Notes: Okay, let's see if I can get back into the swing. This chapter draws from the Season 1 episode "Knight." I should point out again that certain events will proceed faster than in canon. But I don't expect anyone to like this chapter much, so it may undergo plenty of revision, or none at all.
Chapter Summary: The Four Holy Swords and the Black Knights liberate Tohdoh, but there are two factors that Zero fails to prepare for: Marianne wreaking havoc in the Gawain, and Suzaku, propelled by his promise to Shirley, setting his sights on Nunnally instead of Euphemia.
Of Monsters and Men
A Code Geass Fanfic by
Nate Grey (xman0123-at-aol-dot-com)
Part 10: One More Miracle
Nina was not exactly thrilled to be around so many Japanese (she constantly had to remind herself not to think of them as Elevens), even if they were members of the Black Knights. Diethard was prepared for this reaction, and had kept Nina both busy and at his side since they'd arrived at the base. He had her go through potential battle strategies and assess the probability for success in various scenarios. It was only busywork: Zero had developed each one himself, and gone over them several times. But at present, there were precious few people on their side that could actually improve on Zero's plans, or at least offer a critical but qualified perspective to them. For all Diethard knew, Nina might stumble upon some winning strategy that Zero either hadn't thought of, or simply hadn't thought highly of at the time.
Although Diethard could honestly admit to himself that he had taken Nina out of the hospital solely to keep her out of V.V.'s clutches, part of him was glad that he hadn't simply let her go home. He felt he could put her Geass to good use, and failing that, her intelligence could only benefit him in his tasks for the Black Knights. So long as he didn't leave her alone for too long, she was easily managed with a few smiles and brief touches.
The bulk of Diethard's tasks for the day would center around welcoming the newest member of the Black Knights. He had little idea as to how Zero had managed it, but the fact that he even had was impressive enough. He had not quite decided how he would explain any of this to Nina when their workspace was suddenly and rudely invaded.
Several Indian men, with no word of explanation, simply walked in and began setting up computer equipment. They did not, at first glance, appear to be at all threatening, merely busy, and perhaps that was why Nina was more offended by them than afraid of them. Diethard cleared his throat before she could open her mouth.
"Don't bother them, Diethard, they're with me," said the Indian woman that strolled in next.
"So you've arrived, Rakshata. I didn't expect you to join up, at least not this soon."
She smirked, pointing her tobacco pipe at him. "Don't play coy with me. I know you Reids always have your predictions, and they're usually fairly accurate. That's the only reason I ever tolerated you bunch of busybodies."
Diethard noticed that Nina was watching them closely, and it occurred to him that she might even be jealous. "Oh, yes. Rakshata, I'd like you to meet a dear friend of mine. She's-"
"I know exactly who she is," Rakshata interrupted calmly. "Did you really think I was the type of person to join an organization without first being aware of everyone in it?"
Diethard narrowed his eyes. "Nina is not an official member of the Black Knights. How could you possibly know about her?"
Rakshata smiled. "I also make it a point to keep tabs on a few old friends, such as yourself. You Reids always kept the most interesting company. But I'm sure I don't have to tell you that information is power, Diethard."
"You were spying on me?" he demanded.
She shrugged. "You could think of it as me missing you, if you like. The result is the same. At any rate, we'll be partners for the immediate future. Nina, do be a dear and have the boys find you a spare lab coat. One of my assistants couldn't make it, and I think you'll make a suitable replacement."
"Why would I want to work for you?" Nina asked warily.
Rakshata chuckled softly. "Darling, the real question is, are you misguided enough not to?"
"It's almost that time, Tohdoh. You're still here?"
"Yeah, why don't you go ahead and miracle yourself free?"
To his credit, Tohdoh had been ignoring the taunts from the guards outside his cell for several hours now. He occupied himself by reviewing all the battles that he could recall participating in. It was true that he had made some mistakes, but he'd lived well, and had no regrets. And he must have done something right, because no one had ever called him Tohdoh of Mistakes.
Well, except for that last guard, anyway, but he'd already proven how much of an idiot he was.
In any case, while Tohdoh was not quite prepared to die, he was willing to accept it all the same. Even if the JLF was crushed the very next day, Britannia would not forget his name so easily. That, more than anything else, was what he privately considered to be his greatest accomplishment. It was one thing to turn a downhill battle in one's favor, but it was quite another when the enemy saw a single foe as being important enough to whisper his name among themselves.
