"In the year 1999, upon the final month, from the sky will come the great King of Terror. He will bring back to life the great King of the Mongols. Before and after, War reigns happily."
- Michel de Nostradamus

Chapter 11: Return of the Unholy King

Independence Hall
Philadelphia, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
June 15, 1776

"You… you cannot possibly be serious General…!" exclaimed a bespectacled and portly man, dressed in high end colonial clothing and possessing long gray hair that ran down to his shoulders. The expression on the man's face was nothing short of pure horror.

"Unfortunately, I am serious Ben," the opposite man stated in a dark tone. Compared to his compatriot, he was dressed in a formal military uniform, one clearly influenced by the Britannian Imperial Army but moderately altered to reflect its wearer's differing allegiance. He too had grayish hair, except that it was shorter and was not gray naturally but through powdering. "I want you to take the Duke's offer."

That horror was quickly replaced by anger. "I don't know how you learned of the Duke's callous attempts to bribe me, but surely you realize what you are asking me to do!" Benjamin Franklin, Speaker of the Pennsylvania House, American diplomat, and many other things, practically bellowed with his hands curled into fists and trembling. "You are asking me to betray both my countrymen and my conscience for Britannia and the evil that it represents!"

"It is the only way Ben," General George Washington, Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army replied, trying to sound reassuring though he knew it was impossible. "In just over a year, Congress will elect to send you to France to ask for their aid in our revolution. You will succeed in this endeavor, and the French will prove to be valuable allies against Britannia, as will the Dutch and the Spanish. With our combined strengths we will easily overthrow the Empire's control over America."

Washington remained composed, even with what he was about to say next. "I am asking you to make sure that never happens."

Needless to say, Franklin looked as though he wanted to try and strangle the General. "Even if I believed you and your fortune telling ways General, which I don't, is that not the exact cause that we are all fighting for? Our independence from the Empire and its tyranny?"

"I have not forgotten that, but at the same time, I know what will happen when we win this war," Washington replied as he casually paced toward a nearby window, which overlooked the courtyard to the Hall. Below he could see a garrison of soldiers, at attention and looking quite ready to fight on the given command. "America will eventually grow to surpass even Britannia and become the most powerful nation this world will ever see. For a time our descendants will have peace, but in the end that peace will be short-lived and this world will be consumed by a destruction that no human will escape."

He then turned back to face Franklin. "I cannot tell you how or why, but the Holy Britannian Empire is the only factor keeping this destruction at bay. And so, as damned as I am for saying these words, mankind needs Britannia if it is to have a chance at survival."

"You have gone completely mad General," Franklin replied with grit teeth, his expression speaking volumes of his disbelief.

Washington only laughed at his friend's accusation. "And yet for a madman, I continue to hold onto my composure. You of all people would know the sight of a madman Ben, especially after having to deal with those fools on the Privy Council, and as you can clearly see I am not mad."

Franklin had to concede that point; as much as he didn't want to believe it, Washington acted as sane as he always had. That and Franklin also knew that, whether be it by God or some other means, every prediction that the General had made in regards to the future always came true in the end. From as far back as when he was a child, George Washington had had a gift for telling what laid ahead in time; at the age of seven he had predicted that Britannia would engage in a war with the Native tribes, who were being manipulated in the background by the French, and that Britannia would be victorious in the aftermath. He had also made other predictions that seemed to be much further in the future, foreseeing revolution taking hold of Europe in its entirety and the Tudor Dynasty's fall from power, as well as even stranger things such as wars of the future utilizing advanced and terrible weapons: firearms that fired repeatedly, machines that were capable of flight, soldiers dressed in full body armor like those of the Roman legions and perhaps the most bizarre, armored knights as large as giants that moved with wheels on their feet instead of running.

No one knew how he was able to do it except for his constant companion, a mysterious woman that was not his wife nor, as far as anyone knew, his lover and yet always remained at his side. While Franklin liked to think he also had some companionship with her, she was unwilling to tell him anything. But that didn't matter when compared with the seemingly fated occurrences of these visions; with that in mind, Franklin surmised that his friend knew of which he spoke.

Sighing, Franklin almost slumped over, knowing that the General was only speaking the truth. "But what of America, General? What of liberty?"

"Liberty? What good is liberty if it only serves to doom our fellow man, as well as our children?" Washington looked as though he were slapped in the face. "Don't you understand Ben? That is exactly what will happen if the United States of America comes into being, and that is why the dream must end before it begins."

Franklin paused for a moment to think of those words. The United States of America. Such a beautiful name… he then looked back at Washington. "And yet you are still willing to fight for that dream to the end."

"Indeed," Washington replied simply. "My whole life has been dedicated to this land. Therefore I will fight for it until my very last breath alongside my countrymen, knowing that while we are destined to lose in the end, we will die holding onto our principles."

"While I live the life of a traitor and a servant to a crown I despise with all my being," Franklin replied solemnly.

At that, Washington came over and rested his arms on Ben's shoulders, once more trying to look reassuring. "I know it will be a difficult life for you Ben, but it will not be a wasted one. While history may remember you as a turncoat, you will die in peace, knowing that you single-handedly brought salvation for all mankind. What better fate could a man have?"

This time Washington's reassurance seemed to reach Franklin, although the other man still looked entirely conflicted. After a minute, Franklin waved Washington's arms away and spoke again. "I assume you foresaw I would ask for time to consider such an infernal proposal?"

"I didn't need one for that," Washington replied with a small frown. "Please do not take too long in making up your mind. Time is of the essence."

"It always is," Franklin spoke, his voice even, but sounding as though he were restraining himself. After he spoke those words, he turned around and marched out of the room, his anger over the matter apparent with each step as well as the slamming of the door behind him. A brief period of silence followed this, much like the aftermath of a thunderstorm.

In that time, Washington had wandered toward a nearby table and opened up a bottle of whiskey, one of his own family's creations. As he slowly poured the contents of the bottle into a nearby shot glass, he spoke up once again. "That could have gone better, couldn't it?"

"Don't sound so casual. You wouldn't have reacted any better yourself," C.C., who had been standing at the side of the room the whole time, spoke up whimsically. Both Franklin and Washington had known she was there, but she had chosen to remain silent with the whole matter. "You may have a gift for writing words George, but you're a pitiful speaker, especially when it comes to 'infernal proposals'."

"I suppose you're right," Washington replied, as he took the glass and raised it. C.C. was quick to notice that the glass was trembling in the General's hold. "To the United States of America."

With that, Washington brought the glass to his lips and drank the barley enriched alcohol until there was not a drop left. Then, in a move that C.C. fully expected, Washington, in his own inner rage and frustration, threw the glass onto the floor, letting it shatter loudly. When he looked up again, his gaze was turned away from C.C. and he was breathing heavily, the fury he felt at everything no longer constrained within.

Slowly, C.C. came closer to Washington, her face remaining as unconcerned as it usually did, yet there may have been some sympathy across her expression. "Tell me George, do you hate me? For giving you Geass, the Power of Absolute Precognition?"

Washington looked up at her, calming down somewhat. At that point, C.C. had fully crossed the distance between them. "It would only make sense, since it was through me that you had those dreams, that you foresaw your death and the failure of your vision for America."

Though her expression remained emotionless and her voice monotone, Washington could have sworn he heard a twinge of doubt in the latter. In response he gave a small but caring smile, a real one. "I could never hate you C.C. Not after everything we have been through together."

He walked back over to the whiskey table to get another glass. "In fact, I can be no more grateful to you for giving me this gift. Had it not been for this power, I would never have seen such a possible fate in my dreams and I would die unknowing of a potentially grave mistake. Just as you would have continued on without knowing of Geass' dark nature and origins."

When the "witch" didn't answer, Washington turned back to look at her. "Does this trouble you?"

"…No." C.C. replied, looking down slightly. "It's just that… those I've made contracts to in the past have always damned me to some circle of hell or tried to kill me themselves. Aside from one other, you're the only one to not curse my name."

"I don't think it's that surprising," Washington continued to speak warmly. "You told me a long time ago that those with the Power of the King could only live in isolation, but I was fortunate enough not to be given such a fate. It is thanks to this power that I was able to grow from a mere planter's son into the General of an army, that I was able to have a family with Martha and become a father to Jacky and Patsy after Daniel's death, and that I am able to die knowing that the world will continue on." His smile grew at his next words. "And above all else, I was able to meet you."

He then turned around to look at C.C. again. "My question is what will you do after the war is over? Will you remain in America, or will you return to your homeland France, Je…"

"I would prefer you not to speak that name here," C.C. replied quickly and sharply. "But to answer your question, I have no desire to remain in Britannian America, neither do I wish to return to a France that is no longer recognizable to me. In fact, I really don't know where I want to go."

"A pity," Washington replied, taking another drink of whiskey. "However, I implore you to reconsider France, as I hear that its people are suffering terribly from the Ancien Régime. They could certainly use a revolution of their own, as well as a hero to lead them with Geass."

"I'll consider it," C.C. replied, and then turned to make her way out of the room. But just as she was about to open the door, Washington spoke up again.

"…I had another dream," Washington said, stopping C.C. in her tracks. "One that also depicts the distant future, but more importantly, involves you."

C.C. didn't turn around, but it was clear that she was interested as she remained where she stood. Seeing that, Washington continued. "A very long time from now, Britannia will grow to control one third of the entire world, and its tyranny over mankind will become legendary. Its dominion will move toward the east, in which it will conquer a land that is said to be under the rising sun…"

As her face was turned away from Washington's sight, he did not see the realization that came across C.C.'s face upon that last part.

