Well, isn't this something?
How is everyone doing? I'd like to thank everyone who has been patiently waiting for this update and apologize for taking way longer than expected with it. Sadly, I AM having a fair bit of trouble with the next chapter for this one and I'm not sure when I'm going to work all of that out.
For those of you waiting for the next Supernova chapter: It is also coming. As I stated when I first posted the last chapter, it is already done. Why have I held on to it for so long? I'm actually doing some rewrites of the earlier (probably the first four) chapters and I want to post everything together. There is at least one change, particularly in chapter one, that will have a bigger impact further down the line. What change is it? Well, you'll find out. Everything will be posted when I'm happy with it. Suffice to say, in the earliest chapters I was too afraid to take bigger risks and I am no longer happy with that fact.
Also, if you are fans of Type Moon, you can expect to see at least one story there at some point. Most likely a Fate Grand Order based one, though with a Fate/Stay Night twist. And I still have to post that Pokémon fic at some point. Fuck me, I just can't keep my ideas focused on one fandom, can I?
Turn 09 – Of Mice and Men
"He beat Cornelia." The most powerful man in the world was doing something he was very much unaccustomed to doing; gaping at a report in disbelief.
"That's my boy!" The very young lady with pink hair and fairly revealing clothes crowed for the fifth time that night. Her eyes were ringed with the red of Geass as she pirouetted in the Emperor's bedroom.
Charles zi Britannia sighed, "We've been over this Marianne. We don't know that this Zero is Lelouch."
"Oh please Charlie." The girl – who was far too young to have had any child much less one old enough to fit into Zero's outfit – scoffed, "A mother knows these things."
"Must you call me that, dear?" Charles sighed in exasperation. Why did the only one of his hundred-and-eight wives that he actually loved have to be so frustratingly annoying at times?
"Of course. Can't have you getting too haughty!" She chirped cheerfully, "Zero is so clearly Lelouch that I'm amazed no one has caught on yet. Who else but your son would dress up in that flamboyant outfit?"
Charles raised an eyebrow, "What exactly are you implying, you cheeky minx?"
Marianne giggled, "Oh, nothing at all love."
He shook his head, "Regardless, you're going to have to give me a bit more than that if you want to convince me."
Marianne huffed, "Just accept my intuition already!" She pointed imperiously at the older man. He just stared dryly at her, "Oh fine." She huffed, "First, he's clearly a genius. Against Clovis it was expected, but he's one for one with Cornelia! And in his first real battle too! The only way I could be more impressed was if he beat Schnizzy!" Her husband bit back a grin, "Second, he's ruthless. He dumped a goddamn mountain on Nellie!"
"That he did." Charles rumbled in good humor.
"Third; the outfit! Look at the helmet specifically! It's modelled after the King from Lelouch's first chess set!"
"You're grasping at straws there, my dear. That set is sought-after the world over and everyone know what it looks like." He retorted dryly.
Marianne bit back an infuriated scream, "Whatever! I'm right and you're wrong! End of story!"
He chuckled in amusement, "Regardless, I know that you're probably right. But assuming things and being wrong will make us look like fools."
She huffed, "We'd know already if you'd just go talk to Clovis."
"I told you." He deadpanned, "Clovis was barely recognizable in C's World. I can't even get him to stop screaming long enough to get a word in. Even his soul is brain dead now."
Marianne winced, "Right. Forgot about that. Why the hell did C.C. Mind Crush him? I knew she could do it, but she told me she hadn't done it in centuries!" Charles stayed suspiciously silent. Her eyes narrowed, "Charles… what did you do?"
"Nothing!" Her husband said, perhaps a little too quickly.
"Charles!" Marianne stamped her foot.
"I did nothing!" Charles said adamantly, "Brother was the one who did it!"
"hgjlk!" Marianne screeched unintelligibly, "What did that little hobgoblin do to C.C.? Wasn't killing me enough?!"
Charles once would have defended his brother. Those days were long past, "He may or may not have supplied Clovis with blueprints of a method of trapping her, as well as giving him her location and an idea of what she could do." Marianne stared dumbfounded at him. "Clovis may or may not have then spent several years trying to rip a Geass or her Code out of her." He suppressed a deep groan when he saw her eye twitch. That specific tell of hers was not good.
"WHY THE HELL DIDN'T YOU HAVE HER RELEASED IF YOU KNEW!" She bellowed at her husband.
That was one of the things he loved about her. She had absolutely no fear in regard to speaking her mind. Even against him. "I figured keeping her in one place until we were ready to initiate Ragnarӧk was necessary."
"She was an ally Charles!" Marianne bit out furiously, "And she was my friend!"
"And she was as mercurial as they come." He shot back, "What guarantee did we have that she would come back when we were ready?"
"Oh right!" Marianne snarled furiously, "Because having her as a fucking enemy is so much better!" She threw her arms up in the air.
He slumped, "No, it isn't." He ran a hand down his face, "Another concern I had was that she might actually succeed in transferring her Code to someone. It would have been just our luck to have her finally get what she wanted right as we were on the cusp of victory."
"Great job!" She said sarcastically, "This changes things. I was wondering why she refused to speak to me."
"It's… a bit worse than that actually." Charles winced. She turned a questioning gaze to him, "I felt more convergences with the Ragnarӧk Connection."
She paled, "Oh no…" She covered her mouth with a hand, before dropping it, "Charles, I think this might have been the biggest fuckup your brother could have made, and you certainly didn't help by not slapping that midget down when you found out! C.C. must be furious if she's giving Geass out while she's actually invested in a single contractor. What the fuck did Clovis do to her?! I never thought she could even get this angry!" Marianne waved her arms in the air in worry, "Even when I tripped and knocked over her Meat Lover's pizza she was just catty for a few days!"
"I don't know what Clovis did." He sighed in defeat. "But clearly he must have gone too far."
"How many?" She whispered, half-fearing the answer.
"Four so far, not counting the initial one." He clenched his fists, "Two in one night a few weeks ago."
Her eyes bugged out, "FIVE?!" She bit her lip, "I don't think we can afford to take it easy on this Zero. We can't afford to lose Kamine Island."
He snorted, "What's this? I thought you said Zero was Lelouch?"
"An enemy is an enemy." Lelouch's mother said carelessly, "If he gets in our way then he won't get special treatment. I would prefer that he join us of course, but it doesn't matter if he doesn't. We'll all be together once Ragnarӧk is complete, after all."
He smiled approvingly, "Good. I have no plans on taking it easy on him."
She smirked in amusement, "You going to spank Cornelia then?"
"Oh yes. My son he might be, but she's also my daughter. Failure is unacceptable. Especially for the Goddess of Victory." He rumbled.
"One of them had to." She smiled as she pointed out the flaw in that argument, "And she was caught pretty flat footed after all. Did I mention the mountain he dropped on her?" She giggled, making him shake his head, "Don't be too hard on her dear. I quite like Nellie. She's a good little girl." She then yawned, "Anyway, I'm going to bed. Poor little Anya here needs her rest."
"See you soon." Charles clenched his fist as the girl left the room. How he longed to have the real Marianne in his arms once more. His brotherwould pay.
"The Japan Liberation Front was nearly wiped out by your Narita operation, Viceroy."
Yet another of Clovis' flunkies. And unlike the others, he had actually been doing a fairly decent job up to this point with no cause for dismissal. Joy. "If you are quite finished?" She said irritably, "That operation was a disaster. Hundreds of our Knightmares were destroyed and the JLF escaped."
He bowed, "Escaped yes, but they are now running scared." He said calmly, "They are nowhere near as cohesive as they were days ago, and days ago they were even less cohesive than they had been since before the Lake Kawaguchi disaster."
The next person to speak up was a woman – one brought over by Cornelia herself. Vera Callahan was a… tolerable bureaucrat. "Indeed. It is quite clear that the Japan Liberation Front spent so much time, effort and money on that mountain fortress that they are feeling rather lost without it." She flipped through a stack of papers, "While they managed to escape, our net is closing on them by the day. In the past two days we've heard tell of mass desertions. The morale of the Eleven population – or more specifically, their opinions of the JLF – is down. Only their best aces have Knightmares now, and even Tōdō and his – ahem – Four Holy Swords-" Here she smirked, clearly showing exactly what she thought of their little group, "Can't hope to fight against our full might on their own. The clock is ticking for the JLF. Soon the leadership will no longer have subordinates to acquire necessities and they will have to come out into the open themselves. Once that happens, we'll be able to take the rest of them out in one fell swoop."
