"In peace prepare for war, in war prepare for peace. The art of war is of vital importance to the state. It is matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence under no circumstances can it be neglected."
- Sun Tzu

Chapter 12: Rebellion Anew

Black Knights air battleship Ikaruga
Air Harbor 01, State of Okinawa
March 30, 2025

The natives were getting restless, as the ancient cliché went. It all began thirty minutes ago when on his return trip from the bathroom, Ohgi firmly stated that the party had to be ended prematurely, and that the Black Knights' central command and flag officers were to hold an emergency meeting onboard the Ikaruga. He did not present any reasons to the bewildered guests for these orders, nor did he answer any questions presented at the party hall; he merely repeated the order once more and added on in his most "commanding" voice he would not repeat it a third time. And now, a half-hour later, the key members of the Black Knights were all sitting in their usual places in the Ikaruga's briefing room, all looking very aggravated and impatient for having to hold a meeting so late at night.

"Man, this sucks!" Tamaki bellowed for the fourteenth time, summarizing the thoughts of everyone present in his usual manner. Most of his frustration came over the fact that things were going well between him and his date, Ayame Futuba, at the party; it had taken some effort on his part, but he had managed to get past the Ikaruga weapons operator's usual timid nature and was about to draw her in when Ohgi burst onto the scene and ruined everything. "What the hell are we doing here anyway Ohgi!? It's too late at night for this crap!"

"I'm sorry, I was requested not to divulge that information at this time." Ohgi replied as he sat, arms crossed and looking as though he were waiting for something. The fact he was speaking in his General-of-an-Army tone didn't help matters much either. Even Viletta, who had invited herself to the meeting and was now sitting next to her husband, was confused as to why he was acting this way.

"Requested!? You're a goddamn General and the Vice Commander! Why the fuck are you taking requests for!?" Tamaki retaliated, patience running thinner with each passing moment. "Did Kaguya put you up to this!?"

"It's how it is Tamaki. Unless you want to sit this out, I suggest you keep quiet and wait like we're all doing." Ohgi replied, closing his eyes to gain some form of temporary relaxation. He wasn't too happy with having to wait either, but he was willing to put up with it considering who ordered him to do it.

"Don't fucking tempt me…!" Tamaki snarled at how Ohgi was acting all "General-ly" on him, even if he did only have the rank of a Major.

"You're not helping the situation by making empty threats and outbursts, Major, so I recommend you follow the Vice Commander's orders." Diethard spoke from the side, as his head rested on his clasped hands in wait. He hadn't been at the party, but he had been summoned out all the same by a mysterious phone call claiming that "the birth of a new era was about to commence" or some such. Notably out of all of them, he was the only one dressed in his Black Knight uniform, which displayed his rank as a Colonel.

"Shut up Diethard! I don't care how you got dragged into this, but I don't need to take shit from you too!" Tamaki continued to ramble, just as the rest of the present company continued to ignore him.

From her spot, Kallen stifled a yawn as she fought with herself to stay awake. Though the party had been in her honor, it still tired her out to the point that she swore to herself she would not attend any more social events for a while, aside from weddings and funerals of course. Now she wanted nothing more than to go home, take a shower and climb into her comfortable bed, but unfortunately it seemed Kami had other plans for her, as usual.

I just hope C.C. doesn't cause too much trouble while I'm away… Damn it, wasn't she supposed to not take too long? she thought dazedly, trying her hardest to keep her head up.

And then somewhere in the middle of her retracting consciousness, a certain realization poured into her mind. With newfound energy, her head bolted back up with her eyes widened, only now understanding what C.C. meant by the "Antichrist" reference that had been lost on her earlier. It can't be…!

"Fuck this, I'm going home!" Tamaki at long last got up from his chair and began to make his way toward the door. Momentarily closing his eyes from exhaustion, he did not see that the door had opened before he got to it, nor was he able to detect the sudden cold shock that visibly swept over the other Black Knights as they saw who was standing there. "What the hell can be so important that it can't wait 'til tomorrow anyway!?"

"Everything, Major." a dark and metallic sounding voice answered, swiftly and directly despite the rhetorical nature of the question. At that, Tamaki snapped his eyes open again and upon seeing what everyone else was gazing at, stumbled backwards and landed on his butt while his face wore a mixture of amazement and unrestrained surprise.

There, in the middle of the doorway, stood Zero, freshly returned from the dead and looking very ready to pick up where he had left off. Wrapped in his familiar black cloak and donning his mask, he appeared every bit the phantom that those assembled remembered him by, with the only change made was his original body suit being replaced with a more militarized uniform, consisting of a black and gold outlined longcoat with the familiar cravat, equally black trousers and freshly polished military boots and gloves. If one looked closely enough to that ensemble, he or she would notice that Zero's new attire bore a slight resemblance to the Knight of the Rounds uniform, namely the Knight of One's unique design. Standing right beside him, C.C. looked back at the others with an amused smirk stretched across her face, enjoying the great myriad of reactions the assembled Black Knights held toward the return of their leader.

Behind his mask, Lelouch allowed himself a moment to scan over the faces of the Black Knights' higher command, the same men and women he had taken under his wing and organized from a mere terrorist splinter group into a full resistance movement. Aside from Ohgi and Kallen, this was the first time in eight years he laid eyes upon any of them, and he wanted to memorize every change possible, from Tohdoh's goatee to Sugiyama's slightly narrower face, with the Druid System implanted in his mask performing its duty of scanning over each of them and forwarding their physical and operational data to Lelouch. As he continued to look over them, he was mildly surprised to see the tan-skinned, white haired Britannian woman he encountered at Shinjuku amongst the group and next to Ohgi, even more so when the data window on his mask read her name out as Viletta Ohgi, but for the moment he decided to pay it no matter.

After the moment ended, Lelouch casually strode around Tamaki, who scrambled to get up and back to his seat, while C.C. took her own place. The former prince then came over to what he presumed to be his own chair at the head of the table and took out a flash drive from his uniform's pocket. Instead of sitting down, he slipped the drive into the built-in data slot and watched as the screen at the end of the room flashed with the incoming data. The Black Knights watched this silently, their eyes never leaving the screen as a current world map spread across it, designating Britannia's current territory in blue and EU territory in yellow, with the lands that were unaffiliated left in white.

"As you are all aware…" Lelouch started, purposely ignoring the unspoken questions of those before him, as he walked around to stand next to the screen. "The world has changed greatly since the advent of the Devastation. Britannia has become far more aggressive than it had been with Japan, forcibly annexing the Chinese Federation into Imperial realm and invading and conquering the European Union on nearly all fronts. Currently Britannian territory encompasses over sixty percent of the world and is growing with each passing day. If it continues to maintain its rate of advance, then I estimate the Empire will conquer EU and the remaining free world in just over a year's time."

That last part especially seemed to elicit a general dreading reaction from the assembled Black Knights, even when they had known most of what Lelouch had just said. Regardless, the former prince continued with his briefing. "And in the middle of all this, Britannia has continued to maintain its resources and logistics, not suffering from the normal setbacks created when fighting a long term conflict. In fact, it has actually managed to expand its military to a size and overall capability not seen throughout human history, while its enemies in Europe continually regress in virtually every level. What does this tell you?"

"The Brits are always buildin' their fancy armies. How's it any different now?" Tamaki inquired, a little more subdued from before but still irritable.

Tohdoh on the other hand, was seeing where Lelouch was going with this. "Because Britannia lost their main sakuradite source when they destroyed Japan, yet they're still able to manufacture sakuradite-based weapons and technology. And since Japan also had the largest natural reserve in the world, there can only be one explanation for this…"

"You don't mean…!" Sugiyama exclaimed at the realization.

"Correct. The Britannians have found a new sakuradite center, perhaps multiple new centers." Lelouch continued to explain. "And because they are able to maintain the same level of production since the Devastation, this new source would have to be the same size as, or even larger than, the entirety of Japan's reserve."

For a second Lelouch allowed that knowledge to dwell upon the eyes of those assembled before him, but then moved straight along when certain parts of the map became highlighted in pink. "These marked points are every sakuradite field known to the modern world. The largest is the Wrangell reserve in Sunderland, which is estimated to hold at most one-thirtieth of Japan's natural supply. This indicates two undeniable facts: first, Britannia's new source has been kept secret from the rest of the world, and can be virtually anywhere. Second, they had to have discovered it approximately twenty-five years ago or even sooner, which means that they have long since established proper facilities and transportation back to the mainland."

"Shouldn't you know where it is, since you're a prince and all?" Tamaki asked with honest curiosity, speaking another question for the others, who wondered the exact same thing.

Lelouch looked back at Tamaki with a hard gaze, but he knew he had reason to ask him that and so answered. "Unfortunately, this new source has been kept secret even from much of the Royal Court. And as I was a frontline commander totally uninvolved in the research sector, my knowledge of such secrets was deemed unnecessary."

"Excuse me." Ohgi interrupted. "I don't mean to doubt your estimate, Le—Zero, but why do you figure that they had discovered the facility no later than twenty-five years back?"

The masked man turned to Ohgi with narrowed eyes behind his mask. "Because, even before the Second Pacific War, Britannia held a similarly high production level that started at the turn of the century and grew larger in the next decade; Japan's conquest added to it, but marginally, indicating that the Britannians were not as reliant on Area 11's source as they claimed to be. As well, this is the only logical explanation as to why Britannia was willing to setup Operation Nero without fearing the loss."

"Wait, you're saying Britannia conquered Japan when they already had a major sakuradite source?" Minami looked livid at the whole prospect. "That the Britannians did it just to be the 'evil empire'!?"

Lelouch actually laughed at that one with the same villainous laugh many knew him for. "You sound so surprised. Have you forgotten Japan's role in the Oriental Incident prior to the Second Pacific War? Rather than risk going to war with the European Union or the Chinese Federation at the time, the Emperor obviously chose Japan to serve as the sacrificial lamb, and then proudly display its head to all as an example of what becomes of Britannia's enemies."

That one struck a lot closer to home with those present, including Viletta. Not only did it remind everyone just how vindictive and merciless Britannia could be, but it also explained why Operation Nero had been implemented in the first place; if Britannia was not at risk of losing the sakuradite it so cherished, then why keep a free Japan around for other nations to gain access to it? It also went along with Schneizel's strategy over the pacific of making a show out of the Ikaruga's destruction and the Black Knights' final stand, something that did not comfort the current company in the least.