"But in spite of its power, Britannia will fail to conquer the spirit of that land's people, and so another revolution will come about. During that revolution, a lone and seemingly insignificant man, dressed in a black cloak and hiding his face with a mask, will rise up and lead an army against the Empire. Through his influence and charisma, men and women from all nations will ban together under him, and he will single-handedly become responsible for bringing humanity to providence or damnation, against both Britannia and this yet unseen evil," Washington finished his explanation as he poured another shot of whiskey. He was truly in need of it at this point.

C.C. hesitated before she asked the pivotal question. "…What does this have to do with me?"

"Everything," Washington said after he finished pouring another shot, but he did not drink it just yet. "Just as you have been to me, you will grant this man the power of Geass and become his accomplice, guide, and companion. You will serve as the voice that moves him forward, keeps him focused, and most importantly, drives him to whatever fate that awaits both him and humanity."

The "witch" considered his words for a moment, unsure of what she was supposed to feel towards the idea. "I fail to see how one man can defeat an 'unseen evil' so great that it took the entire strength of Britannia just to keep it restrained."

"Unfortunately, the dream didn't tell me whether he will succeed in the end," Washington added. "All I understand is he will be our last hope, and you will be the one who makes him such.," With that, he took another drink.

Shuri Castle
Naha, State of Okinawa
March 30, 2025

The sun had at last broken over the eastern horizon, shedding light upon the previously darkened city of Naha. From his perspective, Alfred had a grand view of it all as he was currently sitting at the base of Shuri Castle, the original ruling seat of the long past Ryukyu Kingdom, before its dismantlement when Okinawa fell under Japanese dominion. It had been a place he had visited often when he originally came to Okinawa with the other survivors, not only for its historical prospects, but mainly for its placement. From where he was, Alfred could see the city of Naha below, while further to the east and far beyond view was Britannia itself. Despite everything that had been done and his own newfound hatred for the Empire and its callousness towards life, Alfred had yet to shake the leftover homesickness he felt toward the land he had been raised within.

He knew he was not the only one that had this sort of problem, as almost all of the Britannians now living in Okinawa had difficulties letting go of their origins. Though the little island in the pacific was a comfortable domain and had provided a home for all of the survivors regardless of their race, it still wasn't like either Britannia nor mainland Japan, and there were still those who were adjusting to their new dwellings eight years later. For himself, Alfred had long gotten used to living in the tropical setting, even with its harsh spring and summer climates and the nearly overbearing humidity. He had long gotten used to the habit of speaking both English and Japanese, switching from one to the other as needed, as well as living in smaller housing, and his meals consisting mainly of seafood. He had even managed to drop any racial pretenses he felt, now seeing the people around him as strictly human as opposed to thinking in terms of Britannian and Japanese or, as ashamed as he was to remember as such, Eleven. However, in spite of his great adjustments, he, like many, many others still had yet to start thinking of this land as 'home'. Perhaps he never would.

At one time such a prospect had actually caused him to cry, knowing that no matter what happened in the future he could never go home again, nor see the warm, smiling faces of his father and brothers. Now, he felt nothing on the inside at that, only a kind of void that signified he had accepted his new life and surroundings on some level. At the very least however, he did find a certain peace in this land and his being amongst its people, along with a feeling of importance and dedication in the Black Knights. And while it was not on the same level as the Glaston Knights, he felt at place in his service to Zero Squadron, as well as a fair amount of comradeship with the other pilots of the unit.

Yet all the same, this was not Britannia, and there was no Andreas Darlton among his new family and friends, nor a Bart Lucius Darlton, Claudio Servius Darlton, David Tiberius Darlton or Edgar Nerva Darlton. Just their memories, along with those of happier times.

"Our first morning back and look where I find you," a voice interrupted Alfred's thoughts. He turned to see Charmelle, dressed in a light purple tank top and spandex shorts with tennis shoes, walk up to where he was sitting. That combined with the sweat across her features signified that she had originally been jogging.

Alfred nodded to her. "Just watching the sunrise," he waved for her to join him, which she did, taking a seat on one of the same steps as he was seated upon.

"Just the sunrise?" Charmelle inquired, knowing the direction that Alfred was facing and what lay beyond the horizon.

The former Glaston Knight sighed at that; his comrade saw right through him. After a small pause, he began talking again. "My first tour of duty was in the Levant during Operation Lionheart. Back then, neither I nor my brothers knew a thing about the world outside Britannia, and so from the very moment we set foot into that desert, we all got the worst homesickness imaginable. To alleviate it, father would order us to face the west during the sunset, because beyond that horizon was the home we fought for, the home that would welcome us back with open arms once we survived."

He then turned to look back at the rising sun. "Now I find myself facing the east instead of the west, and to a home that only turned us away. And yet despite that fact, I still miss it."

Charmelle could feel sympathy, as she too felt that way. "'Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam, Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home; A charm from the sky seems to hallow us there, Which sought through the world is never met elsewhere.'"

"Milton?" Alfred inquired.

"John Howard Payne," Charmelle corrected. "You and I are not so different Alfred, as the only thing we ever wanted to be was knights in the service of our homeland. It's only natural for us to feel at a loss for the dreams we worked so hard for, as well as the families that we ended up leaving behind."

"…You miss your 'family'?" Alfred as with peculiarity.

Charmelle frowned at that. "Touché," She replied. "If there's one benefit about being 'dead', it's that I no longer have to hear from them again."

Though she had been considered of noble breed, Charmelle was born the illegitimate daughter of Edward Finlay, Grand Duke of Carthage, and his secretary Mary Josephine. The controversy deepened when not long after her birth, her parents had ended up in a horrific car accident, in which Mary had perished as her airbags mysteriously failed to ignite. Because Edward had been the driver and had managed to walk out of the crash unscathed, it didn't take long for rumors to abound that he had deliberately murdered her, and so for the sake of preserving what little of his reputation he had left, the Grand Duke took the infant Charmelle into his household.

Needless to say, Edward's wife, Victoria, and his three legitimate children Patrick, Jack and Sarah didn't appreciate Charmelle's presence, and so began the hell that was her childhood, which she only escaped by entering military service. And even then, she had it especially difficult; her father's reputation followed her and her drill instructors were especially willing to make life harder for her as a result. At that, Alfred knew it was only through Charmelle's focus on her dream of becoming a Knight of the Round or going into service for royalty that she managed to graduate and become a commissioned soldier and knight of the Empire. Any less would have resulted in failure.

"Regardless of that, all of us here have lost something, but in different ways. It's arguably worst for us Britannians, as unlike the Japanese, our homeland, friends, and families still exist in this world, yet they are beyond our reach. We will probably never return to them, or the dreams that we lived by," Charmelle continued to explain.

"You really know how to make a person feel good Charmelle," Alfred replied flatly.

The other Zero Squadron member chuckled. "At the very least we're still alive, and in a strange way we're still knights, though we now dress in black and serve a different cause."

"Amen to that," Alfred concluded. "I suppose, since things will never go back to what they were, we can only go forward and see where we end up."

"It's really our only option," Charmelle said. "But at the same time, we should never forget where we came from."

"Nor why we chose to fight against the homeland we once served," Alfred concluded sadly as well, continuing to look upon the horizon and what lay beyond. He then glared at another thought. "Without turning it into an excuse to kill people at random, of course."

"You're referring to Liliana, aren't you?" Charmelle frowned again.

Alfred's leer only deepened at the mention of her name. "That bitch is everything that makes Britannia evil, and to this day I still can't believe somebody didn't put a bullet in her head for Nakano, Shinjuku and Asakusa."

Even Charmelle couldn't keep herself from grimacing at the names of the three bloodiest ethnic purges Britannia performed in Japan, as well as how their "comrade" took an enthusiastic part in all three when she was part of the Purist Faction. "I don't like it either, but at least she is, as you put it, a dog. As long as dogs have a tight leash around them, they can be controlled.

Her frown deepened. "The one who worries me the most is Marika."

Alfred nodded in understanding. "Yeah, I heard the Major killed her brother at Narita as well."

"Not that I doubt Ka-, sorry, the Major's ability to defend herself properly, but Marika's too much of a wild card for my liking. We don't know when she may go off or how much damage she'll cause," Charmelle thought out loud.

"Eh, I wouldn't worry too much," Alfred replied with a reassuring smile. "There's not a force in the world that could take the Major by the backside. If there's one Black Knight that can foresee anything and everything possible, it's her."

Karatsu Apartments Room 319
Naha, State of Okinawa
March 30, 2025

There was no way in Heaven or on Earth that Kallen could have foreseen or even considered possible what was happening before her. For perhaps the fiftieth time, she blinked her eyes to make sure that what she was seeing now was not an illusion, and even considered activating her Geass to make absolutely certain. But no matter how many times she did so, things were just as they seemed, which meant as impossible as it was, reality reigned supreme.

"Well, are you going to stand there, or do you want me to eat your portion?" C.C. inquired from where she was sitting. On the kitchen table was clearly breakfast for two, each featuring a French omelet, assorted bread with jam and butter on the side, and a fresh cup of coffee with cream. At the moment, C.C. was spreading grape jam across a piece of bread while the food meant for Kallen remained untouched.

