AN: Honestly, this is more a post-mortem to the "Arc of Gluttony". I hope you enjoy. As always, check out my other fics :V
The funeral for Aldebaran was almost too plain.
On a hill, quite a distance away from the capital, set as far east as they could travel to keep the capital in sight, where the rising sun would shine first on the kingdom of Lugnica.
Until the very end, Naoto Kozuki was a patriot. Priscilla did not say a word as her servants dug the grave, she had not said a word as they lowered his body, and she did not say a word as they threw the dirt back over his body.
No, Priscilla Barielle was not that kind of person. She was proud and haughty, not sentimental, not even for posturing. She walked towards it, Naoto's heavy sword in one hand as if it were nothing more but a feather to her. Under her other arm his helmet, still stained with rust and pieces of blood.
As she stood before his last resting place, he turned the sword tip to the ground and made it his gravemarker. His helmet was set on top.
He had lied, Lelouch knew now. Like a true servant to a noble lady, he had obfuscated details, poked at him at angles that he knew would bring out the truth. He wasn't sure how Naoto knew him, perhaps he had been more diligent in the studies about the Britannian family to recognize his outlandish given name. Or perhaps there was more to Aldebaran and Naoto than Lelouch knew.
After all, it would be far too foolish to assume that he was the only one with special abilities that were born from traveling into this world.
And so Lelouch watched the rebel and liar, loyal servant of the Barielle house, be laid to rest. Priscilla grabbed her fan from her hip and raised it to the sword. It glowed, chains of gold appearing around it and vanishing. Flügel, sitting on Lelouch's shoulder, gave an appreciative hum.
He was the only one here, besides the servants. Priscilla had not invited the other candidates, or their knights. She had not invited her own family. She turned around, and Lelouch found no fault in her appearance. In a way, the rising sun behind her made the image even more perfect. Priscilla Barielle held onto her pride, and the sun at her back would be her oath.
"Atlas," she spoke one name. The first word she spoke all day, and the first time he could hear a hint of emotion in her voice. Like a child who had been robbed of a beloved toy, Lelouch would compare it to a pouting mess in anyone else, so subtle that only those who had to do with the likes of Cornelia would be able to tell.
"You will meet Crusch later, will you not?" she asked. He nodded once more. "When you make that deal with her, assure her that you do not stand alone. The Barielle House swears vengeance upon the Witch's Cult. Until all the plagues have been cast down at them from the skies, until the White Whale breathes its last,..."
She walked back to her carriage, and as she passed him, he could hear her whisper.
"...until the War Gods of Vollachia grow good…"
Lelouch remained. He watched as the sun rose over the chained sword. The Witch was quiet.
Crusch and Lelouch were seated in her office. Wilhelm was getting them tea, leaving the two alone for a moment. Ferris, who was still dealing with the aftermath of the unfortunate incidents involving the Great Hare, would be absent for a while longer.
The silence stretched on. Lelouch sighed out of his nose, looking at Crusch, still coming down from the exhaustion of her expensive magic use. She wasn't as pale anymore, but the bags under her eyes hidden by just the slightest hint of makeup that Ferris had no doubt put on her were hard were still visible in the right light.
After another short moment of silence, she finally spoke up. "Though the intent was to share the glory, it seems that the news of Aldebaran's death have found the pity of the people. Priscilla Barielle is now the most popular choice among commoners."
"She would trade it for her knight."
And then, more silence. He wasn't sure what to say, so he held his tongue, letting Crusch take the next step. She bridged her fingers in front of her, leaning her elbows against the table.
"The Witch cult is scrambling. Their grasp on the territories outside of Lugnica is waning. They are running scared." Crusch looked at the world map that hung upon her wall. "They lost two gospels, and as far as we are aware they only have six. They have lost one out of three great beasts."
"An absolute win for Lugnica," he said, nodding. "For the world, rather."
"Until they retaliate, fearful of being wiped out, or desperate as they stop being afraid to lose everything. Rabid animals, cornered, scurrying and lashing out."
