As you have likely no doubt been informed in the alert in The Illusive Emperor, this is a rewrite of the same. The reason for this, of course, has already been discussed, so we won't explore it further here. But expect a lot of things to change from here on out. The overall plan is for this story to hopefully be updated every other month, with maybe a slightly faster update speed depending on how much time AlSmash has in between his other works. It will be what it will be.
Anyhow, here is the story—or at least the prologue—to set the stage for hopefully a better story for all of you to enjoy – and one that we don't end up becoming unhappy with again.
Holy Britannian Empire
Earth, Sol System, Carcerem Cluster
November 16th, 2162 [5 AH]
For nearly four hundred years, it had been called the Gem of the Sonoran – a veritable oasis in an equally harsh environment. It had inspired whole volumes of poetry, and been romanticized in many literary classics over the year. Pendragon: a name that even now, two millennia later, held itself in deference to the man who had given birth to the greatest empire in human history.
An empire that would continue to exist past the owner of the violet eyes that stared out in silent contemplation of the vista that surrounded her. A vista that had served as a silent relief from the harsh reality and desperate struggle to maintain that which had been saddled upon her. A vista that still bore the scars of a lost war.
"Are you sure, Cera?"
Marianne vi Britannia, 120th Empress of the Holy Britannian Empire, could not bring herself to look back to the young woman who had been a friend, lover, and confidante over the years—one of the few lights in the darkness that followed the death of her husband—knowing she would find the same conflict afflicting her.
"Primarch Octalius authorized it three hours ago."
Her eyes closed as she placed her hand upon the cool window pane, a stark contrast to the dry heat that lingered outside, ready to remind them exactly where they resided. Yet the cool relief was just enough to prevent her from letting the mask that she had cultivated over the last six years shatter and expose the sorrow that burgeoned beneath.
It wasn't very often that you knew that you were going to die. Not in the existentialist nonsense of existence and its natural end. No, the knowledge that you now had a time frame of termination.
She closed her eyes, slowly drawing in a breath to calm herself from despairing.
Once upon a time, she would had been considered one of the most beautiful women in Britannia. Yet that was now but a memory; the last decade had robbed her of the vivacity that had been what had attracted the former Emperor to her in the first place. The burden of leadership, of the knowledge of what lurked in the shadows as you fought a desperate campaign to survive, had rendered grey into her hair and aged her in a way that made her look to be in her late thirties to early forties, than the barely-thirty that she truly was.
Now, she was going to die, and place the burden that had been haunting her every decision upon her only son.
"How soon?" she asked, finally, still not bringing herself to look to Cera.
"As soon as an opportunity is presented. Likely within the next month."
"Am I the only target?" That was the most important question.
"Yes. Octalius believes that, with Lelouch on the throne, it will be easy to intimidate Britannia back into the Systems Alliance."
A bark of laughter escaped her lips at the thought. Lelouch? Intimidated? It was hard enough as is to intimidate him into doing his studies. Unless Octalius could recreate the puppy dog eyes that Nunnally used to get her brother to do her bidding, the Turian was in for an extremely rude awakening.
"You don't have to do this, Marianne. You can—"
Again, she laughed – but this time it was soft. Admiring. While she had accepted what needed to be done, it was Cera who refused to give up despite the writing on the wall.
A part of her hated to do this to her.
"No," she clarified after a moment, "I know what you are thinking, Cera, and I thank you for it. But I will not abdicate the throne. If I do so now, the Turians will only be emboldened, believing they can bully us into obedience. I refuse to leave that legacy to Lelouch. Nor will I selfishly compromise our strategic advantages to live."
"But Marianne—you'll die."
Her heart clenched at Cera's plaintive tone, knowing how much this devastated the younger woman. She turned finally to face her best friend, meeting amber eyes that always showed so much more emotion than the woman ever allowed herself to express.
Silently, she strode forward, wrapping her arms around the shorter woman, and Cera let the dam burst oh-so-slightly, a choked sob escaping her lips as she buried her head into Marianne's breast
"I know," Marianne said, almost lightly, "it's not fair. They probably won't even have pizza wherever I'm going. Imagine that!"
Cera laughed, a short, sharp gasp of amusement. There was nothing beautiful about it, but it still brought a smile to Marianne's face. It was always a challenge getting Cera to laugh even at the best of time, and she'd treasure every victory. The timing only made her savour it all the more.
"I love you," she told the woman, who seemed determined to cling to Marianne as if her body might block the bullet that would one day kill the Empress. (It wouldn't work. That was how Beatrice Phalanx had died, trying to shield Michele Manfredi from a sniper. The round had passed through her head on its way to blowing off his shoulder). "You know that, right?"