Beyond the kitchen table however, was where Kallen's attention was truly drawn: to put it lightly, her kitchen looked like a culinary disaster area. On almost every surface, from the sink to the stove, there was either a stain or a used pot or pan that had seemingly been flung away at random after serving its purpose, while the sink was filled with random cooking utensils that had yet to be washed properly. Even the floor had not been spared, as there was an abundance of flour, sugar, or egg shells covering every inch, akin to battlefield debris. Kallen could have called it a hallmark to C.C. and her lackluster living style, but the fact it had all happened in her apartment left her a lot less than pleased. "What the HELL happened here!?"

"Isn't it obvious? I cooked breakfast for us." C.C. replied while munching on a piece of her bread, as if she had not noticed the rest of the kitchen.

"My kitchen's destroyed!" Kallen nearly hollered in her continued astonishment.

"Nothing that can't be fixed," C.C. spoke once more without apparent care.

"'That can't be fixed'? I've seen war zones that were cleanlier than this!" Kallen admonished once more. "Our first morning back, and I have to spend it cleaning up your mess!?"

"Well, it's not like I was planning on leaving it this way either," C.C. said matter of factually. "Even I can't stand living with a messy kitchen."

Kallen was about to respond to that remark, but then made a double take toward her roommate as she realized the full scope of her actions. "And since when do you cook anyway? We've been living together for eight years and I've never seen you make anything but orders and reservations!"

C.C. looked as though the answer to that too were obvious. "As long as I have lived, do you really think I didn't pick up some cooking skills along the way?" she then took a sip from her coffee cup. "Just because I've never cooked for you before doesn't mean I don't know how."

"Did you really have to wreck the kitchen while doing it?" Kallen inquired with rage building in her voice at C.C.'s carefree attitude.

"Omelets and eggs," C.C. said once more without apparent emotion. "Speaking of that, I would feel insulted if you did not sit down and at least taste yours."

Sighing in defeat, Kallen pulled her own chair out and took her seat. Once there, she looked over her omelet and nearly hesitated in picking up her fork; as she had never known C.C. was actually capable of cooking, she had no idea what exactly she was about to eat, giving her a sense of sinking dread. For a moment, Kallen even pondered using her Geass to scan the omelet and see if there was any kind of mold or moving parts somewhere under the scrambled egg layer, but she decided against it as she wanted to trust her friend and her apparent skills. Thus, after the moment had passed, she took a piece of the omelet into her fork and placed it in her mouth.

After a few seconds of chewing, Kallen was pleasantly surprised to learn that not only had C.C. not used on hot sauce or anything along that line in her recipe, but it actually tasted good. Real good, so much so that it showed on her expression.

"Good. I was afraid I lost my touch," C.C. said before she took a bite from her own egg. After munching a bit, she looked up in whimsical thought. "Hmmm… Perhaps I should go a little lighter on the eggs next time."

"I don't get it…" Kallen said, looking over her plate. "If you're that good of a cook, then why haven't I ever seen you make your own meals?"

C.C. took a sip of her coffee before explaining. "Let's just say cooking used to be one of my favorite pastimes; it's a skill you gain when you wander aimlessly across the globe. I've been the personal chef of a few kings and generals, as well as a café owner and barmaid, among other things. And then at some point in time, I just stopped."

Kallen was especially curious on that. "Why did you?"

The witch looked to the side as she thought. "Because for humans that cannot die, they can only lose parts of themselves as time continues. Things that are held dear, things that are enjoyable, even things that make you feel alive… if you live long enough, you will find that these can be lost as easily as any keepsake, and that you'll rarely realize that they're gone until it's too late. For me, cooking and the enjoyment and accomplishment I felt towards it was among those things."

"I understand," Kallen spoke, feeling relation on some level toward C.C. She especially knew that she had lost certain parts of herself over the course of her existence. "And yet, you just made breakfast. Why did you suddenly decide to pick it up again?"

At that, C.C. gave a small, knowing smile. "Because after so long, I remembered something else I lost a long time ago. Something especially important to me…"

Holly's Café
Naha, State of Okinawa
March 30, 2025

"I told you, Espresso is not a shooter," Urabe said flatly as he watched Asahina gag and sputter on his coffee cup. "It's like wasabi; you only take a little bit at a time…"

"Nanjasorya!" Asahina nearly shouted as he glared at the coffee cup. "That's not coffee, that's liquid sakuradite! Why the hell do you drink that stuff Urabe!?"

"It's an acquired taste, one that I gained shortly after Narita. It was one of the few things that kept me going after Katase and the rest of the JLF bought it," Urabe replied as he took back his cup and, contrary to Asahina's action, took a slight sip.

"I'm surprised your stomach hasn't dissolved by now; Rakshata could make that into a weapon for our knightmares," Asahina said as he drowned out the flavor of the coffee with his original cup, which was much more "subdued" than his comrade's.

Urabe considered that. "'The Espresso Wave Surger'…" he then laughed. "That actually sounds pretty cool. Maybe I should offer my Akatsuki as a test bed…"

The exchanges continued on from there, but between the two of them, Chiba wasn't paying attention. Instead she stared down into her own mug, looking upon the reflection of a young but quite troubled woman with brownish gray hair, light gray colored eyes and what seemed to be a general feeling of unease and exhaustion. Chiba knew it was her own reflection, but at the same time it looked like a complete stranger to herself. She could only wonder how long she had looked like that, as well as what happened to the young JGSDF soldier whose only thought and motivation was the defense of her country.

At the very least, she knew what a part of the cause was: her inner turmoil toward a certain man, whom she had chosen to follow to the end, despite his lack of interest in her…

During some point in their conversation, both Asahina and Urabe had noticed that their fellow Holy Sword had remained silent for the extent of the exchange, and turned to see her continually staring at her beverage. At that, Asahina reached in front of her view and snapped his fingers, both the sound and action causing Chiba's head to look up out of reflex. "You alright Chiba? Because truthfully, you look like hell."

At those words, Chiba reverted back to her usual, "serious" self. "I'm fine Asahina. Just a little tired from the last few days."

Despite her valiant attempt to deceive them, both Urabe and Asahina knew their compatriot too well to be fooled. "I warned you Chiba. I told you years ago that he was not the type for a relationship."

"You don't have to put it that way Urabe," Asahina replied. Though it was meant to be friendly, a tinge of warning managed to enter the Holy Sword's tone, whether he was conscious of it or not.

"What other way do you want me to put it in?" Urabe asked, although showing some sympathy. "Of the three of us here, I'm the one that's been under Tohdoh's command the longest, so trust me when I say this: his only devotion is toward vanquishing Britannia and returning liberty to the Japanese. For men like him, there is no room for a personal life or romance, as they are afraid either would only cause distraction and hesitation, as well as unnecessary pain and loss."

"That's bullshit," Asahina stated. "In my personal experience, a relationship or family only motivates you further into the mission."

Urabe nodded in concession. "I don't disagree Asahina, but I'm only telling you how it is," the elder Holy Sword replied solemnly, before turning back to Chiba. "Just as well Chiba, you know I would only support you if you and the General hooked up, but it's been fifteen years, and he's not once shown any interest in the prospect…"

"I know," Chiba said staunchly, interrupting Urabe. "And just for fifteen years, I had no problems with it." There was more to it than that, but she didn't feel the need for Urabe and Asahina to know. "As long as he let me stay by his side, as long as he gave me orders to follow and trusted me as his subordinate, I had no issue on following the same mission as him."

She then looked back toward that reflection in the coffee. "But then it all changed at Pendragon. When I was defeated and about to get captured by the Knight of Ten… All of a sudden I could only think about him."

"Chiba…" Asahina started.

"I almost died that day," Chiba continued, returning her gaze upon Urabe. "I almost died leaving him to believe he has nothing else to live for; that all he has is this war and his service to Japan and the Black Knights."

Urabe nodded. "I understand," he said, this time trying to be reassuring. "But you're going to need a miracle of your own to see that doesn't happen."

"I'll figure something out," Chiba said simply, before finally taking a sip from her cup.

Though neither she nor Urabe noticed it, Asahina continued to look at her with a sympathetic expression.

Okinawa Government Bureau
Naha, State of Okinawa
March 30, 2025

"And that concludes our report, Madam Prime Minister," Ohgi said as he stood at attention, in an at-ease stance with his hands clasped behind his back. Beside him, Tohdoh had assumed the same position, though he had remained silent for much of the report.

From behind her Britannian oak desk, which had miraculously survived the destruction of Japan unscathed and so had been adopted for the office's use for that very reason, the Prime Minister rose from her seat with her Japanese robes fluttering gracefully as she did. As she drew close to the window at the back of the office, with the morning light hitting her dead on, both Generals could not keep themselves from holding their breaths, waiting for the current head of office's response.

"Things certainly haven't turned out the way they were supposed to, have they?" the Prime Minister spoke with an even tone. "We've come so far to recover him, and yet Zero is seemingly still far from our reach."

At that, Tohdoh spoke up again. "Rest assured Madam Prime Minister, Zero will return to us in given time. For now, however, we must take strides to increase our fighting power, as we will not catch Britannia completely unguarded again."

The Prime Minister seemed to tilt her head forward slightly upon that proclamation. "Is there any possibility that the Britannians were able to track the Mikasa's movements here?"

"None," Ohgi replied, this time sounding more resolute. "Intercepted radio transmissions confirm the pursuit forces had been withdrawn shortly after we eluded Schneizel's trap, and following reconnaissance runs showed no other enemy craft in proximity. Unless the Britannian warships can now disappear completely, they were not able to track us here."