"Which is why I am here," Lelouch said. He knew she could already guess his intention, but having it come from his lips was a power move. For today, he was fine with being the requesting voice. "For the good of all people, I propose a war. A war with the Witch Cult."
"You say that like they are not already everyone's enemy."
"They are not, because people are not considering them as they would a rival nation," Lelouch elaborated. "They're sowing fear and doubt, causing people to join them as they lose hope and heart. Merchants of terror, not a nation at war. The nomenclature here is important."
"Then you propose what exactly?"
"Wipe them out," Lelouch said, his voice hard. "Take the war to them. I will find spells to track them down, I will destroy their gospels, and everything they stand for. Until-"
Until she is left. Until only the Witch of Envy was there.
The happy dance she was doing wasn't something he had to see. He felt it, on the edges of his mind, a pearl white dress in the garden-
"Until?" Crusch prompted. Lelouch released a breath he didn't know he was holding.
"Until the people can sleep soundly at night, knowing there is peace. Priscilla has already sworn to aid in whatever it takes to destroy them. I am here to propose for all candidates to do the same, knowing that you have the greatest interest besides perhaps Emilia."
And for the third time, silence. Wilhelm walked in, a tray with cups and a pot of tea. Unconcerned by the tense silence, he broke it by putting the cups in front of them. Crusch raised her hand to stop him.
"You've never told me about what brought you here," Crusch mentioned, leaning back in her chair. "And whenever someone digs into your origins, I can hear your heart turn in on itself in frustration."
"It was a bad day," Lelouch said, one of his hands coming to his chest. Suzaku's last sin. "A very, very bad day."
"I once heard someone say something that stuck with me," Crusch said, her eyes moving towards Wilhelm. "A hundred bad days make a hundred good stories. If you tell me a good story, perhaps we can decide on how to proceed."
"No, I tire of these games," Lelouch said, standing up. His voice was more than steel. It was gleaming silver hanging above the cultists with a damoclean threat. "Ask your questions, and I will be honest. If nothing else, you are the only person who will ever believe my words."
"Someone so invested in this despite not being a citizen, you have to forgive my suspicions."
Lelouch frowned. "I tire of reacting to kidnapping attempts and the deaths of people around me."
"The loss of Aldebaran seems to have hit you hard, Lelouch," Crusch said, frowning at him. Was she that unused to genuine anger from him? Was she that confused at his fervor? He would have thought it'd please her, to see him lose his cool for just a moment. Or perhaps it was the attachment to Priscilla she was taking issue with, considering Aldebaran's loyalty to the princess.
"He was a countryman," Lelouch said, pursing his lips and thinking of Kallen. "And in the past long since passed, his sister was a comrade in arms."
Lelouch shook his head. "I promised honesty, not to lay out my entire life and relationships before you, Duchess Karsten."
"I understand, but you will have to forgive if I wish to indulge for just a few moments more," Crusch said, crossing her arms. "After all, you know not to lie to me, but you know well to obfuscate and dance around an issue. Let me be frank, who do you wish to protect by wiping the Witch Cult out?"
He hesitated, the expression on his face between frustration and relief.
"Your country, which you claim no longer exists?" Crusch kept digging. "Or Lugnica, where you have people to call friends now? If not the kingdom, perhaps the people? Reinhard? Felt? Priscilla?" her voice, too, sounded doubtful for a moment as she finished the line of questioning, "me, perhaps?"
"Yes," Lelouch said, not committing to any answer. "All of them, I would protect them. But I know now that I cannot do so by becoming a shield. I must become a sword."
"Is that what you have learned in that family of Britannia?" she asked. Her hand was raised again and lowered quickly this time. Wilhelm continued with the tea.
"No," Lelouch said, sitting back down in the chair. Wilhelm poured him a cup which Lelouch accepted with a thankful nod. "My father was not unlike that Vollachian emperor. A man who consolidated the power of nobility under him by taking more and more wives."
Crusch frowned. Of course, there would be no way he was related to the Vollachian empire, which kept the theories about his origins at 'a kingdom so far gone that no memory of it remains'. He promised information, but the idea of different worlds spreading was not something he wished to risk.