Ironically enough, Tohdoh was not expecting or even desiring a miracle this night. And perhaps that, more than any other reason, was exactly why he got one.
Tohdoh was the first to hear the distant rumbling; the guards were too busy amusing themselves. By the time they finally did hear it, they barely had a moment to react as the wall behind them exploded inward, burying them under debris and the large, black hand of a Knightmare. The hand withdrew, then returned shortly, holding the last person that Tohdoh had expected to see.
"Good evening, General Tohdoh," Euphemia said, offering him a small, polite bow. "Please excuse the intrustion."
He just stared at her, resisting the urge to frown. "Why would a princess of Britannia break into a Britannian prison?"
She smiled at him. "I'm sorry, I'd forgotten. You're one of the few people that hasn't had access to the news channels. I've joined the Black Knights."
Tohdoh's expression did not change. "That would explain the outfit, but it will take more than that to convince me."
"She isn't lying, sir," Chiba said as she stepped through the hole in the wall, followed by a redhead he didn't recognize. "We've come to rescue you." She and the redhead shifted the rubble until they uncovered a guard, then searched him for a key.
"And what is it that Zero wants from me? Another miracle?"
"You are under no obligation to assist us," Euphemia replied. "Zero believes that your merely being free will contribute to Britannia's downfall. However, if you wish to offer your services, we will gladly accept."
"And why would I do that?" Tohdoh asked as Chiba opened his cell and went to work on his restraints.
"Because Zero will succeed where others have failed, whether you join us or not," the redhead answered.
"You're the red Knightmare's pilot," Tohdoh murmured, recognizing her voice. "So you survived."
She nodded, offering a small smile. "Kozuki Kallen, sir. I couldn't stay away when Chiba-san told me what happened. And as Euphemia is still new to our group, Zero wanted to be certain someone he could trust was with her."
Tohdoh said nothing, but inwardly, he was turning that over in his mind. Zero had assigned his best pilot to protect Euphemia? It was true that her name would still carry some weight, but if she was so important to him, why send her out into the field at all?
"Done, sir," Chiba said suddenly, tugging the straightjacket off of him.
"Thank you, Chiba," Tohdoh sighed, stretching his arms as he stood up. "You've gathered the others?"
"They're waiting outside in new Knightmares, and one of them is for you. Lady Kaguya spared no expense."
"I may need to thank her in person, then."
"You may get your chance sooner than you think," Euphemia said. "She's joined the Black Knights as well."
Tohdoh paused, glancing at Chiba and frowning when she nodded in confirmation. "Has anyone NOT joined the Black Knights recently?"
"Just you," Euphemia added in a slightly teasing tone. "And Schneizel's troops, who I suspect are converging on this location as we speak. But I have every reason to believe that our combined forces can hold them off until you're adequately armed."
Suzaku was used to being held back in battle. As an Honorary Britannian soldier, sometimes he was lucky to even be remembered by his superiors, no matter how impressive his record was. He had hoped, however, that things would improve under Prince Schneizel's rule, but it was looking like more of the same. The attack on the prison where Tohdoh was being held had been underway for almost ten minutes now, and still the Lancelot had not been deployed. On the other hand, neither had the Gawain, so it was possible that Euphemia simply hadn't shown up yet, and that the ERS wouldn't move until that changed.
Yet Suzaku had to be sure, because he didn't know enough about Schneizel to be sure of the man's intentions. Taking a deep breath, he opened a channel to the Avalon, relaxing slightly when Cecile's face appeared on the screen.
"Is anything wrong, Suzaku?" she asked.
"No, but... just sitting here, it doesn't seem like anything's changed, does it?"
She smiled apologetically. "I know what you're thinking, but something's come up. No one can locate the Gawain. It doesn't seem to be here, and since the ERS was more or less Prince Schneizel's ace for this operation, we haven't been deployed. I don't suppose you know where Gino and Anya might have gone?"
He shook his head. "Sorry, no. Anya's been acting pretty strange lately, but I didn't think she'd pull something like this."
"Well, stay alert. If we're lucky, Prince Schneizel will ask you to go out alone any minute now. From the reports so far, our forces aren't doing so well against the enemy. They have some new-"
"Major Kururugi," Prince Schneizel said as he suddenly leaned into view, badly startling Cecile. "I've received word that the Black Knights have secured Tohdoh. I don't want that man piloting a Knightmare again if it can be prevented. Can I depend on you?"
"Yes, Your Highness," Suzaku responded at once, seizing his Knightmare's controls. "Lancelot, moving out!"