"I see," the Prime Minister replied, sounding a little reassured, but not too much to overlook the possible danger. "So all we can do now is continue to build up the Black Knights and pray the Britannians do not discover us."

"Fortunately they are too distracted with their war against the European Union for that," Tohdoh replied. "There have been no reports of activity within Vladivostok or the Chinese and Korean coasts beyond normal procedures. For all intents and purposes, our cover remains."

"Just the way it should be," the Prime Minister said, doing her best to hide her own suspicions. It should have been obvious that the Britannians had deduced the identity of the invaders from Suzaku and Cornelia's firsthand accounts, and yet they appeared to have no interest in searching the most obvious area the Black Knights would have been hiding in. Of course, there were countermeasures in place to make sure that Britannia and the rest of the world would continue to overlook Okinawa, but the Prime Minister would have thought that their enemy would at least put up an effort in searching them out.

Putting that aside for a moment, she decided to focus on the most important matter. "But I am still concerned over the matter with Zero, or should I say Lelouch. As much as I do not wish to doubt his conviction, has there been any sign of his using Geass since his recovery?"

Ohgi furrowed his brow at that. "If you are suggesting that he may have used it on the Mikasa's crew to manufacture a future escape attempt, the answer is no. Kallen would have picked it up right away with her own Geass."

"Good," the Prime Minister said, sighing in relief. "As I said, I do not wish to doubt his conviction, but as the Britannians put it, it's best to keep all bases covered. I do not want the last eight years to go to waste so easily."

"I think it's a sure bet that won't happen, Madam Prime Minister," Ohgi smirked. "If Lelouch had intended to evade us, he would have done so while we were over the Pacific. Instead he chose to save us in our hour of need, just as he always did in Japan. Therefore, I can honestly vouch for General Tohdoh's words, that Zero will return to us soon."

"If that is what you believe, General Ohgi, then I have little reason not to believe as well," replied Prime Minister Kaguya Sumeragi, as she turned around and faced the two men. "Though I can only wonder what will happen thereafter…"

Yamamoto Park
Naha, State of Okinawa
March 30, 2025

Usually whenever Sayoko went to a park, she came there to relax and feel at harmony with the surrounding nature. While she wasn't much of an outdoorswoman, in the past she and Lelouch had taken Nunnally out to parks around Japan just so she could enjoy the fresh air and sounds of birds chirping; the smiles that the young princess would gain on her face only ensured Sayoko would always make time for weekly park trips. But this time, Sayoko could not allow herself to enjoy the scenery, nor could she allow herself to smile watching a group of children play on the nearby playground, or close her eyes to listen to the various sounds around her.

For this time, Sayoko had come to the park strictly for "business purposes", and the individual she was meeting was not a man, despite his physical frailty, that she ever wanted to let her guard down around. This was complimented by the fact she held no less than fifteen kunai in a garter belt underneath her dress; she would have had more, but she had chosen to wear a sleeveless shirt and skirt combination for this meeting, if only to give the illusion that she was an unarmed bystander. Not that the man she was meeting would ever take her as such.

Sure enough, a peculiar set of footsteps were soon approaching her, one that she instantly recognized. One of her talents as a kunoichi was the ability to discern footsteps from hearing alone, but this man's stride was especially easy to pick out of a crowd.

"On schedule as I expected of you," the man stated as he came to sit next to her on the bench. "I trust your time in Pendragon has been fruitful, Major?"

The ninja maid resisted the urge to leer at the man's inquiry. "Would it not be more prudent for you to receive my report in a more secure location, Reid-san?"

Diethard Reid merely gave a corner smirk toward her question. "I believe this location is secure enough," he replied simply. "Now please, deliver your report."

Sayoko's eyes narrowed. While she was not a woman to particularly hold any hatred or grudges, for the last eight years she had grown to despise this man to the point of considering taking his life. Sure, on the outside he was a refined and elegant man gifted with a great intellect and a silver tongue, as well as a gift in acquiring and manipulating facts that made him effective in his role as both the Okinawan Secretary of Media and the Director of the Black Knights' Intelligence Division, but on the inside, he was every bit a scheming and manipulating serpent that only served the greater good for the time being. While that characterization made him similar to Lelouch, the young prince made up for it by possessing a unique empathy towards others and a selfless attitude to seeing proper justice bestowed for the people no matter the personal cost; Major General Diethard Reid on the other hand was strictly a self-server whose only interest was having a front row seat at "the turn of the era" as he liked to refer to it. In Sayoko's opinion, he was far too dangerous to keep around, and she would be all too willing to strike him down should he even consider betraying Lelouch.

Unfortunately, in spite of her kind demeanor, Diethard seemed to have become aware of her disliking, and so knowing he was no match for her in a direct confrontation, the manipulator always took steps to ensure she was not in a position to kill him without notice. That was the real reason behind their meeting in public places to discuss otherwise top secret matters, and just in case she were daring enough, Sayoko had no doubts there were no more than five or seven undercover bodyguards, both Britannian and Japanese who had come into Diethard's service, watching her and waiting to see if she would strike. If she had any advantage or way to turn the situation around there, the bodyguards were only serving Diethard as long as Diethard was loyal to the Black Knights and their cause; should he turn, they would no doubt kill the traitor in Sayoko's place.

But for the moment, Sayoko had no choice but to present what she had found. "From my time in Britannia, I can verify that the Britannian war machine remains active with no strains in resources or manpower. Aside from the setbacks in regard to production of new eighth generation knightmare frames, they are showing no signs of faltering in their war."

"Does your assessment include the execution of Operation Jinchu?" Diethard asked.

Operation Jinchu had been the codename for the Pendragon strike, and although Diethard had not been there to witness it, as he apparently found no reason to be there personally, he had been fully briefed along with other Black Knight commanders and other government officials via long-range communication before the operation was carried out. With that reference in mind, Sayoko nodded. "It does, as that battle procured no reported casualties amongst Britannia's nobility or high-level leadership. Beyond the psychological effect it caused, the attack on Pendragon did little long-term damage."

"I see," Diethard exclaimed before inquiring once more. "And what of the home front?"

"Their support of the war is quite high I'm afraid," Sayoko answered. "While there are certain elements that wish to end the conflict with an armistice, the majority are for continuation of the offensive. I'm afraid they are quite taken by the words of their Emperor."

"That's not surprising. Britannians have always been pro-war, as it functions with Imperialist doctrine," Diethard stated. He then asked a pointed question. "And what of your final objective?"

Sayoko frowned at that. "Unfortunately, Princess Nunnally's whereabouts remain top secret, even amongst the royal court," Secretly, Sayoko was thankful she was unable to find Nunnally, as it kept Diethard from sinking his venomous claws into her.

"How disappointing," Diethard exclaimed. "I would have expected more out of you Major."

Sayoko closed her eyes. "I have no excuse."

Diethard regarded her for a moment, and then allowed a smile to show. "No matter. In the end we managed to retrieve our main objective thanks to your efforts. The rest we can deal with at a later time, though it is troublesome that he has not announced himself yet."

"He is still suffering mental feedback from the sudden reemergence of his memories, but Major Cathcart has assured me he will eventually stabilize," Sayoko lied, silently praying that Diethard didn't pick up on it.

At that, the man nodded in understanding. "Just as long as he eventually returns, I have no complaints," he then got up. "I know you have just returned, but I may have some instructions for you later on. Please standby for them."

"Understood," Sayoko replied with a nod of her own.

Once more, Diethard regarded her, then turned and walked away without saying a farewell. As she watched him leave, Sayoko slowly brought her hand up from her side, where it had instinctively remained throughout the conversation, ready to draw a kunai at a moment's notice. Now she would be able to enjoy the park in peace.

John Colahan Army Medical Center
Pendragon, Holy Britannian Empire
March 29th, 2025

After lying in a hospital bed for so long, Suzaku found it refreshing to be standing up again as well as dressed in his Knight of the Rounds uniform and blue cloak once more. In spite of the anxiety he still felt on the inside over the last few days, he hadn't felt more alive, and he made sure to take a moment to revel in it just before he took those final steps to the hospital entrance. It almost made him forget about his wounds, both the physical ones that were slowly but surely healing, and the mental ones that would likely never heal.

Despite any initial misgivings toward his condition on the part of the medical staff at John Colahan, it had not been long before his order of release had come through from the Emperor himself. Just after that, all memory of the previous night's episode, in which a fair portion of doctors and nurses found Suzaku laughing hysterically as his blood pressure rose to dangerous levels, was seemingly "erased" from the witnesses of that event, thus leaving no reason to keep Suzaku in medical quarters for much longer. Granted, the bruises he suffered from his fight with Kallen were still healing, but the doctors had stated he was well enough to reassume his duties as the Knight of Seven, which suited Suzaku and apparently the Emperor just fine. That also included piloting the Lancelot into battle if required, which Suzaku had a feeling he would be doing soon enough.

Pushing that thought, as well as the other factors that it entailed, back for the time being, Suzaku exited the hospital and took his first steps into the evening outside. Immediately he saw a parked limousine with his chauffeur in the distance, obviously waiting to take him back to his current residence at Belial Palace or wherever it was Suzaku wanted to go, but his focus wasn't on him for the moment. Rather, it was centered on Bismarck Waldstein, who was standing in the walkway between the hospital and the limo, and was watching and waiting for the Knight of Seven intently. Knowing what was to come, Suzaku sighed inwardly but continued in his tracks toward the larger and far more imposing Knight of the Round. "With respect Lord Waldstein, I expected Gino and Anya to be the ones to meet me here, not you."

