenade detonated and a good dozen of the saws were instantly destroyed, sending bits and pieces flying in all directions. Thankfully, their uniforms provided more than enough body armour to prevent the shrapnel from doing them any harm. When the Demons poked their head back up, they were greeted with a clean zone in the centre of the room that would allow them to easily access the open door on the opposite side of the room.

"Who wants to bet that the doorway's gonna seal itself shut behind us the moment we all pass through?" Glasya-Labolas asked dryly as they moved forward again.

"Sucker's bet." Gusion grunted. "That was too easy."

"I told you, Valefar always provides his opponents with a way to win when they set a trap, and that was only the first room. They will get harder." Vassago replied tartly. "If that were the final room, then the saws would have been far more mobile and likely fired off at us like bloody discuses."

"Thank you, boss. Now I am going to have to deal with nightmares about flying buzz saws for the next few days." Eligos put in dryly.

The Hand made their way across the room, casually avoiding both the broken blades and those few still functioning. Even Gusion was agile enough to avoid them with relative ease. And, as expected, they were quickly locked into the next room…which was full of swinging, guillotine-like blades.

"It is now official; I truly do hate Valefar." Rolo commented as one of his eyebrows began to twitch. The former Demon had now overtaken everyone bar Desmond (who'd gotten him into this mess in the first place) on his 'people I would sincerely like to shoot in the face' list.

"Welcome to the club; we have t-shirts." Glasya-Labolas snarked. "Seriously this guy needs a fucking hobby!"

"This is their hobby." Vassago stated bluntly.

Fortunately, the blades were moving on predictable paths and were fairly slow, and were thus fairly easy to dodge around once you determined the proper path. The next room was the first to actually provide a proper problem for the Hand. The fact that there were no visible blades was slightly comforting, but the walls were absolutely covered in easily noticeable, rounded openings.

"Seriously, this guy has seen one too many Indiana Jones movies." Eligos groaned out in frustration. "This is screaming a classic 'arrow dart trap' scenario!"

"Huh…I'm guessing the floor is covered in pressure plates. Might not be arrows or darts even, could just be guns." Gusion put in.

Rolo grabbed another grenade from his bandoleer and then lobbed it without pulling the pin. As soon as it landed, the holes on either side of where it hit started firing off six-inch long darts made of scrap metal. They slammed into the opposite walls with enough force to bury them an inch or two into the metal surface. It was then that the Hand noticed that the holes on either side were deliberately aligned so that they wouldn't shoot into each other.

"Good thinking Naberius." Vassago acknowledged with a nod. "Everyone, follow his lead, aim your grenades for different sections and we can quickly deplete whatever ammo stores these things are pulling from. And do not pull the pins, we might still have need for them later."

It didn't take long for the darts to stop flying and the Hand quickly crossed over the pressure plates, retrieving their grenades as they moved. The lights in the next room came on only after the doorway closed behind them.

"Oh, for the love of god, you have got to be kidding me!" Eligos nearly screamed in exasperation as blocks of the walls ahead of them started to move together. "A fucking wall-presser trick? Are you serious?"

"They all seem to be opening and closing at a distinct pattern, all we have to do is match the timing and we will get through without issue." Vassago dismissed the obstacle. "Does Valefar truly believe that something like this will even slow us down for long?"

As expected, the walls proved to be no obstacle for the extensively trained Geass Agents and they quickly moved on to the next room, which opened up into a large maze.

"Ugh, this is going to be an utter pain in the ass, isn't it?" Gusion groaned out. "What's that old rule about dealing with mazes? Keep one hand on the left wall and you'll get to the other side eventually?"

"I think it works for the right wall too, but let's just stick with the left for the moment." Vassago answered with a nod. "Naberius, take out your knife and score a line along the left-hand wall so we can follow our progress, just in case the walls can change or move. Let's get going, I want this night over and done with."

The way through was tedious and annoying, but only turned truly dangerous about halfway through, when Gusion was nearly dropped head-first into a pit of spikes by a square of false floor.

"Fucking hell!?" the man shouted out, wheeling back to avoid plunging forward as the ground beneath his leading foot collapsed beneath him.

"Does this bastard think he is old King Minos or something?" Eligos muttered in disbelief.

"What he's doing is asking for a bullet straight through something soft and painful!" Gusion growled out, adrenaline from his near-death experience bringing out a long-suppressed swell of emotions, before he blinked. "Or she I guess. Whatever gender Valefar thinks they are!"

"Yeah, insulting someone who's gender-fluid is kind of a pain in the ass." Eligos let out an annoyed sigh.

"Can we please not worry about being 'politically correct' with the asshole we're planning on dragging back for a slow, torturous death." Glasya-Labolas let out an annoyed whine. "And instead maybe focus on the freaking deathtrap-infested maze we're trapped in?"

"Well we certainly aren't turning back now." Vassago put in curtly, eyes hard as she stared at her team. "I am getting that damned intel, and heaven help you all if even a single one of you tries to protest."

