Chapter 20: Gluttonous Princess
Let it never be said that Lelouch did not have to deal with his share of spoiled princesses in his lifetime. The fact that this followed him into the next didn't come to a surprise to him. The problem with Priscilla Barielle was that he was directly responsible for someone who was capable of using a high class of Yang magic and without any reservations to do so to get her way.
The only thing that was left to do was tricking her, which was hard enough. Aldebaran's assessment that she was quite fortunate in her guesses proved itself to be true when she was able to call out most of his lies to make her stay while he bought her the promised meal.
"Hmph," Priscilla snorted, trailing behind him as she took in the sight of the city. The people that knew her well enough cast away their gaze, the air of arrogance that gathered around her proving itself capable of giving the illusion that nothing was wrong. "I don't understand you."
"Oh?" Lelouch asked, keeping his pace up. The faster they reached the closest equivalent to a fast food restaurant that Lugnica had to offer, they easier it'd be to keep Priscilla in line. "How so, princess?"
"Exactly that," she said. "I'm a princess. Shouldn't I be treated better? I should be living in a castle!"
"Indeed, a princess," Lelouch said. "Though I believe the exact term right now is candidate to become the dragon shrine priestess. You're one of five in line of the throne. I thought Aldebaran had explained that to you."
"Preposterous," Priscilla muttered. The streets got more crowded as they approached the center of restaurants in the city, and without him noticing, Priscilla had closed the marginal gap between them and grabbed him by the sleeve. "Don't walk so fast. I'd get lost."
Lelouch shook his head slightly at the childish whine with which she proclaimed her order, but kept going. That sight was a bit too much for the people to ignore, however, and she shamelessly clung to him even as the people began to point and talk about them. Minimize the damage, Aldebaran said. Next he'd suggest fighting a Knightmare Frame with his bare hands, that sounded even more doable than taking care of Priscilla Barielle for an indefinite amount of time.
"Of course," Lelouch conceded. "We're there already, though."
The restaurant in question wasn't constantly filled, mostly because people who bought their meals here were those that were on the go. Strangely enough, the food here were very similar to some of the meals offered back home. The only thing missing on the menu was pizza, and Lelouch wasn't going to unleash that evil on the world by making a suggestion. Standing in line for just a moment, Lelouch ordered the easiest thing to carry out with - some sort of burger that wasn't actually called burger. For the sake of the insatiable Barielle, half a dozen should be enough.
"What's that?" she asked, curiously peeking at the food from over his shoulder when she took the bag. Lelouch waited for them to be out of the restaurant before he opened the bag again and shoved one of the paper-wrapped sandwiches into her hand. "It smells… strong."
"It's food," Lelouch said, taking one of them as well and unwrapping it. Monkey see, monkey do. Taking a bite of his was enough for Priscilla to do the same to hers and she looked disgusted for just a moment before her face began to flush slightly.
"T-this is truly the food of nobility," Priscilla declared, inhaling the rest of the burger and grabbing Lelouch's out of his hand. She took a bit more time with that one before she swiped the bag from his hand. The people were staring. "This rich taste, this soft meat-"
"What a shameless display," a voice rung out, and the mass of people all but parted as Crusch Karsten stepped forward, wearing her usual military-esque clothes. "Though I don't think I've ever heard you speak in such joy about anything, Priscilla. Perhaps present company is melting your five-times widowed heart."
"Who's that?" Priscilla asked quietly. Lelouch grimaced. Aldebaran and Priscilla should she get her memories back wouldn't enjoy this.
"Your cousin, another princess," Lelouch explained quickly. "Don't speak too much, she can tell when you're lying."
"Of course, dearest cousin," Priscilla said, clinging to Lelouch even tighter. Lelouch sighed out through his nose, closing his eyes and waiting for the inevitable headache. "My knight is currently indisposed and I've decided to spend the time with this man until he returns."
"I suppose that's the last candidate you're going to spend time with in your quest to be neutral," Crusch said, casting a stern glare at Lelouch. He smiled at her.