"And they were both quite willing to see you released Suzaku, but I requested to come in their place," Bismarck said, before gesturing toward a side path away from the limo. "Walk with me."

Though reluctant, Suzaku complied and came alongside the Knight of One as they both made their way toward the enlarged garden area of John Colahan Army Medical Center. Though it was meant to be a tranquil place for patients and visitors to relax within, there were no others in the garden at this time besides the two Knights of the Round. Thus, it was the perfect place to have a private conversation, which was what Bismarck intended.

"You've held an invaluable service to the Crown, Suzaku," Bismarck stated as they walked. "Though you have every reason to hate Britannia and lash out against it, you instead seek to establish peace and order through its conquests, while holding onto the honor and chivalry that is expected of a Round. Some would call you a traitor, but I at least consider you a man of honor and dedication to your cause."

"And yet…" Suzaku intervened, indirectly wishing Bismarck to state the point of this conversation.

"And yet…" Bismarck repeated, coming to a stop in front of the garden pond. "…I believe you are slowly descending into madness."

Suzaku arched an eyebrow. "And what evidence do you have to support this Lord Waldstein?"

"None that needs repeating here, as you know it yourself," Bismarck replied, his right eye gazing directly into Suzaku's own eyes. "I sense much darkness in you Suzaku. Anger, hatred, fear… you do well to hide and bury these feelings by focusing on your objective, but they still grow inside you as time passes on. Eventually they will consume just as they have so many others before."

Bismarck then turned away from Suzaku to face the setting sun. "The more you hold onto them, the more they will grow and overwhelm you."

"And what would you have me do?" Suzaku shot back. "These feelings you speak of are because of my mistakes; I cannot let go of them any more than I can forget about my past and my failures. In fact, they are exactly what motivate me to continue forward with my goals, so that they may not be repeated again."

"I am not saying you should forget the past Suzaku, I am saying you should move on from it. There is still time for that," Bismarck explained.

Suzaku closed his eyes. "I'm afraid that's impossible as well."

Bismarck frowned with disappointment. "Then you will never reach your goal Suzaku, and you will eventually become a monster, a bloodthirsty creature meant to be slain."

"If that's what it takes…" Suzaku stated once more. "If I have to abandon my gentleness and compassion to see peace brought forward…" he said before at last declaring. "Then I will only leave those weaknesses behind!"

"'Weaknesses'!? Fool!" Bismarck exclaimed with great fervor. As Suzaku was unprepared for the force and rancor of his superior's response, the Knight of Seven instinctively took a step backward to keep himself from falling. "Those which you call weaknesses are the source of your strength! Gentleness and compassion are what drive you and make you what you are; take those away and there is nothing left but violence!"

Bismarck's gaze once more pierced Suzaku's, and although Suzaku wasn't sure, he thought he saw the Knight of One's sealed left eye glow from behind its eyelids. "And if you ever become such a beast, I swear I will end you!"

A moment past between them, as Suzaku pondered what Bismarck's intentions were from that point on. However, upon seeing that his point was made, Bismarck allowed his face to return to its normal expression, before turning back to face the sunset. "Suzaku, history claims that Lancelot began as the most chivalrous amongst the Knights of the Round Table, and was considered by many as the closest to King Arthur. However, once he fell in love with Guinevere, the hatred he gained for himself and the crimes he committed became unquenchable. Eventually both that hatred and the acts he caused brought the downfall of both the kingdom he served and everything he cared about, including the king that he considered his friend."

This time Bismarck made a corner glance toward his subordinate, and was satisfied to find Suzaku understood what the Knight of One was really referring to. "This is my warning: do not follow Lancelot's example. As seemingly impossible as it is, you must not allow yourself to lose what makes you the noble spirit that stood by Princess Euphemia's side and sought to bring about justice in his own way. Because once you do, you will only destroy yourself and Her Highness' memory."

Though Suzaku still held doubts within himself, he reluctantly nodded to Bismarck. "Yes, my Lord," He replied and then continued. "Is there anything else you wished to speak of?"

"No, I've said all that was needed. I won't keep you any longer," Bismarck replied.

At that, Suzaku saluted his superior and then turned to make his way back. As Bismarck watched him, he sighed and looked at his reflection in the water. And in the end, Lancelot was able to abandon his hatred, but by then it was far too late. He lived the rest of his days in hermitage, remaining in shame throughout.

He then watched as his face folded back into a frown. Lelouch, if you truly care about him, you may have to kill Suzaku to prevent such a fate…

Location Unknown
March 30, 2025


No sooner than that phrase had been uttered, the eight cloaked fighters in the room moved with the intent to kill the man in the center of the apparent arena. Immediately sensing their approach, Jeremiah Gottwald brought up his fists and prepared to defend himself.

With the speed of lightning all eight attacked, launching an array of punches and kicks. Jeremiah however remained where he stood, and nearly without effort blocked each attack with his arms, and in turn performing a myriad of counters. Then without any words, he broke his stance and came at one of the fighters. When he was close enough, Jeremiah jumped forward and brought his right knee out in front of him, smashing it right into the target's face with such force it sent him flying across the arena. One down, seven more.

When Jeremiah touched down, another attacker was at his right with his arm raised high to strike with a karate chop. Before Jeremiah could correct himself, the fighter brought his hand down for the kill, seemingly finishing the fight before it started. But then Jeremiah raised his right arm and grabbed his opponent's hand between his fingers, easily deflecting the blow that would have struck his head. He then knocked his attacker's hand aside and made a quick jab into his gut, causing him to gasp in pain and kneel forward onto the ground, completely incapacitated. Two down, six more. Jeremiah smiled and continued to fight.

As his next opponent attempted to take him down with a flying kick, Jeremiah reached out and grabbed his attacker's leg while it was still held up, and hoisted it into the air. With his balance completely taken out, the fighter realized he was now hanging upside down by an untold strength, looking up at Jeremiah's smug expression. Before the attacker could kick at him with his free foot, Jeremiah spun him around like a tornado, twirling the attacker around until finally sending him flying into the arena's edge. Three down, five more.

Seeing that going after Jeremiah individually was not effective enough, the fighters began to coordinate with each other. Three of their number came at Jeremiah, from the front, left, and right. The first to get to him was the fighter coming from the center, who threw a straight punch for Jeremiah's nose that was quickly parried with a forearm block. With his arm still pressed up against his opponent's, Jeremiah spun around until he was standing next to his opponent and facing the same direction, right in time for the second fighter that was coming from the left to run right up from behind and get smashed in the face by Jeremiah's right fist. Four down, four more. As that fighter dropped, Jeremiah turned to face his left. His first opponent was winding up for another attack, and the third one moved to support.

At those two, Jeremiah bent his left leg, leaned away to his right and brought a kick into his first opponent's ribs that sent him flying into the other like a bank shot on a pool table, sending both attackers away only to smash down into a wall. Six down, two more. As Jeremiah had to balance for that kick, his arms were out to his sides, perfectly positioned for the last two attackers to get a tight grip on and hold him in place. At first Jeremiah thought to shake them loose, but then decided to adopt a different tactic, one that caused him to grin openly.

In a surprising move, two golden blades extended out of the sleeves of Jeremiah's long coat, stabbing into either attacker's shoulder blades. The sudden emergence of pain caused them to cringe and abandon their holds, thus allowing Jeremiah to spin around and cut both blades across their upper legs. Both opponents fell to the ground after that, bleeding but still alive, with Jeremiah finishing his spin, then crossing his arms together and retracting the blades. The fight was now over with Jeremiah Gottwald's victory.

Immediately after its end, the sound of clapping came from the side of the arena. Jeremiah turned to see the sound's origin: a very portly bald man wearing a monocle over his right eye. "That was a very impressive performance, Lord Jeremiah! You managed to defeat them all in just over a minute!"

"Of course it was impressive Bartley…" Jeremiah replied as if it were fact. "Because it was like fighting infants. Are you sure these were among the best Pluton has to offer?"

"Yes, my Lord," Bartley nodded, just as medical staff began to appear to take the defeated away. "Grand Master V.V. personally selected them for this test, and said if you couldn't defeat them, you are not worthy of being formally inducted within Pluton."

"I'm sure he did," Jeremiah replied back before moving to the side to take a drink of water. Despite the fact that he was a cyborg, with much of his body having been repaired and restructured with biomechanical parts following his fated defeat at Narita, there were enough human organics left in Jeremiah Gottwald that he still needed water and other sustenance to continue function. After squirting a fair amount of water into his mouth, he swallowed and turned back to Bartley. "By the way, where is the Grand Master now? I thought he enjoyed watching these sessions."

Bartley shook his head. "I'm afraid he is currently engaged in a meeting, likely that of the Masters' Council. He forwarded his apologies for being unable to watch."

"I see. Well, no matter then," Jeremiah replied with a shrug, as he thought with a smile. Indeed, my strength has increased greatly over the past eight years. It won't be long now, before I am able to avenge my humiliation from so long ago…

"So that's how it is." V.V. spoke while sitting on his throne in the middle of the Pluton base, addressing the line of holographic monoliths before him, each one symbolizing a Master of Pluton and each one marked with a Roman numeral to identify them by. "With Jeremiah as our newest addition, we will have an experienced commander that is both dedicated to our cause and totally opposed to our enemies."