Tohdoh was thankful to the Black Knights for taking part in the rescue operation, but he did not quite trust them yet. It was something of an honor to be riding in Zero's Burai, but that was just one of many he'd earned in his career as a soldier. So when Zero did not immediately head for the supply truck that should've contained an extra Knightmare, Tohdoh was on high alert.
"Don't be alarmed," Zero said, as if reading his thoughts. "I didn't free you from prison just to kill you. That truck is merely a distraction. Your Knightmare is on its way. I didn't want to risk it being discovered, and the best way to protect was not to leave it unpiloted."
"You really do plan for everything, don't you?"
"That's what they tell me." Zero switched channels on his com unit as he brought the Burai to a stop. "Delivery girl, we're ready for that package."
An instant later, Tohdoh's customized Gekka landed in front of them. "You really have no imagination at all, you know," C.C. complained as she climbed out. "Why put me in a Knightmare if I'm not going to use it?"
"A gentleman always protects a lady," Zero stated grandly as he opened up the Burai's cockpit, allowing Tohdoh and C.C. to switch Knightmares, "no matter how infuriating she may be."
"Then what's your excuse?" C.C. asked as she settled down behind him.
"I thought I'd just assume you were a lady for the time being."
C.C. glared at the back of his head. "You-"
"I am in your debt again, Zero," Tohdoh said over the radio, "but after tonight, we part ways. That is what I agreed upon with your princess."
"Fair enough, Tohdoh. But I think tonight's operation will showcase not only my tactical prowess, but Euphemia's as well."
"You had better be right, Lelouch," C.C. murmured. "I can feel her. She's coming."
"Marianne the Flash."
Gino had never really thought that being a Knight of the Round would require him to be a backseat driver. But he had also never thought that he'd be co-piloting with a dead woman. Although trying to convince Marianne that she was supposed to be dead was very much like trying to tell the Emperor that he looked stupid with that wig on: an instant death sentence.
Marianne had quickly established herself as the senior of the pair: she had more experience (even if Anya's career was ignored), was a better pilot overall, and had made it clear that she did not take orders well. She hadn't hesitated to take over the Gawain's weapons system, leaving the maneuvering to Gino. He hadn't put up a fight, as he was worried that Marianne might have a way of hurting Anya without damaging herself.
Instead of heading to the prison where Tohdoh was being held, Marianne had first directed them to a set of coordinates where there was nothing but a large rock in the middle of a grassy field. Gino had waited anxiously while Marianne dug in the dirt for several minutes, until she returned carrying a small, dirt-encrusted object.
"Clean this up for me, Gino," she ordered, dropping it into his hands and bumping him out of the seat with her hip. "I'll handle the flying for now."
Gino was not sure what surprised him more: that the object turned out to be an engagement ring, or the inscription that bore the words, "Love Always, Charles."
Before he could ask, Marianne had glanced over her shoulder and said, "You're done? Good." And then she'd extended her hand back to him, wiggling her fingers. "On, please."
His hands shaking badly, Gino had barely managed to slip the ring onto her finger. Had she been looking at him, it certainly would've been impossible. He was very much aware that these were technically still Anya's fingers, and wondered how she might feel about this.
Marianne studied the ring for a moment before letting out an excited squeal. "Gino, darling! It's a perfect fit! Thank you!"
Gino was not about to believe that Anya's finger was the EXACT same size that Marianne's had been when Charles had proposed to her. That would've been a little too creepy and convenient (especially considering Anya's age). So it was more likely that Marianne was just a wee bit crazy. That, he could handle. Actually, he'd been suspecting it for quite some time, so it wasn't much of a shock.
"Now, we'd better go and greet our children," Marianne continued, focusing on her flying again.
Gino bit his lip, wondering if it was safe to correct her. "Sorry, you said 'our children,' didn't you?"
Marianne slowly turned around to stare at him with Anya's eyes. "Of course I did, lover. What else would I have said?"
"Huh. Dunno. Not sure what I was thinking," Gino murmured dully.
She smiled at him. "Don't worry. I'm sure your mood will improve once you see Lelouch again. I hear he's grown up quite well!"
The closer he came to encountering Tohdoh again, the more Suzaku understood why he had been chosen for this mission. It was not just because of any faith Schneizel had in him, or his record that proved he was an elite pilot. Suzaku had been chosen because he knew Tohdoh, and had trained under him for a time. And if there was only one thing that all of Tohdoh's students walked away with, it was knowing how the man thought.