"All the same." Cornelia eyed them seriously, "We did not walk out of that battle unscathed. We're only barely pulling our forces together after that fiasco, so calling it a success seems inaccurate. What little of our forces managed to survive are busy scouring that landslide for survivors and corpses."
Guilford spoke up, "I believe that our occupation policy for this Area has been flawed from the start." He took command of the projectors and put up maps of the country, "Why have we consistently ignored Area Eleven's subways and mining railways? In the ghettos, there are hundreds of falsified property deeds! Rebellion has been allowed to grow unchecked here!"
"My lord, I mean no disrespect-" Cameron Richardson – one of their own appointees – began saying, "But filling in the tunnels is a fool's errand. There are hundreds of miles of tunnels. We can clearly see this on the map you've brought up. It would take us years to fill them all and that's assuming they haven't just dug more in secret. With how they've transformed entire mountains into fortresses, it wouldn't surprise me in the slightest if they have. And that's all without even considering the fact that such an endeavor would drain our coffers past their limits."
"They have been using them as escape routes as well as strike bases!" Guilford's voice rose in volume in his anger. Cornelia sighed internally. Guildford had been beating this particular drum for weeks, and even she wasn't convinced he was in the right. Not only that, but raising his voice wasn't earning his side any points.
"And they will continue to use them, my lord." Richardson said flatly, "The best we could do is seal up the ones in the Settlement. But that would put us at a disadvantage as well. We have used them for quick transport of materials as well as secret troop deployments ourselves. I believe we should focus on mapping and bugging them, not closing them. That way, we could turn their routes against them."
"It's a start, I suppose." Cornelia told him, eager to move on from this particular topic.
Darlton's deep baritone was the next to draw their attention, "Vice-Minister. Internal Affairs has appointed a special group of the Elevens to self-govern this area, isn't that right? A group who are called the NAC."
"Yes, as is our empire's policy." Richardson nodded respectfully.
"We looked for evidence of the NAC's conspiracies when we stormed Narita. Unfortunately, it was buried in the landslide. Still our suspicions remain high. If we suppress them now..."
Cornelia snorted. Long had she disagreed with that particular policy, "A group of bluebloods and plutocrats. An unwelcome relic from the past at this point."
"Your Highness." Callahan spoke up, "I would strongly recommend against acting against them." She crossed her arms in irritation, "It would certainly be an excellent move militarily, but it could also backfire right in our faces. The general populace has never condoned terrorism and the majority of them have refused to join any of the resistance outfits. If we remove the NAC on nothing but hearsay and suspicion, we could drive them right into Zero's arms." She pushed her glasses up, "Furthermore, the economy would collapse, which would just increase discontent, even among our people. And that's not even considering the possibility of the NAC planting contingencies in the case of their capture. We could rid ourselves of the rebellion's backers and in the same swoop, have their constituents do something suicidal such as detonating explosives in the mines."
Cornelia wrinkled her nose, "Even at this range, such a blast would wipe us out."
Euphemia spoke for the first time, "Then it's clear that we have a few important priorities." She said softly, "First and foremost being the rebuilding of our forces." She pointed out and changed the screens to some of the battle footage, "These Knightmares that the Black Knights brought into play are only just barely inferior to our Gloucesters. How are we going to give them the edge again?" Half the room was staring dumbly at the pink-haired young woman while Cornelia was starting to gain a proud glint in her eyes. While Cornelia had made sure to train Euphemia herself, she was not known for speaking too often. "Furthermore, we must ensure that the Sakuradite mines are not booby-trapped. Until we know that for sure, I could not in good conscience put our people at risk."
"I am going to have a meeting after we finish here to take care of that first concern." Cornelia stated, "As for the second…" She stared at the minsters, "You heard the sub-Viceroy. I want the mines inspected on the double. Claim that we want to make sure all safety standards are in play if you need to."
"Yes, your Highness!"
"Then you are dismissed. Guilford, Darlton. With me."
"Your highness!" Cécile gasped as the Princess walked into the Camelot trailer with her two Knights flanking her. She smacked the lavender haired man who hadn't even acknowledged the woman and forced him to attention, "Lloyd!" She hissed out of the corner of her mouth.
"Well hello there, your Highness!" Lloyd said cheerily, utterly unconcerned with decorum, "What brings you to our neck of the woods?"
"Asplund." Cornelia replied dryly. Such was Asplund's reputation as an eclectic genius that she didn't even bother smacking him down for his lack of respect. She doubted any punishment she could mete out would actually stick, and they needed his genius more than she needed to have her boots licked. It simply wasn't worth the effort. She gave a more respectful nod to Cécile, "Major Croomy."
"What can we do for you, your Highness?" Cécile asked respectfully.
She eyed the two of them seriously, "In the beginning, I had my doubts about your Lancelot." Lloyd's grin got just a little wider, "However, Narita has changed things. Your machine was one of the best-performing amongst our soldiers. Even-" She hesitated for the barest of moments, "with an Eleven as a pilot."
"Kururugi has been trying his hardest, your Highness." Cécile replied carefully.
"Indeed. My Knight Darlton has always claimed that skill should trump a person's nationality. For the first time, I am starting to agree with him. Kururugi has proven his skill. I've seen all of the footage we've been able to recover of the battle. He was the only one who managed to even give that red machine a fight." And didn't that statement burn Cornelia to admit? Cécile had to hold back a happy smile. Cornelia saw the woman's struggle to contain herself and allowed the corners of her lips to wiggle upwards before she went back to cool calm, "The question now is… is it Kururugi or your Lancelot that gave him those results?"
"Both!" Lloyd said cheerily, "Despite never having piloted a Knightmare, Kururugi scored a 94 percent synchronization rate on his first deployment. Quite obviously, his score has only gone up. He's the only pilot we have even considered after… the incident." A maniac look took his eyes.
At Cornelia's questioning look, Cécile squirmed a little before answering, "Before we found Kururugi, a mid-level knight was our test pilot. She… well, she crashed the Lancelot into a rail at barely thirty-percent output. And then she somehow managed to flip the entire machine over and smash it into a truck. One of the legs was mangled and the cockpit was dented, so it set production behind by about three months."
"Hoh, and this young man had that kind of success on his first ever deployment? I saw the tape of that day. He must be a rare talent." Darlton smirked in satisfaction, "Quite a pity he was not born Britannian. Perhaps he could have been serving as a Knight by now had he not needed to fight discrimination for his entire career."
Cornelia refocused on the purpose of her visit before things could devolve further, "Right, I'll cut to the chase." She said and stared hard at both of the scientists, "How long would it take and how much would it cost to have some more Lancelot models made for our forces?"
For the first time, Lloyd's smile dipped, "Ehhh… now that's a bit of a sticky one, your Highness."
Cécile winced, "I'm afraid it's too high spec a machine to ever put into mass production. As I mentioned, a mid-level Knight got barely thirty percent output and her synchronization rate was a mere twenty-nine. She had been a second-wave Sutherland pilot back when we were phasing out the Glasgows. Even if we had the funds to do so, anyone other than a high-level Knight like yourselves would probably just run it into a wall repeatedly."
"I expected as much." Cornelia frowned. It was an annoying answer, but one she had prepared for. "Then a unit for myself and my Knights?"
Cécile hesitated momentarily, "Princess, every single part of the Lancelot is custom-made; and we have no Knightmare factories capable of producing components of that quality here in Area Eleven. We can barely replace our Gloucesters as it is without ordering parts from the Mainland. Prince Clovis never ordered a high-tech facility constructed."
Lloyd started mumbling angrily to himself, "It has been more than a little irritating your Highness. We still don't have our Lancelot even close to mission ready. That fight with the red Knightmare demolished all of its Slash Harkens, both Maser Vibration Swords, and severely damaged the VARIS rifle. The explosion that ended the fight blew all of my precious Lancelot's limbs off!"