After another minute of contemplating this, Tamaki spoke up again. "So, uh… what do we do about all this?"

That made Lelouch smirk. "In order to defeat Britannia in the coming war, we have two central objectives. One, locate the secret sakuradite reserves and either capture or destroy them, crippling the Empire's production capabilities beyond repair, and two, trigger a worldwide revolution against Britannia, uniting her enemies into one centralized force with the Black Knights at the head. From there…"

The screen shifted again, zooming directly over Britannia itself and displaying several arrows and dots. It didn't take much to realize that this was a plan for invasion of the Imperial homeland. "We strike at Britannia itself and end its tyranny, permanently."

Needless to say, that last part made every head turn and eyes look up, just like Lelouch's declaration eight years ago to establish a new nation in Japan. Though that plan had long since failed, the Black Knight leaders were not deterred, and certain hope began to expand within them. As impossible as it sounded, the prospect of not only striking back at the Empire but destroying it entirely was far too good to pass up, and with Zero leading them once more, it just may be possible. Even Tohdoh couldn't resist flashing a sinister grin at the whole idea.

But still, there was some amount skepticism among them, as Chiba proved a moment later. "And how do you plan on creating this force? During the Insurrection, the Black Knights were looked down upon by the rest of the world as a splinter group. Even if we were to announce our presence to the world again, no one would join our flag."

Despite the inquisitive nature of that statement, Lelouch remained resolute. "Indeed you are quite right Chiba. At the present time, the Black Knights would be viewed at best as an anti-Imperialist revolutionary movement and at worst as a terrorist organization, with both cases looked upon as completely outmatched against Britannia. To call the world under our banner would be pointless now. However…"

The screen flashed again, showing the rest of the world once more and dividing it up into individual states, both Areas and European sectors. "As I stated eight years ago at Narita, even messiahs need to perform miracles in order to be acknowledged, and we will do just that once again. But instead of merely harassing Britannia through parlor tricks and stage acts, this time our miracles will be the world wide liberation of the Areas and breaking Britannia's hold on the world. For this purpose, we will aid local rebels and whatever remains of the former governments, so that once the Imperial regimes have been eliminated, we may establish proper democracies."

In a fluid motion, he waved his arm at the screen. Moments later, individual territories began to flash from blue or yellow to purple, moving from the East Asian coast westward. "One after another, we will grant freedom to the lands that the Empire had long since conquered as well as restore hope in the eyes of their peoples. Soon after the world will no longer be able to deny us, and the Black Knights will be recognized as a major power and the one hope in man's salvation from everlasting tyranny!"

And then finally, the last territory, Portugal, flashed purple. With the exception of Britannia, the whole world was displayed under the Black Knight's colors. "Only then will the armies of the world come together before us and swear their allegiance, in the hope of our delivering the final blow to our hated enemy! And only then, will we march on Britannia herself and, like the Red Dragon to the wretched Whore of Babylon, make her suffer grievously for her iniquities!"

Lelouch was now breathing heavily behind his mask, though the others failed to pick up on it. "And in the end…" Lelouch continued once more, his voice now becoming calmer. "We will establish a new future for all of mankind, and with it worldwide peace and stability."

And once more, those assembled stared in awe as their legendary leader was now fully among them again. Diethard and Tamaki both looked ecstatic, while Sugiyama, Inoue and Minami all wore looks of astonishment, as did Asahina and Chiba. Tohdoh, Senba and Urube each smirked the devil's grin, while Ohgi was once more amazed beyond words at the boldness of the masked revolutionary's plans, with Viletta and Kallen both wearing a similar look to that. Even C.C. herself gave a secret expression of approval toward her "partner".

Entirely satisfied with the collective reaction he was receiving, Lelouch decided to move onto the next stage. "Now then…" he said, reaching up to his mask.

For the briefest of moments, nobody dared even breathe as Lelouch removed his mask and slowly revealed his face. At first those who had sidearms instinctively moved their hands over them, but they were soon relieved when Lelouch opened his eyes and revealed that he had kept his contact in place, subduing his Geass.

"It is true." Lelouch spoke from behind his veil, which remained in place over his mouth and chin, in a dark tone that barely concealed his disgust at what he was about to say. Combined with his scar, the veil made him look akin to a Koga ninja from Feudal Japan. "I am Eleventh Prince Lelouch vi Britannia, son of Emperor Charles and Empress Marianne and former seventeenth heir to the Holy Britannian Empire. With that known, if any of you do not wish to follow me, then say so now. Otherwise, you will only have these options: live with me in victory, or perish with me in defeat."

With that declaration, Lelouch once more scanned the faces of those gathered, with his eyes visibly turning to each and every one. But no matter who his eyes would fall into contact with, they did not respond or object to him. Instead, each one remained silent, giving their answer through their lack of response as well as visibly showing their preparedness for whatever he had in store next. It only took a second for Lelouch to see this, and then move onto the next one. After going around the table and seeing the same gaze from each and every present individual, the exiled prince nodded.

"Very well then." Lelouch replied with closed eyes and a smirk, slipping his mask back into place. "Now then, before we can proceed, we must proclaim our presence to the world once again. And for that purpose, I give you Operation Tsunami…"

The screen shifted once more, centering on one of the Sandwich Islands, specifically Crusoe, then zooming further until it halted over the island's southern coast. Even before Lelouch spoke its name, everyone recognized what was there. "…our strike against the pacific basin of Pearl Harbor!"

"Pearl!?" Minami glowered in shock. "That'll be suicide!"

"Pearl Harbor is the headquarters of the Britannian Pacific Fleet!" Sugiyama exclaimed as well. "Even if our own entire force were up and running, there is no way we can attack it and come out in one piece!"

"Oh?" Lelouch replied with an inquiring tone. "And somehow Pendragon was a much easier target?"

"With respect, Zero…" Ohgi began again. "We were able to hit Pendragon solely because we had the element of surprise. We won't have that again if we attack there."

"On the contrary Ohgi, we will have the element of surprise in this battle as well, albeit with a different set of tactics. And as for numbers, we will only require five ships and their knightmare forces, specifically the Ikaruga, Akagi, Hiei, Ryujin, and Isonade." Lelouch explained.

"One battleship, two cruisers, two submarines and just a couple hundred knightmares against all of that!?" Chiba looked on in amazement. "Sugiyama's right, that is suicide!"

"And don't forget their air fleets, like the one we fought before! Once the base sends out word they're under attack, we'll be completely surrounded by their pacific groups as well as fleets from the mainland!" Inoue added.

"Isn't there another target that…!?" Minami began to state.

"No there isn't, and it must be done!" Lelouch bellowed, silencing all of them at once. "The strike against Pendragon was a decisively well executed attack. It was perfectly timed, left no chance of counter from the enemy and created significant damage to Britannia's command structure as well as psychologically traumatizing its citizenry. But there was one fundamental flaw in that strategy…!"

Though they couldn't see his eyes, the Black Knights could all sense the fire behind Lelouch's gaze. "You fought under the guise of terrorists, and were therefore regarded as such by your adversaries! This battle is meant to correct that mistake; not only will we be showing the world that we still exist, but we will also prove to them in one fell swoop that we are not, and never were, mere rabble!"

Lelouch once more waved his arms out. "We are, and always have been, Knights of Justice! And by our deeds, humanity will never forget again!"

Once again, nobody dared question him after such a declaration, as they could see the exact importance of the operation and, should it succeed, the effect it would have on the world; even Pendragon seemed tame by comparison. Though there was still hesitation, the Black Knights once more remembered their achievements in Japan, when with only a handful of resources they very nearly liberated their country and brought an Empire to its knees, all because of the leadership and direction of the masked man that was before them. There was little doubt that, through that same leadership, they would be able to do exactly the impossible once more.

Seeing that his words were well delivered, Lelouch knew that now was the best place to end it for the time being. "For now however, I need you to return to your homes and rest. Once we begin our new crusade, you will have very few opportunities to be with your friends and families, and though it is my intention for each and every one of you to live through the end of all conflict, some of you may never return. Enjoy these last moments of peace, but remain on standby for my next summons."

He then looked over at Diethard. "Colonel Reid." Lelouch spoke his rank to show his recognition of it. "I will require you to establish a meeting between myself and the Okinawan government, as we will need their full support in our endeavors. As well, you are to organize a public assembly for the announcement of my return."

Far too excited over the prospect of the Black Knights beginning a totally new campaign under Zero's charge and how it would shape the world, it took a moment for Diethard to (barely) compose himself and nod in response. "Yes Zero. It will be done!"

"Good." Lelouch replied simply, before turning around and exiting before any more words could be said. With their leader's last orders ringing true, the rest of the Black Knights were quick to follow.

Heracles Palace
Pendragon, Holy Britannian Empire
March 30, 2025

Dawn was close. Bismarck could feel it within his exhausted form, as he stood in the middle of his training room, shirtless and covered in sweat from the "training session". He imagined he had been there for hours, courtesy of the apparent insomnia he had gained for that night which prevented him from resting. But he paid it no heed, as even the mighty Knight of One and Avenger of Britannia needed to exercise to keep in shape.

Clutched tightly in his hands, his mighty broadsword Durandal now felt even heavier than usual, signifying that Bismarck was nearing the end of his energy and wakefulness. But even so he kept his hold on it, and then after a moment of catching his breath he began to swing it around with a mixture of power and grace one would not have thought possible. In his mind he saw himself surrounded by multiple opponents, and with each swing he struck one or more down with a deadly cut that would have cleaved a real man in two. Each attack and each imaginary parry was mechanically precise and timed, fulfilling their purpose and leaving no unnecessary movement that would open Bismarck up to a counterattack. It would have been a truly majestic sight to behold, had anyone been there to witness it.

But at the same time Bismarck did not practice simply to hone his phenomenal skill with a blade; it was only during this state that he could calm and focus his mind with ease. In his current state, he found himself contemplating his role as the Knight of One, the most powerful and honored knight in all of Britannia. Such power and prestige had been his ambition ever since he joined the army in a time long ago, along with many others of his caliber; it was only through his own strength that he prevailed and was rewarded justly for his deeds when the others fell short. Yet, that ambition stayed with him even when he became the Knight of Five, especially through the reinforcements of his superior and mentor: Lady Marianne Lamperouge, the great Flash of Britannia and the former Knight of Two herself.