It was easy for Suzaku to work his way through the prison compound without even catching a glimpse of the Four Holy Swords or the Black Knights. They had taken up key positions that offered them the best opportunities to stall their enemies. None of them had even considered charging straight through the prison as the Lancelot did. Suzaku knew that would come with consequences later, but so long as Tohdoh wasn't among the escapees, he knew Schneizel would overlook almost any other losses.
Tohdoh was easy to spot: his Knightmare was fighting back-to-back with the red Knightmare that Lloyd had identified as the Guren Mark II. Between them, they appeared to have no problems taking out any Britannian Knightmares that approached. Suzaku gritted his teeth, cursing Anya and Gino for leaving him in such an undesirable spot. If the Gawain was there, he wouldn't have hesitated to charge in, but with no reliable support, it would be impossible for him to take down Tohdoh and the Guren alone.
Still, he had his orders, and he wasn't about to let anyone say that he lacked courage.
"Lancelot, engaging!" he barked into his radio, firing his two arm-mounted Slash Harkens in an attempt to separate the two Knightmares. However, both Knightmares turned and countered the heavy blows with well-timed punches.
"You'll have to do better than that, Suzaku!" Tohdoh shouted over the radio.
Suzaku narrowed his eyes, more angry than startled. It didn't matter how Tohdoh had found out his identity. But telling everyone else wasn't going to make things any easier. "I won't let you go! A true soldier follows his orders to the end, right?!"
"Is that what you are now?" Tohdoh replied as his Knightmare met the Lancelot head on in a clash of swords. "Then carry out your orders and become my executioner, Major Kururugi!"
Those words made Suzaku hesitate, just as Tohdoh had known they would. It gave the Guren all the time it needed to attack the Lancelot from behind, knocking away the VARIS rifle that Suzaku had just begun to draw out. The Lancelot countered by spinning away from Tohdoh and crashing into the Guren with a devastating kick. That gave Suzaku barely enough time to arm himself with a second sword, which made it far easier to block Tohdoh's next slash. The Guren did not immediately attack again, and Suzaku was only slightly relieved when he risked a glance and saw the Guren falling back several feet.
Had he known what was in store for him, he would've been even more concerned.
Suzaku was preparing his next attack when a familiar voice rang out from the Guren.
"I command you to stop, Suzaku!"
Suzaku couldn't have disobeyed if he'd wanted to. Every muscle in his body locked up, and he broke into a cold sweat as the Lancelot's cameras reinforced his shock: the Guren's cockpit was open, and Euphemia was standing there, glaring straight at him. Of course he knew that she wasn't the pilot, but his eyes could not be bothered to take in any other details in that moment. So he didn't notice at all when his controls were suddenly bathed in and taken over by a curious red light.
He did notice, however, when the Lancelot turned and slowly moved towards the Guren, despite not being given any commands.
"Don't worry, Suzaku," Euphemia reassured him as it finally occurred to him to resist. "You won't be harmed in any way. We are simply going to have a nice, long talk."
Cornelia li Britannia was dead. For the time being, anyway.
There was only Cornelia now, and she had a great deal to do before she would consider herself Second Princess of Britannia again.
Under C3's brutal but effective training, Cornelia's mind had returned to her with astonishing speed. The main problem with that, however, was that she also recalled, with startling clarity, Euphemia shooting her. C3 had shown her security footage of that night from a curiously convenient camera, and what Cornelia saw matched her memories perfectly.
Euphemia had tried desperately to reason with her over the release of the Nunnally imposter. When it became clear that Cornelia would not be persuaded, Euphemia had shot her in the arm. For whatever reason, Cornelia had not braced herself for the impact at all, and took the fall badly, banging her head against the floor. Euphemia had then fled with the imposter.
Cornelia was not angry with her sister, not even over the gunshot wound. A bit frustrated, perhaps, but strangely proud that Euphemia had stood up to her, especially to the point of violence.
But Cornelia felt nothing but hatred for the imposter that had stained Nunnally's memory and fooled Euphemia into protecting her. Cornelia intended to spend every spare moment thinking up a death gruesome enough to match her sins. Channeling her rage toward the imposter was something that came easier to her, the more pain she experienced at C3's hands.
And that was without considering what had become of her face.