"It's going to take at least a week and half optimistically, if not two weeks period to even get the first Lancelot operational." Cécile was frowning as she remembered exactly how bad off their pride and joy was currently, "Especially with how low our funds are." She shot Lloyd a dirty look. The man had blown almost everything on the Lancelot itself.
"Money is not an issue." Cornelia nipped that thread in the bud, "I will be taking over your funding from now on. This seventh generation is clearly not a waste of time like the sixth was. My Gloucester was the best Knightmare we had bar the Lancelot and it was practically toyed with."
Lloyd and Cécile's faces lit up, "Now that puts us in an entirely different situation." Lloyd mused, "Of course, that still leaves the issue of how high-quality the components are and our lack of production facilities. We do have spare parts from older versions of the Lancelot saved up. I could have a Knightmare better than your Gloucester up and running by the time the original is fixed, but it wouldn't be a Lancelot."
"And if I may be honest, your Highness…" Cécile hedged, "I'm not even sure we should focus on limited production at all. Our Lancelot lost against that red machine. We can claim it was a tie all we like, but I think that if the shot had deflected in any other direction our White Knight would have been nothing but scrap."
"I confess myself… disappointed." Cornelia narrowed her eyes. "Come!" All of them were quick to follow, and they settled into a table, "Explain what you have in mind, Major Croomy."
"Yes, your Highness." Cécile nodded seriously, "Frankly, that battle worried the both of us in more ways than one. While we had never seen either machine before, we did recognize some of the technology used."
"I am aware." Cornelia replied dryly.
"The red Knightmare used your MVS." Guilford had his arms crossed in front of him, wearing a frown.
"And if I'm not mistaken, the black and gold one used the VARIS." Darlton finished he thought, his eyes narrowed.
"That's right, that's right!" Lloyd said cheerfully, before he almost visibly became possessed by a demonic aura, "My precious inventions, in the hands of our enemies. Hehehehe!"
"Is he quite alright?" Cornelia very subtly backed away from the unhinged man.
Cécile did not take her eyes off the Princess while she whacked her partner on the head, "Please ignore him, your Highness."
Lloyd shook himself, "Regardless… that unfortunately wasn't what we were referring to." He pouted at having been wrong.
Cécile sighed, "The claw of the red machine… that was a Radiant Wave Surger…"
Cornelia raised an eyebrow, "Is that supposed to mean anything to me?"
"It means!" Lloyd giggled almost psychotically, looking a little unhinged, "That Rakshata Chawla is on their side."
"She was a classmate of ours… and she was every bit as brilliant as Lloyd." Cécile told the Royal, who bit back a grimace. It would not do for her to show worry in front of her subordinates, "Had that machine only used the Surger, we wouldn't have been so worried. But neither the MVS nor the VARIS were stolen from the Lancelot during its debut. Neither of the weapons were ready at that time, nor were they finished in the blueprints that Zero could have stolen from Prince Clovis. That means that they finished both weapons in about the same time frame as we did, AND they came up with some new technology on top of it. Rakshata never expressed interest in plasma-based technology like those whips, but she certainly would be capable of finishing the MVS and the VARIS. So not only do they almost certainly have Rakshata on their side, but someone in their camp has some pretty deadly ideas, if nowhere near as innovative as ours."
"And more importantly…" Lloyd broke character, looking serious for the first time, "The means to produce them in quick order. Those mass production frames were brand new. They may not have exactly matched our Gloucesters, but they came close, and they were out in force. There is no way whatsoever they could have had machines like that shipped to Area Eleven without us having at least some inkling that it was happening. One or two machines – such as the Seventh-Generation ones – could have been snuck into the country in secrecy. But a whole platoon's worth when we can't easily replace our own Gloucesters on site and have to have them shipped instead? Without anyone noticing?" He shook his head, "No, they have to have a factory of some kind."
Cornelia crossed her arms, "While I did not know of this Rakshata, I had come to that conclusion myself." She was frowning heavily, "What do you plan to do to widen the gap once more?"
"A new budget will help, so you have our thanks." Lloyd went back to cheery.
Guilford spoke up, "The MVS especially and the VARIS… are they as time consuming and prohibitively demanding as the Lancelot proper to produce?"
Cécile smiled as they finally had some good news to give to the Princess, "We're happy to say that…no, they are not. Or at least the MVS are not." She had a clipboard and made a note, "We can have all three of your frames equipped with the blades within a few days at most, though we will need to upgrade your energy fillers as well as modify some parts of the machines themselves for them to be able to handle either them. The rest of our forces could see limited release as well, though I hesitate to even consider doing so for the Sutherlands. While the modifications would not be difficult to make provided we have the resources, they will be time consuming and the costs will start to climb. It would probably be smart to keep them to the Gloucesters once the shipments come in. Perhaps even just to the Knights you personally select. The Sutherlands are rapidly going to become obsolete if we truly are about to enter an arms race with the Black Knights."
"Now that's what I like to hear." Cornelia nodded approvingly, smiling for the first time, "And the VARIS?"
"That'll be harder." Lloyd admitted, "As with the MVS, we can have your units equipped relative soon. Your machines WILL be down for at least a week if we do so. However, they're far more expensive and technical compared to the MVS. We don't think it would be cost effective to equip the mass production Knightmares."
"Alright…" She allowed, "And now for the most important part." She leaned forward with her fingers clasped in front of her face, "What can we do about improving our Knightmares. MVS and VARIS aside, we simply aren't fast enough to keep up with those two machines. Not to mention those new mass production models of theirs come very close to matching our Gloucesters. Our only saving grace was that they do not outperform them. We have lost the technologic advantage."
"Unfortunately, that's not a problem that can be solved easily." Lloyd shook his head, "The only way to regain that edge amongst our forces is to deploy a new mass production model with higher specifications. But that's not something we can just click our fingers and do." He shrugged sheepishly, "Assuming we use my Lancelot as the model for the Generation Seven mass production unit, it would possibly take months to turn it into something an average Knight could use in battle. Quite obviously there would need to be an extensive number of downgrades made for the less talented of the crop to even use them."
"Let's shelve that discussion for the moment." Cornelia commanded evenly, "While equipping our regular soldiers with better Knightmares will no doubt become important, it is not a priority now. An army of generation seven mass produced units likely wouldn't even be able to scratch the paint on those two command units, and I doubt they will be sitting on their laurels either. If push comes to shove, we can phase out the Sutherlands entirely for Gloucesters. No, we need to focus on command units for ourselves."
Cécile nodded in understanding, "As we said, we can make you a new Knightmare your Highness, but it won't be quite as good as the original Lancelot. At least at first." Cécile felt helpless in this situation, which she did not appreciate. "We could upgrade it to full potential as new parts arrive of course…"
"Alternatively," Lloyd said cheerily, "We can rip your Gloucester apart and use it as a base for an entirely new Knightmare. That would shave some time off the process, though I don't believe it would be quite as good as it could be if we started from scratch. We would still be using the spares from the older Lancelot, but it'll be far more powerful than your old Gloucester."
"It's a start." Cornelia sighed. "You have my permission to proceed. Make sure you make use of my Gloucester's head in some fashion. It was upgraded for easier command." She had not gotten what she wanted out of this meeting. She contemplated demanding the original Lancelot turned over to her for her use but passed on that thought. Kururugi was performing very well in it, and frankly they might need that edge. "So, what will you do with your higher budget then?"
"Continue pushing the limit." Lloyd said immediately, "With the last engagement ending a tie, I have little doubt that the next time we see those Knightmares they'll be even stronger. That was their debut. No doubt they had kinks to work over."
"Lloyd is right." Cécile sighed as she admitted that, "We can focus on making the Lancelot more powerful to match that red one. I don't think the black one could defeat it even as it was during the operation. The red one is really the one to worry about. They were obviously the more skilled pilot between the two of them."
"Tell me about it." Guilford mumbled to himself, still smarting over his defeat.
"Very well. It wasn't what I was hoping for, but it appears that time is our enemy." She stood, "I'm giving you two a blank check to have a Production Facility built here in Area Eleven. You will work closely with my Knights as well as myself and the best designers of the Empire to make this happen. This Area is far too much of a hotbed to rely on deliveries from other Areas and the Homeland. It's far past time to have one built." She glared at the lavender-haired man as his face lit up in glee. "Understand this Asplund. This may be a blank check, but I expect my money to not be wasted. If you're going to be spending my money on something I expect exquisite detail in your reports explaining why exactly I need it. Is that clear?"
