It was a bright and sunny morning. Hovering high above the pristine Hawaiian Islands amongst idyllic white clouds was the Damocles, the floating fortress belonging to Schneizel El Britannia, Chancellor of the Holy Britannian Empire. Some men own jets, some have yachts, Schneizel had a five-star, Michelin-rated, planet-destroying, eco-friendly, LEED Platinum-certified flying fortress. In addition to heavy armament including CIWS gun turrets and nuclear anti-matter missiles-of-mass-destruction, the Damocles also boasted a day spa, a videogame arcade, an ice cream parlor, a staff dedicated to ensuring guests a perfectly comfortable stay, and was recently featured on Rick Steve's hit TV and book series, "Britannia through the Back Door," as one of the best kept secret attractions of the Empire. Tragically, the popular travel guide passed away in an accident shortly after the episode aired, but we digress.
Assembled on board in the scenic Coffee Room around a long mahogany table were members of the Knights of the Round, the strongest, most fearsome warriors in His Majesty's Realm. Gloved hand resting beneath his sharply defined chin, Schneizel lifted his Wedgwood teacup to savor the wafting aroma of his Darjeeling. "Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to our biannual retreat. We're running a little late, but please, relax and take your time to finish your meals. Then we'll start."
Gino Weinberg, having put away his food in a hurry, stretched back in his chair and looked about the room: Across the table, Dorothea Ernst and Monica Kruszewski dined on a doctor-recommended menu: Colorful fruit salad, grapefruit and carrot juice, boiled egg and seven grain bread. While Monica seemed perfectly happy with this spread (Gino suspected she was a vegetarian, or some offshoot thereof), Dorothea munched in a way that implied the herbivorous selection—notwithstanding the hard boiled egg—left much to be desired. This was confirmed by the Knight of Four's glances of mixed longing and envy at her friend and neighbor Nonette Enneagram, who was wolfing down a full Irish Breakfast of black pudding, bacon, ham, fried potatoes, mushrooms, baked beans, pancakes, and a three egg omelet. "Why aren't you fat?"
"High metabolism." Replied Nonette. "Why are you starving yourself?"
"Because…" I'm worried about my age, my skin, and my beach model figure, idiot! "I want to live a long healthy life."
"That's stupid." Nonette gulped down a glass of whole milk. "Chances are you'll get to say two lines in an episode late in the series before a protagonist blows you up. So there's really no point in trying to eat healthy."
"Never mind. Enjoy your melon balls."
Suzaku Kururugi, sitting several seats down, was oblivious to the exchange as he focused on mixing his natto, the slimy fermented soy beans that are a favorite of Tokyoites and a formidable deterrence to most foreigners, like Lord Luciano Bradley, who recoiled from the stringy, smelly mixture. The Knight laid down his breakfast bagel to cover his nose with a napkin. "Why does a royal vessel like the Damocles stock nasty Eleven food like natto? It doesn't make any sense!"
Suzaku turned to his disagreeable colleague and smiled sweetly. "It makes perfect sense. Let me explain: You're the Knight of Ten."
"Yeah, but what does that have to do with…"
"And I'm the Knight of Seven. Seven outranks ten, which means you can kiss my skinny Eleven ass."
Jaws dropped around the table as the young Knight went back to stirring his natto while humming a commercial tune. Schneizel took a sip of his tea before addressing a flummoxed Luciano. "Don't take that to heart, Lord Bradley. He's always like that before he has his morning natto. He'll mellow out soon enough."
Breakfast resumed after the intensely awkward moment. Anya Alstreim sat before her breakfast, napkin neatly tucked around her neck and knife and fork in hand as she appeared to ponder the best way to attack the too-tall stack of waffles, covered in whip cream and runny with chocolate and cherry syrup. Finally, unwilling to order a booster seat, she settled on standing up in her chair. Gino, meanwhile, was struggling to contain his laughter from what he saw at the far end of the table: There, Bismarck Waldstein, the Knight of One, the man called the Emperor's Executioner, ate his breakfast of cocoa puffs in solemn silence.
He was also drinking strawberry milk, through a straw.