Bismarck remembered how, like many before him, he had fallen in love with Marianne the moment he saw her, even though he had known of her closeness to then Prince Charles. She was majestic and possessing of a fiery nature previously unseen, yet lacked the traditional arrogance that came with her high position, something that some suspected came from her commoner background. Even more so she was seemingly gifted at everything she endeavored in, from military and political strategy and hand-to-hand combat to "lesser" activities such as horticulture and horseback riding, while her deeds were no less valiant. She was heroic and chivalrous, yet caring to those around her and willing to fight to the death for her beliefs or her loved ones. All of these factored in to the knight Bismarck admired and strove to surpass from the beginning, in spite of the impossibility of it.

As great as his own deeds were in the present however, Bismarck still did not truly feel that he was as good of a Round as she had been. Certainly he performed his duties of safeguarding the Emperor as well as fighting Britannia's enemies firsthand when he was called to battle, but compared to her spirit, the great Bismarck Waldstein was clearly inferior. It was vexing at times feeling that inadequacy, and more often than not Bismarck would find himself wondering how Marianne, who had been his "mere" subordinate at the time, would react to a given situation. Just as he was now with the coming of the Black Knights.

Bismarck frowned at the mere thought of that inevitable fate. The Black Knights had succeeded in reclaiming their Demon King, and it would not be long before they declared open war on Britannia with Lelouch leading them, it was only a matter of where they would strike first and when. And even though it all fell in with the Emperor's plans, Bismarck had little doubt that he would eventually be sent in to outdo his former student in the field of battle, something that he was not looking forward to at all. As the Knight of One he knew it was his duty, but that didn't make it any easier to fight against the young Prince that he had taken under his wing and looked upon like his own son.

But he isn't my son… Bismarck thought as he swung his blade, almost derisively. He's anything but my son… Just another brat with an axe to grind against the established order, and to top it off he wasn't a good student…

As he swung his blade, the Knight of One's mind went into a duel of its own as it labeled each point about the prince, an attempt to "psyche" himself up to the possibility of fighting his wayward student. At the same time, the shades began to mysteriously dissolve around him save for one, which began to alter in shape and form as the fight progressed between it and Bismarck.

He was lazy and uncouth… He swung, his opponent evaded. …yet held great honor and virtue.

He chased women without relent… He slashed, his opponent parries. ...yet never let any of them get in the way of his duties or lessons.

He was rebellious and never showed proper respect to those above him… His opponent thrusts, Bismarck parries. …yet he never held his own status above others and only drew their admiration through his grace, just like his mother before him.

He was always questioning my instruction… He slashes, his opponent evades. …yet he never challenged or disregarded me.

He always hated protocol and never stopped trying to find ways to escape it… His opponent slashes, he guards. …yet he never brought dishonor to himself or those around him.

He was arrogant, snide and self-centered… He thrusts, his opponent evades. …yet still capable of humility and compassion for others.

And finally, the accusing voice in his head screamed out, at such intensity that it caught Bismarck completely off guard. He had a part in the deaths of millions!

Instead of the opposing voice sounding out against that, an image flashed in his mind: the image of Lelouch holding a young infant, wrapped in a blanket and comfortably asleep, while the prince looked upon the child with a loving gaze. At that image, Bismarck felt his eyes widen and his hold loosen around Durandal, which slipped from his hands in midswing and ended up sailing into a nearby wall, where it embedded itself with a mighty "clang".

Silence reigned soon after, and the Knight of One could only stare outward while he breathed heavily, exhaustion at long last taking its course. Then after a moment, Bismarck sighed. Ironic how I questioned what laid within Suzaku's heart when my own is filled with uncertainty.

Upon his thinking that, the sound of applause came from the nearby doorway. "If only His Majesty could see you now, my love. Especially that last part." a more feminine voice spoke up with irritation.

Bismarck froze and felt his eye close. "How long have you been watching, Dorothea?"

Standing within the arch to the training room, a dark skinned and long black haired woman dressed in a turquoise robe looked back at Bismarck. "Long enough." Dorothea Ernst, Knight of Four, replied with displeasure. "I know it's expected of the Knight of One to be the most powerful warrior in Britannia, but surely you see your beloved wife as a greater consultant for emotional issues than your sword."

"Heh." Bismarck smirked a little. "I guess there really is no fooling the wife." Though intentionally kept secret from the public, such that Dorothea kept her maiden name, the two Knights of the Round had been married for seven years and counting. That remembrance also brought another thing to Bismarck's attention. "I didn't wake Roland too, did I?"

"No, and thank God for that." Dorothea replied. "If there's anything our son inherited from you, it's your overbearing voice."

"I don't know. As much as I cried at his age, I was not able to shake an entire castle at its foundation." Bismarck replied, casually pulling Durandal out from the wall and placing it on a nearby rack.

By that point, Dorothea had come up to him and reached out to touch her husband's face. Though her gaze remained hardened, she now looked up at him with a twinge of concern in her eyes. "Please tell me what's wrong." she asked.

Bismarck couldn't keep himself from looking away as he spoke. "Just weariness at the idea of having to go to war again."

The Knight of Four was not fooled and she showed it with certain fury that made even Bismarck fidget uncomfortably. "You should know better than to lie to me, Bismarck." Dorothea replied with warning and a narrowed gaze. "It's Lelouch, isn't it?"

The Knight of One sighed. "I know if he becomes Zero again that he'll become our enemy, but no matter how much I wrap my mind around it I can't stomach the idea of having to fight him in battle."

Dorothea looked at her husband with some sympathy, her initial displeasure cooling. "It's inevitable. As Knights of the Round, it is our duty to defend the Empire from its enemies, no matter who they are or how just their cause is."

"I know. And as Knight of One, it is expected of me to lead the fight." Bismarck looked away again. "But I still have hesitation, and no matter how much I try I cannot put it at ease."

"You sound like you weren't expecting this." Dorothea inquired.

"I wasn't." Bismarck admitted. "I thought when the time came I would be able to march into battle and face my former student without pause."

"And that right there is your main error Bismarck." Dorothea stated, her tone still stern and forward. "You believed because you're the Knight of One you were beyond lingering attachments, when in reality you're still as human as the rest of us mortals…" at that, she sighed as her stern expression vanished and was replaced with a more comforting one. "Perhaps more so than most."

"What about you Dorothea?" Bismarck asked. "Do you feel the same way?"

That question was answered by the unease that came across Dorothea's expression. "Do you think it will be easy for me to fight the same man that held my child, our child, so lovingly? As well as one of the few who saw me as human rather than an 'ill-bred mongrel whore'?"

As evidenced by her dark skin, Dorothea was not a full blooded Britannian; her mother was Kenyan while her father had a mixed Britannian-German heritage. The fact that the Knight of Four was more Kenyan than she was Britannian was not lost on others, especially those of nobility, which made Dorothea an open target for much of their xenophobia until Suzaku Kururugi's ascension to knighthood.

Lelouch had not been one of them, and when interacting with Dorothea he made no allusions to her heritage while treating her with great respect in regard to her being a Knight of the Round, the wife of his teacher and above all else a woman. Such unlikely courtesy had a profound effect on the Knight of Four, so much that, not long after Roland had been born, she allowed Lelouch to see him as well as to actually hold him. It was a risky gesture as Roland did not take kindly to anyone but his parents holding him, but for some reason he did not awaken and cry out when Lelouch held him, instead remaining in the most comfortable sleep his mother had ever seen him in while the scarred prince lightly stroked his face.

Needless to say, Bismarck knew his wife held Lelouch in as much high esteem as he did, and it would probably pain her just as much to go against him despite the words she had just spoke. At that, Bismarck closed the gap between them and embraced his wife, holding her comfortably to try and sooth the pain she felt inside away.

"Bismarck… No matter what either of us feels on the inside, we have to go forward regardless." Dorothea began to speak again with some strength, just as she wrapped her own arms around her love. "For Roland, for Lelouch, and for the new world that is to come."

"I know." Bismarck said simply, understanding fully.

Grand Duchy of Uther, Area 1 (North America), Holy Britannian Empire
March 30, 2025

Taking her total concentration, Cornelia managed to evade the concentrated stream of energy and fire back with her Vincent's VARIS rifle. However, even as she fired three burst shots in a consecutive rate, her opponent zipped around them one at a time, and then counter attacked with another blast from its main weapon, forcing Cornelia back to the defensive. The Second Princess snarled at that; it was bad enough that she was out of practice, but it was even worse that her opposite number was living it up and shoving it in her face.

"Disappointing. Is this what has become of the mighty Witch of Britannia?" the other knightmare pilot chimed in a sing-song voice that was both upbeat and scathing to the target. She laughed at the pictured sneer Cornelia gave in response, before moving to attack again. "Maybe you should stick to bubbling cauldrons and leave knightmares to the real knights!"

"I don't want to hear it from you!" Cornelia hollered, kicking her knightmare into a flying dash and activating her left arm's needle blazer. It was a gutsy move, as her adversary's machine had been built specifically for close combat and in many ways was better at it, but the assault paid off as the other knightmare was forced to back away. It tried attacking with its hip mounted slash harkens if only to discourage Cornelia, but they hit nothing but air as the purple and gold colored knightmare veered to the right and put more power into its float system. By that point however, the opposing frame had regained the initiative and fired rapid energy pulses from its main weapon. Once more irritated at being forced back, Cornelia abandoned her advance and shot rearward.

"Temper, temper…" her opponent continued to chide on the Second Princess' nerves, before firing another full stream that the Vincent barely evaded.

Cornelia then swapped her VARIS for her maser vibration lances, joining them together at the ends and charging at her opponent's knightmare. In a mad flurry, she slashed one of the blades against the other machine's weapon, which was also a lance, but one that was more akin to the Gloucester's jousting lance. Even so, that weapon was on an entirely different level than anything Cornelia had faced before, as was the machine itself and its pilot.

"You'll have to do more than that little Princess!" Nonette Enneagram, Knight of Nine, replied as she threw back Cornelia's blade then attempted to slash back with her own lance, only for the Vincent to evade. "You may have weakened yourself hiding in the capital, but I've only grown stronger all this time!"