"Aldebaran has asked me for a favor as fellow countrymen to make sure nothing happens while he's gone," Lelouch said. "I feel that she might actually be more capable of fighting off the man from last night should he attack again than me."
"Humility doesn't fit you," Crusch said. She stepped forward and took a place opposite to Priscilla. "I've wanted to discuss something with you, Lelouch vi Britannia."
Lelouch scowled, and took steps forward. Priscilla nearly stumbled, but just kept going. On anyone else, the expression that appeared on her face might've been a pout. Considering this wasn't really Priscilla, it might actually be. Crusch followed. "I assume you use it because that name has no meaning in Lugnica, or perhaps you're just trying to irritate me?"
"If something like a name is enough to provoke such a response from you, perhaps it's because it has meaning in a way I cannot comprehend. You have disdain for your family."
"I have no family," Lelouch said. Priscilla stopped suddenly, pulling on Lelouch's clothes. She pointed at a tailor. Handing her the bag with her money that he managed to confiscate before they left and she rushed in. Turning back to Crusch, who was watching the display with a calculative gaze, the corners of his lips twitched downwards. "They're gone, and nothing remains. I find it more and more curious how someone such as you seems to be content about poking me like a petty child."
"Curiosity," Crusch admitted shamelessly. "I had my theories, and they seem to be all but confirmed lately. Meanwhile, you keep making friends in high places, your presence is insufferable to me and mine as I aim for the throne."
"One might interpret such an hostile statement as a declaration of incoming conflict," Lelouch said. She snorted. Both of them knew that it wouldn't come to that. Rather, it has become incredibly clear that she had some sort of agenda. Something she wanted from him, but couldn't give her if she simply asked him. Information on his past? She could've goaded Priscilla into revealing something she heard from Aldebaran. It was more contemporary.
"You believe I'm a threat to your base of power before you have the crown," Lelouch said, smiling at her. "In anyone else, I'd consider it a sign of weakness. In you, I'd call it a sign of overconfidence. You believe you're the one who's going to ascend the throne, that the other four candidates have no chance to defeat you. I'd have agreed back when I first arrived."
"And now you don't?" she asked. A crack in the facade. Lelouch could see her stern face twitch slightly.
"Now I believe that every candidate has an equal chance, and the one who deserves it the most will win," Lelouch said. Even Priscilla, who had been leading all kinds of domains after the deaths of her husbands, would do a good enough job as a queen.
"And who deserves it the most?" she asked. "Perhaps the Lady Felt, last of the royal family? Or maybe me and Priscilla, the descendants of the first king?"
"Or perhaps the half-elf girl who tamed one of the six greatest spirits in this world," Lelouch continued. "Or the foreign girl, capable of taking control of a company that spread to the point that it owns a kingdom? If I had to choose one, I'd say you. You were the favorite, and you remain the favorite for the majority of the nobles."
"Me?" Crusch asked, sounding surprised. Despite the constant poking, Lelouch refused to crack in front of her. No, the kind of people that were capable of making him angry weren't people like Crusch Karsten. Irritating, yet strangely endearing, that was a much better assessment of how he perceived her.
"Every candidate has something to offer." Lelouch nodded. "The one who has the most to offer is you. I know you hate me, but if I only dined with the people that liked me, I'd be dining alone all the time."
"And with Reinhard." Crusch cut in.
"Reinhard likes everyone," Lelouch said. Crusch shrugged, an almost girlish smile on her face. "Maybe Felt, but she's more interested in trying to set me and Reinhard up."
"Very well," she said, nodding at him. "Though I loathe to admit, you've earned my respect, even after the shameful display last night. I believe Ferris isn't going to be very keen on seeing you again for a while."
"I apologize, I still believe that it was the only way to get him to leave."
"I understand," she said. "And the man's magic has been hanging around Priscilla. Perhaps you should be more careful with her, especially in front of mages."
If Lelouch was surprised by the sudden revelation that she knew something was fishy, he didn't show it. The smell of the magic on Priscilla wasn't something he could compare to the monstrous witch miasma that poured off the man from last night - perhaps due to his own connection.
