Dirge of Cerberus: Beowulf
James D. Fawkes

Stage Two: The Second Mask
— o.0.O.O.0.o —

His footsteps echoed along the vast metallic hallway, the clip clop of a confident and purposeful stride. The black fabric of his cloak rippled with the speed of his gait, flowing around and behind him as he went. Several people turned their heads to look at him as he passed, but none addressed him in a friendly tone, if they even did at all.

The door that stood in front of him opened with the audible hiss of hydraulics, moving out of his way as if he had simply willed it so. The soft beep, beep, beep of a heart monitor rang throughout the room, a long thin tube feeding its main occupant intravenously. Doctors stopped their murmuring when he entered, and the blue-haired man in the bed looked up at him.

"If you would, I would like to speak with him alone," he said firmly, watching as the doctors frowned, but stood up and left anyway. With another hiss, the door opened and closed once more, and he was alone with the man in the bed.

"Jeremiah Gottwald," he said imperiously. Jeremiah glared at him with some of the deepest loathing he had ever seen. "They say you mutter things in your sleep. Things about people who are dead. Things about…Marianne Vi Britannia."

Jeremiah's good eye widened, his lips twisted in surprise. Then the loathing came back, "You…"

"Tell me, Jeremiah," Lelouch said, his mask shrouding him in a veil of impassiveness, "what concern is it to you what happened to Marianne Vi Britannia?"

"You wouldn't understand!" Jeremiah snarled. "A man like you, who has never shown respect for the royal family wouldn't be able to understand just how much it meant to lose Lady Marianne! To lose…! Little…Lelouch and Nunally."

Tears welled up in Jeremiah's eye and he looked down, ashamed of his weakness.

Surprised, not only by the outburst but by what he had learned from it, Lelouch reigned in his emotions and continued, "So, they meant that much to you? Marianne and her children."

The tightening of the man's grip was all he needed for an answer. Lelouch felt his lips curl, "Tell me, Jeremiah, would you like to see them again?"

Jeremiah looked up sharply. Lelouch chuckled, "I see. So eager, aren't you?"

He reached up, pulling the mask from his face and shaking his hair dramatically. He had forgone the facemask underneath, his pale lips curled into a smirk, "Hello, Jeremiah."

"Your—Your Highness!" Jeremiah gasped out. "But…but…Lady Nunally!"

"Is safe and sound at our hiding place," Lelouch assured him. "Tell me, Jeremiah, how would you like to serve our family again?"

"An honor!" Jeremiah said quickly. "It would be an honor!"

"Good," Lelouch smirked, pulling a folder out from beneath his arm. To Jeremiah, it looked as if he had conjured it from midair. He set it down on the injured man's lap and leaned back in his chair. "The doctors have told me that, as you are now, you have almost no hope of being a pilot again. Indeed, you have very little hope of being useful to anyone, let alone my plans."

Jeremiah looked down, glaring at his bed sheets. Lelouch's smirk widened a bit, "However, the contents detailed in that folder suggest otherwise."

Jeremiah looked up in surprise and eagerly flipped the manila folder open. Lelouch continued, "This project here, stolen from Clovis' laboratories, is known as 'Code R'. I like to call it the Super Soldier project. With this, you will not only be able to pilot again, but you will be able to pilot at a much better level, perhaps even on level with a Rounds."

Lelouch crossed his legs and folded his arms, leaning back further, "It is still your choice, in the end. This project is largely untested speculation. If it fails, you could lose your life. Whether or not you will undergo this procedure is up to you. Are you willing to risk it all to gain it all?"

Jeremiah looked at him firmly and nodded his head. Lelouch smirked wider, "Excellent."

— o.0.O.O.0.o —

Lelouch stared. Even though he had known this was going to happen, even though it had been his plan to begin with, nothing could have prepared him for the sight he saw. Indeed, he would have laughed at the very idea in other circumstances, so ridiculous was the notion. After all, who would have expected it?

He glanced surreptitiously at Kallen, gauging her reaction, and almost blew his cover by laughing. Only by biting his lip could he keep himself from collapsing onto the floor in a fit of violent cackles. She looked as if she had seen a ghost, or perhaps a demon would be more appropriate.

Suzaku's face was neutral, save for the curiosity shining in his eyes. That was good. He didn't recognize their 'new student' simply by his voice. It hadn't been a very prominent possibility, considering Suzaku had been going insane during the moments he might have had the chance to, but it had been a possibility.