Cornelia could only sneer back at both the Knight of the Round and her trusted black, grey and purple knightmare Ywain. Compared to other seventh generation knightmare frames, the Ywain was something of an odd man out. Unlike other knightmares of its caliber, Nonette's steed was actually heavily based upon the Gloucester in design and could be considered the seventh generation version of the unit. It had similar but more ornate and stylized armor, a similar head design only with the factsphere sensor replaced with an enlarged ruby colored T-visor camera lens and the same wing fins Cornelia had used on her previous machine, as well as its own unique float unit. However, while its design was not entirely new, the Ywain possessed a performance level far beyond its ancestor and was even more formidable than the original Lancelot. A true monster of a machine.

For base weapons, the Ywain was only "lightly" armed with a pair of hip mounted slash harkens and arm mounted needle blazers. Yet the knightmare's main weapon more than made up for that: the Heavy Maser Vibration Lance "Gae Bolg", a special lance made of the same advanced technology as the infamous Excalibur and so was also named after a weapon of legend, in this case the great lance of Celtic hero Cu Chulainn. Nonette had been awarded the weapon by the Emperor himself for her great deeds in the Crown's service, and even though this was supposed to be a mere practice duel, she used it against her former classmate now without relent.

Cornelia knew in terms of technological level the Vincent barely compared to the Ywain. Whereas the Ywain was a custom unit designed around the combat preferences of the Knight of Nine, the Vincent was a mass production general purpose prototype that, through Cornelia's specifications, had a high-and-balanced performance level, yet still was not on the same level as a true seventh generation knightmare frame. The Gae Bolg only made the fight all the more difficult, as there was nothing in Cornelia's arsenal that could match such a weapon.

That all said, the only way Cornelia was going to win this fight was through her piloting skills, as well as taking advantage of Nonette's arrogance, though she had yet to figure out how.

The Ywain's sudden burst into action brought Cornelia out of her ramifications, and the Princess sent the Vincent in an intercept course, lance bared outward. Spinning the lance overhead, she brought one end down to force Nonette to deflect with the Gae Bolg, before switching back to her needle blazer and slamming it against the Ywain's left shoulder. With a snarl of pleasure, she sent a mock burst against her opponent knightmare's arm, disabling it from the false attack; had it been a real battle, the burst would have severed the entire arm and perhaps even the float system wing. While that had not been the arm holding the lance, Cornelia felt some satisfaction in the fact she was able to wound the overly obnoxious Knight of Nine and bring her down a few levels.

"Not bad little Princess, but not good enough either." Nonette mocked as she jettisoned the dead arm from the Ywain. She then performed an imitation of Suzaku Kururugi's trademark roundhouse kick, which knocked against the Vincent's head and sent the knightmare sailing to the side. At a fair distance away, Nonette set to (false) impale the violet knightmare on the tip of her lance, but Cornelia was quicker on the recovery and darted away before the attack could take place, once more drawing her VARIS and raining neon green shots against the Ywain.

"Oh the VARIS again! Can't you come up with something original milady?" Nonette continued to taunt, ducking around each shot as if it took no effort at all. "I almost feel sorry for you, having to be stuck in that pale imitation of the Lancelot while your better is using a far more powerful steed!"

"For the love of god, shut up Nonette!" Cornelia bellowed as she continued her attack.

"Why? Am I getting to you 'Your Highness'?" Nonette snidely retorted. The Knight of Nine then countered with another barrage of energy shots from the Gae Bolg, forcing Cornelia to once more kick her thrusters into overdrive to evade them all. She now attempted to capitalize on the Ywain's left flank, which was open without an arm to protect it, but Nonette was quicker in defending that area than Cornelia was in attacking it.

Suddenly, one energy burst knocked the VARIS out of the Vincent's hands fully, leaving Cornelia no other option than to attack up close. She managed to recover her balance from the attack in time and launched her right slash harken at close-range to put a nice sized dent in the Knight of Nine's armor. With an opening, Cornelia closed in with her lance bared, ready to strike and finish the match.

However, that was exactly what Nonette had been waiting for. As the lance descended over the Ywain's torso, the Knight of Nine deftly shot its left foot up in a rising kick that knocked the lance off of its course, forcing the blade to strike only air. And before Cornelia could reangle her weapon or switch to another for a follow up attack, Nonette swiped the Gae Bolg around and fired another blast that, in an ironic reversal of Cornelia's previous attack, caused the Vincent's left arm and left wing of the float unit to eject from simulated damage.

The end result was the Vincent dropping out of the air and landing with a massive 'boom' into the desert floor below, though Cornelia had managed to use her remaining thrusters to limit the impact. Before she could get back up however, the Ywain hovered down right in front of her and pointed its lance directly at the Vincent's head. The match was over, and Nonette was the victor.

"Looks like victory is mine as usual, little Princess." Nonette staunchly declared, before letting the Ywain touch the ground itself and withdraw the Gae Bolg. "Anyway, I meant what I said about your performance being disappointing. You won't be killing any BKs or Eurotrash with those paltry skills."

Cornelia sighed, also disappointed about her performance. "Have I really weakened that much?"

"Yes you have. This is what you get for staying out of the fight for these last few years." Nonette replied as she dropped the Gae Bolg tip first into the ground, then reached out to help the Vincent to its feet. As the sun began to rise, the light reflected off the Ywain's ruby visor as it looked back toward its comrade. "The Cornelia I knew would never have done such a thing to herself."

Silently, Cornelia chuckled at Nonette's accusation. "That's right…" she began to murmur, loud enough for her friend to hear her. "Eight years ago, a vital part of me died alongside Euphie, and what remained became a coward that thought she could hide in the capital while Britannia and the world took care of themselves without intervention."

Cornelia's eyes then flashed with resolution. "But now, that belief was undone on that one fateful night…" she continued to speak, her voice gathering strength. "…and after all this time, I finally have something to fight for again. That is why I must regain my old self, so that I may rejoin the fight and not runaway again."

"I understand, Cornelia. That is why I'm willing to help you in this." Nonette replied with more seriousness than before. "But at the same time, Euphie would not have wanted you to join this crusade."

"I know Nonette." Cornelia replied sharply. "Yet while I cannot honor all of my late sister's wishes, perhaps I can help fulfill her dearest one."

That earned a raised eyebrow on Nonette's part. "And which one is that, my dear underclassman?"

The Second Princess' only response was to close her eyes solemnly, as if she were resigning herself to something. "You will find out when the time comes."

Black Knights air battleship Ikaruga
Air Harbor 01, State of Okinawa
March 30, 2025

It was a strange yet all too familiar feeling Lelouch felt as he stood once more in his personal domain, hands clasped behind his back in thought. Though it hadn't been so long from the Japanese Insurrection, Lelouch couldn't help but feel he had forgotten the rush he always got whenever he donned that mask and cowl, which were now placed on the center table with his anti-Geass contact, and played the part of the devil. The theatrics, the dynamic speeches, the "dastardly" scheming, the tantalizing of the audience, it all left a lasting emotion in Lelouch every time he did it all, a combination of ecstasy and exuberance that was found in very few other things. It was an addicting feeling to say the least, especially after eight years of having to live without it.

And to think, I wanted to throw this all away… Lelouch thought with a grin, once more remembering what it was like to be the Demon King with the Black Knights as his legion. Indeed he was at the center of his universe again, where instead of being the puppet prince leading a crusade against enemies of the state in a faraway desert, he was the revolutionary heading the charge against a large and tyrannical empire in the name of justice and liberation; a time honored role that had been held by many men and women in the past, whose deeds were recorded into legend so that future generations could hear of their exploits and aspire to them. On that last part while Lelouch did not truly care what humanity would judge him as in the future, it was exhilarating to think of himself in the same shoes as George Washington, William Wallace and Guy Fawkes: the singular cause for universal change. Surely, there was no greater standing in the history of man.

And yet while Lelouch was thoroughly enjoying being back as the Lord of Darkness, he would have been lying if he claimed there was no more reluctance in him. At the same time though, he was no longer blinded by his own self-hatred and doubt that he could not see the obvious truth: that the events of late were not his sins to bear, at least not alone.

Yes, he had indirectly caused the SAZ massacre that triggered the Black Rebellion, with the Devastation following thereafter. However, after careful consideration, Lelouch realized that the destruction of Japan was an inevitable event. While he did not have the full details, he did know Operation Nero had been implemented not long after the full establishment of Area 11, and that it would have been activated at any point the Japanese had gained enough strength to overthrow Britannian control. Thus, while the SAZ massacre was still his sin to bear, the blame for the Devastation laid squarely with Britannia, as it wouldn't have mattered who led the charge, whether be it his Black Knights, the Japan Liberation Front or any other anti-Imperial resistance. The end result would have always been the complete destruction of Area 11 to keep it from falling into enemy hands.

Then there was the SAZ itself. Lelouch could still feel pain inside of himself at the memory of his actions, but he also remembered why he had not been sold on the idea at the beginning. Aside from not being the true freedom the Japanese sought, as they would still be a puppet state under Britannian rule, the fact that the Empire would grant Japan special status would have likely been seen as a sign of weakness from the European Union and the Chinese Federation, which would only invite another foreign invasion just like Atushi Sawasaki's previous attempt. Should the invasion have succeeded, Operation Nero would still be triggered, and even if it had been repelled, it would have left immeasurable damage in its wake.

Just as well, he knew now that his initial guilt toward being Zero was misplaced. Even if he had chosen to stay his hand, that by some twist of fate he had chosen to die there in that warehouse or simply slip back to the safety of Ashford Academy instead of leading the counterattack against the Shinjuku purging, the world's current standing would not have been any different. Britannia would have continued being the "evil empire" as Minami put it earlier, war would still be rampant across the world and innocents would still continue to suffer. With that in mind, while he was far from guiltless, Lelouch understood now that he had actually made things out for the better, in that much like the opening of Pandora's Box, he had given Hope to the world. Hope amidst the unending suffering.