C3 had said that the scarring from the implanted Geass most likely would never heal. What she had not said was that the scar, in the form of a large, crimson Geass sigil, would be branded across Cornelia's left eye. The eye itself had become a milky silver color, and Cornelia could only see with it when her Geass was active. Fortunately, due to the nature of the Geass, there was hardly a time when she didn't use it.
Absolute Reflection was far more capable than she had ever imagined possible. At first, Cornelia had merely thought it was only good for producing a mirror, no bigger than a thumbnail. But the mirrors themselves had no physical substance, and according to V.V., were the secret to his intelligence network. Any information they reflected could be stored by the user and accessed later. The mirrors could even be placed within a person's eye, effectively viewing everything they did.
Those features, however, had been available in V.V.'s original Geass. Cornelia's mirrors were very much physical, and while they could not be placed as conveniently, they were still extremely difficult to detect under the proper circumstances. And, much to her liking, the mirrors now had battle applications. She could alter the size, thickness, and sharpness of the mirrors with little effort.
These abilities were not without certain costs: the disfiguring of her face, obviously, and the constant dull pain in her eye.
It had not escaped Cornelia's notice that she and C3 appeared to have much the same capabilities. The only real difference was that C3 was not human, and so she was not confined by human limits, such as fatigue. This was was clearly an advantage for V.V., who was her master and creator. Not so much for Cornelia, because while C3 understood that humans had built-in limits, she'd trained the princess as if unaware of that fact.
V.V. had only made one request of Cornelia: that she wait until their business was concluded before departing. He claimed he was building her a Knightmare that would fulfill her every desire. Cornelia could believe that, because her desires were simple now. She didn't want her old titles, or anything else from her old life back. All she wanted was the death of the imposter, and once she was ready, that would come all too quickly.
Marianne's "arrangement" with Anya was far more complex than even Gino realized. From all outward appearances, Marianne had simply forced Anya's mind into a little box and tucked it away in a dark closet.
This was wholly inaccurate.
Marianne's soul had been within Anya for years now, and she had been extremely busy in that time. She had familiarized herself with everything that was Anya, to the point where, if she'd had another body, she could've convincingly passed herself off as a close relative, even Anya's own mother.
But Marianne had found a better use for this knowledge. No matter how much she understood Anya, she also knew that she and Anya were ultimately two different people, and two minds were almost always better than one. So while Marianne easily could have completely locked away Anya's mind, she did not.
Instead, she merely overlaid Anya's will with her own. And despite Anya's prior experience with this, she was no match for Marianne the Flash, and certainly not for an especially determined version.
The effect was basically like having Anya as a backseat driver in her own body. Marianne was aware of Anya's thoughts at all times, but only Marianne was capable of making any decisions where the body was concerned. She had done this not to be cruel, but because even in her own self confidence, she had suspected that Anya's input might help more than harm. Not surprisingly, Anya was silent on a wide variety of subjects, so Marianne had to go by the brief pulses of emotion she could pick up. So far, the strongest had been any time she made a move towards Gino. But the more time Marianne spent in any Knightmare, the more involved Anya became in the piloting. Marianne's focus had always been accomplishing things with blinding speed, but she suddenly gained a new appreciation for just how powerful the Gawain truly was.
Which was not to say that she wouldn't have mowed down the Four Holy Swords as if they were nothing, had she been in any other Knightmare. Only that it might have taken a few seconds longer.
Euphemia was not all that skilled in Knightmare piloting. She knew enough to move them without falling over, to more or less shoot straight, and how to spot the best escape routes with the cameras. That was all a princess of her stature had ever been meant to know, and it had never done her any good, since Cornelia had done everything in her power to ensure that other than that less than basic training, Euphemia had never set foot in a Knightmare again.
Kallen had given Euphemia a crash course on how to move the Guren, and the lesson stuck more because of Euphemia's previous memorable ride in the red Knightmare. It was a little tricky to pilot with Kallen's essentially comatose body in the way, but that was the only way to ensure that the Lancelot would follow them without causing trouble. And it wasn't that Suzaku meant to cause trouble, it was just that he could be as stubborn as Lelouch at times, especially when he thought he was doing the right thing.
Euphemia had wanted Suzaku to join the Black Knights as well, but Lelouch had warned her that it simply wasn't possible at the present time. Not only would Suzaku resist the idea, but Britannia would not accept such a loss, despite its overall views on honorary Britannians. The best they could hope for now was to convince him to stay out of the way.
And only she could make sure that happened.
"The Lancelot is approaching the target zone," Nina murmured, staring at the display screen in front of her. "All preparations are complete."