"Yes, your Highness!" All four of them saluted.
"Then get to work. I want this facility built on the double. If you have any requests for architects and engineers from the homeland, I expect their names on my desk by tonight." She turned and walked away, "Good day."
"Eurgh!" Kallen awoke with a groan, "Anyone get the plate number on that building?"
She heard deep chuckling to her side and opened her eyes, staring at her boyfriend and girlfriend, "Good to see you in good humor, Kallen." Milly's eyes were suspiciously shiny as she leaned over her and stole a quick kiss. Lelouch was holding her hand and gently rubbing her hand with his thumb, "You gave us quite a scare."
"I lost." She growled out, slumping into herself.
"No, we watched the footage. You definitely won." Milly giggled, "If the VARIS shot hadn't deflected into the ground the Lancelot would have been weaponless. You would have finished him easily." She pouted, "Just a bit of bad luck really."
"I didn't win, so I lost!" She said mulishly. Lelouch rolled his eyes and flicked her on the nose, "Ow!" She glared at his grinning face.
"Don't be stubborn Kallen." He chided, "We got everything we came for and you were trashing the Lancelot." He leaned over and stole his own kiss. The redhead relaxed and deepened it. They kissed for a few moments more before Lelouch pulled away.
"So, how was your talk with Cornelia?" She asked, trying to move away from her own fight.
"I do believe it went better than expected." He smirked, "She definitely has doubts about Britannia, no matter how she tries to hide it. I honestly thought she was going to shoot me – damn the consequences – when I brought up the deaths of the vi Britannia siblings."
"You certainly love playing with fire, don't you dear?" Milly pinched his side, making him jump.
Kallen smirked, "Maybe you should be a bit more careful, Lulu. At this rate even if you get her on our side she might still kill you." She laughed at the look on his face, "Anyway, how long am I going to be stuck in this damn bed?"
"You'll be cleared after you're checked over. You weren't injured enough for Britannian medical sciences to not have you on your feet again." He told her.
"Great!" She cheered and started sitting up, "Anyway, how's my Guren?"
Milly and Lelouch winced, "Err… you may want to avoid Rakshata for a few days."
Kallen cringed, "How bad was it?"
He shook his head, "Whoever the pilot of the Lancelot is made a brilliant final move and he probably has the devil's luck. The full power shot from his VARIS made your Surger malfunction and since it deflected downwards, the explosion almost tore apart both of your machines. The Guren lost one of its legs and the Radiant Wave Surger was mangled."
"She's going to kill meee!" Kallen groaned and fell back into bed.
Rakshata was indeed glaring at Kallen. Lelouch held back a chuckle at the sight of his strong-willed girlfriend sitting stiffly with fright, "Right, if we're all done shooting death-beams with our eyes." Rakshata turned her glare on him, but he had dealt with worse, "Have we all reviewed the footage?"
"Yes." They all replied, though Rakshata's voice sounded like two cinderblocks grinding together.
"Good." He crossed his arms, "What did we do well? What did we do poorly?" he asked, "And how can we make improvements?"
Kallen winced, "I got too zealous at the end there." She sighed, "If I had just kept shooting at him he would have run out of power and would have been easy pickings. If I didn't know any better, I'd say I got rope-a-doped."
Milly and C.C. bit back snickers at her expense.
"Ahh!" Nina raised her hand shyly.
Milly giggled, "You don't have to raise your hand Nina. We're not in class right now."
The girl flushed, "R-right!" She prevaricated, "I think there are some improvements we could make to the Guren. The Lancelot clearly had the advantage when they were at range." She pushed her glasses up, "Additionally, while the claw is extremely powerful, it is also extremely obvious. Kallen had the edge here because of how she was able to surprise the Lancelot and her close-range capabilities were much greater, but if she lost the claw for whatever reason, the Guren's capabilities would be cut by more than half."
Rakshata grumbled, admitting the point, "I'm afraid I have to agree." She said so with annoyance.
Kallen spoke up with a heavy frown, "It never came up before but with the amount of damage the Radiant Wave Surger took in his mission, it kind of looks like we may have put all of our eggs in one basket. If anyone gets a lucky shot off and damages the arm in a mission, all I have left is the MVS knife, a single Slash Harken and a dinky little gun on the other arm."
"True." Milly agreed, "But we did see the Surger block the VARIS. Not even the Blaze Luminous can do that."
"The Surger is an excellent weapon." Lelouch said, "There's really no discussion to be had on that front."
"So…" Rakshata finally relaxed, content with the knowledge that they weren't even thinking of considering her baby a failure. And if she were honest with herself… Kallen did more than fine. It was just really bad luck that damaged her baby, "Your ideas?"
Kallen scratched her chin lightly, "Hmm, why is only one of the arms a Radiant Wave Surger? And why is it so unarmored?"
Rakshata blinked, tapping her pipe into her hand, "Hmm, I hadn't considered putting it on both arms before. Doing so would certainly double the effectiveness, but the power consumption would be extreme." None of them noticed Nina perk up at this. "As for the lack of armor…" She shrugged with a sheepish grin, "The Guren is still a prototype you know. Initially we just kept it unarmored because of the Surger's ejection system as well as the extension system."
"That'll be our first priority then. The Harken Boosters we took from the Lancelot would also be a great boon to the Guren." Lelouch said, "We wouldn't have to worry about the extension arm anymore which will allow us see about armoring it a tad."
"Already on it." Rakshata said lazily, "I should have the prototype ready in a few days."
"Good!" Kallen grinned fiercely, "Having two Radiant Wave Surgers is probably out of reach right now, so what other modification could we make?"
"How about Blaze Luminous emitters on the arms and the legs?" C.C. shot out lazily, "You love kicking so those would probably give em a little bit more oomph. Plus, you wouldn't waste so much energy blocking shots that didn't require your best defense with the Surger." Kallen's grin answered that one.
"How about putting a VARIS in the other arm instead of that cannon?" Lelouch asked Rakshata.
She shot him down immediately, "Impossible." She shook her head, "The VARIS is too big and complicated to put into the Guren's arm. It would just slow her down." She took a drag from her pipe, "Need I remind you that we have other machines to build as well? We still haven't tested enough of our ideas for C.C.'s machine. With her superhuman abilities it would be criminal not to take advantage of them."
"My machine was put at a lower priority for a reason." The verdette responded lazily, "My abilities do not make me a better pilot than Kallen. While I can handle far greater extremes and stresses than a normal human and my strength and reflexes are far greater, I don't have the natural talent she has in piloting. I will have to gain much more experience before I can even dream of matching her." Kallen preened at the compliments, "And frankly, I doubt Rakshata would be too pleased with me if I ran one of her brand-new babies into a wall." They all snickered at the Indian woman's twitching eyebrow. "What of the Raijin?"
"It was excellent in its first battle." Lelouch said immediately. "However, the whips were as power hungry as we feared. I had them activated for less than a minute and they drained almost ten percent of my energy filler." He scratched his head in a little frustration, "Don't get me wrong, I loved them and their were useful for disabling Cornelia's Gloucester, but until we figure out a better way to power our machines I don't think I can rely on them as a primary weapon. I'll need to be far more sparing with them or else we'll risk me running out of power far too quickly during longer engagements."
"I did warn you." Milly needled him with a smirk.
"Yeah, yeah!" He rolled his eyes, "Regardless, the VARIS cannons worked wonderfully." The door banged open and they all sprang to attention, weapons slipping into Lelouch, Milly and Kallen's hands immediately. "Euphie?!" Lelouch gaped at his crying sister's face for a moment. He stashed his gun and walked up to her, wrapping her up in a huge, "What in the world are you doing here?"
"We…" Euphie trembled, before burying her face into his shoulder, "W-we didn't get everyone."
Kallen and Milly went over with dumbfounded looks on their faces, "We didn't?"
Euphie shook her head and wiped her eyes, "I- I don't know how it's possible! We were evacuating for over an hour! The last ten minutes none of the soldiers saw a soul!"
"How many?" Kallen looked horrified, holding a hand to her mouth.