Gino was dying, and could not hold back any more. He nudged his vertically-challenged buddy. "Hey Anya, get a load of… Oww!"
The Knight of Three winced as his hand shot to his forehead. Looking down, he saw the offending projectile—a single coca puff—rolling on the floor. He glared down the table. "Hey! What was that for?"
Bismarck continued to eat his cereal. "You were making fun of my eating habits."
"I haven't even said anything yet!"
"You were about to. I saw, with my Geass."
"Now that's just… Oww! What now?"
"You were about to say a swear word."
Gino was livid. "Was not!"
Dorothea interjected between sips of her juice. "Gino, stop arguing with the man who can see into the future. It's embarrassing."
"But it's not fair! He can't win arguments just by saying I'm about to do things before I do them."
"Yes he can. Why do you think he got that Geass in the first place?"
"So he could become the deadliest warrior in the world?"
"So he could anticipate Marianne's every move and know her actions ahead of time." Dorothea sighed deeply as she impaled a watermelon ball with her fork as though it were an enemy knightmare.
The Knight of One glanced at his old friend and colleague. "Say not another word, Dorothea."
Her fibrous meal—and reminder of her irrelevance to the plot and consequent expendability—had so depressed her, the Knight of Four was beyond caring. "Thought it would give him a leg up against Charles. You can see how well that worked out."
A deathly silence settled over the room. Bismarck slowly set down his spoon beside his cereal bowl. Suzaku, who had just started on his third helping, shot to his feet, his face fixed with determined purpose and his eyes aglow with an ethereal purple glint.
"I must survive!"
The Knight of Seven barreled through the eight-inch thick window made from space shuttle silica and began a long drop towards the Pacific Ocean, his sudden and dramatic departure breaking the tension in the room.
Nonette glanced around before breaking the silence. "Can someone explain to me what just happened?"
Gino tried to steal one of Anya's waffles but has his hand slapped away. "Just Suzaku being himself. He does that from time to time."
Monica, ever the sensitive one, filled in her baffled colleague. "Nonette, you may not know this because you've been busy over at Lost Colors, but Suzaku has some… issues: He's under the influence of a Geass that compels him to survive no matter the circumstance. It activates whenever he senses strong danger threatening his life."
"Kind of like Spiderman, except the Geass takes over his personality until the danger is dealt with."
The Knight of Nine remained unconvinced. "But he just leapt to his death. How is a 5,000 feet parachute-less skydive safer than sticking around a ticked off Bismarck and a whiny Dorothea?"
"I believe I can explain that." Schneizel replaced his teacup on his saucer for Kanon to refill.
"First of all, I can assure you that Suzaku is fine. He's survived much worse than a small dive in the pool. Second, after his condition was made known, some of us…" Here, the Chancellor paused and looked pointedly at Anya and Gino, who discovered a sudden interest in the tablecloth pattern, "…Some of us here felt they had discovered a new toy, and endeavored to 'Set Off' Suzaku at every opportunity; unbecoming behavior for a Knight of the Round, I must say. As a result, his condition has deteriorated considerably, and now the Geass kicks in even when the situation is merely unhealthy, not deadly."
"That explains a lot." Luciano nodded sagely. "Last week, when I was smoking in the bathroom, he appeared out of no where, snatched the cigar from my lips and flushed it down the toilet. I was so surprised I wasn't even angry."
Monica tapped her chin as she pondered. "Strange; Cecil gave me a basket of bran muffins she baked to share with everyone. I found Suzaku in front of the palace, but when he saw me, he hopped onto a nearby knightmare frame, dragged and threw the pilot out, then sped away. I can't imagine what could have set him off; Cecil's muffins are delicious, and good for you too!"
Anya shuddered as though recalling a deep-seated trauma; the others present at the table exchanged knowing glances. Schneizel then called the meeting back to order. "Anyways, since it may be some time before the Knight of Seven finds his way back, I propose we move forward with the day's agenda."