"I do admit his capabilities do make him a valuable asset Grand Master…" the monolith marked 'III' stated, his voice digitally distorted to keep his identity concealed. "But are you sure we can rely on him? It was due to his ineptness in Area 11 that cost him the fight against Zero."

"And yet before Zero came along, Jeremiah Gottwald was one of the more successful commanders in Japan. Surely his reputation before the Orange Incident is worth considering," the monolith marked 'IV' replied.

"Only if we were fighting against conventional military forces, not those that employ Geass," the one marked 'VII' said.

"What I'm wondering is what happened to his predecessor?" the one marked 'IX' inquired.

"Do you truly have to ask that question? Pluton does not take kindly to repeated incompetence," the one marked 'V' retorted.

"How very Britannian. And I suppose when Gottwald inevitably fails, we'll reduce him to ashes as well, along with all the resources Pluton invested in his augmentation?" the one marked 'VIII' replied.

Before anyone could answer that question, V.V. tapped the side of his throne, causing silence amongst the council. "That is enough. As Grand Master of Pluton, it is my decision to induct Jeremiah Gottwald. Right now, however, we have more important things to discuss, namely the remaining Code Bearers and the Black Knights."

"What about the Code Bearers? There are only four left, one of which is in very close reach." the one marked 'X' exclaimed.

"If you are referring to C.C., she will be more difficult to obtain than you believe," V.V. retorted with fact. "Need I remind you all that she has been able to elude the best of Pluton for entire centuries? And worse she is being protected by Britannia's Black Prince, the same man that led the Imperial Army to victory in Africa. Paired together, they make dangerous opponents, even for us."

"And I suppose that's where Jeremiah and his 'unique' Geass power come in?" the one marked 'III' spoke up again.

"Part of it. For now however, we should focus on capturing the remaining Code Bearers and leave C.C. for last. I believe you have the known locations of at least three?" V.V. inquired toward the monolith marked 'XII'.

"Yes, Grand Master." the digitized voice behind the monolith answered. "It took a fair amount of string pulling, but my country's intelligence services have narrowed down the locations of E.E., F.F., and I.I. All three are within countries that encompass the European Union, at least for the time being."

"Very good. You may dispatch whatever forces you deem necessary to apprehend them," V.V. explained.

"At once Grand Master," 'XII' acknowledged.

"If I may be allowed to speak for a moment…" the one marked 'II' at long last spoke up, drawing the attention of the other Masters and V.V. "I'd like to focus back on the matter of Zero."

"What of it? We'll just send our forces to put an end to him and his rabble," retorted 'V' with cynicism.

"While I believe Jeremiah makes an effective counter to Geass, I have my doubts about him facing Zero on the tactical level. Just as well, the Black Knights that will fall under Zero's command have proven themselves to be a venerable force with their siege of the Imperial capital; a direct confrontation between them and our forces would not bring about satisfactory results," 'II' explained.

"And I suppose you have a better solution to this problem?" 'X' demanded.

"I believe so. In order to defeat one such as Zero, I recommend that we send out one who can think like him." 'II' stated.

Though it seemed that the others were unsure of what he meant, V.V. smiled at the suggestion. "You're suggesting that we send our newest inquisitor to hunt down Lelouch, and perhaps capture C.C. as well."

"That brat!?" 'IX' seethed. "Whatever intelligence and cunning he may possess, he is far too unstable and uncontrollable. To be frank, I would rather place my bets on Orange than him."

"I agree," 'IV' stated. "Gottwald is one thing, but that particular inquisitor is an entirely different force of contention. It was bad enough to bring him into Pluton, but to send him after Zero...that is truly playing with fire!"

Suddenly, the sound of laughter could be heard emanating from the monolith marked 'XI'. "I actually like the idea of those two going against each other in a grand melee. At the very least, it is a daring tactic to utilize."

"What are you…!?" 'III' began to speak again.

"Silence," V.V. commanded simply once more, again silencing the gathered Masters before any conflict could form. He then looked over at the 'II' monolith. "I must say that is...an original idea to say the least. But I believe I share similar doubts here; there are too many variables to consider."

"With respect Grand Master, I believe most of those variables would take care of themselves in such a battle," 'II' replied, continuing to speak. "And if not, you cannot disagree that he is the perfect knight to send after the black dragon that is Lelouch vi Britannia."

This indeed piqued V.V.'s consideration, though there was no way for any of the Masters to know. "And I suppose I can rely on you to support him if the worst were to happen?"

"Of course," 'II' acknowledged.

"Excellent," V.V. smiled, once more knowing that the Masters were unable to see it. "With that settled, this meeting is hereby concluded. You may return to your duties until summoned again. Salus Enim."

"Salus Enim!" the different monoliths chanted, which translated into 'For Salvation'. Then one after the other, the monoliths disappeared as their time was done, all the while V.V. remained reclining on his throne.

But just as the one marked 'II' was about to flicker out, V.V. instinctively raised his hand. "Just a moment," At that command, the monolith remained. "You do realize that your plan will arouse the Emperor's ire by nature."

"And I trust you will be able to keep him in line," 'II' replied.

"I certainly will," V.V. smirked a little. "But if I know my dear apprentice, he may prove to be a handful yet."

"Actually, I expect the same, but it doesn't matter. As long as it serves along with the completion of Ragnarok, His Majesty will have no basis or reason to question Pluton's motives, or yours," 'II' explained.

V.V.'s smirk grew. "You have thought this out well," He complimented. "Just as I would have expected from you."

"Indeed," 'II' answered. V.V. knew the man was flashing a grin of his own. "Salus Enim, Grand Master." And with that, the monolith vanished with the others, leaving only V.V. to remain.

Kawashige Inn
Naha, State of Okinawa
March 30, 2025

"Happy Birthday!" the gathered party guests, all Black Knights that Kallen had fought alongside with regularly including selected members of Zero Squadron, shouted out as one while raising their drinks toward the redhead standing amidst their number. Answering them, Kallen raised her own awamori glass to them and took a drink as everyone cheered. Though she was not a social drinker by nature, she made exception for this time alone.

Originally meant as an inexpensive hotel for those visiting the Okinawa islands, the inn had been transformed into a housing complex for survivors of the Devastation, leaving many of the more tourist or traveler oriented rooms abandoned from lack of use. All that had changed in the last few hours, with the main community hall in Kawashige Inn being completely refurbished by the Black Knights for the sole purpose of celebrating the birth date of one of their own. With her comrades knowing that Kallen wasn't the most sociable of party guests, only those closest to her were invited, ranging from the original members of Naoto Kouzuki's resistance movement to Tohdoh and his Four Holy Swords, along with the members of Zero Squadron. Beyond that, the only person that Kallen did not know so well was Ohgi's wife Viletta, who had tagged along if only to be with her husband.

As for Kallen herself, she still had mixed feelings about celebrating her birthday, but for the time being she put those aside and focused on the moment. Right after she took her drink and somehow managed to hold it down without vomiting, the crowd began to chant "Speech! Speech! Speech!" much to Kallen's annoyance. Sighing in defeat, she eventually gestured for someone to hand her a microphone, before she began speaking to the crowd.

"Thank you, thank you," Kallen smiled, feeling every bit like a clown in the middle of a circus act, but treading onward anyway. "You'll have to forgive me if I'm not any good at this. I can dodge bullets and fight off an overgunned knightmare, but I can't give a speech to save my life."

A fair amount of laughter followed, signifying to Kallen that she was doing fine so far. "As I look around to your faces, I can't help but think of how much time has passed. Some of you have been with me since the beginning, back when my greatly missed elder brother was leading a small but dedicated resistance against Britannia; some of you came to know me years later upon the initial formation of the Black Knights as well as Zero Squadron; and the rest of you became my comrades in recent years, after the Devastation left both Japanese and Britannian alike abandoned and without hope."

She gazed out at the faces and saw they were still listening intently. "I'm now twenty-five years old, but in truth I feel much older, like I've lived several lifetimes at once. I've lost friends and family alike, both to our continued war and to other causes, and at times I myself wished that I died with them. But each time I thought that, I remembered all of you; friends and comrades, all fighting for the same goals as myself and Naoto.

"As long as we're all fighting together, focused on our common objective, I feel that I have enough reason to live on, to survive and see another day. I feel the need to continue fighting for the rebirth of my home country and justice for the weak who are oppressed by the strong. I feel it necessary to, against all of my fears, put on my pilot suit and step into the Guren, knowing that the moment I launch into battle, I may or may not survive. And above all else, at the end of the day, I feel that, even if temporarily, I have something to return for: a home with a family waiting for me."

Once more, she raised her glass to those gathered, who followed suit as well. "Though none of us know what will happen beyond this point, I promise I will go forward without hesitation, alongside all of you, my remaining family! Kanpai!"

"Kanpai!" the others echoed, before taking a drink.

Once more, Kallen managed to drink it all down without gagging. It didn't help that she felt like throwing up after making such a speech, even if she had been speaking from the heart. This must be what Lelouch feels like after giving one…

She paused in her thoughts at that, again dwelling on the dark haired man with the scarred left eye, still locked away in the heart of the Mikasa. Accompanying that image was a nagging feeling in Kallen's stomach, which she had to fight to keep from overtaking her. The feeling had been the same one she felt at the Emperor's Jubilee back in Pendragon, and it had only resurrected itself every time she tried mustering up the courage to break the ice between her and Lelouch since; she still had been unwilling to see him, much less ask him about certain things that weighed heavily on her mind. And yet, in spite of her reluctance, she felt as though she regretted his not being there, to enjoy the celebration alongside her with the rest of the Black Knights.