"I'll keep that in mind," Lelouch said. "You're not going to use it?"
"Chivalry might be dead, but I'm not going to kick someone who's on the ground," Crusch said. "As you say that I have the highest chance, after the proclamations of ideologies, I feel that she has the lowest. She doesn't need me to rub her face into the ground."
Nor an enemy at court if she ascends the throne. Lelouch had the feeling that Anastasia Hoshin wouldn't be that kind. Luckily, it was not her that managed to catch a glimpse of the admittedly superficially changed person Priscilla Barielle.
Then again, Lelouch realized that he didn't actually knew her before this incident. The times he had an interaction with her and hers was when Aldebaran admitted that she sent him to provoke him, and the time at the market back when he first researched magic. The image of the self-serving and malicious bitch that might've been a mix between Schneizel and Clovis turned into something of a self-centered child.
"If you need help dealing with her, seek me out," Crusch said. Lelouch shook his head.
"Be careful," he said. "The man that attacked her might come after you as well as me. I was wrong in my initial assessment."
"That he was after you?"
"That he was only after me," Lelouch corrected. "The Witch Cult is getting aggressive, their hit and run tactics leave more and more people with a weaker opinion of the knights."
"All the more reason to meet you today," Crusch muttered. Priscilla was still running around the store, trying out most any dress and not leaving the poor tailor any room to breathe. Priscilla seemed happy, and excited in talking with the woman.
"Oh?" Lelouch intoned. "I thought our meeting was purely coincidental, I hadn't expected that you would go all the way to meet me outside."
"I'd have used the spell to contact you, and had you ignored me I would have come to your home," she admitted. "I need a favor."
Lelouch smiled widely, trying to look as kind as possible though the sinister appearance of it was likely not lost on her. "I don't think I've ever met a woman that went to these lengths to convince someone to do them a favor. Admittedly, your earlier grudge leaves me perplexed as to how I could help you in any way."
"I'm not the only one that believes you're some person of an ancient age, there are nobles who have drawn the same conclusions as me, though none of them vocal, especially not those who support me. I need to use that."
"Use me?" Lelouch asked, the smile still on his face. "Whatever for? Crusch Karsten, depending on the fourth pillar when she wants to get rid of the second?"
"What is worse than depending on the Dragon to protect us is to become so complacent that you're rotting away, waiting for the maggots to be driven away by the rats that lay claim to your body. The Witch Cult is a plague, and their danger is not a clear image to the nobles who live in the capital, the funds for the hunting parties and protection for single villages too far from the center of some noble's domains…"
Lelouch raised his hand, stopping her. She took a deep breath, the sudden outburst leaving her with a slight shortage of air. Though she had the appearance of someone that was far from finished, he simply nodded. "I agree."
"I thought you would," she said, frowning. "Though I didn't expect it to be quite that easy. You don't seem like a person that's easily swayed by words rather than actions."
"I understand your intentions, and I understand why they would also be beneficial to me," Lelouch said. "Any offers you have for me are meaningless, because we both know that having things handed to us isn't how we want to live our lives."
Appealing to Crusch's character was easy. Gauging her reactions was harder.
"You want me to speak as a person who has fought and defeated an Archbishop," Lelouch deduced. "And you'd play it up. The gallant spirit user, friend to the candidates and speaker of wisdom. You want to take the fight to the Cult."
"Yes," she admitted without concern. "And those who do not fall in line have no place in a kingdom that fosters the strong."
"Meritocracy aside, I believe the best way to help them along would be to strike fear in them, not appeal to their sense of nobility and their duty to protect the citizens of Lugnica."
"An attack? Raise the false flag and make them strike out in revenge?" Crusch asked. "It might work, though it would sicken me to use the lives of people in a play that could mean their end if captured."
"Impossible, then," Lelouch said, nodding. She narrowed her eyes at him. "I apologize, Lady Karsten, but I feel that you might not have the right attitude for the most optimal way, then all that remains is trying to appeal to them."
"Do not confuse an unwillingness to sacrifice lives with weakness," she declared. "To put the lives of innocents on the line when there is another way, I cannot justify that with myself. It's out of the question."