Euphie shook her head, "I don't know." She whispered, "They're still digging the building out. Apparently, it was the only one."
Lelouch's eyes narrowed, "The only one?" He questioned, "Was it really out of the way?"
"No." She sniffled, "And from the testimonies of the soldier, it had been abandoned when they searched it. Apparently, the landslide knocked it off its foundations and started burying hidden entrances. We only found it because a Sutherland got swept inside one of the hidden tunnels."
Lelouch bit his lip, "That… seems very odd. What in the world could they have been hiding there?"
"Hiding?" She questioned in confusion.
"Yes…" He answered, "They ignored the evacuation and were in secret rooms in a seemingly abandoned building." He said gravely, "No matter how I look at it…something odd was going on there."
Shirley was completely elated when she received an envelope from her daddy. She opened it up while hidden behind a stack of books and had to fight hard to suppress the squeal of glee that threatened to bubble out of her. Her wonderful daddy had sent her tickets to a ballet she had been wanting to see for quite some time! She… she had a lot of time to herself the past few weeks. Other than club activities and homework… she hadn't been herself. She knew that other people were noticing how she didn't hang out with her friends as often anymore.
When the events of Lake Kawaguchi had been fresh, Shirley had just felt… betrayed. More than anything, it was the lies that had gotten to her. She had shown her heart on her sleeve and thought her friends had done the same. To find out that she had practically bared it to them while they kept their hidden lives secret… it had gotten to her. It honestly had. She had distanced herself from them because of it. But…
Time had gone on. And as time went by… as the weeks passed… Shirley realized she was incredibly lonely. She had thought she had more friends than just Milly and Lelouch (with Kallen there as well, but she had known the redhead for far less), but things just… hadn't been the same. She missed Milly's shenanigans. She just missed being around them. Her roommate Sophie… the swim team… they were just a roommate and teammates. Yeah, they were friendly… but it just wasn't the same. They weren't friends. She missed them all, and she was unhappier being away from them than she was unhappy about their secret selves.
So, these tickets really were a golden opportunity. She knew exactly who she wanted to ask to go with her, "Hey Milly?"
She watched as Milly's face lit up when she approached her. It was that more than anything that convinced her that she was doing the right thing. Her oldest friend had clearly missed her just as much as she had, "What's up, Shirley?"
Shirley smiled and offered the olive branch, "Daddy gave me two tickets to Swan Lake. Do you want to come with me on Saturday?"
Milly gave the girl a hug, "I'd love to!" Shirley smiled happily. It would be difficult. She knew that. But she was willing to put in the effort.
Cornelia's face was like stone as the briefing about the people found in the secret rooms went on. "…far, we have identified three of the twelve." Pictures flashed up on the screen. A rather old, gray-haired woman, a young blonde man, and a portlier man with receding gray hair flashed on the screens. Each of them had a dossier attached. "We are close to identifying four more, but five of the twelve have been badly damaged to the point of not being recognizable. We are going to have to wait for missing persons reports to start cropping up and perhaps begin DNA testing them with possible relatives."
"Very well." She said with an exhausted sigh. Dealing with some of the ministers was absolutely insufferable. The man in particular didn't even have the decency to use some deodorant. She could practically smell his sweat from here. "These twelve were the only ones found thus far who did not evacuate. I want links!" She said in a hard tone, "Sub-Viceroy Euphemia had our men evacuating the populace of that town at gunpoint if they refused to leave peacefully. I hadn't thought she would go that far but clearly it was the right move. These twelve ignored over an hour's worth of evacuation sirens and were found in a hidden underground complex. What were they doing in there?"
"Sister." Euphemia called out, "I've taken a look at all of these dossiers. All of these people were very well educated. All three of the ones we've identified had a PhD in one subject or another." She bit her lip lightly, "All three had extensive knowledge of Chemistry and Biology in particular. All of them had some backing in neuroscience. The room they were found in was utterly trashed of course, but it was visibly a lab of some sort."
Cornelia smirked, "That's what I like to hear. Well done, sub-Viceroy." She turned her attention back to the affronted-looking minister, "What of the building? I want to know what they were hiding." She tapped a pencil lightly on the table absently as she stared at the pictures flashing on the screen. After every picture, the minister would give a little blurb on it. Frankly, she wasn't paying too much attention to him.
But then, her eyes widened as he started cycling through equipment, "These were broken pieces of equipment we've been able to piece together. The only intact one was found in a closet with a sturdy door. The landslide didn't reach all the way into the building. We know not what their uses are."
"Stop!" She commanded with a snarl. Sitting innocuously on the screen was something she recognized.
A young, green-haired woman strapped into a chair with her arms locked down. A helmet was on her head as she stared at the ground with her eyes closed. Many wires led away from the helmet and there were brackets around the chair that were touching her arms and neck.
"Go on." Cornelia said as she stared at the decently-intact contraption, her mood instantly fouler than it had been moments ago. And then her pencil snapped in her hand. On the screen was a picture of a crumpled looking contraption. It had been crushed and warped beyond repair, so it wasn't too surprising that the ministers were having a hard time recognizing it. But to Cornelia, it may as well have been whole. She recognized it instantly.
"Your Highness?" The minister looked at her in shock. Or rather, he stared at her hand which still held the broken pieces of pencil.
"I want every single bit of equipment in that place saved and brought to a secure location." She commanded, "Every piece, every computer, every hard drive. If there is even an iota of data that can be saved from their broken drives, then I want that iota. My eyes only!"
Many in the room looked utterly bewildered, but nonetheless, they chanted out, "Yes, your Highness!"
"Kyoto complimented us quite a bit on our usage of the Guren. I thought that was pretty encouraging." Ohgi grinned at their masked leader, "I think some of them may have been pretty angry about the Burai though."
Lelouch rolled his eyes behind his mask, "If they're getting bent out of shape about us repurposing their trash then I'm not sure I have too high an opinion of them."
Ohgi held back a chuckle at his leader's irreverent attitude regarding the most powerful Japanese group in the country, "Anyway, here." He passed him a note.
"What's this?" Lelouch quirked an eyebrow.
"A love letter."
Kallen held back a smirk and Zero inclined his head to the side, "I'm quite flattered Ohgi, but I don't think we're right for each other. It's not you. It's me." He said in amusement.
Kallen bit back her giggles as Ohgi flushed a deep red. Tamaki didn't even bother and started laughing uproariously. "And they say you have no sense of humor." He crowed between his cackles.
"You're too loud, numbskull." Kallen elbowed him lightly.
"Not me!" Ohgi was still pretty red, "It's from Kyoto! They're urgently requesting a meeting."
Lelouch started opening the letter when he stopped, bringing it closer to his mask and hitting a button. A very small port opened up and he sniffed, "Perfume?" He raised an eyebrow.
"I did say it was a love letter, didn't I?" Ohgi chuckled himself.
He read silently for a few moment, and sweatdropped, 'Why does this seem oh so familiar?' He shook himself, "Well, regardless of that, is this really a big deal? Other than the Guren we've built everything ourselves."
"Well they are the biggest group in Japan. They're a pretty big deal." Kallen deadpanned.
"Plus if we can get aid from them it'll help our financial crisis." Ohgi continued from where Kallen left off.
Zero's voice – which had been decently warm for something so synthesized – went cold, "Financial crisis?" Everyone but Kallen stiffened, "There shouldn't be any problem if you are following the budget I laid out."
"Well…" Ohgi couldn't help but glance at Tamaki, who stiffened.
"Oi, oi! It's not my fault. We're turning into a big organization now! That means new expenses, you know!" Tamaki stammered, looking a bit shifty.
Kallen put a cheesy grin on her face and her eyes were half-lidded, "Oh, you mean like those nice, fancy dinners you've been treating the recruits to so you can show off?"
"Oi!" he turned to her angrily.
"Yeah Tamaki, I know you and how you act." She shot back at him, "Mr. Big Spender." He cringed back.
Lelouch held back an irritated groan. Why oh why had he even given him a chance? "Inoue, you were an accountant were you not?
The purple-haired woman jumped lightly at being put on the spot, "Ah, yes I was."
"You're in charge of the treasury for now." Zero told her, and she swallowed heavily.