In the end, it would be never certain if Pandora's trick was unique or not, and if someone else figured it out, this world would be a danger to Nunnally's peace.
"My mother was a commoner," Lelouch continued. Crusch's frown deepened. "A knight under my father's command, whom he was impressed with enough to wed. In the end, all good that came from that bastard's loins was me and my sister seeing the light of day."
"I suppose it must not have been easy as a commoner in a noble court."
"If it can be called that," Lelouch said, shrugging. "We were confined to the manor which our father had so selflessly granted us, and while some of our half-siblings were not against interacting with us, the malcontents grew."
"Your mother was not popular," Crusch concluded. "Neither were you by proxy, but I imagine someone of your intelligence was not to be kept under lock and key forever."
"We were not," Lelouch said, taking a sip of his tea. His hands were steady and calm. Despite the topic, his brimming anger was not enough to provoke the Witch. It was like she was listening to a bedtime story. "One day in the dead of the night, we were attacked. My mother, gone, my sister, crippled."
Crusch didn't react. No soft gasps, no worried glances, no teary eyes, no empty condolences. Lelouch resisted the approval that threatened to creep on his face. He continued, not missing a beat.
"When the investigation into my mother's assassination was shut down, I confronted my father in front of the court," Lelouch said. That made her react. Disapproval and the knowledge of what would follow gleaming in her eyes. "I was ten at the time, angry and grieving. In response, my father used my sister and I as pawns. He sent us to be political prisoners of a nation, a… diplomatic mission, he called it."
"He lied," Crusch concluded. Lelouch shrugged, meeting her eyes.
"Either that or he went senile, because not too long afterwards he invaded said nation. My sister and I were presumed dead, and considering the last time I stood before him, I was more than happy to leave him in that belief."
"I see," Crusch said. He could tell she didn't like it, the truth of something that she couldn't confirm herself. He also knew from her lips, which had been drawn into a thin line, that she disapproved greatly. "Is this where that attitude comes from, to sacrifice few for the sake of many?"
"Someone in the Witch Cult knows how to find my sister, who should be untraceable come the Dragon or Spirits," Lelouch said, shrugging the question off. "They threatened me, tried to blackmail me into complying for the sake of their grand plan. This cannot stand."
"You speak as if that is their greatest transgression, but you do not seem like someone who would let a little blackmail stop you. Have you not accused me of strong-arming you into things in the past?"
"It is a matter of personal freedom, yes, but your methods are not the same. And if they were, perhaps it is that accursed human emotion that keeps me from seeing you in the same light."
"You like me?" Crusch asked, raising an eyebrow.
"I do not dislike you, which isn't a given considering all the nobility of Lugnica I had the displeasure of meeting. But I digress, would it be too much to ask for an answer now, Duchess Karsten, or do you wish me to go home so you can think about it?"
Lelouch's voice echoed for a moment in the small office. Wilhelm was staring at him with an intensity that might have been intimidating if his swords had been at his hip.
"Destroying them would be a major victory for the world as a whole," Crusch conceded. "Joining your crusade, regardless of your reasons, would not lose me anything unless you are lying, which I know you are not. But I am still doubtful about your altruism. Who is it that you are willing to fight heaven and hell for, Lelouch?"
"Read my heart and let the wind tell you the same," Lelouch said, clenching a fist over the table. "It is not just my sister I wish to protect. I would not call you friends or comrades, but we are allies working towards a common goal, and I want to see everyone alive by the end of it."
Crusch stood, not saying a word, her expression unreadable.
When she walked around the table, Lelouch mirrored her, standing up from his chair and meeting face to face. Crusch gave him the smile of a knight. Charming, approving, and approachable. They took each other's hands.
"It's good that you can be honest with yourself now, Lelouch vi Britannia."
He gave her a smile that matched hers, perhaps more genuine than any smile he ever had in this world.
"What can I say, Duchess Karsten? The people here grow on you like a mold."
She laughed, letting go of his arm and grabbing a bottle of something from under her desk. Wilhelm looked at it in disapproval, but said nothing.
"I suppose so," Crusch said, grabbing two glasses. "I'll drink to that."