Servers promptly cleared the table, and the Chancellor continued. "Our focus topic for this retreat is this: How to defeat the growing rebellion in Area Eleven? As you know, the movement is led by my younger brother Lelouch, who is still mad at dad for what he did seven years ago. Lelouch also happens to be at that age where the effects of angst and hormones are at their peak, so while this whole thing may just be one of those phases that all teenagers go through, my brother has already caused so much damage with his mischief we cannot afford to wait to find out."
The Knights sat in silence. Their chancellor—widely considered one of the shrewdest minds in Britannia—had just informed them that a teenager threatened the stability of the Empire. Schneizel folded his hands beneath his chin. "Anyone?"
"We could kill him?"
Nonette crossed her arms. "Luciano, why does everything have to be about killing for you? Can't you come up with something different for once?"
The Knight of Ten's feelings appeared hurt. "Just trying to be helpful."
"Now, now. Lord Bradley, we appreciate your input. But I'm with Lady Enegram on this one: If there is some way for us to defeat my brother's rebellion without the use of violence, I am all ears."
This sounded like an impossible demand to Dorothea. "Have you tried talking him out of it?"
"Yes. He refused to listen."
"What if we kidnapped Princess Nunally and used her as a hostage?"
Schneizel frowned deeply at this proposition, for he knew what it was like to have a cute little sister to cuddle and fawn over and then to lose her—the day Cornelia stopped waking him from bed with kisses was the worst day of his life. He could never put Lelouch through that. "No."
"… and I want double cheese, mushrooms and anchovies, half-half."
Everyone at the table turned to the pink-haired Knight, who had her camera phone held to the side of her face. "What are you doing, Anya?"
"I'm ordering pizza."
"I don't think Pizza Hut can deliver to the Damocles."
"Round Table does. Thirty minutes or its free."
The Chancellor was impressed. Suddenly, a crystal chandelier lit up in the back of Schneizel's mind. He asked for and received Anya's phone with the other end still on the line. "Hello, operator? Please patch me through to your CEO. Tell him Schneizel El Britannia wishes to speak to him… No, I assure you Ma'am, this is not a prank call… Yes, I'll wait."
He turned and, finding quizzical looks from around the table, responded with a wink and a reassuring smile.
Three Months Later
Lelouch Lamperouge marched through his subterranean headquarters in a fit; a month ago the Black Knights HQ was bustling with noise and activity, now his lonely footsteps echoed loudly off the cavern walls. The trouble began when funding from his corporate sponsors dried up. While he first dismissed the trend as part of a cyclical economic downturn, it quickly dawned upon him that things were much more serious than that.
As there was no way for him to raise additional revenue, he began cutting costs: Members of the Black Knights were asked to take one day unpaid vacation every week. They scaled back operations; no attacks on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. He began issuing I.O.U.s, and voices of discontent arose. He took out a loan on his KMF, the Shinkirou. He mortgaged the Ikaruga. The last straw came when he cancelled dental benefits, which caused the trickle of deserters to turn into a flood. Now all that remained of the notorious Black Knights was a handful of diehards.
"Zero, Zero! Come quick!" It was Kallen, the most loyal of his followers.
The rebel leader followed his ace pilot into the abandoned situation room, where large screens displayed the desperate situation. Diethard Reid, reassuming his old job as television producer and reporter, stood in front of a remarkable scene: Britannians and Elevens joined by the thousands, lined up city block after city block, outside a pizza parlor.
"… less than three months have passed since the chain formerly known as Round Table Pizza was acquired in an unprecedented move by the government. The franchise—renamed Knights of the Round Table Pizza—has thrived under new management with Chancellor Schneizel El Britannia serving as CEO and Chairman of the Board. A massive ad campaign starring members of the Knights of the Round has produced astronomical returns: Quarterly revenue has increased 300% and stock prices have doubled to reach historic highs. Knights of the Round Table Pizza's success has come at the expense of competitors like Pizza Hut, whose shares continue to plunge after experts lowered earnings forecasts for the third time in the past week…"
Lelouch gripped the edge of his desk, unable to accept the reality of the situation: Could he have lost his war—his personal crusade for a kind, gentle world of peace (and Nunally)—over pizza? "I don't believe it."
Kallen had never seen her leader in such a distraught state; then again, never had they faced a crisis such as this. "This came yesterday in the mail."