He was putting a lot of trust on her with this nomination. She wouldn't let him down, "Yes sir!"
"Oi! That's always been my job!" Tamaki got ticked off immediately.
"Then show us some results." Zero said uncaringly, "Perhaps you should treat us to dinner at this restaurant as well. Out of your own pocket, of course." Tamaki's face shone with horror, his eyes white. "And I mean all of us. New recruits included."
Kallen smirked, "Hmm, I sure could go for some Bluefin Tuna."
"That does sound quite good." Zero grinned as Tamaki started to shake, "I'd quite enjoy some Kobe myself. How about you lot? Inoue?"
The purple-haired woman smirked slowly, "I've always wanted to try some high-tier Fugu."
"Alright! Alright! I'm sorry!" Tamaki bowed, "Please forgive me!"
"As I said… if you want to return to being the treasurer, then you have to prove yourself. You've wasted our money by spending it frivolously. Show us that you can be trusted with a job like that. Until then, Inoue is taking your place and I'll find something else for you to do." A beat, and a massive smirk rose up on Zero's face, "And you're still taking us out."
"ZERO!" The redhead wailed. This time, Kallen couldn't contain herself. She and the other founders started cackling at Tamaki.
A few moments later, Kallen slipped into Zero's room without knocking. Lelouch was sitting by his computer looking at various dossiers on persons of interest. "Whatchu doing?" She pecked him on the cheek and leaned over his chair.
Lelouch smiled, "Oho, not worried about the rest finding out?"
She shrugged, "They're bound to eventually."
He shook his head with a grin, "Anyway… I've narrowed Kyoto down to these twelve." She watched as he cycled through twelve images, "They're the only ones who are in positions where they would be capable of supporting the resistance."
Her eyes widened, "Kirihara? The traitor?"
"Why yes." Lelouch smirked, "I remember him well from before the occupation. I have zero doubt that he is involved. No doubt, we will be meeting him face-to-face."
"And the others?" She asked curiously.
He chuckled, "Well unless one of them is particularly flamboyant, I suspect Kaguya Sumeragi-hime was the one who wrote our little invitation."
"She's pretty young." Kallen raised an eyebrow in surprise, "She's still only fifteen huh?"
"She'll be sixteen in a few months, but don't let her age fool you." Lelouch commented, "Unless I very much missed my guess, she was taken under Kirihara's wing. If I'm right about that, then she'll be as strong-willed and politically-savvy as they come."
"So, what's the plan?" She grinned as he stood and scooped her up.
"Nothing too strenuous. Just a bit of a bait and switch." He pecked her on the lips, "I'm more interested in other plans right now." Their lips again met as he sat them down on his sofa.
"Looks like your fever is gone, Nunna." Lelouch smiled as his sister immediately sat up, "Pretending to sleep again?" He chided her gently as she wrapped her tiny arms around his neck.
"I wanted to see you." She pouted, "Maybe I've just been a little moody. You've been distant lately."
He gently ran his hand through her hair, "Yeah… We've been pretty busy." He put his forehead on top of her head, "But I promise Nunnally… I'll always be here for you."
"What have you and Milly been doing?" She asked curiously.
He chuckled a little, "Se~cret!"
"Lelouch!" She pouted, before she gasped, "You haven't made me an auntie, have you?"
"Nunna!" He gasped, "Just where is that head of yours, young lady?"
She stuck her tongue out playfully, "Can you stay here for a little while?"
"Of course…" he smiled, and continued running his fingers through her hair. Gradually, her breathing slowed until she was fast asleep, "Sleep well Princess." He gently kissed her forehead before leaving the room.
The next day, Milly was getting ready for the show she was going to see with Shirley when her phone rang, "Hey Shirley! What's up?"
"Hey Milly." Shirley's voice sounded a little sad and confused, which made Milly frown, "I'm going to have to cancel."
"Really? What happened?" Milly's heart sank. She had been really looking forward to reconnecting with Shirley today.
"I… I'm not sure." Shirley mumbled, "Mom called and said I had to go somewhere with her. She wouldn't tell me why. I don't know when I'll be back and I don't want to leave you hanging at the theater. It's supposed to rain."
"Oh darn." Milly pouted, "I'll buy tickets next time then. How about that? Cinderella will be performed in a month or two."
"Sounds great!" Shirley chirped, "I'll see you later."
The ghetto Zero was standing in was completely mired in fog. He could hardly see a couple meters in front of him while he walked. It would provide excellent cover for sure, but he had no doubt that the opposite could be true. If Britannia was planning an ambush, then they were sure to be caught flat-footed. Still, Zero carried himself calmly, and a limo slowly rolled to a stop in front of him, "Good day." His synthesized voice rang loud and clear.
"My apologies, but you need your staff as well." The mustached chauffer told him, "That is what my master commanded."
"Of course." He replied, "My men are merely patrolling at the moment. I shall call them soon." The slot on his mask opened up, "But before that…"
Suzaku sighed as he hopped out of his requisitioned Sutherland. He still couldn't believe that Princess Cornelia had promoted him to Second Lieutenant after Narita. He had been so shocked – what with what he felt was his extremely poor performance – that he had forgotten some decorum and had fumbled with his thanks. He was fairly sure the woman had contemplated removing the promotion afterwards. With his new rank, he was allowed to pilot a replacement Knightmare while his Lancelot was being repaired. As his promotion had been delivered almost as soon as he had woken up, he had immediately gone out to help dig out his fallen allies.
The only reason his rage had simmered rather than build was that they had been finding very, very few civilians. Princess Euphemia's evacuation plan had evidently worked wonders. But the sight of all his dead comrades – suffocated in their cockpits as their oxygen ran out – had him disheartened. They had managed to save very few while he had been unconscious, and by the time he went out there was no one left. "Dug enough bodies out of the landslide, yet?" Lloyd's lackadaisical voice was pretty unwelcome right now.
He sighed as he dumped the rest of his water bottle into his hair, "I'd like to continue recovery operations if that's possible."
"Of course, you do." Lloyd sighed, "Oh well, it's not like we can do much else. Oh, my Lancelot!" He wailed at the end.
Suzaku exhaled sharply through his nose, biting back a tired chuckle, "Lloyd, if you don't want me to be the pilot anymore, I would perfectly understand."
"Now what kind of silly thoughts are you having, Su-za-ku?" Lloyd enunciated his name, "You're the best pilot we have and only you can pilot my precious."
"I lost." He growled at the man.
"Look around you my boy." Lloyd said, solemnly for once, "No one in Britannia did any winning that day."
Suzaku flinched and clenched his fists, "Lloyd… Zero and the Black Knights… what are they trying to do? What do they hope to achieve by sacrificing all these lives?"
"Battle is what we all signed up for, Suzaku." Lloyd said cheerily, "Remember that they were all soldiers. Zero is an enemy general. This is what happens when two armies meet."
"But what about the civilians!" He yelled at the man.
Lloyd shrugged, "There were surprisingly few. The death toll should have been in the thousands." He chuckled, "The evacuation worked wonders."
"He couldn't have known that!" Suzaku shot back.
"Oh, I wouldn't necessarily agree." Lloyd leaned down and smirked slyly, "He certainly seems to have an answer for everything, doesn't he? Who's to say his plans didn't factor the evacuation?" He giggled, which felt very weird coming from a man, "They are Knights for Justice after all. Haven't you heard?"
Whatever retort Suzaku was about to fire at him died in his throat. Across the field, he saw Shirley and a woman following Knight Nu. 'What in the world is she doing here?' he wondered.
"This is taking too long!" Tamaki groaned for the fifth time in the past hour.
"Perhaps…" Zero had started to get irritated by the loudmouth two comments ago, "The baby would like his bottle?"
Kallen stared at him through lidded eyes as Tamaki drew himself up in affront, "Shut up Tamaki. You're embarrassing."
Finally, something different happened which cut off Tamaki's response, "We're going up?" His voice held incredulity. The limo they sat inside had jarred abruptly and noticeably started going up; the feeling rather like an elevator.
They sat on the elevator for a few minutes, before the car went forward again and stopped, "My apologies for the wait." The chauffer told them, "The master is waiting for you."
Ohgi was gaping as he ran towards the window, "This… these are the Fuji mines!"