"Then how about your own?" Lelouch asked. She looked confused for a moment, until she grit her teeth, nodding. "Perhaps we're not as different as you'd like to think. In the end, everything that matters to us weighs heavier than our own life."
He learned from his mistakes, but he also knew that many sacrifices he made were necessary for the greater good. For a goal that was bigger than him and the Black Knights. Though Crusch reminded him of Cornelia, she was different. The hardness wasn't all that hard. Her sword wasn't as sharp as it looked.
"I shall call for you when I have arranged the meeting." She spun on her heels, leaving. Lelouch watched her for a few moments longer before he turned back to the store, where a squeal has rung out. Walking into it, he was greeted by the sight of Priscilla holding the tailor down, trying to get her into her old dress now that she had a new one - a bright red one that looked at least one size too small around her chest.
"Priscilla, please," Lelouch said.
"No no, she's the Lady Barielle!" Priscilla said excitedly. "I'm just Pris!"
"I… don't think that'd be appropriate," Lelouch said, taking Priscilla's arm and lifting her off the poor woman. The woman thanked him with a curt bow when she stood up and ran to the back of the shop. "We need to talk about personal space."
"Bah, I'm the princess, I can do what I want," Priscilla declared.
"Just now you said you weren't," Lelouch said. "So how about we find a compromise and say you can't do that anymore even though you're the princess, does that sound alright?"
"That's not a compromise at all!" Priscilla shouted, stomping her foot. "I want her to wear my dress, it's only appropriate after she has created such a beautiful one. It's the proper reward!"
"That's what money is for, Priscill-"
Lelouch sighed through his nose, pinching the bridge of his nose. "Pris. Please."
"Aww, if Lulu said please."
For a moment, his thoughts hit a wall. He raised his head to look at her, and she was doing a childish spin on one foot despite the rather impressive heels. "Excuse me?"
"If you call me Pris, I'll call you Lulu!" she decided. Was she… degenerating? Or did she hold herself back? If her condition was getting worse, Lelouch might be in more trouble than he expected. Aldebaran might not be able to reverse it depending on how far she goes. He hoped she was just trying to impress him with her 'maturity'. "Luu doesn't sound as good, does it?"
"Please don't call me that," Lelouch said. The cold feeling of trying to remember was gone, but the hole was still there. The student council. "Anything but that."
"Vi Britannia then! That's what Crusch called you, right?"
A growing headache inbound, Lelouch shook his head. Priscilla smiled triumphantly, stopping the spin and ending up with her hands on her hips in a pose that was not too different from Felt's usual boyish stance.
Priscilla: 1 - Lelouch: 0.
Priscilla was sleeping soundly on his bed. Lelouch sat at his desk, his elbows propped on the table and forehead on his palms, the balls of his thumbs pressing lightly onto his eyes. He was tired. More than tired. It was just one day and besides the short bout of exciting back and forth he had with Crusch, it was nothing but a headache getting Priscilla to comply with him. Worse yet, every time she childishly called out 'Lulu' it drove a needle through his chest, as if the witch was reacting to it. Raising his hand to his hair, he tapped the hairpin.
Flügel appeared in front of him, lying all over his desk in the form of a child. "Yo."
"You've been silent throughout the day," Lelouch said. "Not even mocking me about what happened. What's going on?"
"Satella is quiet," Flügel said. His voice was tinged with worry. "Too quiet, really. Her magic isn't putting a strain on mine, she's not trying to grab your soul anymore. Something's fishy, but I couldn't find out what."
"I see," Lelouch said. "Perhaps it's because I haven't died lately. She might grow more excited as that happens."
"She's not the kind of person that'd want to see you hurt, even as the Witch of Envy." The boy turned into a bird, and sat down cross-legged on the table. "Her magic might have more access whenever your emotional state fails, and death is often that. You're unwilling to experiment about it, so all that remains is waiting for you to die."
"You say as if that happens so often," Lelouch said dryly. The bird shrugged.
"You did tell me all of them because you could," Flügel said. "So yeah, I kinda think you're pretty unfortunate about that."