Normally messy and unruly long black hair was neatly groomed and pulled into a ponytail at the base of his skull, leaving the shortest, chin-length part of his bangs to frame his face in a way that looked very similar to Lelouch. The wide red bandana was gone but his eyes were still the same violent crimson they had originally been. All of this combined with his Ashford outfit and pale skin made for a very different looking Vincent Valentine.

Lelouch had to admit, though, that the man pulled off the look very well. Indeed, he seemed almost as if he had been practicing for this very moment, as if he belonged at Ashford. It was, Lelouch decided, a little unnerving. The man was almost made for espionage.

He would face quite a hassle, though. Lelouch felt a smirk curl on his lips as his eyes swept around the room. Several of the girls looked as if Christmas had come early. He even spotted a trail of drool dripping from some of their mouths. It was almost amusing. His place as the heartthrob of Ashford had been usurped effortlessly in a single instant.

When Vincent walked forward through the rows, he walked with the grace of a predator on the prowl. He looked almost like a hunter, feral, dangerous, and deadly, but magnificent, beautiful, and regal. If Lelouch were to compare him to specific animal, his first and most immediate choice would be a panther. His second would be a tiger.

Vincent sat down four seats away from Lelouch in the same row and leaned forward, steeping his fingers together and looking forward with an impassive look on his face. To the chorus of a thousand sighs, the teacher turned back around and started teaching once more. At least, Lelouch thought, he would have all of those girls off of his back.

Vincent would be the one suffering through them now.

— o.0.O.O.0.o —

The door to Lelouch's room closed with a soft click and locked nearly as quietly, shielding the occupants from intruders. The black-haired boy turned around and sighed exasperatedly as he caught sight of the three pizza boxes stacked in various places of his room. C.C. looked up at him from her place on his bed, a string of cheese hanging from her mouth and still attached to the piece she had just bitten into.

Vincent gave a soft snort, "Still as uncleanly as ever, C.C."

Swallowing, C.C. turned her head towards him and shot a withering glare, "I seem to remember that this is how you looked the last time I saw you. Tell me, Vincent, did they succeed?"

"I see," Vincent said moodily, "I should have known you would have figured it out the moment you saw me, but I was hoping your memory would fail you in my case. After all, you were one of the key components in that experiment, even if you didn't actually participate beyond that."

"Indeed," she responded, "but I really didn't have a need to. They seemed to know what they were doing easily enough. What purpose would it serve for me to meddle in their affairs? Besides, I didn't know anything at all about the technology they were using. You didn't answer my question, even though you don't really need to."

"I suppose I don't," Vincent said. "But I will, anyways. Since you seem so eager to know, yes, C.C., they did succeed."

"Hold up a second here," Lelouch interrupted. "What are you two talking about? Do you two know each other?"

They shot each other a look, then Vincent turned back to him, "The subject we're talking about is an experiment that Britannia underwent nearly forty years ago. At the time, the Geass Directorate had been under the protection of the country for about a hundred years and was still trying, unsuccessfully, to recreate the immortality exhibited by people like C.C."

"Wait," Lelouch said, "Geass Directorate?"

"It's an organization dedicated to Geass, Geass users, and controlling the distribution of Geass," C.C. said flatly.

"Together with Britannia," Vincent continued, "they sought, forty years ago, to recreate C.C.'s immortality, and they had a pretty strong optimism about their latest idea. So they took a member from the Directorate, chosen by volunteering, and decided to try it out on him. If it succeeded, they would be able to hand it out like candy on Halloween."

"And you were the test subject," Lelouch concluded in a neutral voice.

"Yes, I was," Vincent said, nodding. "And they did succeed. Their idea was perfectly sound, the process was complex, but doable, and the subject would not only survive, but exhibit the immortality the experiment hoped to endow. I was fine, I was content with the results, and I would need only a little time to recover my strength."

"But then something bad happened," Lelouch put in.

"Yes, as it often does," Vincent told him. "There was one scientist who was opposed to this whole thing, who said that it was messing with the natural order of things. She said that humanity was so successful and so happy because it could die. To make the world immortal would accomplish nothing.

"Her name was Lucrecia Crescent. For voicing her dissent with the plan, a radical supporter of the project killed her when he decided he was tired of her complaints. I tried to appeal to the men and women in charge of keeping the organization in order, but they denied me. They didn't do anything at all about it."