"You're sure this will work, Rakshata?" Diethard asked softly.
"It may not be one of my children, but I still know how to deliver a proper spanking," Rakshata replied smugly. She tracked the white dot on the screen until it started to enter the red circle. "Nina, activate the Gefjun Disturber."
C.C. watched in silence as Zero grew more and more agitated. He had, of course, brushed off her claims that Marianne was now their opponent. His exact words were, "When I need help fighting a ghost, I'll let you know." But the damage reports on the Four Holy Swords were all too real. The cockpit on each of their Gekka had been smashed in, though the four pilots somehow miraculously survived with only minor bruising.
Even more troubling was that each pilot told the same, unbelievable story: they'd been defeated by a giant Knightmare, and it had used only Slash Harkens to stop them.
Zero didn't know what to do. His plans concerning Tohdoh and Suzaku were going so well, it was hard to believe that this one had utterly fallen apart. He should've expected this, though: Schneizel had always thought three steps ahead of him. The Second Prince always had another trump card to play, and he played them well.
It wasn't until Zero found his Burai in the grip of the enormous Knightmare that he began to entertain thoughts of actually accepting C.C.'s advice.
"Don't resist," C.C. said abruptly. "She isn't going to hurt you. She just wants to introduce herself."
Zero turned back to stare at her, no doubt assuming that she'd lost her mind. But when he faced the front again, he was startled to see a small, pink-haired girl perched just outside of the cockpit, waving at him with a merry grin. She looked to be completely unarmed, and Zero smirked beneath his mask as one hand went to the service pistol strapped to his leg. The other hand went to the control that slowly began to open the cockpit.
He lost sight of her for only an instant, but in that limited space, the girl somehow reappeared in Zero's lap, with his gun in her hand, pressed lightly against his chest.
"Naughty boy," she cooed, tapping his mask with a finger. "You shouldn't play with guns, Lelouch. Mother forbids it."
Zero stiffened before growling, "You aren't-"
"Does Nunnally still have that scar on the back of her left shoulder, from when she slipped and fell in the fountain?"
Zero said nothing.
"Have you been playing nice with C.C.? You know, I think you two were meant for each other."
"I think he wants you to get to the point, Marianne," C.C. suggested.
The girl frowned at her. "You always spoil everything, you know that?"
"It's a gift."
Sighing, the girl turned back to Zero. "You take good care of your sisters, Lelouch. I won't forgive you if they're hurt again. And go easy on Suzaku, he isn't too bright."
Zero wasn't listening. He was staring at the ring on her finger.
If she noticed, she pretended not to. "I'll be watching you, so be sure to be a good boy." With that, she tossed the gun to C.C. and hopped out of the Burai, running swiftly up the other Knightmare's extended arm.
"I told you so," C.C. couldn't help saying as the Burai was placed gently on the ground.
Again, Zero remained silent, even as the other Knightmare flew off.
C.C. very nearly tapped the back of his helmet and asked if he'd heard her, but the sight of his hands shaking so badly stopped her.
Kallen blinked and slowly opened her eyes, frowning thoughtfully when she became aware of the stiffness in her neck. Seizing the Lancelot with her Geass had been surprisingly easy, though that had been due to Suzaku's confusion overwhelming him. He had offered little to no resistance, this time. Had he actually been fighting her control, Kallen doubted she would've been able to move him into Rakshata's trap so easily. She was starting to see just how useful Euphemia really would be to Zero. Before, Kallen was only protecting Euphemia because she was Nunnally's sister. But if she was this willing to help Zero bring down Britannia, she would be even more important than Kallen had guessed.
It certainly didn't hurt that Euphemia had been able to end Suzaku's attack just by talking to him.
"You have to stop pursuing me, Suzaku," Euphemia was saying. "I won't come back. I won't be parted from Lelouch and Nunnally again, and I wish you would join us. I understand your ideals, but there's only so much good you can do from the inside of a heartless empire."
To Kallen's surprise, the Lancelot's cockpit opened up. Though Euphemia had told her the identity of the pilot, it was still very strange to see Suzaku revealed in the white Knightmare. He looked every bit the soldier that had caused so many problems for Zero.
"Should a Knight's bond with his princess be so easily cast aside, Euphie?" Suzaku asked. "If you didn't want me to come after you, then you should've dismissed me from your service before you left! Now I can never stop until I bring you back where you belong!"
Euphemia glared at him. "If you tear me away from my family, my true family, I will never forgive you, Suzaku! How can you break poor Nunnally's heart twice over? All she wants is her family, and the freedom to one day be your wife!"