With those feelings came her concern once again, namely over his current condition. As Ohgi had put it so delicately, Lelouch was a wreck and a shadow of his former self; the battle over the pacific brought him out of his shell briefly, but it didn't take long for him to revert back to his previous condition. Overall, she was starting to think Lelouch may never return to being the man he knew him best for, a thought that made the nagging feeling in her stomach take a darker turn. And upon that line of feeling, she saw once more that despaired gaze he wore upon seeing his Geass reactivated and memories restored, causing her heart to nearly fold into itself.

Eventually, Kallen minutely shook her head. I can't let it affect me now!

Though it took a good struggle, she managed to force the feeling back from her mind, instead focusing on the moment. Now that the party was in full swing, she quietly began to make her way toward the edge of the room, where the buffet was, hoping that if only for a few moments she would be left alone.

Black Knights mobile battleship Mikasa
Harbor 01, State of Okinawa
March 30, 2025

It had been a full day, and yet Lelouch had not done too much through most of it. With little to do already, he decided to sleep in through the morning, before browsing the web and playing a few online chess games, using untraceable connections of course, and now he was looking over random computer files, specifically photographs. Apparently when the Black Knights had taken over Ashford Academy for their headquarters during the Black Rebellion, they had copied the school files into their own server, if only to aid in keeping track of the various students during the occupation. By some miracle, that data had survived and had been copied into the Mikasa's databanks for Lelouch's private use. He wasn't sure, but he had a feeling Kallen had something to do with that.

It was eight years later, and yet Lelouch never felt as much time go by as he did now, looking over those old photographs. He saw pictures of the random parties and school festivals Milly would throw while dragging the student council into aiding in their setup. He saw a shot of himself on Rivalz's motorcycle, about to drive off to a chess game while Shirley was running in the background to stop them. Another displayed several random students running down the halls in hordes, as if it had been some kind of hunt; apparently that picture had been taken when Arthur had got caught in the Zero mask and Milly had declared a "cat hunt" following that, with the prize being a kiss from the student council. Lelouch couldn't stop himself from smiling a little at that; they were all good, happier times, even if many of them took place during his rebellion.

And then he came across another picture that made him stop in his tracks, with the smile drifting away from his face. The picture depicted himself and Suzaku standing beside Nunnally in her wheelchair, the blind and disabled girl smiling at the camera brightly as her brother and her best friend looked onward like a pair of royal guards. There was no unique background beyond the Ashford Academy rose garden, nor had it been taken during any special event; it was as subdued a shot as one could make it. And yet such a simple picture threatened to move Lelouch to tears, as for the first time in eight years, he had seen his beloved little sister's face, even if it was a digitized image.

With some hesitance, Lelouch reached out and placed his fingertips over Nunnally's image, pretending that he was touching her cheek again and brushing away any of her light brown hair that flowed over her face, while she turned to face up at him lovingly. He remembered how she was everything to him, even now, and how, just as Sayoko had said, he had set out to create a world where she could live in peace and possess no fear of the outside, where there was no constant threat of death for being the children of Marianne vi Britannia and where their monster of a father could not reach. Where she would be eternally happy.

For a moment, Lelouch wondered if Nunnally would have supported him in his crusade had she known it was all for her sake. Would she have accepted his gaining the power of Geass and donning the black mask and cloak, as well as declaring war on their home nation? Would she have cheered him on while he led the Black Knights against the Imperial Army, with Suzaku and the Lancelot on the other side? And would she have forgiven him for having to kill Euphie after she was corrupted by his power? He gritted his teeth and forced that thought back, as he didn't want to even consider it at this time.

But regardless of what Nunnally would have thought of him, he had continued on with his quest. It was all he could do, it was all he ever done. He had to continue on regardless of the consequences or the unspeakable atrocities he left in his wake, as to stop now would render all of that death and suffering meaningless. He went forward, not caring whether he was remembered as a savior or a monster, as a hero or a villain, because he knew it all needed to be done. For Nunnally's happiness, and the happiness of all others.

And now, Lelouch knew he had to continue on once more, that he had to once again take up the mask and lead the charge against injustice. He had made his decision just a day ago, when he announced to those that were listening that he was Zero and that he had come to save them all. There was no way to take that back now, nor was there a way to dissuade the Black Knights as they looked upon him to lead them to victory. No, no matter where he looked, his path was set.

Yet his heart remained heavy and his mind filled with doubt. He knew he had the skills and brilliance to do what was expected of him, but he needed more inner strength, more drive to perform his duties without the memories of his past sins to hold him back. He needed to see what the world would look like if he did not choose to fight.

For that reason and others, Lelouch dug into the pocket of his uniform pants and brought up a cellular phone.

Kawashige Inn
Naha, State of Okinawa

March 30, 2025

Just as an impromptu stage band, made up with Tamaki on lead guitar, Kento on background guitar, Minami on the drum and Naomi as lead singer began to play out a random selection of Kallen's favorite songs, the birthday girl managed to slip away from the crowd and into the buffet table. Quickly dispensing her awamori glass, Kallen quickly grabbed an empty one and filled it with Pepsi from a nearby dispenser, and then began making her way through the buffet table.

"My, who knew the Red Dragoness would have possessed a silver tongue?" C.C. spoke as she came over to where Kallen was standing. Unlike the Guren pilot, the witch didn't seem to mind any of it. In fact, if Kallen had to guess, she would have surmised C.C. was in her element when it came to celebrations and mingling. "Though it was nothing compared to one of Zero's speeches, you actually managed to get me to applaud your effort."

"It must have been good if I'm getting compliments from you," replied Kallen as she continued to stack on food. "I don't suppose you were a gifted speaker in a past life too."

"…Maybe," C.C. gave her 'for-me-to-know-and-you-to-find-out' smirk. She then turned back to serious after looking over Kallen's face. "You look troubled Kallen, and not from having to talk in front of a couple dozen people."

"What concern is it of yours?" Kallen asked as she placed a piece of cake on her plate.

Though the tone of that question was rather cold, C.C. didn't seem bothered by it. "Well, we are bound by contract, and it would be a shame for you to get depressed and commit suicide before you are able to fulfill your half."

"Hehm" Kallen smirked back in response, and then turned serious again. "I feel guilty, like this is all a grave injustice. Here I am, having survived to turn twenty-five, while so many had died much younger than I am now, never able to celebrate their own twenty-fifth birthdays like this. It feels like…"

"Like you're dancing on their graves," C.C. surmised.

"…Yes." Kallen acknowledged shamefully.

C.C. sighed, as the feeling was quite familiar to her, for obvious reasons. "I know this will sound strange coming from me, but the dead do not hold grudges. Your friends and family would only want you to live on and be happy Kallen, just like those that are gathered here."

"I know, but it's not easy…" Kallen replied.

"It never is," C.C. acknowledged solemnly. "And the more years you live on, the more difficult it will feel to justify your survival when those around you did not."

Kallen looked at C.C. with narrowed glance. "I thought you were supposed to be cheering me up, not making me feel worse."

The witch merely shrugged. "What are friends for?"

Before Kallen could reply, the sudden sound of a phone ringing echoed between them. At first, Kallen thought it was hers, but she stopped when C.C. reached in and pulled her phone out of her dress pocket. Upon seeing the name on the caller ID, her eyes widened a little bit, and the witch became a little quicker to put the phone to her ear. "Hello?"

"Meet me onboard the Mikasa in fifteen minutes," Lelouch said simply, before quickly hanging up his end.

C.C. looked a little perplexed at that, but decided to follow those instructions anyway. "Looks like I'll have to leave early. The Antichrist requests the pleasure of my company."

Kallen wasn't sure what she meant by that reference, but it sounded important. "I'll go with you."

"No, stay here. This is your party, and they would all feel something was wrong if you were to disappear like that," C.C. said, gesturing at the other party guests. "Don't worry. I doubt this will take too long."

The witch then turned and made her exit before Kallen could ask what she meant by that last statement.

Black Knights mobile battleship Mikasa
Harbor 01, State of Okinawa

March 30, 2025

When C.C. entered into the Devil's Den, she found Lelouch lounging on one of the benches, twirling the black king chess piece absentmindedly between his fingers. This prompted her to look over toward the chessboard on the table. As she expected, the previously evenly positioned pieces were now scattered across the board in different areas, as if Lelouch had been playing a game all this time with an unseen adversary. Strangely however, there were no pieces taken off the board, aside from the black king that was in Lelouch's hand, yet many on the black side looked perfectly positioned to strike against their white contemporaries.

After a moment without any words exchanged, C.C. finally spoke up. "You better not have called me here to play chess Lelouch," she stated, pretending not to know why she was there. "I'm missing cake for whatever it is you dragged me away for."

Upon hearing her words, Lelouch stopped twirling the black king and placed it back on the board, where it was positioned directly in front of a white knight. He then got up and looked C.C. square in her golden eyes. "I want you to show me Tokyo Settlement, as it is now."