"So you ran away," Lelouch said, realization shining in his eyes. "You were in love with her."

Vincent nodded, slightly hesitant to confirm the second part, "I stole the plans for the project and destroyed them, even the back up copies. After that, I killed those who had run the whole thing and fled from the Directorate. Until recently, when news reached me of your rebellion, I've been hiding in Siberia, where no one would recognize me."

"So you stole a Knightmare frame and joined the battle as soon as you could," Lelouch concluded. "But, tell me, do you have the specs on this frame? Its weaponry is highly advanced, on par with that white frame."

Nodding, Vincent pulled out a small packet of papers, seemingly from nowhere, and handed them over to Lelouch. Taking the papers offered to him, Lelouch flattened them out and looked them over, his eyes scanning over the front page at the speed of light. They widened as he took in the information described on the page.

Knightmare Frame

Allegory Manipulation System (AMS) – 0100 BEOWULF

New-type Elite Xenon-charged Transcendence (NEXT) Frame — Test Type

Supplementary Equipment:
Integrated Blaze Luminous: Four
Slash Harkens: Four
Integrated Float System: One
Factsphere: One

Offensive Equipment:
Arm-mounted Moonlight Prototype Laser Blade: Two
bsolute Linear Trajectory Advanced Ion Rail (ALTAIR) Gun: One
Maximum Energy Drain Prototype Assault Armor (Untested!): One

NOTE: Assault Armor is untested and is powered by ALL remaining energy. FOR EMERGENCY USE ONLY.

Lelouch flipped through the remaining pages; they were all specs on the prototype weapons themselves and he had already grasped the gist of the weapons' system. With wide eyes, Lelouch tore his gaze from the paper and stared straight at Vincent, horror in his gaze, "They were building this — this monster?"

"I'll grant you that, at first glance, it seems impossible to stop," Vincent said stoically, "but the reality is that it's anything but. The ALTAIR, though efficient and accurate, overheats rather quickly, and must cool between extensive uses. The Moonlight blades can only be extended in short bursts — right as the slash is made — or else it will overheat and malfunction.

"The Assault Armor, which creates a large explosion that leaves the Beowulf relatively undamaged, can only be engaged by draining all of the energy remaining. At the tail end of a battle, it's extremely useful, but it's also highly unstable. At any moment, it could malfunction and destroy the entire machine."

Lelouch still had a look of horror on his face. Vincent sighed, "If you're that alarmed by this, then I'm afraid you'll be even worse off with this next bit."

Lelouch looked up, clearly terrified of what could be worse. Vincent frowned, "This is the Test Type NEXT frame, but it wasn't the only one undergoing design and construction. It was merely the one farthest along. Already, there are several more NEXT designs being altered and tweaked."

Lelouch sat down on his chair shakily, staring at the floor as if it were soaked in Nunally's blood. Vincent continued, "To coincide with these new models and their new interface, several test pilots, called 'Linx' by the developers, are being lined up and ranked according to their proficiency. Each of the top five is getting their own custom NEXT.

"Right now, the only one we really have to worry about it the top ranked one, named Otsdarva. His is the farthest along and by far the most powerful. Its design isn't very versatile, however, and only truly excels in long ranged combat. At this point, though, he's still piloting a fifth-generation Sutherland."

"Then we have to take him out!" Lelouch stated firmly, rising from his chair. "If he's piloting an inferior frame, then we still have a chance to — !"

"Do absolutely nothing," Vincent interrupted. "Otsdarva may be piloting an outdated machine at this point, but he's still a top-ranked Linx. Kallen is the only one who would even stand a chance in a normal frame, and even she might be pushed back. No, if we ever face Otsdarva, the Beowulf and I must be the ones to take him on."

"But you couldn't even beat the Lancelot," Lelouch protested.

"Lelouch," Vincent stated flatly. "Even Kallen would have trouble facing a superior enemy during her first battle, especially if she knew almost nothing about the controls. Now that I have a good handle on it and what it's capable of, I should be able to fight Otsdarva off."

"Fine," Lelouch said, crossing his arms as he sat back down. "Now, tell me more about these NEXT designs."