She'd loved Charles, too; fallen hard for his strength and confidence. His passion. It was his greatest strength and weakness all in one. There was just too much of the Emperor, in everything he did and everything he was, for any one person. Any one woman. Marianne had been his favourite, but certainly not his only.
That was why Marianne hadn't fought the slow, meandering journey Cera had taken to her heart. There was no guilt; she wasn't betraying Charles' memory by finding comfort in the eventual arms of another. Hell, if he'd been alive, he'd have probably been proud of her. And asked to join in, the bloody horndog.
Her smile had widened without her quite realising, and she hid it in a kiss to the crown of Cera's head. Best not to make her think Marianne was happy about dying, especially not when she wasn't. Cera still hadn't responded, but Marianne didn't expect her to; the woman had never quite known what to do with being told she was loved, and the arms stiffening across her back told Marianne the story her mouth wouldn't speak anyway.
"When it happens," she murmured against the crown of her lover's head, "I want you to promise me something."
"Anything," Cera rasped.
"Take Lelouch and Nunnally to Avalon."
Marianne pulled herself away from her, looking down upon her solemnly, "Lelouch will not be ready for any of this, Cera. He'll be lost and angry, I want you to take them to Avalon and raise them. Prepare them. There's no one I trust more than you with this task."
For a long moment, Cera merely stared at her, before bowing her head, "The Reapers."
Such a simple title, yet so horrifying in the implications. Just the concept of a sentient techno-organic race whose sole purpose was the extermination of all life in the galaxy in cycles was the sort of thing you would believe was a work of fiction. In fact, when Charles had first told her about them, she had laughed at him.
That had been until he had introduced her to Retribution. Even now, she could remember sitting there in horrified silence as the former Prothean VI detailed the fall of the Prothean Empire, from the sudden loss of communications from the Citadel—the Prothean seat of government—to the horde of unknown ships that poured in from dark space, overrunning system after system in a tsunami of metal and death. Retribution hadn't stopped there; he'd explained every brutal detail of the war of extermination, as the Protheans desperately fought back with the level of professionalism and ferocity that had gained them an Empire that spanned the galaxy… only for it to, at best, slow the Reaper's unceasing advance. Never stop them.
She bore witness to the dawning realization by the remaining Prothean leadership that they simply couldn't win: that no matter how brilliantly or ferociously they fought, no matter how many battles they won, the Reapers would simply continually, and inexorably grind them into nothing. She'd seen the decision, by what remained, to try and save what they could through whatever means available. To sacrifice the many to save what precious few they could in order to give tomorrow a chance.
By the end, she had sat there numbly, wanting to believe that this was some cruel joke by Charles. But even that hope was taken away; Charles had told her that only a handful of people in the Britannian Empire knew this, and that Retribution believed that it was only a matter of generations now until the Reapers would appear again to reset the cycle.
And just when she thought that she couldn't be appalled even further, Charles had dropped yet an even larger bombshell: Britannia had known of the existence of the Reapers for nearly two hundred years!
Historians to this day still questioned why Arthur zi Britannia had overthrown his father and assumed the Imperial Throne. Officially, it was believed that Arthur zi Britannia had become disenchanted by the loss of life that had been incurred in the fifteen years that the longest and costliest war in human history had raged.
The Great War, as it was simply known, had been a war that had spanned the globe. Fought between the Holy Britannia Empire, Europia United, Russian and Chinese Federations, and the African Union, it had claimed over a quarter of the world's population before finally ending three years after Arthur had assumed the throne. It was Arthur's military brilliance—and a string of victories that were required reading in almost every military academy spanning the Earth—that had set the stage for what became the Requiem Accords, when Arthur zi Britannia brought the leaders of the other powers to the table and ironed out not only peace, but then united the other powers into a confederation that would eventually become the Systems Alliance.
Even now, despite the prevailing anti-Britannian sentiment in the Systems Alliance, Arthur zi Britannia's legacy was still acknowledged. Such was the impact the man had upon the history of humanity.
The truth, however, was vastly different. It had been a twenty-three-year-old Arthur, who had just received news of the death of his older brother, that had stumbled across the ancient Prothean facility in the middle of the Sonoran Desert in his grief. He'd wanted to get away from the world – and instead found another entirely. It was there that he encountered Retribution and learned that not only that humanity was not alone in the galaxy, but there existed a threat that made the petty internecine conflict that had plagued humanity seem utterly insignificant.