C.C. looked back with an arched eye. "You know you can't leave this room, much less this ship, and it would be difficult to navigate through the ruins at this time of…"

"I didn't say I wanted to go there physically," Lelouch replied with an edge, displaying that he didn't have the patience for excuses. "You can use your powers like that can't you? I saw you do it with Suzaku at Narita…"

"That was a different situation, and besides I had no control over whatever it was he saw during our contact," C.C. explained. "Just as much as I wouldn't have control over whatever it is you'll see."

"I don't care, I'll take the risk," Lelouch spoke with finality, letting his face soften a bit but remaining serious. "I want, I need, to see the remains of the past, if I am go into the future. I can't go forward without looking at what was left behind."

For a brief moment, C.C. studied him just like she had after he was "liberated" from Britannia. Back then she had claimed to have been taking him back into memory, but now it appeared as though she were trying to find any sign of hesitation in his form, to see if his demand was absolute or if he was secretly having second thoughts. Lelouch cringed a little underneath her gaze, but that was the only reaction he had.

Not finding anything, physically or spiritually, astray in Lelouch's form, the witch relented. "Very well, I can see that I have no choice. But remember, I can only open the door; I can't tell what you will see on the other side."

"Just get on with it," Lelouch demanded, fully ready to take the leap.

With that, C.C. held her hand out and grabbed onto Lelouch's, just as the Code on her forehead began to glow…

It was a scene out of Hell itself.

What was once one of the most prosperous cities in the world now remained in crumbled, charred ruin. Rock, metal, and debris littered the ground, in tremendous colossal heaps as far as the eye could see, made up of the remains of great towers and railways, long toppled down and broken. What had once been living spaces had now been transformed into fractured and decayed remnants, while their interiors only held semblances of the comfortable housing they provided to their owners. The scents of metal, fire and dust had long since merged together to create a foul odor that could only be described as "destruction", a pungent stench that could be picked up by the body even if it were not drawn in.

Above, the sky was black with little light if any passing through the clouds. Lightning cracked the sky and thunder struck like a whip right after, both dancing their terrible tango across the heavens only to add to the horrible destruction below. And amidst their dance, fire and ash rained down upon the land, the remnants of the sakuradite that had been utilized to create the Devastation of Japan.

As had been with Dante Alighieri upon being presented the Gates of Hell, Lelouch looked upon what was before him and despaired. Never had he seen such destruction and death in one place; even the ruined village that he, Suzaku, and Nunnally had been forced to walk through on their way back to the Kururugi Shrine, the one that had been littered with corpses and decay, could not compare to the ruins that he gazed over. Beside him, C.C. stood close, much like noble Virgil to both indirectly comfort him amidst this horrid wasteland and to act as his guide to wherever he wished to go. But for the moment Lelouch paid no attention to her, instead moving forward, one step at a time, toward despair.

"I never wanted this…" he murmured, his voice dry of hope and spirit, like a sinner realizing the depths of his crime. "I never meant…"

Lelouch then felt as his foot nudged against something on the ground. Looking downward, he crouched and picked up the object, which was flat and metal. Knowing it wasn't simple debris as it was perfectly squared and held indentations across its surface, he ran his hand over it and wiped away the dust. And then in an instant, Lelouch froze in his movements, too horrified to move further. The object was a plaque, and it read "Ashford Academy – 3378 Montgomery Lane, Tokyo Settlement, Area 11", while holding the familiar Ashford family crest upon its center.

Mortified, Lelouch dared to look up over the plaque to the ruin ahead of him, trying to find any semblance of the school that he and Nunnally had attended during their exile, the institution established by Reuben Ashford as a means for his family to live on after they lost their nobility, as well as Lelouch's last true home. But he saw none of it, just twisted beams of metal and rubble. What had once been grand and majestic Ashford Academy, was now ruins upon ruins, completely merged with the rest of the blackened city.

In a fit of sudden rage, Lelouch roared out to the heavens, his cry surpassing that of the thunder above. The fury he felt was quite familiar to him; he had felt it many times before, and silently he despised himself for forgetting its touch. He had felt it when his father exiled him and Nunnally from the only home that they had known. He had felt it a second time when Britannia waged war on the land that sheltered them, depriving him and his sister of their home once again, along with many, many others. He felt it a third time, when Suzaku betrayed him to his father for a cheap promotion and a naïve dream. And now he felt it again after so long, as he wept for the innocents who had been lost in this single act.

"This isn't what I fought for in Nunnally's name!" Lelouch cried, tears flowing with abandon.

"No, it's not," C.C. said, gliding like a specter over to where Lelouch was hunched, gazing down at him. "This is what awaits humanity should you turn your back on what you began in Shinjuku. This is the end result of what would be, should you leave the Earth in the hands of lesser men, who know nothing of compassion and only seek dominance. This, Lelouch vi Britannia, is the hellish future of all mankind, should you refuse to retake your stand."

Lelouch looked up again, but instead of despair upon his face, only rage remained at C.C.'s words.

At that, C.C. began to pace around him. As she did, her mind flashed back to Washington and his words to her; at long last, she finally understood the full meaning of his premonition. "So what will you do now, knowing that you hold the fate of the world in your hand? Will you embrace cowardice and throw yourself under the nearest rock, only to come out when the dust settles? Are you going to run and hide like a frightened rat as the same atrocities are repeated over and over again?"

"Run…" Lelouch snarled under his breath, his fury deepening such that his shoulders began to shake.

"Or are you going to do what you set out to do in the beginning and bring about the needed change to everything, just like the hero you masqueraded and pretended to be?" C.C. stated, returning to her original position.

Lelouch didn't respond with a verbal reply at first. Instead, he reached down and grabbed a nearby rock, which he believed was one of the fragments of Ashford. Then slowly, he rose up and turned around to face C.C., his eyes alight with a rage that made the surrounding ruin look tranquil by comparison. He then started to move toward his self-proclaimed partner, almost in a marching fashion, while C.C. continued to watch him.

"I understand now…" Lelouch began to speak as he continued to walk step by step. "It was not I who rained fire upon this land and its people. It was not I who was wrong from the beginning… It was the world."

His hand trembled around the shard as he continued speaking. "The same world that took away my mother, blinded and crippled my sister and threw us into the unknown is the same world that robbed Japan and so many others of their freedom and liberty, and then obliterated those who dared stand against its judgment," he continued as his voice deepened further with rage. It is this world that needs change…"

He stopped once he was nearly face to face with C.C., who remained stoic. "And I will be the one to change it," he stated directly to her.

His whole body now trembled as fury reached out to every portion of his flesh. Threatening to erupt just like the forces that turned Japan into a wasteland. "Like fifteen years ago... C.C., like I said before..."

C.C. could see the fire slowly grow with intensity in his eyes as he continued to speak. "I will destroy this world distorted by that twisted nation..." he went on, his body trembling that much further. "I will destroy this endless cycle of impunity and injustice... I will destroy all traces of that man until history itself denies his existence..."

His fists shook violently as he finally began to say. "I say it once more... I will...!"

At last, the fragment crumbled in his grip as his rage finally erupted into one declaration.


Kawashige Inn
Naha, State of Okinawa

March 30, 2025

Ohgi had just finished relieving himself of all the awamori he had consumed, and was just about to make his way out of the men's room and back into the party when he felt the sudden vibration of his cellphone. At first he thought about ignoring it, since he was thoroughly enjoying the party; the only incident that occurred was when one of the members of Zero Squadron attending, Rikichi Shirogane, got drunk and went on a tirade about how the Black Knights should only be comprised of Japanese, as all Britannians were lower than scum and "not fit to be fighting on the side of justice and righteousness". Fortunately before a fight could break out between him and the Britannians that were attending, Viletta was able to knock him unconscious with a well-placed blow to the back, and then Alfred and Charmelle quickly carried him out the back. The celebrations resumed since then without incident.

However, as his cell continued to vibrate, Ohgi decided he would answer just so he could tell whoever it was on the other end that he was busy and did not want to be called. And if the other guy kept it up, Ohgi was happy enough to tell him to go do something anatomically impossible. Thus, he fished out his phone, not bothering to look at the caller ID, and stuck it in his ear. "This had better be a good one," he stated in an annoyed semi-drunken slur.

"Ohgi," the voice on the other end said simply and directly, in a velvety smooth tone that even with as much alcohol as he had consumed, the Black Knight General had no problem recognizing.

His drunkenness disappearing like a puddle of water under the sun, Ohgi slipped further back into the building until he was far away from the others, and then adopted a far more serious tone. "Lelouch? Is that you?"

Lelouch ignored the question and went straight to the point of the call. "In a half hour, assemble the central members of the Black Knights in the Mikasa's briefing room. I don't care if they're all in a drunken state, I want everybody there."

The General had to fight himself to keep from getting too anxious. "What is it you intend to do?"

The resulting laugh on the other end was the same dominating laugh Ohgi remembered Lelouch using against the Britannians so many times. "Isn't it obvious? I intend to wage war on Britannia, and I want to explain my plans to you and the others in detail. Or is this unsatisfactory to you?"

At that, Ohgi felt his eyes light up. "No, no! I'll get everyone onboard the Mikasa by…" he quickly looked at his watch. "2033 hours, no later than."

"Good," one could just feel the smile on the other side. "And one more thing Ohgi…"

"Yes?" Ohgi replied, listening carefully. Even so, he had no way of anticipating the sudden ray of hope that would enter him following what Lelouch said next.

"From now on, you will refer to me as Zero."


Author's Notes: No real changes to this one. You may move on if you so wish.