Lelouch clicked his tongue. He didn't have much of an argument against that, really, but the blunt way the spirit had put his rather problematic life lately was grating on his nerves. "You have a point."
"I always do."
That didn't mean Lelouch was going to seek out death. Nothing has been a real setback lately, nothing he did needs to be corrected, except maybe agreeing to take care of Priscilla.
A soft knock on his door almost made him jump. Who'd arrive at this time of the day? Nobody who could call him with the spell, of course. Standing up and grabbing his sword from next to the desk, Lelouch put himself next to the door. "Who is it?"
A crackling sound echoed throughout the night, and a thud came from the door. Within seconds, a bright glow appeared outside and another thud echoed on the door, this time stronger. Faster. Explosive. Lelouch threw his hands over his eyes to protect himself from the debris as the wall shattered and left the door unhinged.
The door exploded forward. Had he stood in front of it, he'd have been put through the wall that Priscilla crashed through suddenly when the door took her and the bed with it. Making a half spin and stabbing the sword forward, Lelouch was met with the eyes of a madman. The oppressive witch's aura exploded off from him, his eyes glowing in a disturbing green light. The sword was ripped from his hands.
No. Lelouch's mind took a moment to catch up to the scene. His arm was slapped. Not cut. Slapped.
And it flew off his body. The sword sailing with it. Then a leg was removed and Lelouch fell over forward. The man's monstrous image vanished and was replaced by the more familiar sight of the Archbishop that had attacked him yesterday night. Less a hungry beast and more a hungry man.
"I wish we could've just taken you yesterday, this almost makes us lose our appetite," the man said, not sounding concerned about anything. Lelouch looked up, the pain from his arm and leg growing in intensity as the man began to burn the stumps with some sort of magic, cauterizing the wounds. "That will keep you going until the pontiff can tend to you."
Lelouch wanted to scream in pain, but he stopped himself. Flügel appeared above him, and blasted the man out of the home as Priscilla ripped through the wreckage and clawed her way forward, looking barely scratched.
"I… I should've shielded you," Flügel said. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry I'msorry I'msorry…"
Though Flügel was keen on talking about anything outrageous, and loved nothing more than to mess with Lelouch, the informed fact of Lelouch being seemingly incapable of dying changed nothing about the ruinous appearance of someone mangled like that.
Priscilla stared at the stumps, and looked back to where his limbs were. As Lelouch tried to find his voice again to avoid simply grunting his words at Flügel, she rushed to them and came back. Going onto her knees, her dress soaking in the small pools of blood that were left from the sudden removal of his limbs, she put them back.
Lelouch wondered if she suddenly remembered some sort of magic she was using. Some healing spell. But Yang magic wasn't healing magic. It was as if she was at a loss for words, and all she kept doing was putting the limbs up to the stumps. It hurt. A lot.
"Priscilla," Lelouch said with a hiss. "Stop it."
Flügel floated outside as the man appeared again, his form turning into that of a man, his hands creating large circles of Yang Mana. The sudden shock of the attack must've triggered some sort of defense mechanism in him, like an adrenaline rush of magic.
"It… it's going to be alright," Priscilla said. "Aldebaran said that if you… if you can find the limb, you can put it on again. It's… it's okay."
"Priscilla-" He hissed again when she pressed the limbs onto the cauterized stumps. "Priscilla stop!"
"No," she whined, drawing the word long as her eyes became puffy. It was a disgusting sight on the woman that was usually proud to a fault. "Lulu…"
Has he grown complacent? No. This Archbishop was different. Stronger than yesterday, even. The aura was unnoticeable until he opened the door and caught sight of him. Furthermore, this one seemed way more inclined to follow the orders to take him alive than Betelgeuse was.
If Lelouch's theory was correct. If Priscilla was sending them because she was afraid he might have a power that surpasses hers, then he couldn't let himself be taken alive. Never alive.
"Pris," Lelouch said. "Calm down."
"No!" she said, punching the ground. She was crying, her red face tear stained and worried. Though she had only known him for a day, like a child without friends she had grown attached quickly, and she turned him around so he was lying on his back. "M-maybe this direction?"