When Arthur finally emerged from the Sonoran Desert nearly three months later, he was no longer alone, and he carried with him a new purpose. Gone was the young man who had been considered by many a naive, idealistic fool, who believed without fail in the good of man; instead, Arthur joined the military, cutting his way through his peers as he rose rank after rank. It would be four years later, after achieving the rank of General for military successes and gathering many who shared a like-minded disillusionment with the direction of Britannia, that Arthur would ruthlessly seize power, personally killing his father in the coup .
Through it all, Retribution had silently been in the shadows, offering input to Arthur while pushing for humanity to reach the Prothean Archive that had been left upon Mars: an archive that would guide humanity to a world that was off the the mass effect relay network. It would be there, with was was hoped to be some remnants of the Prothean Empire, that they would prepare for the next incursion by the Reapers.
It had been on that revelation that Charles had presented to her Project Safehold, a project that had been embarked upon because Retribution had been but one arrow in the quiver of the Prothean's promise of vengeance upon the Reapers. They had observed humanity for years, recognizing the possibility that they could be a useful asset in the future, and so they had left an archive upon Mars in the hope that maybe humanity would discover it and use it. Retribution had been tasked to lead humanity to that hidden planet—the one that was off the relay network—to meet up with some of the last of the best and brightest of the Prothean Empire.
The Protheans had hoped that humanity, if it followed along the growth rate projected by Prothean scientists, would be able to join up with the younger races, and whatever remained of the Prothean Empire, in time to prepare a vengeance fifty thousand years in the making.
Unfortunately, humanity had lagged behind the growth rate set by the Protheans, and any chances of being able to work closely with the other young races was ruined by the Humiliation.
As a result, Britannia's secession from the Systems Alliance had been made as their most desperate gambit There was no way they would be able to work within the system in order to prepare for the Reapers. The Reapers owned the system, whether the galaxy knew it or not. Thus, Safehold had no longer become their trump card – it had become their only hope against both the Reapers and quite possibly the Council. There were no Protheans to exonerate them–Safehold held only tombs and memories of the dead—there was only the knowledge left behind. Knowledge that could not be shared with their enemy.
A darker side of Marianne freely admitted that she was not capable of what was coming. It had taken everything out of her to lead Britannia back from the edge of oblivion. She was just—tired. The stress and strain had left her a shadow of her former self, and she felt like she had nothing left to give.
It was selfish of her, but she knew, deep down, that if there was anyone who could do what needed to be done, it would be her son. He had the best qualities of Charles and herself, and with the right people surrounding him, like Cera, he would be ready when the time came.
It was just that… it was heartbreaking that she would not be there to see him when it happened.
"I know I can trust you on this, Cera. You're the only one that I can. Too many other people would try to take advantage of them both. Promise me, no matter what you do, you'll look out for them."
"I—I promise," Cera said quietly, her voice breaking, "for you."
It was a surreal feeling, arranging your own assassination.
But it would be a cold day in hell before she allowed Lelouch and Nunnally be witness to her death. Just the thought of it instilled a barely restrained anger that threatened to burn through her already frayed self-control.
No, they would not be party to any of this. She would at least save them from the horrors of war for now . She was not going to scar them with her blood upon them, no matter what. It would be the last thing she would ever do.
Thus, in order to ensure that it would happen by her design, she had gone to the one man she could trust. After all, as the Knight of One, Michele Manfredi was in charge of her protection. He was quite different now from the charming, jovial man who always seemed to have a smile on his face that he had once been. But then again, as the sole surviving Knight of the Round from the Humiliation, he had seen not only some of his best friends and comrades die, but also his lover, who had sacrificed herself in the vain attempt to spare him from a Turian sniper. No – the old Michele Manfredi was long gone, and in his place was a stoic man with a quiet intensity that left no room to smile.
The shouting match that had taken place between the two had been the complete reverse of what had taken place between herself and Cera. Manfredi had wanted no part in the death of another of his liege-lords, the loss of Charles having hit him hard in the past. And yet, he was the only person she could trust to ensure that everything was done right – so she had pressed him, using every trick she had in order to secure his services and silence.
After almost an hour, he had finally relented: not because she had won the argument, but because he could see that she was hellbent on it. With no other choice but to ensure her last wishes were fulfilled, even if it came at the cost of himself, they had worked together to ensure the Turians would take the bait dangled in front of them.
Holy Britannian Empire
Earth, Sol Sector, Carcerem Cluster
December 1st, 2162 [5 AH]
As the sun rose over Pendragon, Nihlus Kyrik took the time to admire it. While it was nothing against the rise of Trebia over Palaven's skyline, it held its own unique beauty. He'd always taken the time to admire sunrises; they always meant the beginning of something new to him.