But once more, he was not totally without reluctance. Though Lelouch knew he had not caused as much damage as he initially believed, he knew that the potential was still there, that through Zero he could still cause permanent harm to humanity and the Earth that could never heal. He had to take steps to prevent that from even potentially happening…

The sound of the door opening without his authorization signaled that he was no longer alone, and the individual who wanted to see him clearly was not seeking permission. Lelouch smirked at that, as even without facing the intruder, he already knew who it was. "I was wondering when you were going to come here. You, who abandoned Zero at Kamine Island."

"Lelouch…" Kallen spoke in near seething. "You were deceiving me from the very beginning."

Lelouch chuckled at that as he turned to face her, and though she seemed to step back a little at the sight of his left eye, he continued to speak anyway. "About Zero being your classmate, or about my Geass power? Which one has offended you?"

"…Both of them." Kallen admitted softly with dismay.

"And yet, I did offer at one time to reveal my secrets to you, only for you to turn that offer down." Lelouch replied with fact.

Kallen's leer deepened. "That offer was meaningless. You knew what Zero was to me back then, and that I would refuse you."

Lelouch sighed a little. "You are correct in your assumption, but for whatever it is worth I would have revealed myself had you accepted."

Kallen paused at that answer, causing an uncomfortable silence to generate between them. Then she spoke once more. "I want the full truth Lelouch. No lies, no theatrics, no pretty words. Just a straight answer to the question that's been haunting me these last eight years."

"I'm listening." Lelouch answered.

The Black Knight ace's eyes narrowed as she spoke again. "…I want to know, did you use your Geass on me like the others? Did you twist my mind and my heart…" for a brief moment, her face cringed as if she were in pain. "…and make me follow you?"

Despite the intent of the question, Lelouch allowed his smirk to return. "And what if I say yes?"

"You bastard!" Kallen called out as she quickly drew her sidearm and took aim at Lelouch's head, her face twisted with rage.

And yet Lelouch was far from impressed. "Really Kallen? After all the effort you and the others went through to get me back, you're going to kill me here and now?"

"Shut up!" Kallen barked. Once more, she found herself staring into his eyes, in spite of the discomfort she felt when seeing the Geass alight in his left. "Tell me why I can look at your left eye and be unaffected just like I did that night. It means you used it on me once before, right? And that my mind established immunity against it while my memories were sealed? That's how your Geass works, right!?"

"And what of your own Geass?" Lelouch interrupted with certain disapproval underneath his tone. "Have you considered using it to find the answer you seek?"

Kallen's initial rage was soon replaced with shock at Lelouch's seemingly spontaneous knowledge of her own power. "…How did you know?"

"Your fight against Suzaku." Lelouch replied once more. "I am well aware of how Suzaku will act when the 'Live' command is active, and I know in a straight fight you would have been no match for him. Therefore, the only explanation as to how you were able defeat him was that you have a Geass of your own, and from the way you were able to match or exceed his movements at that stage, that yours is an extrasensory type."

Kallen wasn't sure, but she thought she heard a tinge of guilt in Lelouch's explanation, if only around the mention of Suzaku's "curse". After that however, a brief silence intervened, before Kallen closed her eyes.

"Yes…" she murmured, and then opened her eyes again to reveal her own Geass alight. At its activation, she was quick to "see" Lelouch's heartbeat speed up by a fair margin as well as the muscles in his body and arms tighten, signified by his folding his right hand into a tense fist. However, she said nothing about any of it and went on with her explanation.

"My Geass is the Power of Absolute Awareness." she said in a controlled tone. "With it I am able to 'see' beyond my normal senses for several kilometers at a time. Just using it now, I can 'see' both your outsides and your insides, from your heartbeat to your breath."

Suddenly, rage began to return to Kallen. "But even this power can't give me the answers that I seek from you…!" she allowed her Geass to fade. "It won't tell me why I'm immune to your Power of Absolute Obedience, or whether I follow you as a lowly slave or by my own will!"

"I understand…" Lelouch replied, looking sympathetic. Like it or not, he owed her that much, after everything he put her through then and now. "In that case Kallen, I will tell you the truth." he paused to formulate the right words. "Yes, I had used Geass on you at one time, but it was not the way you think. The command I issued was for you to answer a question you would not have answered otherwise."

Kallen froze at that admittance, clearly unsure how to react. "…what question was that?"

"'Why do you fight?'" Lelouch replied. "Be assured Kallen, your mind and your heart are yours alone, as was your loyalty and admiration for Zero." He then began to slowly walk toward her in defiance to her still having a gun on him.

"Don't move!" Kallen warned, gaining a better posture and aim.

Lelouch ignored the outburst and continued. "You should be proud of what you did. You decided, you made the choice."

Soon, the distance was completely crossed with Lelouch stopping once the gunbarrel was firmly pressed into his chest. "You chose…" he reached up and moved the gun away. "…Zero."

Overwhelmed by his proximity, Kallen reflexively took a step back, while Lelouch frowned. "You don't believe me?"

As if she were stung by that question, Kallen's eyes widened and twitched, as if she were about to cry. "I… I want to believe…" she murmured, trying to hold back the potential tears. "More than anything, I want to believe in you…"

"I see…" Lelouch looked on with pained sympathy of his own, feeling uneasy at the sight of his closest follower and friend in such a state.

"But…!" suddenly Kallen regained her strength. "That doesn't mean I'll forgive you for lying to me all that time!" she nearly shouted as she reholstered her gun.

"Well, fine with me." Lelouch let out, glad to see that didn't last long. That was when another thought occurred to him. "By the way…" he began, giving off his most fiendish smirk possible. "When exactly were you going to drug me? Before or after we had sex?"

In an instant, Kallen's face turned the exact same shade of red as her hair and as the Guren, while her expression became a mixture of shock, embarrassment and rising anger. "IT WASN'T LIKE THAT YOU PERVERT!" she hollered.

"Really?" Lelouch replied innocently. "I don't remember you complaining when we made it up to my room and…"

"DO YOU WANT ME TO SHOOT YOU!?" Kallen roared with the fury of her namesake, looking ready to carry out her threat several times over. "DO YOU REALLY WANT ME TO SHOOT YOU!?"

"Alright, calm down. I know you were just carrying out your mission." he replied, holding his hands up in mock surrender while still retaining his amused grin. That brought another thought to mind, one that drained away his amusement and replaced it with something resembling a frown. "Still, it must have been painful for you…" he looked up at her again. "The last eight years you had to endure because of my mistakes, as well as all the losses you personally suffered. And to top it all off, you had to go to all those lengths to liberate me from my false life, in spite of the doubts you've possessed for so long."

Then, much to Kallen's surprise, Lelouch gave what could have been an apologetic glance. "I can understand if you hate me for all of it Kallen. Really."

This only confused the Guren pilot further. Wasn't this the same man that had openly mocked her feelings just a minute ago? Wasn't this the same man that admitted to heartlessly using her and her people eight years ago to her face? It didn't make sense that someone so unfeeling toward others, beyond the certain individuals that he personally cared about of course, could make such a declaration to her. Part of her wondered if Lelouch was deceiving her again, but another part of her, one that was more vocal, told her that there was something true in the exiled prince's words, enough that she could believe them.

Regardless of that however, Kallen allowed herself to respond, though she was careful to choose the right words. "Lelouch, there are a lot of things right now I'm not sure of…" she began. "What I feel inside of myself, what tomorrow may bring…"

Lelouch only continued to look on as Kallen gazed directly into his eyes. "However, in all those doubts, there is one thing I'm certain of to the absolute degree." she continued. "No matter what you have done or what you may have had a hand in, I do not and never have hated you."

For his part, the revolutionary leader was taken off guard at that, and though he did his best not to show it, his surprise still made it into his expression. And yet at the same time, a part of him felt as though he should have known that, as once more she had been his most devoted follower and his friend, even from long ago, the very last person in perhaps the universe that would show hatred toward him. After another moment, he closed his eyes and let his smile reform as he seemingly breathed a sigh of relief. "Is that so…"

Before either of them could say anything else however, the door opened again and snapped both back to reality, to which they turned to see C.C. casually enter.

"I'm sorry, am I interrupting?" C.C. observed with certain curiosity. Despite the apology, C.C.'s tone made it sound like she meant otherwise.

"No!" Kallen was the first to answer. "Lelouch and I were…!"

"What is it you want now?" Lelouch interrupted, unconsciously displeased by C.C.'s timing for some reason.

"For myself? Nothing. In fact, I was about to head off for the night." C.C. explained casually, pretending not to notice the tension between her and her two "partners". "But before I did that, I wanted to inform you…"

Lelouch looked on closely as C.C. finished. "…there's someone else who wants to meet with you."

"Really?" Lelouch let out, unsure of what to make of this. "Who?"

"I'm afraid I was asked not to reveal that to you." C.C. put offhandedly, seemingly enjoying keeping Lelouch in the dark. "However, the individual has requested you come to the roof of the Government Bureau at midnight. You'll be able to figure it out from there."

The former prince only groaned at the idea. As if he hadn't done enough for the night. "And if I refuse?"

"You would be unwise to do so Lelouch, considering you will need this individual's support for your next war." C.C. explained. "And with that message delivered, I'm going home." With that, C.C. turned around and exited as quickly as she had come in.

Both Lelouch and Kallen stood by as they watched her leave, wondering what exactly that was about. But then after a very awkward moment came to pass, Kallen shrugged her shoulders as well. "I guess I'll turn in too. I've had enough fun for one night…" she exclaimed as she made her way toward the door.

But before she could make her own exit, Lelouch reached out and grabbed her hand to stop her. The suddenness of the move alone made Kallen stop in her tracks, as well as cause a light red to form on her cheeks. "Lelouch…?" she let out in wonder as she hesitantly turned back to face him.

"Kallen…" Lelouch started to say, yet seemed unable to mutter the words at first as he looked away in his struggle to come up with what he wanted. Then, once he apparently mustered up the will to, he finally spoke again. "…thank you, for coming to save me."

Even Kallen couldn't contain the surprise she felt at that. She had truly believed that Lelouch did not want to be free, that the restoration of his memories only brought pain and regret to him, and yet here he was thanking her for bringing him back. Did that mean her beliefs had been incorrect, and that Lelouch would have wanted her to save him? Kallen didn't know, though at the least it seemed Lelouch did not hold anything against her for the deed.

While the inward shock made her stumble around a bit with her own words, she was able to reply to him, though not quite without some hesitance. "You're welcome… Lelouch."