For a long moment, Kallen was sure that Suzaku had been defeated by Euphemia's words. Suzaku looked pale, and his hands were shaking. He obviously hadn't known that last part, and it was taking its toll on his conscience.
But then Suzaku raised his head, and his eyes were bright and clear.
"You have sworn allegiance to the Black Knights, Euphie. Has Nunnally done the same?"
Euphemia blinked, clearly startled. "No." In truth, Nunnally had never been offered the choice, nor had she requested it. She was their honored guest, as far as Zero was concerned.
"Then I can save her from this madness while she's still innocent. As for her broken dream,
I will bear that loss by becoming her Knight, once she is restored to her rightful place. For right now, I have a promise to keep!" Suzaku ducked down as the cockpit slid shut.
"What's he doing?" Kallen wondered aloud. "He can't move it while the Gefjun Disturber is active. He can't do anything!"
"I wouldn't be so sure, Kallen," Euphemia whispered. "Suzaku has a talent for achieving the impossible. Maybe you'd better take control again, just to be sure. If nothing else, he could be stalling until reinforcements arrive."
The words were barely uttered when a large shadow fell over them.
Kallen pulled Euphemia down instinctively, but soon saw there was no need. The giant Knightmare passing overhead wasn't going to stop, nor was it aiming at them. It fired a trio of Slash Harkens from its fingertips, and each one slammed into ground just outside the Gefjun Disturber ring, ending the Lancelot's imprisonment.
Cursing, Kallen narrowed her eyes and activated her Geass. Her spirit rushed out to seize the Lancelot again, but now there was plenty of resistance. Suzaku still had no idea exactly what she was doing, but he was now so determined not to be stopped that Kallen had trouble keeping a firm grip on the white Knightmare. She was only in control long enough to slash at one of its own landspinners with the MVS, and then Kallen was practically thrown back into her body by Suzaku's will. Still, she had gotten a glimpse of the reason behind his newfound motivation, and could hardly believe it.
"Shirley? She's still alive? But how?"
There was no time to dwell on that revelation: the Lancelot was fleeing the scene along with the giant Knightmare, and oddly enough, both sides were calling for a retreat.
Prince Schneizel looked distinctly unhappy as his subordinates continued to relay the orders for retreat. He did not like the idea of pulling out of a battle without having accomplished anything, but had not been willing to take any further risks. They had lost Tohdoh, and the Lancelot had been completely immobilized and then damaged, if only slightly. Normally, that would not have been enough reason to pull back.
Except that nothing was normal where Anya was concerned.
Schneizel had been warned, by the Emperor himself, that if Anya ever gave him an order, he would be wise to accept it. At the time, Schneizel had thought it utter madness. Anya often had to be prompted to say more than two words at once. What was the likelihood of her ever giving Britannia's Prime Minister an order?
But Anya had, though she'd sounded and looked completely unlike herself. She had flat out told Schneizel to pull back, and offered no reason.
And he had listened, for no other reason than the fear of hearing his cursed father's laughter ringing in his ears. There was something that Schneizel found so appalling and offensive about that man's laugh, especially when it was directed at himself.
Shirley had fallen asleep by the time that Suzaku got home, but that didn't matter. He sat on the floor beside her bed, took her hand, and gently kissed it. "I'll always keep my promise, Shirley," he murmured. "I'll always come back."
As he walked through the base of the Black Knights, Tohdoh continued to reflect on that night's battle. Zero had managed to surround himself with some rather impressive soldiers, and even managed them fairly well. But that was not enough to convince Tohdoh to join up. Perhaps his thoughts were being overshadowed by the failures of his own people, but he was in no way disappointed in them. No one had been prepared for that monster of a Knightmare, and that they'd survived at all was a miracle in itself.
Now that he'd seen everything that Zero had to offer, Tohdoh was ready to collect his people and leave. He'd heard that Kaguya was visiting them in the infirmary, so with some luck, they could soon have replacements for the four Gekka that had been destroyed.
Predictably, the moment Tohdoh walked into the infirmary, Kaguya latched onto his waist and began chattering nonstop. He merely endured it and nodded at the appropriate times, waiting for a chance to discuss future endorsements.
It was then that he noticed something... odd.
Asahina, Senba, and Urabe were all seated on a nearby couch, looking distinctly uncomfortable. The reason for this was clear: each of them was wearing a large amount of bandages.