"There's no way!" Tamaki shot back in disbelief, his eyes bulging out, "There's no way we can be here!"
"Looks like you were right, Zero." Kallen grinned lightly as the members of the former Kōzuki group snapped their heads towards her with looks of shock.
"Kallen…" Ohgi was staring at her with wide eyes.
He would have questioned her further, but Tamaki cut across with a growl, "Looks like we're right above the damn Sakuradite. The stuff that started this whole mess." He glared out at the settlement in the distance. "Intruders here get executed without a second thought!"
"Kyoto's power sure extends far, huh?" Kallen had her arms crossed below her chest, "They're flaunting right under Britannia's noses."
"They're amazing…" Ohgi breathed out, Kallen's earlier comment forgotten for the moment.
"It is an abomination!" A strong, wizened voice rang out. The windows tinted red and became opaque, preventing them from seeing outside. The room they were in consequently darkened. They whirled around and caught sight of two mobile-veils set up. They could make out the outlines of a man and a woman behind either screen. "Mount Fuji… a sacred mountain once known for its clear water and quiet beauty. And now it's bent to the empire's will, it's continual rape a reflection of what Japan has become." He clenched his cane tightly, "What a wretched thing it is."
They all walked forward to stand in front of the screens, "It is a pleasure to finally meet you, Zero-sama." The female's voice rang out, "Though I would have preferred it to be in different circumstances." Only the man next to her knew for sure that her voice contained an admonishment.
He didn't care. He couldn't entrust Japan to her flights of fancy. He respected her as a leader for sure, but in the end, he was just like the other old men of the Six Houses of Kyoto. "We apologize for not showing our faces, but you do the same, do you not?" He raised his cane, "I must be sure. Sure of who you are!" He didn't notice the female clenching her fists angrily. How could he treat their savior like this?! Four Burai slowly wheeled into the room, their guns pointed at the group. Much to the group's surprise, Kallen did not immediately jump out to defend him. She had been his most ardent supporter amongst their group, so that struck Ohgi especially as odd. It reinforced his trickling thoughts from earlier that he didn't know what was going on anymore, "Which of you is Ohgi?"
"Ah…" Ohgi stepped forward, "That would be me."
The man commanded him, "You will remove Zero's mask." The group stiffened; all but Kallen reflexively glancing first at Zero and then at their friend, who again did not react in the slightest.
"There is no need." Zero's voice rang out for the first time. Kallen fought down her smirk as Zero raised his hands to his helmet and tugged it off his head. Or rather her head. Luxurious green hair spilled out from under the mask as she stared at the screens playfully.
"Wait! You're C.C.!" Ohgi gasped.
"That's right." C.C. said silkily, "And you of course would be the head of Kyoto… Taizō Kirihara." They all stiffened, "And how nice it is to see you again, Kaguya Sumeragi-hime."
The man clenched his cane tightly while the woman grinned gleefully. The two bodyguard who stood beside them finally reacted, "Anyone who can identify them must die!"
"Especially if they are not Japanese!" The other roared as the two started pulling out pistols.
But the Black Knights had a much bigger trump card. The Burai on the front right suddenly fired its Slash Harkens and destroyed both opposing Burai, before slamming its Tonfa into the last. All three machines went down in the barest of seconds. Even as it did so, Kallen and C.C. blurred into action. Both threw a kunai at the bodyguards which knocked their guns flying. Both men bit back screams of pain and cradled their injured hands. The rest of the Black Knights were dumbfounded as the two women moved so fast it almost looked like they were leaving after-images. Kallen crossed the distance in a few blinks and kicked the left bodyguard sharply in the jaw and he crumbled like a house of cards. C.C. – who moved even faster than Kallen did – swept his feet out from under him and slammed a foot into his chest, knocking the air from his lungs. A blade came out from her wrist and she held it to his throat, "I wouldn't move if I were you, darling." A wheezing groan of pain was her only response. One last, casual stomp had him out like a light.
Taizō clenched his cane furiously. He had been completely outmatched from the start. Kaguya on the other hand started clapping cheerfully, "What a wonderful show, Zero-sama!"
Kallen let out a little smirk as the real Zero exited his Burai, "Why thank you, my dear hime." He jumped down and leaned on his Burai's leg, in full view of the Black Knights, "I have to confess my disappointment Taizō. That was sloppy and uninspired." He chuckled deeply, "Though to be fair, with the quality of these Burai, I can't say I'm too surprised." His reward was a furious grunt and a clenching of teeth from the bald man, "I'm afraid your methods and philosophies are outdated. It's hardly a wonder you never win anymore."
Kaguya held back a gleeful grin. Taizō had been a good mentor, but it was clear he was failing as a true leader nowadays. His rigidity held him back and she had been considering breaking with him for some time now. Something needed to change for them to have any hope of victory, "I did advise that they find Sutherlands to base our models off of, but they preferred the immediate poorer results over the smarter strategy of patience. I'm afraid I was overruled." She pouted cutely, not that Zero could see from behind the screen.
Kirihara was really risking one of his teeth exploding from his anger. Especially at his age. 'Kaguya… you little brat!'
Zero chuckled once more, "Oh, they served their purpose. My Black Knights have gotten quite good mileage out of them as training simulators." His tone turned darkly satisfied, "And the JLF models did a wonderful job in luring the Britannians up the Narita Mountains." He turned back to Kirihara, "Taizō Kirihara… as the founder of Kirihara Industries, you alone controlled the monopoly on Sakuradite mining. You were one of the key backers of the Kururugi Regime. However, when Japan fell you dodged the tribunals by collaborating with the colonial rulers and earned the name 'Kirihara the traitor.' In reality, you are one of the leaders of the Six Houses of Kyoto. You've provided support to the resistance groups throughout Japan. A double agent. How cliché."
He turned to Kaguya, "Kaguya Sumeragi… the niece of Genbu Kururugi and the head of Sumeragi Refineries." She pouted, annoyed that maybe even her Zero-sama wouldn't think of her as anything other than a child, "Your parents died young, but not before arranging a marriage with your cousin Suzaku. At a young age, you longed to be free of him and hated your responsibilities. You wished you could just be yourself, rather than the Sumeragi Heiress." He was speaking softly so that his voice wouldn't carry too far, but it was enough to make the girl go wide-eyed. That… that was fairly accurate information, and her heart started beating faster as an impossible dream passed through her head.
His voice rose in volume again, "When Japan fell, you shielded yourself underneath Taizō's wing. Rigid and intractable he may be, but he was an excellent and ruthless politician. He had to be to survive all these years with Britannia none the wiser. I have no doubt you have learned well from him." Kaguya began to beam, "But despite those facts, you likely have found yourself stymied even within the Six Houses. No doubt the rest of those fools ignore your opinions, thinking your age and gender work against you. Misogynistic relics of a misbegotten age."
"Correct on all fronts." She giggled behind her sleeve.
"You dare…" Kirihara finally growled out.
"I dare." Lelouch smirked behind his mask, "Though you were right to be wary of my true face, Taizō. Your suspicion was correct. I am not Japanese!"
The Black Knights bar Kallen all gasped and reacted, "What, no way!" Tamaki yelped.
Ohgi was about to say something when he noticed Kallen simply smirking by her place to the sides of the two hidden Heads. He opened his mouth again and snapped it shut with a click. She didn't look even slightly surprised. "You already knew…" He whispered in shock.
Kirihara was silent for a moment, while beside him Kaguya was staring at Zero in hopeful wonder. There was just no way it could be him… could there? Kirihara finally spoke up, "If you are not Japanese, why do you fight for Japan? What is it that you want?"
"I do not fight for Japan, Taizō Kirihara. I fight for the world." Zero said, "I fight to destroy corruption. I fight to annihilate the cancer holding us back from realizing our futures. I fight so that the weak cannot be taken advantage of by the strong." He clenched his fist in front of him, "I fight for humanity, and to start I must destroy the wretched existences at the helm of Britannia!"
Taizō chuckled lightly, before it turned into a deep laughter straight from the gut, "You are a fool. What makes you think you can succeed in such a ludicrous dream?"
Lelouch smirked lightly, "I will because I must." He reached up with one hand. Behind his head, the plates which held his mask in place slid back mechanically. He pulled the mask off his face and held it to the side, much to the shock of the Black Knights who couldn't see him.