Before Lelouch could respond any further, Kallen withdrew her hand and then quickly made her exit, leaving the prince-turned-revolutionary alone for the time being.

Rakshata's Office
Air Harbor 01, State of Okinawa
March 30, 2025

With as much energy as she could muster in her exhausted state, Rakshata surveyed the technical readout of the Ikaruga for what felt like the millionth time that day. Assuming that her eyes weren't playing tricks on her, the readout showed that most of the major damage the Black Knight flagship had suffered over the pacific had been repaired; all that was left was fixing the small gashes across the outer hull and replacing any weapons and equipment that had been destroyed. At that, Rakshata felt certain satisfaction; though she was not as good with warships as she was with knightmares and medical equipment, she had managed to complete the bulk of her task in little over twenty four hours, a true accomplishment if there was one. She would have had one of her assistants pat her on the back for her, which she had in the past whenever she did something beyond expectations, which was often, but Sushil and Mahesh were not available for the action as they were on leave. She merely shrugged at that notion. "No worries, I will just take it out of their pay."

Letting herself drown in her satisfaction, Rakshata decided it was time for a small break from her work. As such, she let herself fall back on her recliner and absent-mindedly spun around to face away from the computer while her head looked up at the ceiling, where she began mentally counting the ceiling tiles. It was a unique relaxation habit she picked up while attending Colchester Academy in Britannia so long ago, back when she was an eager young Indian student who dreamed of majoring in medical cybernetics. That memory made her grimace, as it brought to mind her old "friends" Cecile Croomy and a certain four-eyed, grey haired Earl that had an addiction to pudding and a knack of getting on her nerves. In her annoyance at that last image, she unconsciously threw her right leg out. The next thing she realized, her foot brushed against the edge of a flat object and sent it flying off her desk and into a nearby wall with a small 'thud'. That caused her to straighten her position, as well as her eyes to widen in uncharacteristic shock at what she had just done.

Scrambling, Rakshata nearly leaped out of her chair onto the floor, where she grabbed the object, a small picture frame, and with an uncharacteristic obsessive energy, looked the frame over for any dents or cracks, and then the picture itself to see if she had damaged it in a way. Inwardly sighing in relief when she saw that there was no damage, Rakshata brushed her finger across the picture, which was that of a young tan skinned girl dressed in Indian garb holding up a lotus flower in her hand toward the camera. Her eyes softened further when she looked at the affection displayed in the girl's eyes. "I'm sorry Sati."

With more care than she usually displayed toward inanimate objects, she carefully placed the photo back on her desk, exactly on the spot it had been before she had kicked it over. At that point, a knock at the door sounded from the other side of the office. "It's open." she called out.

The door then opened to reveal a young Indian woman dressed in a Black Knights officers uniform with a lab coat covering it. "We've completed repairs to the Guren Nishiki, as well as the enhancements you requested," the woman smiled. "Your son is in top form now, Colonel."

"Daughter." Rakshata corrected.

The other woman looked confused. "Excuse me?"

"Daughter, Neha." Rakshata repeated again, looking quite annoyed at the fact she had to do so.

Her earlier jubilance now replaced with nervousness, Captain Neha Shankar, Rakshata's personal aide-de-camp in the Black Knights' Science Corps, reached up to pull against her uniform's collar. "With respect Colonel, I thought all of your 'children' were males. Wasn't that what you told Major Inoue before?"

Rakshata eyed the younger girl as if she had grown a second head. "How long have you been working for me Neha?"

"You took me in eight years ago ma'am." Neha replied, though her nervousness was still apparent. "Thirteen if you count our first meeting."

Rakshata nodded with clear satisfaction, recalling a younger Neha Shankar, then barely ten years of age and having just lost her legs from a wayward missile. Fortunately for her, Rakshata had still been in the medical prosthesis field at that time, and so personally designed and implemented her new legs. Even now, thirteen years later, Neha retained her outdated prosthetics, which she hid well under her Black Knights uniform.

After a second however, Rakshata's focused back on the subject. "Then you should know that particular child is my daughter, my only daughter. You would think my personal assistant would be able to tell that much."

The younger girl, who had idolized her commander with complete devotion, knew better than to answer that with anything beyond an apology. "Of course ma'am. My apologies."

"Hmmm… Perhaps there is hope for you yet." Rakshata replied. That's when another memory occurred to her. "Were you able to forward my previous request to Bapu?"

"I did, but he does not understand why you would need five hundred tons of charonium transferred to this site." Neha stated.

"As if I have to explain anything to that bastard." Rakshata stated offhandedly with some measure of annoyance. "Tomorrow morning, contact him again and tell him 'unless you want to be the puppet governor of Area 21 forever, do not waste my time with stupid questions and just send me what I asked for.'"

"Ma'am!" Neha blurted in amazement. "This is the Mahatma you're speaking of!"

"So? I wouldn't care if he was the Avatar of Shakti. I have absolutely no patience for men who waste my time." Rakshata replied as she lit her nearby tobacco pipe and drew it to her mouth.

"But Colonel…!" Neha started to let out. Adherence to her commander or not, the idea of having to talk down to the Mahatma made her sick to her stomach.

Rakshata rolled her eyes at the display. "Oh very well Neha. Just tell the geezer that 'Colonel Chawla wants to talk to him directly' and I'll bring him down a notch myself. In the meantime, get yourself home before you fall apart; I don't like assistants who complain about being overworked."

For some reason Neha couldn't tell whether her commander was being sarcastic or if she actually did care for her subordinate's well being. Regardless, she decided now was the best opportunity to leave before anything bad happened. "You should get some rest yourself ma'am. With Zero back and all, I'm sure we'll all be quite busy in the future."

"I'll worry about my own mental and physical health, thank you Neha. Please don't make any more of a fuss as you go." Rakshata waved her off.

Taking her cue, the assistant left as quickly as she had come in, leaving Rakshata alone in her office once more. Stifling a yawn, she turned and regarded the picture on her front desk, and wondered what things would have been like if the person in that photograph had still been with her…

Ohgi Residence
Naha, State of Okinawa
March 30, 2025

As he knelt between the dual beds of his children, Ohgi felt a familiar feeling weigh on his heart: disbelief at how everything had happened the way it did. Had anyone asked him years ago whether he was planning to have a family, he would have laughed heartily at the idea, as his time as a terrorist would have kept him from settling down until Japan was properly freed, that is if he even survived. Eight years later Japan was destroyed, his people were driven into hiding and he was still fighting a seemingly impossible war, and yet in between it all he had managed to not only get married but have two healthy children. It was almost too good, like a dream; one that Ohgi knew he may willingly give his life for in the next few days, which had prompted him to come see his children as they slept in the first place.

With a little movement, Rukia stirred in her rest, turning over to inadvertently face where her father was kneeling. In response to this, Ohgi slowly brought his hand down and stroked his daughter's face, moving aside the black hair so that he could brush a fingertip against the tanned skin of her cheek. In response Rukia murmured incoherently as she snuggled in comfortably while, without waking up, bringing her face closer to allow Ohgi better access. Ohgi smiled at this and continued his activity, admiring how much his daughter, as well as his son, had inherited from their mother over him.

"You two take care of mommy when it's time for me to go." Ohgi murmured softly, shifting his attention from back and forth between the twins.

"Kaname…" he heard Viletta whisper from the doorway, low enough that the children wouldn't hear yet high enough that Ohgi would. Turning to peer back at the doorway, Ohgi saw Viletta standing there with a serious look on her face and what looked to be a file and some papers in her left arm. Sighing inwardly that he still apparently had things to do at that time of night, Ohgi got up, but not before kissing either of the twins on the cheek, and then walked back toward the doorway while making sure to close it once he was out of the room.

When he and Viletta made it back to the kitchen area, Ohgi's spouse seemed to keep her back toward him, which told Ohgi that whatever it was she wanted to talk about, it was important. I don't like where this is going already… Ohgi thought, but somehow willed up the courage to ask the 'big question'. "What's on your mind Viletta?"

Knowing that there was no turning back now, Viletta turned around and presented a piece of paper to her husband. Ohgi was quick to notice the Black Knights sigil at the corner of the page, causing his stomach to knot. "What's this?"

"My notice of commission." Viletta explained. At that Ohgi's head snapped up, but Viletta continued anyway. "Two days from now, I will officially join the Black Knights as a Lieutenant Colonel and a knightmare squadron commander."

"What!?" Ohgi replied out of the sheer shock, his eyes turning from Viletta toward the paper, where he fast read its contents. "Who authorized this!?"

"General Kirishima. He owed me for saving his life after the Devastation." Viletta replied.

That only made Ohgi's disbelief quadruple in intensity. "You mean this was done by your request!?"

Viletta closed her eyes as if she were about to brace for a tidal wave. "Yes."

"How can you even think of this Viletta!?" Ohgi nearly bellowed, the shock turning into anger at how Viletta had callously thrown her life on the line. "Do you realize what you're doing!?"

"Joining the fight against my former country? Yes, I do Kaname!" Viletta shot back, beginning to gain momentum in the face of Ohgi's force. "In case you have forgotten my love, I was a Britannian soldier once upon a time. Between the two of us, I have had formal military training and a substantial amount of frontline experience. If you believe I am not qualified for the Black Knights, then I would debate how you got your position to begin with General."

"This is not about qualifications and you know it Viletta!" Ohgi replied staunchly and with force. "It's bad enough that I have to go out there and fight, but with you out there that means both of us are at risk! What would happen if we both died!? How would Ichigo and Rukia grow up without us to be there for them!?"

"If that happens, then they would grow up knowing that their parents both fought for their future!" Viletta replied in such a tone that stunned Ohgi momentarily. She tipped her head to conceal her eyes from him. "You told me that the reason the Black Knights continue to exist is to protect the future of those living here, so that they don't have to live in the world that you and I struggled in…!"

She drew closer to her husband, and when she looked up, Ohgi saw that her eyes were now almost pleading. "Don't you think I have as much right to fight for our children's future as you do!? That I, a former soldier, should be called out to battle just as you have!?"

"I don't know Viletta…" Ohgi looked away, his expression softening but now clearly in doubt. "I was hoping that, if I were to be killed, at least Ichigo and Rukia would still have their mother, but with both of us out there… I just don't like the idea of leaving them orphaned."