And there it was, Vassago's infamous streak of stubbornness and spite. One particularly popular story that had made its way around the Directorate's various personnel was that she had deliberately chosen the most heavily guarded way into her target's palace, having his royal guard, personal aides, and various confidants slaughter each other in an orgy of violence right in front of him before personally gelding the target herself and reclining in his own throne as she watched him bleed out.

All because the poor bastard had made a disparaging comment about her chest in passing. She might not have a sex drive, put evidently calling her a 'small-chested brat' was enough to sting her feminine pride.

The rest of the maze combined various aspects of the previous rooms and several new innovations, all requiring some judicious use of Rolo's pistol and Gusion's submachinegun to remove, as well as another couple of grenades. Unlike before, all of these traps were carefully hidden and rather cunningly placed, several actually managing to injure the Hand. By the time that they managed to stagger into the centre of the labyrinth, Eligos was tending a cut to one of his shoulders from an extending saw blade, the lower portion of Gusion's left pant leg had been turned into a makeshift bandage to staunch the bleeding from a rather nasty gash from a sudden pendulum blade, Vassago had her own bandage on her arm from a concealed 'dart' launcher, and Rolo himself was nursing a bruise on his ribs from an extending block that had nearly knocked him into another spike pit. Only Glasya-Labolas had managed to emerge unscathed, and Rolo thought that had more to do with the young Demon simply being a far smaller target.

"…murder him. I am going to slowly turn Valefar inside out, just you see if I don't." Vassago was growling lowly to herself.

Rolo, wisely, decided to keep his mouth shut. Vassago honestly looked angry enough right now that she'd lash out with her Geass on anyone stupid enough to set her off.

"Vassago, look, on the pedestal." Eligos, brave man that one, spoke up, pointing toward the centre of the room, where there rested a single pedestal. Sitting atop it was single sheet of grubby-looking paper.

Rather than risk actually approaching the paper, and whatever traps were likely guarding it, Vassago instead took her phone from her pocket, turned on the camera, maximized both the zoom and the quality, and aimed it toward the paper.

"'Yo, Vassy! So you and your current goon squad made it through? Congrats!'" she read out in a dead monotone. "'Sorry to say, but your princess is in another castle, so here's a hint on where to find me! I'm on Honshu and not that far from the ocean. Hugs and kisses, Valefar.'"

The Demons looked at each other, staring in disbelief.

"Well…that's just maddeningly unhelpful." Eligos commented mildly, his controlled tone a sharp contrast to the expression promising painful death that was covering his face. "I mean really? All of that for such a VAGUE FUCKING HINT!?"

Rolo frowned, as something felt off. "Vassago, you've been right about Valefar so far. Does this kind of insultingly obvious and unhelpful hint fit his usual pattern?"

Vassago went painfully still. "No…no it certainly does not." the girl answered slowly, eyes scanning the room once more. "Valefar is deceitful, underhanded, and sneaky as all hell, but they are scrupulously fair when it comes to obeying the 'rules' of their little games. This 'hint' is basically a complete non-answer. Hmm…"

Eyes locking onto the pedestal once more, Vassago began to slowly approach, careful of any pressure plates or other hidden triggers, before quickly snatching the paper and immediately retracing her path back to the room's edge in case removing it triggered some final trap. It didn't, but given the 'fun house' they had just made it through, none of the gathered Demons were willing to begrudge her sense of caution.

"Aha, so that was your last trick, you sneaky little bastard!" the Hand Leader proclaimed as she flipped the message over, revealing that is was actually done on the back of an old map of Area 11. One particular section of the map was circled by a red marker, a section far south of where they were, south of Tokyo even.

"Shizuoka. The bastard is hiding in the former Shizuoka prefecture." Vassago declared in triumph as she recognized the area. "Let's get the hell out of here before Valefar decides to start another game and set off a countdown timer to those explosives he mentioned earlier. That would certainly be in lines with his usual sense of mischief and love of schadenfreude…"

Meanwhile, sitting in their base many miles away in the Shizuoka Prefecture, Valefar let out a chuckle before removing their finger from a button they had been about to press, and settled back in their chair to watch the bank of monitors that were linked to the cameras in the Iwaki Ghetto. Now that she had said that, they weren't going to set off the bombs until after the Hand had left the building. Oh well, watching the Hand creep through the maze with bated breath, full of tension and waiting for the other shoe to drop the entire time, would be just as amusing.

"Ah, Vassago. You were always so mission-focused." the Traitorous Demon of the Geass Order breathed, regarding the only female as she led the rest of the Hand out of the central part of the maze. "You never had any true loyalty to that half-mad little midget, but you always chose to make the best of whatever hand you were dealt. Only killing when it was absolutely necessary and to your ultimate benefit, but then carrying out any necessary deaths with the kind of cold-blooded efficiency that would make poor little Naberius seem effusive and outgoing. Was it any wonder that you were chosen to come after me? But I wonder…can you truly being yourself to harm me…my dear little sister?"


Next Chapter: Decisions and Determination