Tohdoh decided not to further disgrace them by laughing. Barely. Instead, he cleared his throat and asked, "Did you identify your attacker?"
All three men turned bright red, and Tohdoh knew at once that they'd gotten the wrong impression. "I meant the pilot of that Knightmare, not... whoever did this to you," he added reluctantly.
"No, sir," Asahina answered regretfully.
"But, while we are on the subject..." Tohdoh's gaze went back to the pink bandages, causing the men to squirm.
"It was the former princess, Euphemia," Urabe muttered, rubbing his head. "She insisted on treating our wounds personally. She claims that their lack of intel was to blame for our getting hurt, and apologized to all of us."
Tohdoh's eyes widened in surprise. "Where is she now?"
"Patching up Chiba," Urabe said.
"Euphemia didn't treat her first?"
Urabe shook his head. "She couldn't. Chiba put up the biggest fight out of all of us."
"And why is that?"
Tohdoh was amazed to see that Urabe actually looked bashful. "Well, Euphemia asked us all so nicely. It just didn't work on Chiba."
"I suppose the fact that she's beautiful had nothing to do with it?"
"She threatened to cry!" Asahina quickly added, as if he thought it would help their case.
Kaguya giggled slightly. "Euphie is a surprisingly effective negotiator, Tohdoh. She's more imposing than she seems."
This was proven true in the next few seconds, when Chiba suddenly ran up and hid behind Tohdoh, followed closely by Euphemia, who was carrying a large roll of bright blue bandages. Not surprisingly, Tohdoh's men stared at the blue bandages, and then at their own, rather mournfully.
"Is there any particular reason why you used the blue ones on Chiba?" Tohdoh asked.
Euphemia blinked. "Well, she preferred those. Although I was a little startled that none of your men complained about the pink ones. It must be nice that they're so secure in their manhood!"
"Yes," Tohdoh murmured, watching as all three men dropped their heads in shame, "nice..."
"Can we get out of here now, sir?" Chiba hissed in his ear once Euphemia had left to treat another wounded soldier.
"No. We're staying."
Chiba stared at him in horror. "But why?!"
"You want access to Zero's resources," Urabe guessed.
Tohdoh smirked. "No, it isn't that."
"Because of Lady Kaguya, then?"
"It's not because of HER, is it?" Chiba asked, glaring at Euphemia's back.
The men shared a concerned look, not expecting their leader to have fallen so easily into the same trap they had.
"She cares," Tohdoh said simply. "She is sincere in her belief that Zero can save this world. And even if he can't, she will surely find her way to the one who can. A girl with such a pure heart can do no less."
"...it was the pink hair, wasn't it?" Asahina added. "That's what got me."
"Shut up," Chiba growled.
Kallen stood beside Nunnally's bed in silence, watching as the girl slept peacefully. They had been apart for some time, and Kallen didn't need her Geass to know that Nunnally had missed her. It was simply the girl's nature to do so, and anyway, Kallen had missed her, as well.
Taking a deep breath, Kallen slowly reached out and lightly brushed Nunnally's cheek with her fingertips, smiling when the girl turned towards her and murmured sleepily, "Kallen?"
"I'm here, Nunnally," Kallen confirmed, taking her hand.
"Missed you," Nunnally sighed, obviously not fully awake.
"I missed you, too. Go back to sleep now. Everything's fine."
Nunnally was asleep again in seconds.
Kallen stared at her for several more moments, replaying Suzaku's words in her head. "I'll always protect you, Nunnally. I won't let him take you. You'll never lose your family again."
She noticed Lelouch standing in the doorway, but said nothing until he came to stand beside her. "I'll have to kill him to keep him away, won't I?"
"It's likely," Lelouch stated.
"Will she ever forgive me?"
"It won't matter. If and when you do it, I'll tell her it was me. That way, if she can't forgive me, she'll at least have you."
Kallen stared at him in shock. "Why?"
"For her happiness," he replied, walking away, "even if I'm not a part of it anymore."
End of Part 10.
Next Chapter: All for My Lady
The Euphemia Retrieval Squad (now actually the Nunnally Retrieval Squad) goes against orders and launches a daring assault on the Black Knights' base. Zero finds himself stranded on an island with two odd children, and Cornelia.
Um, let me know if Tohdoh's rank is wrong, I've seen it listed as two different things.
You may notice there was no mention of Marianne using the Gawain's Hadron Cannons. There actually is a reason for that (other than the crazy, I mean).