Lelouch didn't have it in him to refuse.
Slightly tipsy, and uncomfortable being such, Lelouch ended up back home, finally able to find some quiet. It has been a long two days, and the rest was long overdue. Flügel was sitting near the window, his lips moving without noise.
"I was thinking," Flügel said eventually. Lelouch turned towards him, then back to the files that Crusch had given him. Papers on the cult and what names they knew were connected to the organization that could be called nothing more than terrorists. "There's some authorities that are not so easily disabled, if you want the power to crush them all, you will need knowledge that defies all the knowledge in the kingdoms."
"Are you remembering something?" Lelouch asked. The spirit was rarely serious, which meant that it couldn't have been a pleasant memory. "Something useful?"
"You remember, the name of the person that most people claim sealed the Witch, correct?" Flügel asked. Lelouch nodded slowly. "My apprentice, Shaula."
"Hm," Lelouch made a non-committed sound, glancing at the spirit that had for now taken the form of a young boy again. "Yet many nobles know it was you. Why is that?"
"I cast a spell," Flügel said. "Anyone with magic that is powerful enough can shrug it off, but those who aren't will assume it was her, and no matter how much you try to convince them of it, it will not work."
"Why would you do such a thing?"
"Are you truly asking that?" Flügel asked, tilting his head. It was almost cute, if the voice wasn't speaking with a maturity above the age of his appearance. "I thought you of all people would understand."
Lelouch frowned. "I apologize."
To be known as a hero for what amounted to sealing away his spouse. He supposed he should understand, considering the Requiem.
"It's fine, I did it out of a selfish desire," Flügel said. "It is one of those things that people just accept, same as a dragon protecting a kingdom due to a covenant, and half the world being a cliff that leads to nothing. Regardless, if it is power you seek, then you must seek Shaula."
"She still lives?" Lelouch asked. "Four hundred years is a long time, even for a Sage, I imagine."
"There are many ways to achieve immortality, you'll find," Flügel said, shrugging. Lelouch sighed. If the Archbishop of Sloth had been body-snatching since the sealing, he supposed that being surprised at people's long lives was a waste of time. "For her, it was a rather ridiculous ritual that she decided to participate in. She guards the watchtower I have built to protect the sealing. As long as that tower stands, Shaula will guard it."
"What a lonely existence," Lelouch said, undressing as he became ready for bed. "To have left her to such a fate, you knew that people would try to free her."
"I feared that I would," Flügel admitted. "That I would grow weak, that I would go back and open and unleash evil because I was in love. Do not be fooled by my attempts to hide my participation in the sealing, however, Lelouch. She was as much a component as me. If I had to guess, I would argue that she is at this moment in time someone who could fight your friend Reinhard on equal footing."
"Can she leave the tower?" Lelouch asked. Flügel shook his head.
"Everything comes at a price. Until the day that the Witch is dead, she will protect the tower. If Pandora fears someone, it should be Shaula. She might be looking into the ritual which made Shaula into the Aegis Scorpio in order to revert it. I don't doubt she can find a way to overcome the Dragon, and all she has to do for Reinhard is to wait until he grows old and withers away, as the Sword Saint's bloodline will reject any attempt to remain 'stuck'."
"Which leaves Shaula as… the Sage? Aegis Scorpio?"
"The ritual was meant to create twelve guardians," Flügel elaborated. "She was the only success. And even without it, I assure you, you will find no better teacher for the Yang and Sage Magic than her. The problem is surviving your way there."
"I think we will manage," Lelouch said, snapping his fingers to turn off the lights in the room and lying down on the bed. "Where is the tower?"
"In the desert, to the south, near a city that stands as proof of peace between Vollachia and Lugnica. The miasma of the witch is thick there."
Lelouch grabbed his chest. He could feel it. The witch stirring, finally more than willing to reveal her own emotions. He clawed at the disgusting happiness that streamed forth, the open invitation that she gave him to visit her.
Her place of sealing, where the Witch's Miasma originated from-
How much more powerful could this curse in him grow from it?
How much closer was the Witch to taking his mind?
"Whatever it takes," Lelouch swore.