Lelouch tore open the envelope and found a short one-page note typed on official corporate stationary; he read it aloud.
"Dear Zero, we regret to inform you that Pizza Hut is no longer able to support the rebellion. Yours truly, Pizza Hut."
Just then, one of the screens monitoring the various news outlets began to play a commercial that was the latest addition to Round Table's media blitz. In the sixty-second spot, members of the Knights of the Round ran along a sparkling beach in red hot lifeguard wear, a clear tribute to the famous opening sequence of Bay Watch, a classic TV show from the previous century. During the spot, the slow-motion camera captured alluring close-ups of the lady Knights as they glistened in the surf and sunlight. The camera then panned to Suzaku and Gino, dripping and topless as they emerged from the sea carrying their surfboards. Lelouch was pissed; Kallen was mesmerized. "That's actually kind of hot."
The music continued. Anya was shown building a sandcastle in a mini bathing suit. Luciano spiked a volleyball, his ripped abs captured on camera as he did so. Bismarck was seen lathering suntan lotion onto his Roman-statuesque body. In the final scene, Schneizel—dressed in white and mounted on a white horse with the sunset as his backdrop—rode towards the screen carrying a delivery box. Then, with a million-watt smile, he delivered the only spoken line in the entire commercial.
"Knights of the Round Table Pizza: We Support Britannia."
Lelouch drew his pistol and shot out the screen. Unfortunately, there were too many screens in the situation room, and he ran out of bullets. He threw his empty gun at a monitor, where it bounced off harmlessly. "This is nuts! The whole world is nuts! That commercial didn't even make sense! Just because the Knights of the Round are supermodels doesn't mean their pizza tastes good."
Lelouch's cell phone rang at that moment; it was from C.C., his annoying but trusted accomplice. "C.C.! Where are you? I haven't seen you in three days."
"I'm in Pendragon, sitting in Schneizel's office."
Lelouch paled beneath his mask; he was despondent when Toudou and Laksharta—who, reading the writing on the wall—left to find employment elsewhere, but this was the hardest blow yet. "No… You too, C.C.?"
"I'm just calling to inform you that Knights of the Round Table Pizza is better. Their ingredients are fresher, their dough hand-knead and baked with love. I've tasted the difference and there's no going back. I'm sorry."
She didn't sound very sorry; he could hear her munching loudly in between sentences. "But…"
"Good luck with the rebellion, Lelouch. By the way, Schneizel wanted you to know that he just bought out Pizza Hut."
For several minutes Lelouch stood in silence, his head hung low. Kallen watched him with great concern and resisted the urge to give the poor resistance leader a hug. Finally, the frustration, anger, and grief boiled over. Zero, recognizing that his crusade was over, waved his clenched fist at the sky (or more accurately, the ceiling of his cave) and let out a cry from the depths of his wretched soul.
"Bless you." C.C. looked across the table full of pizza to her new boss, the CEO of the Knights of the Round Table Pizza.
Schneizel dabbed at his nose with a neckerchief. "Thank you. How do you like the new pizza?"
C.C. looked down at her notes, which she had been keeping since she was made Chief Taste Tester. "The curry sauce is too strong and clashes with the parmesan cheese. We may have a winner though if curry powder was worked into the dough instead."
"I'll have the kitchen get right on it." After he placed the call, Schneizel returned his attention to the green-haired witch, whom he had enticed to switch sides with promise of unlimited, superior pizza. "I'm worried about Lelouch, do you think he'll be alright?"
C.C. did not even look up from her plate. "He's a strong boy. He'll get over it."
"I'm sure you're right."
Schneizel stood. Pushing open a pair of French doors, he walked onto a balcony that overlooked a flowering garden. The birds sang, the butterflies fluttered, and a flight of pure white doves took to the sky. He smiled; it was a beautiful day.
Author's Notes: This idea has been with me for over a year, but I did not put it down to paper until now. The challenge was, "how do I turn the phrase 'Knights of the Round Table Pizza' into an entire fic?" Turned out well, though. I hope you've enjoyed reading this as much as I've enjoyed writing it. Until next time.