"I don't like it either Kaname." Viletta admitted. From her tone, Ohgi could tell the pain she was feeling at the idea of leaving her children behind. "But if it increases our chances of winning, then it's a risk we should both be willing to take. For Ichigo and Rukia, and for the other children whose parents are going to war."

Ohgi sighed, as he knew there was no arguing with Viletta any further now that her mind was already made up. Sure as Vice Commander of the Black Knights he could easily deny her commission before it could be officiated, but he knew that she would find a way to get around him anyway, even if it meant going all the way to Zero himself to get in. Therefore against all of the dread he felt inside at the prospect, he nodded lightly. "What's the squadron that you will be taking command of?" he asked.

"A force that I personally formed. With your permission, I would like it to be assigned to the 1st Mobile Assault Force onboard the Ikaruga." Viletta replied, holding up the file folder for Ohgi to see. On the front of the folder was a single insignia of a black shield that held a medieval mounted knight, its horse reeling upward while its left hand clutched a jousting lance. A banner underneath the mounted knight that read "Who Dares Wins" in Japanese kanji, while at the top of the shield was another banner with the kanji for "Roku Naitomea Sentai" (6th Knightmare Squadron) and at the bottom was the unit callsign "Kyosha".

Once more against the dread, Ohgi took the folder and opened it. 6th Knightmare Squadron "Kyosha". He thought as he read it all together.

At first he wondered why Viletta had chosen that designation, which was the Japanese title of the Lance in Shogi, as well as why the insignia was based around a clearly Britannian knight. But when he read the personnel listing a minute later, he realized the exact reason. "All of these names are Britannian."

"Yes." Viletta replied with a nod. "All former members of the Imperial Army. After the Devastation, these men and women became instructors and aggressor knightmare pilots at Ginowan, where they have been training new recruits in proper combat tactics ever since."

Though from their individual records Ohgi could tell those listed had all seen heavy fighting during their careers as Britannian soldiers, he still wasn't quite convinced. "How do we know that they're loyal to the cause?"

Viletta's eyes drew into a leer, causing Ohgi to realize his mistake only after. "How do you know I'm loyal to the cause?"

Ohgi smacked his head in defeat. "I'm sorry… I didn't mean it like that Viletta."

The former Britannian soldier sighed. "It's alright. I guess in your position you should ask that kind of question, even if the answer's obvious." she replied. "Though they have different backgrounds, they all have one commonality: each one of those names has lost something during the Devastation, and as such they no longer hold any faith or loyalty toward the Empire. As well, they have all settled and gained attachments to Okinawa, with a few even creating families over the last few years. All that said, I can assure you General that they will fight for us to the end."

That brought another thought to Ohgi's mind. "How much experience do they have fighting in Chawla designed knightmares?"

"More than enough." Viletta replied.

"And you Viletta?" Ohgi questioned further. "Have you been properly fielded with our equipment?"

Viletta seemed hesitant at that. "I haven't had as much time in the cockpit as they had, but believe me when I say I'm quite familiar with the layout of an Akatsuki, though I still don't understand the motorcycle seats. A standard chair would have been better."

"Heh." Ohgi laughed a little, once more despite what he was feeling on the inside. "Nobody understands why they have them, except Rakshata." he then closed the folder. "Alright, I just may be going insane for doing this, but I'll make sure Kyosha Squadron is assigned to the Ikaruga. On one condition though."

The Black Knights General looked Viletta dead in the eye, as well as made sure she did the same to him, before speaking his next sentence. "Don't die on me out there Viletta. I mean that."

Viletta nodded as well. "Same goes for you Kaname."

Okinawa Government Bureau
Naha, State of Okinawa
March 31st, 2025

It had simple enough to find the Government Bureau with the Druid System in his mask, as well as to navigate around the building to an elevator that would take him to the rooftop. The only problem Lelouch faced in all of this was the slight hesitance he felt at the idea of going to a rendezvous without any knowledge of who he was meeting or why. He did have a few candidates in mind, though he wasn't sure if any of them were even still alive, much less working as a government official for the State of Okinawa. And if there was one thing Lelouch hated more than anything else, it was dealing with the unknown, even if he could somehow use his Geass on the individual should he or she prove hostile. Even then, that was an absolute last resort.

As the elevator continued its way up the length of the Government Bureau, Lelouch ran through the hundred or so list of names he had remembered amongst his list of supporters during the Japanese Insurrection, from private benefactors to larger groups like Kyoto House. The most likely one, as Lelouch felt, would have been Taizo Kirihara, the de facto leader of Kyoto House as well as one of the few who had been aware of Zero's true identity. While Kyoto House was obviously gone with Japan, it wouldn't have been unlikely for Kirihara to have been the one to take leadership over the survivors after the Devastation and become the Prime Minister of Okinawa during the last eight years; Lelouch was quite aware of the old man's skills in administration and politics, as well as his drive toward returning Japan to its former glory. The issue however was whether he survived the Devastation to do all that, which Lelouch thought was less likely considering the man's frail condition and equally frail health at the time.

If it was not Kirihara, then Lelouch suspected one of the other heads of Kyoto House, though he could only hope it was one of the "friendlier" heads, as he remembered that at least two of the Kyoto officials had not taken well to the Black Knights, especially when they were being led by a foreigner. Lelouch inwardly groaned at the idea of having to deal with a hostile at this time of night; in truth, he would have rather been in bed and resting so that he would have the energy to deal with the entire bureaucracy when the time came. But at the same time, he knew better than to disbelieve C.C.'s words, as such a practical joke was quite out of her character, in spite of her childishness at times.

And then the elevator stopped and the door opened slowly. Taking a breath, Lelouch stepped out of the elevator and onto the rooftop, ready to face whatever was waiting for him there.

The first thing Lelouch noticed was that the roof of the Government Bureau was not truly a roof. Like how Clovis had altered the Area 11 Government Bureau to reflect the Aries Palace gardens years ago, this rooftop seemed to be altered to look like a Japanese shrine of some kind, from the arch at the front to the rounded pebbles, the flattened stone path that led ahead, the abundance of trees, and a fairly large Japanese house at the middle of the building.

Lelouch immediately knew what this place was meant to represent. This is the Kururugi Shrine. he thought, suddenly finding his list of candidates narrowed down greatly.

Without pause, Lelouch walked all the way to the house; though there was no light emanating from within, he suspected that whoever had summoned him wanted to meet him there, as did his mask which had scanned one human inside. As soon as he came up to it, Lelouch opened the door and entered, though he did not remove his boots as per custom upon his entrance. Upon his facing the human, his mask quickly identified her.

Lelouch kept himself from sighing as he read the name and data that became displayed on his visor. "So, it was you who summoned me…" Lelouch exclaimed. "Kaguya Sumeragi."

From where she was kneeling, sipping from a teacup, Kaguya laughed. "Your voice has deepened since we last saw each other, Zero-sama." the woman replied. "Or would you prefer if I called you Lelouch-sama?"

"You may refer to me however you wish." Lelouch replied in turn. For some reason he felt there was something not quite right with Kaguya, a great change from the teenaged aristocrat who held a, for lack of better definition, 'spunky' persona and an admiration for Zero that even made Tamaki's look tame. Regardless, Lelouch continued. "What is it that you want to discuss with me, Prime Minister?"

"We will get to that in a minute." Kaguya said, sounding more amused by Lelouch's question than she should have. "But first, if it is okay, I would like to 'catch up' with you, as it has been eight years since we last met face to face."

Before Lelouch could question her intent, Kaguya placed the teacup next to the small set at her side and rose up, the formal kimono she wore flowing as she rose. But even so, it was only when Kaguya stepped out of the darkness that Lelouch realized the great change he had suspected, and even he could not keep his eyes from widening from behind his mask nor his heart from freezing in his chest.

Her eyes…! Lelouch thought, as he looked upon Kaguya's face as she made her way from the dark. Sure enough, her eyes were fully closed, in such a way that one knew they would never reopen again, for they could no longer see. And in that moment, Lelouch remembered Nunnally and saw his sister's image cast over, making him cringe from the mere memory of it.

But even so, he did not step back, nor shy away from Kaguya when she came right up to him. Instead, he stood perfectly still, allowing her hands to move across his body, from his chest to his now broadened shoulders and even his hips; once more, his time with Nunnally had made him knowing of how those without sight "saw" others. When her hand reached his mask, Lelouch heard Kaguya whisper. "Please, with your permission…"

Once more feeling his heart drown in itself, Lelouch reached up and removed his mask with one hand, and then lowered his veil with the other. Once she found Lelouch was still again, Kaguya brought her hands up and slowly brushed her fingertips across Lelouch's face, from his cheeks to the corners of his mouth and to his forehead, memorizing every touch she felt as she passed. For some reason as she did this, her own face, originally looking as pleasant as Lelouch remembered it, took on a more saddened tone as she moved her fingers around, as if she were detecting the pain and sadness Lelouch had accumulated over his lifetime in one small motion.

Upon coming across the scar over his left eye, Lelouch allowed himself to sigh, knowing what Kaguya was about to ask. "A gift…" he explained. "…from Suzaku Kururugi."

Kaguya responded to her cousin's name with what could only be described as pity toward Lelouch, once more as if she were detecting the former prince's confliction toward the one he still considered a friend, even now. Once she had finished taking the shape of his face into her memory, Kaguya withdrew her hand and smiled sweetly. "You've certainly become quite a man Lelouch."

"And you quite a lady, Kaguya." Lelouch replied, taking her hand once more and touching it to his lips, a gesture that made Kaguya blush slightly. "It is shameful that we meet again in the worst of circumstances."

"Yes…" Kaguya said, facing down a little. "…I trust Nunnally is well?"

Lelouch did his best to keep the pain stricken from his reply. "I am afraid I have not seen nor heard from her since the Black Rebellion. At this time, the entire world believes her to have died with her mother fifteen years ago, and although I believe her to still be alive, I cannot answer such a question."

"Oh…" Kaguya said, her features saddening further. "…I'm sorry."

"No need. You did not know." Lelouch said honestly. "But that is not the reason why you called me here, is it?"