Vincent leaned against the wall and took a breath, "Currently, the most advanced and yet least completed frame design is called, quite simply, 'White Glint'…"

— o.0.O.O.0.o —

As the elevator stopped moving and artificial light peeked past the curtains on the windows, the car doors were pulled open by a man wearing a high-class suit, not unlike that of a butler. Giving them a slight bow, he said, with respect oozing from his voice, "I apologize for the delay. My employer is waiting for you."

The group stepped out of the car, only to rush over the windows, which they discovered to be the source of the light. Outside, they could clearly see hard rock and a fine, thin mist that tried to obscure it. Ougi seemed the most vocal about his surprise, declaring, "We're inside the Fuji mine!"

The second masked figure, standing off to the side a little and wearing a dark green nobleman's suit underneath his tattered red cloak, only watched them through the shining orange, t-shaped visor that hid his eyes and mouth. The rest of the mask was much like a helmet. A sort of golden crown covered the forehead and circled all the way, and, all in all, it looked much like the head of the Beowulf. Save for the crown and visor, it was, however, completely black.

"No way!" Tamaki shouted in disbelief, his hands and face pressed up against the glass. "We can't be here!"

"But there's no mistaking it," Kallen argued. "Look at the shape of the mountain!"

"There's Sakuradite down there, right?" Tamaki asked. "That's the treasure that started the war! I heard that intruders are shot on sight."

"I can't believe that they have influence even here," Ougi said seriously, brow knit. "The Kyoto Group is amazing."

"Isn't it ugly?" an old, raspy voice asked. The entire group, including the two masked individuals (Vincent and Zero) turned to look at the man who spoke. Behind a curtain of straw and beads, a man sat, a cane in his lap. "Where once the pristine waters and lush forests of our holy Mount Fuji lay, there is now only a symbol of oppression. It is truly representative of Japan as a whole. Lamentable indeed."

Zero shifted slightly. The old man continued, "I would apologize for hiding my face, but I see that you too are wearing a mask, Zero. As is that man to your right. I must ascertain who you truly are. I will have you show me your true face!"

He jabbed a finger at the masked leader and, as if on cue, several Glasgows appeared, each totting a rifle. Kallen stepped in front of her leader, "Wait, please! Zero gave us strength and led us to victory! You can't—!"

"Be silent!" the old man demanded. "Which one of you is Ougi?"

Ougi stepped forward nervously, "A-ah, that's me."

"Remove Zero's mask."

The entire group seemed to hold their breath at those words, waiting for the response. Ougi looked back at the masked man, clearly conflicted about his choices. There was a moment's pause, then he made his decision and walked towards Zero. Kallen was surprised, "Ougi!"

"I'm sorry, Zero," Ougi said. "I want to believe in you."

He reached up for the mask, "Just let me know I can trust you."

Gently, he lifted the mask up, only to gasp in surprise, like the rest of the group, when he caught sight of the face beneath the disguise. Long green hair flowed downwards, sweeping over the front of the cloak, and impassive golden eyes stared back at the stunned man, the woman's face expressionless.

"A woman?" Tamaki screeched.

"No!" Kallen objected. "This isn't Zero! I saw her with Zero!"

"Is that true, woman?" the old man demanded.

"Yes," C.C. answered.

"And you are not Japanese, are you?" came the next question.

"You're right, Kyoto Group spokesperson," C.C. said, a small smirk creeping onto her lips, "Kirihara Taizou."

One of the men standing dutifully next to Kirihara's platform reached into his suit jacket for a gun, proclaiming, "We cannot allow anyone who knows your identity to live, sir!"

"Especially if they are not Japanese!" the other cried.

At this, the Glasgow on the right closest to the platform shot its slash harkens forward, disabling the two Knightmares across from it. It turned and immediately beat down the one standing next to it, then swiveled and moved in front of the platform, leveling its rifle at Kirihara.

"Your defenses are flaccid, your methods and mindset are obsolete," Zero's voice spoke as the cockpit opened, revealing the masked leader. Kirihara gripped his cane tightly. "That is why you can never win!"

"When did he?" one of the bodyguards muttered aloud, then leveled his gun at the man.

"Don't!" the other yelled. "Don't you see him? He's got a remote trigger! Nobody try anything!"

Zero stepped down onto the platform, walking forward, "Kirihara Taizou. As founder of the Sakuradite mining company, Kirihara Industries, you controlled the Kururugi administration from the shadows. After the war was lost, you collaborated with the colonial government, earning you the nickname, 'Benedict Kirihara'. However, behind that façade, you organize every resistance group throughout the nation as leader of the Six Houses of Kyoto. You're a triple crosser. How petty."