Taizō's cane clattered to the floor, "You're!"
Kaguya beside him gasped out as her deepest wish came true. A single tear escaped her eye and the Black Knights watched gobsmacked as the young girl shot from her viewing box and leapt into his arms, "You're alive!" She was valiantly trying to hold back tears as she snuggled into him tightly. The rest of the Knights were dumbfounded at the complete and utter breakdown of decorum from some of the most important Japanese people still alive.
"How wonderful it is to see you again, little Kaguya." He laughed and held her close, "Though I suppose calling you little isn't quite appropriate anymore, is it? You've blossomed into quite a beauty." She flushed red in happiness, and behind her Kallen rolled her eyes.
Kirihara burst out into gut-busting laughter, "It's you!"
"It's been a long time hasn't it, Kirihara-dono?" Lelouch smirked at the man.
"Eight long years!" Kirihara confirmed as he existed the screen to get a good look at the boy… no… man before him, "You've certainly grown well."
"Better than you know." Lelouch chuckled, "I imagine Tōdō would even be shocked nowadays."
Kirihara choked, before he started to laugh again, "You!? What happened to manual labor being for peasants?"
"As you said." Lelouch's smirk deepened, "I've grown well. And I thank you for taking care of me back then."
"Damn it! I can't see because of that stupid cloak!" Tamaki growled out, shocked that Zero would ever remove his mask. He started striding forward, but a warning glare from Kallen had him frozen in his tracks.
Ohgi meanwhile had his suspicion confirmed, 'Kallen… what in the world?! How did you already know his identity? Why did he let you know and not anyone else?'
"If I hadn't come tonight, were you planning to take our messengers as hostages?" Taizō asked him curiously.
"Please." Lelouch scoffed, "As if you would ever send anyone else. I'm even surprised you agreed to Kaguya being present." Inwardly he smirked lightly, 'And if you had… well there are backups, of course.'
Kirihara grinned toothily, "OHGI!" The man – who had been lost in his own thoughts – jumped, "This person is most definitely an enemy of Britannia! I urge you to continue following him! I am satisfied with his reasoning for hiding his face! I leave it up to him to decide to share it with you!" Ohgi's eyes grew wide, "You have Kyoto's full support, Zero!"
"F-full support?!" Inoue gasped, "That puts us right where the JLF used to be!" She mumbled in disbelief. They all started to smile in victory
"Yeah, we're awesome!" Tamaki crowed. All his friends turned to him deadpan. "Ahh, shaddup!" He crossed his arm and clicked his teeth.
"My thanks, Kirihara-dono." Lelouch said as he finally put Kaguya down. After the initial shock hard worn off she had gleefully started feeling up Lelouch's muscles. 'What a precocious girl you've turned into, Kaguya.'
"Is it the path of blood you're embarking on?" Kirihara asked with a wide grin.
"If it is my destiny." Lelouch's face disappeared behind his mask once more, and the echoing returned, "I'll drag this world to glory whether it likes it or not."
"I shall be leaving with you, my Lord Zero!" Kaguya chirped, "After all… a Goddess of Victory must support her chosen, no?"
C.C. and Kallen came closer, and the verdette was smirking, "Caught ourselves a cute one, have we?"
"Oh?" Kaguya tilted her head to the side with a cute look on her face. Her inquisitive look was adorable, "Are you Zero-sama's harem?"
C.C. burst into laughter and Lelouch followed not far behind. "Oh, I think I'll get along swimmingly with you, my dear."
Kallen held back a groan, 'Did we just pick up another Milly?'
Villetta sighed tiredly. The rescue had been going on for a few days now. Well… rescue was a bit of a strong word with how few survived. The worst part was the dozen they had found buried inside of that building. The soldiers knew what they were getting into. They signed up for it. But these twelve were just in the wrong place at the wrong time, and that was horrible. She stared at the orange-haired young woman who had a deadened look of disbelief on her face, "Yes, the spelling of Fenette matches this one. I'm afraid this is him. I'm sorry you had to learn about it like this."
The woman behind Shirley with duller, brownish-orange looking hair was hugging her daughter's arm from behind, "It… it's alright."
"Ho… how did?" Shirley eyes were shining with unshed tears.
Villetta sighed again, "He got trapped underground because of the landslide… these twelve were the only ones…"
"Why…why my Joseph?" The woman behind Shirley started to cry.
"I'm sorry." Villetta bowed her head, "We feared the JLF would take this town hostage, so we evacuated them before the battle started using the entirety of our ground forces. I can't tell you why or how your husband was missed during it."
The soldier kneeling by the bag spoke softly, "Please confirm his identity…" He said gently as he started unzipping.
"Ewan Booth… Jessica Carr…" Lelouch sighed as he scrolled through the first two dossiers Euphie had sent him. He threw the PDA on the table and began rubbing his face, "What a disaster."
The rest of the inner circle of the Black Knights were sitting somberly with him, "We did the best we could…" Milly said softly, looking very-much unsure of herself.
Kallen looked positively meek, "I…"
Lelouch rubbed his face, when C.C. spoke up, "Every action has its consequences. Not even Geass can change that." She said softly, "You've all killed people before. It's a lot easier to overlook when your enemies are nameless… faceless." She stared at Lelouch and Kallen specifically, "A lot of people say that war is hell. What a joke." She scoffed, "Only sinners – the truly terrible – ever find themselves there. War… in war… almost everyone is a bystander." Kallen's fist clenched and Lelouch was clenching his teeth, "You tried all you could to keep the lives lost to a minimum, and I daresay you succeeded. If these twelve had not been hiding for whatever reason, they would have been saved too. But even the best of plans falter in the face of the enemy. I once told you Lelouch, that war wasn't a game. You now see the consequences of thinking you hold all the cards."
"I know! I know damn it!" Lelouch growled out.
"The human element… it's the biggest spanner in the works." Nina said meekly, "None of us could have predicted that anyone would willingly ignore air raid sirens and calls for evacuation."
"That's right. The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry." C.C. turned to Lelouch, "So now the question remains … do you have the strength to keep going? Do you quit now and let the lives lost be in vain?"
"Of course not!" He slammed his fist into the table beside him, "Quitting isn't an option. It never was an option to begin with." He slumped into his section of the sofa, "We're trying to change the world. There were bound to be sacrifices. I wish there didn't have to be… but that's not how the world works."
Milly took his hand, both for his comfort and her own, "All we can do is keep the innocent in our hearts. The second they become the same nameless faces as our enemies… we'll have lost our way."
Kallen was visibly collecting herself, before she took a deep breath. She opened her eyes and walked over, putting her hand on top of theirs, "We've gotten this far. To stop now would be an insult to all of the lives we've already taken."
C.C. smiled lightly at the resolution, before reaching over as well, "And if you should lose your way… I'll be here to smack you back to attention." The three snorted, and Lelouch was about to retort when the door slammed open. They all sprang to attention, ready to draw weapons when they saw who it was.
Shirley stood in the doorway. She was soaking wet and visibly freezing. Her hair was matted down and dripping, and her mascara was running. Her eyes were rimmed red and tears were streaming down her face, "W-why!" Her voice trembled. Her purse fell to the side.
"Shirley!" They all had stood and started making their way over to her when the word escaped her lips. They froze as the distraught girl looked utterly heartbroken.
She looked at them, her lower lip trembling, "I… I thought the Black Knights were supposed to be for justice! So why!" She fell to her knees in front of them, her sobs renewed, "Why! Why is my daddy dead!"
Hope everyone enjoyed! I'm eager to see opinions on what I should do with Shirley. I already have a path written for her at the moment, but honestly, the subject-to-change disclaimer should still apply there. Next chapter might have some fireworks between the original Kōzuki group and Kallen, with her having revealed she knows Lelouch's face. Or maybe not. Who knows?
I'm eager to see what kinds of ideas you guys have for upgrades to the Guren, Lancelot, and Raijin, and even the mass-produced units.
Again, the next chapter is not complete, and I am – in fact – beating my head against the wall with it. CG is also not my current focus so don't expect it too soon. I have the bits AFTER the next chapter planned decently well, so hopefully when I get past this road block it'll be smooth sailing for a good while again.