However, in this case, the sunrise was merely the harbinger of a new mission, one that was quite honestly the most important one he had yet to take. One that had implications far beyond anything he could see, except that it would avoid another war with humanity.
He had been on the frontlines in the final days of the campaign as the Hierarchy slowly strangled humanity for their crimes against the Council. Not only had they violated the laws regarding the activation of dormant relays, but they had also mounted thermonuclear devices upon their probes and launched them into Turian space. While the former could have been a misunderstanding if cooler heads had prevailed, the latter was unforgivable, and for that, the Council had decreed that humanity should be punished for their actions.
And yet humanity, specifically this Holy Britannian Empire, refused to learn its lesson. They'd broken away from the Systems Alliance that had signed the Erta Ale Accord with the Council by using a legal loophole that the Council had not been aware of. Before the ink had even dried upon their secession, they had began a rapid rearmament that had been met with grudging amazement by the Turian Hierarchy; they'd found themselves outmaneuvered by the Britannian Empire, who had used several older Council Laws and rulings in order to justify their rapid rebuilding.
Even the Council had found itself hamstrung, because it simply could not rule that Britannia had to disarm – not without causing other client species to become wary of the Council overstepping its power and authority.
That was why orders had come down from Primarch Octalius to assassinate Empress Marianne vi Britannia, and why he would be the Turian to pull the trigger to claim her life. Not in anger, but in duty, and to save lives.
Kill one to save millions.
Unlike many of his brethren, he had gained a respect for humanity, having fought them at Eden Prime and then Terra Nova. Despite being woefully outmatched, they had met the Turian Hierarchy with everything they had. Tenacious and adaptive, they had fought the martial prowess of his people with a chaotic unpredictability that had stymied them at almost every turn.
While it hadn't been enough in the end, there were quite a few Turians who would never look at a human and underestimate them. They were just too spirits-damned wily.
The soft flanging cough of his partner drew him from his thoughts, and he met the gaze of his mentor, Saren Arterius. While he was now a SPECTRE, Saren still did work for the Hierarchy, never forgetting his roots.
It had been Saren who had suggested him for this mission, saying that he was the only Turian he could trust to ensure that this mission could be completed without a hitch. And it was Saren that, as his spotter, would provide him the information he needed in order to complete the mission and avert another war with humanity.
"The target shall be arriving in ten minutes, Nihlus."
Nodding, he took a deep steadying breath, familiarizing himself again with the Batarian-made sniper rifle, a weapon he had encountered several times over the years and had gained intimate familiarity with. The weapon was merely one of hundreds that had flooded the human market as the Batarians were looking to gain a quick credit – if it was ever discovered, which it wouldn't be, it would only be tracked back to a shipment that was purchased by a human in someplace called Tokyo.
Satisfied once again that everything was optimal, he readied himself, knowing that they would only get one, maybe two shots, before they would have to make their escape. Their stealth netting was good, but it wouldn't take much to retrace the shot, and it would be best to make sure that they were long gone when the Britannians recovered and converged here.
A few minutes later of looking through his scope, he tensed as he watched as several air-cars escorted by gunships arrive outside of the Britannian House of Lords. A smaller part of him found it ridiculous how Pendragon's design allowed for such an easy shot at five kilometers, the longest range he'd trust this rifle.
Unclenching and then clenching his hand, everything fading away to the shot and his spotter. He watched as a raven-haired human female stepped out of her aircar, the guards around her snapping salutes as she began striding towards the large building.
"Target ID is confirmed. It's her," Saren declared. "You're clear for the shot."
Saren's job now over, Nihlus' only focus became his target. He watched her as she strode up the stairs, noting the speed in which she did it. Satisfied, he flipped the safety of the rifle to off, before placing his finger over the trigger. For a long moment, everything was still. He had all the time in the world, in his mind, as he inhaled a breath and held it.
The target stopped, and he almost blinked. It was unexpected that she would stop, and even later, when he had the opportunity to review what happened, he would still find it inexplicable. But, nevertheless, it happened. She turned, looking out amongst the crowd as his finger tightened over the trigger, crosshairs resting just slightly above her head. To his dying breath, he would swear that, as he pulled the trigger, her gaze shifted ever-so-slightly away from the crowd and straight towards him.
Then the moment was gone. He watched Marianne vi Britannia, 120th Empress of the Holy Britannia Empire, crumple to the ground like a broken puppet, blood painting the stairs behind her a macabre crimson.
"Nice shot," Saren said quietly.