"How dare you probe the chairman's motives!" one of the body guards demanded angrily.

"Stop," Kirihara said firmly.

"It's just as you thought," Zero chuckled. "I am…not Japanese."

"No way!" Tamaki said quietly, echoing the thoughts of all his unmasked comrades. "So that's why he wouldn't show his face."

"Why do you fight, if you are not Japanese?" Kirihara demanded. "What is your goal?"

"To destroy Britannia," both masked men said at once, the golden-masked one in a deeper, raspier voice.

"You believe you can do that?" Kirihara asked cynically.

"I can, for I have a reason why I must," Zero stated strongly. He reached up and pulled of his mask, revealing his face only to the old man in front of him. Kirihara's eyes went wide and it almost looked as if he was going to have a heart attack. "I'm glad you could be my counterpart."

"You!" the old man rasped.

"It's been a while," Lelouch said lightly, still in his superior tone, "Kirihara."

"As I thought," the old man said. "You were brought to our home eight years ago as a political hostage."

"Yes," Lelouch answered. "I must thank you for taking care of us then."

"Had the representative been someone other than myself, would you have taken him hostage?"

"Of course not," Lelouch said. "I could only have asked his pardon."

Kirihara smiled, "So the seed I planted eight years ago has finally borne fruit."

He let out a raspy, echoing laugh. Tamaki stepped forward, "Damn, I can't see!"

Kallen blocked him, but whatever she might have said was cut off by Kirihara, "Ougi! This man is, without a doubt, an enemy of Britannia. I understand why he couldn't show you his face. This I assure you: have Zero lead, and we will help you cover your tracks and find a base of operations."

"I thank you," Ougi said formally.

"Yes, thank you, Kirihara," Lelouch turned around and secured his mask.

"Will you walk the path of carnage?" Kirihara asked, lifting up his curtain to smirk.

"If that is indeed my destiny," Lelouch smirked back, just before the mask covered his lips and mouth.

— o.0.O.O.0.o —

Vincent pulled off the black mask, taking in a deep breath of fresh air. Setting it down on the desk of his room, he ran a hand through his sweaty black locks and frowned in frustration at the sticky liquid that clung to his gloves. Reaching up, he pulled the tie on top of his head loose and the full length of his hair was, at once, sprawled over his shoulders.

Glaring at the mask, he tugged his white ascot free and unbuttoned the top of his high-collared shirt, wishing that he could simply go as Vincent Valentine instead of the slightly more notorious 'Raven' that he was now known by amongst the Black Knights. It would have been so much simpler.

Looking into his mirror, Vincent stared at his reflection's eyes and frowned in concentration. Inside the crimson depths, a strange symbol flickered to life, but it disappeared an instant later. Vincent frowned deeper and flung himself backward with a frustrated growl, "It's been forty years! This immortality, this Code, is artificial! Why, then, can I not activate my Geass?"

"For the same reason I can't," a soft voice said, stuck just between soprano and alto. Vincent spun around, shocked. He hadn't even heard her come in. "Your Geass is still there, but the contract was weakened by the bestowment of your immortality. Thus, to work again, it must be renewed."

Vincent couldn't believe his eyes. Standing there, clothed in an Ashford Academy girl's uniform, was a woman who looked to be about seventeen. Her chest was average sized, just as he remembered, and her hair was long and rusty auburn. She was trim and slender and athletic, staring at him with a small smirk on her face and bright, teal-blue eyes.

Vincent could do nothing more than state her name, "Fiona Jarnefeldt…"

— o.0.O.O.0.o —

To be continued…

Disclaimer: I don't own Code Geass, Mobile Suit Gundam, Armored Core for Answer, or Final Fantasy VII

Sorry this is out so late. Those of you who recognized Fiona Jarnefeldt should be able to guess what has been occupying my time recently, say, for the past four or so weeks. For those of you who don't recognize Fiona but do know the addition to the disclaimer, that should still be an adequate answer.

For those of you who don't know her, her character will be fleshed out eventually. As for how she knows Vincent, you might be able to guess.

Now, should Fiona Jarnefeldt become Vincent's love interest?

Can sins be forgiven?

James Daniel Godric Fawkes

James Daniel Godric Fawkes(Signature best viewed in Wendy Medium font style)