Lelouch closed his eyes and shoved her away. Flügel was right. There was no safe future for him. He raised his head off the floor slightly, catching sight of Flügel's spirit form breaking down whenever the golden circles and the Archbishop clashed. "What a joke…"
With a soft mutter of Sabal, he created a dagger under his head. Taking a deep breath, he slammed his head against it. Priscilla's scream echoed through the entirety of the city.
Lelouch took a sharp breath as he opened his eyes from a blink, standing in front of the tailor. Crusch Karsten's retreating form vanishing into the crowd. A few hours at most. The man was likely tracking him already. He breathed normally again.
The spirit changed nothing. He was still back. Tapping the hairpin, Flügel appeared in front of him.
"Yo!" Flügel said. "You okay? You look like something ran you over-"
"You can't remember," Lelouch said, ignoring the squeal of the tailor. His legs felt weak, and the feeling of having two limbs restored was weird enough. Sighing through his nose, Lelouch fell to the ground, trying to find his balance again. "Of course you can't…"
"I was just killed," Lelouch said. "The Archbishop surprised us at home and tore off my limbs. He's stronger than yesterday night. Something changed."
"His authority, perhaps," Flügel said, lost in thought. "You look bad, you have to rest-"
"He's attacking tonight. We can't stay there. Maybe we should take Priscilla to Reinhard."
But if Reinhard took care of it, Pandora might grow bolder. Lelouch was at a crossroad and he had no idea which way to take. He could gather more information through letting Reinhard deal with the Archbishop… though there could be more, he didn't know how many.
Eventually, Priscilla walked out of the store with a new dress, the tailor wearing a dress that was at least two sizes too large around her chest. "Why are you sitting on the ground?"
"We're going to play with another princess today," Lelouch said. Priscilla tried and failed to keep the excitement off her face. If it was anything like the last time, there was no way just hiding in the Astraea mansion was going to do anything. Reinhard was strong, but who knows how strong the Archbishops were in comparison.
What he needed was something that could fight on equal grounds with him. Something that didn't rely on the Sword Saint.
Waving his hand in front of him, Lelouch called out the communication spell for Crusch Karsten. The woman looked surprised and then turned around, as if checking if he was behind her. "What's the matter?"
A favor for a favor, and it could help both of them in their plans.
"The Archbishop from last night is attacking again tonight," Lelouch explained. "This information could help us both in getting rid of him and possibly show the nobles that the capital isn't as safe as they thought."
"How certain are you that this information is correct?"
"A hundred percent," Lelouch said, his face serious. "Perhaps we could call for Royal Knights to help in the fight, I imagine I would be a burden like last time."
"I'd not want the knights of other candidates to share that honor, but I'm willing to compromise," she said.
"Let's meet at your mansion," Lelouch decided quickly. If there's any threat to the capital, there's no way Reinhard would let Felt out at night, nor would he leave her side. Though he seemed like the perfect knight, his overprotectiveness also meant that unless Lelouch took the danger to him and Felt, he couldn't convince the man to hunt down an Archbishop for him.
Nor did he want to. Lelouch put a lot of trust into the knight, and the knight trusted him as well. Reinhard couldn't be anywhere at once, and Felt had the highest priority - taking the fight to him was ridiculous. It was dangerous and…
Putting the lives of innocents on the line wasn't an option here. He couldn't justify that Felt wouldn't be in danger with Reinhard near her. He couldn't justify to himself that betraying Reinhard's trust was worth it.
"Very well," she said. "Are you going to call the other candidates?"
"I will call Emilia and Felt, please do the same for Lady Hoshin." Lelouch crossed his arms. Crusch nodded. "Will you also warn Captain Marcos?"
The fact that she trusted him about this information made him suspicious. Either she should've asked more questions, or she knew. She knew he was going to attack again, but maybe she didn't know about tonight. Lelouch wasn't sure if she'd have let him die even if she knew about it. Crusch Karsten was scary.
That was what made interactions with her so fun. Priscilla pouted.