At that, Kaguya's expression turned more serious. "No, it is not." she replied. "I have called you here because, before I commit Okinawa's resources to your cause, I want to know: what exactly are your intentions with my people?"

"Your people?" Lelouch questioned. "Are you referring to the surviving Japanese, or the Britannians that also reside here?"

"Both." Kaguya replied with finality. "Despite my blindness from the Devastation, the survivors of Japan's destruction have come to trust me with their very livelihood; as their elected Prime Minister, they expect me to lead them, protect them and keep them alive in this time of chaos. It no longer matters whether they are Japanese or Britannian, as their fates are tied together one and the same."

Kaguya's brows narrowed as she continued. "So I ask you again, as one leader to another, what are your intentions?"

Lelouch's gaze narrowed as he turned away in thought, hands clasped behind his back. Despite her condition, he was sure Kaguya detected it. "My original intention, long ago, was to destroy Britannia and avenge my mother's death. Years later, when I realized that the Japanese and many others were suffering not only from Britannia, I changed my intention to creating a nation where there would be no suffering for those who lived in it.

"And now, with the Devastation, I find myself changing my intentions again." Lelouch replied, as he turend around to face Kaguya again. "This time, my intention, Kaguya Sumeragi, is to utilize the Black Knights and all resources available to destroy this world and drive its existence to the depths of human history."

At first, Lelouch thought Kaguya would have been horrified at such a prospect, but much to his surprise, the Prime Minister remained where she was, only holding a dubious expression in response. "And why exactly do you wish to destroy the world, Lelouch?"

"Because I know now that it isn't Britannia that is responsible for the pain and suffering of humanity at this time, and neither is it the EU. Instead, it is this very world itself that is responsible for all the hatred, war and death that humanity faces in this era." Lelouch continued. "Perhaps at one time the current world was something noble and peaceful, but now it is merely a warped existence that drives humans to continually torment and kill one another over such things like 'territory', 'resources' and 'races'. Therefore, just as one would put a wounded animal out of its misery, I intend to do the same to this very era."

"But one cannot simply destroy an existence without another to replace it." Kaguya summarized. "So, how do you know that the world that will emerge from this one will be any different?"

"Because I intend for people like you, who know of suffering and death firsthand, to lead it." Lelouch stated as fact. "The world is as it is now because its leaders have long forgotten the wills of their people, as well as the consequences that their actions create. Their only interest is power itself, and for that they must be removed and replaced by leaders such as yourself Kaguya, who only use power for the betterment of others."

"And do you consider yourself to be like that?" Kaguya inquired.

Lelouch actually laughed at that one in his villainous tone. "I'm afraid that is not my place. While I may be the destroyer of this world and the creator of the next, I am certainly not one to guide the latter. No, when the time comes, it will be for you and others like you to decide the fate of humanity thereafter."

Kaguya seemed to consider that, as Lelouch could tell from her expression. "What is this world you wish to create?"

The exile grinned like the devil Himself. That was exactly what he wanted Kaguya to ask. "A world without strife, where humans, no matter where they may originate from, can coexist with one another in peace." he began to pace around Kaguya, continually watching her form to see any changes. "Though I'm afraid even I cannot dispel humanity of its aggressive traits, as they are a byproduct of individuality, I can at least make it so there will be no need for active warfare.

"In this world I wish to create…" Lelouch started. "Disagreements between nations can be discussed and solved openly in a public forum, as opposed to through warfare and military power. Resources can be shared through negotiations and trade as opposed to forced acquisition, and each nation can be content with their lines of the map. In this world, citizens need not fear of invasion from a foreign power, and each military force is only used for defense against internal rebellion or terrorism. And above all else, in this world all humans are equal to one another as opposed to one being superior to the rest."

When he circled around to face Kaguya again, he saw that he had triggered an emotional response from her, as she seemed on the verge of tears. "I know it all sounds too good to be true." he continued. "That many before me have proposed such a world, but none have succeeded in its creation. But I assure you I am different, as I have the proper tools to not only see this one drowned into the deepest circles of Hell for its collective sins, but to see that the new world that emerges from its ashes does not repeat where its predecessor left off. All you have to do is believe in me, and I will see it through."

"…And…" Kaguya nearly stammered. "…just how far are you willing to go to see this through?"

"As far as it is required of me, for any less would make all of the sacrifices that have been made and that will be made turn out in vain." Lelouch answered.

"…Does that include seeing this nation destroyed just as Japan before it?" Kaguya wondered, regaining some of her composure.

That one made Lelouch stop in his tracks, if only momentarily. When he figured out his answer, he smiled again and shook his head. "If you are referring to this island, then yes, I am willing to sacrifice it if it brings us closer to our goal." he replied. "But if you are referring to your people, Kaguya, then no. Their extinction would make all of my efforts wasted."

That piqued Kaguya's curiosity. "What do you mean?"

"As I told you before, I cannot do away with humanity's aggressive tendencies. Though the majority will be content to live in peace, there will still be those that strive for dominance and war at the expense of others." Lelouch stated. "For that reason, I intend for the Black Knights to become the guardians of peace of this new world, to keep the past from repeating itself. Just as gods have angels to protect their heavenly realms, the Black Knights will become the safeguard that keeps humanity from falling into darkness again."

In an act that even he thought was bold, Lelouch reached out and grasped Kaguya by her shoulders. "Your people have long suffered from the darker side of humanity Kaguya, but I assure you it wasn't for nothing. While I cannot promise that Japan will ever be reborn again, or even if it is meant to be reborn, I can promise that those who dwelled upon that land will live on, so that no other nation may suffer the same fate as your homeland."

In his hold, Kaguya shifted uncomfortably and turned slightly away from Lelouch's gaze.

"Do my reasons not please you?" Lelouch inquired, unsure of what he was reading from her at this point.

"…No." Kaguya replied. "It's just…" when she turned to face him again, Lelouch saw tears slowly streaming down her eyes. "I want to see this new world…"

Satisfied that he had obtained the result he desired, Lelouch reached out with his gloved hand to wipe away Kaguya's tears. "You will, Kaguya. I know it."

After Kaguya regained her composure, she nodded toward him. "What is it that you need from me?"

Lelouch could only grin fiendishly at the question.

Black Knights Military Academy
Ginowan, State of Okinawa
April 7, 2025

It was almost a sea. A sea of black and silver uniforms, topped with an assortment of flight caps, peaked caps and berets, all perfectly lined up in single file, officers and enlisted alike, waiting at attention to hear the words of their leader. Even Lelouch, as he stared out through the vidscreen in his mask to the array of Black Knights standing before the platform, willing and waiting for his entrance as Kaguya began finishing her speech, could not keep himself from smiling at the awesome sight of it. And thanks to his mask, nobody would ever see that smile upon his face.

Then less than a few minutes later, Kaguya finished her speech and directed the audience's attention toward the coming leader. Patiently, he waited as the lift he was standing on started up, elevating him upward as a pair of doors opened above, revealing the stage. He had chosen to hold this speech at twilight, if only for the symbolism of it; as such, the stage was brightly lit, making his dark form discernible enough for his audience. As his head and upper torso emerged from below, he heard Tohdoh, who was one of the Black Knights leaders standing on either side, quickly shout. "Attention!"

Upon the command, the soles of each and every boot in front of the stage snapped together in a resounding thump, their wearers now at full military attention, as though it had not been eight years since they had seen their leader, while their arms each snapped into a salute identical in form. Lelouch had to resist the urge to salute back; he was no longer a "mere" soldier, or even simply a General, but Zero, the man who would see the renewal of humanity. As much as it chafed against him, he could not "lower" himself by returning their salute, even if they could not see it.

As he fully emerged onto the stage, he made one last sweep, scanning over the faces of those gathered before him, knowing that for those who were standing on this field, there were many more elsewhere throughout the island, watching the stage through television monitors and eager to hear his words. Near the end of his sweep, he found Kallen standing at the front of the formation alongside the members of Zero Squadron, all wearing special forces berets with the Black Knights sigil at the base. For a moment he paused and looked over her face as she stared back; though he was wearing a mask and conceived in darkness, she looked as though she were really looking at him in the eye. Staying like that for only a moment longer, he then moved away from Kallen and looked over the rest, before he began.

"My loyal Black Knights!" he called out with all his being as the lift stopped at long last. "Hear my words!" his voice resounded throughout the area.

"For eight years you have hidden yourselves here at the edge of the world, biding your time and awaiting the day where you would bring war upon your enemies once more! For eight years, you have endured the watchful eye of Britannia, the very empire that drove you to this fringe existence, while patiently building your strength so that when I called you into battle, you would be ready! For eight years, you have kept to your friends and families, living in happiness from the peaceful lives you have established for yourselves, in fear that it may all be taken from you just as the Devastation had done before, and in anticipation for the days where you would be able to repay your adversaries tenfold for their crimes and injustice! My Black Knights, I come before you now to give you the very words you have been waiting to hear: that day has come!

"On this day, I once more call upon you to stand, as knights of justice, against the evils that Britannia and those like it have invited onto this Earth! We stand here today, ready and willing, to put down the vile beast that is the Holy Britannian Empire with our swords and our spears, to forever rid the world of its tyranny!

"I realize that many of you are hesitant to answer this call to arms! Some of you have families waiting for you here, as well as other attachments that you are afraid to leave behind! At that, I say this unto you now: it is for them that you fight! It is for them that you take the stand against the legions of the abyss, in the hope that your children and your children's children may live in a world free of the darkness! It is for them that you willingly march into the gates of hell and the jaws of death, so that your descendents will never have to! And it is for them that you lay down your life willingly, in this reenacted crusade against injustice!

"Some of you have doubts that, in spite of the massive growth our forces have experienced over the last few years, you will not succeed where the European Union has failed with a thousand times the resources in our own possession! At that, I say unto you now: remember the Insurrection! Remember the days where the Black Knights were just another Japanese resistance, insignificant in size and power compared to that of others such as the Japan Liberation Front! Remember what this army has accomplished in those days, when our military force consisted of little more than a handful of knightmares and some infantry! And above all else, remember that it was the Black Knights that forced the Britannians into a corner, causing them to take the only option they had left to them in the form of Operation Nero! Remember what the Black Knights did then and consider, with the expansion of our power, what we can do today!

"I realize that going to war now and fighting out in the open will be hard for some of you! When you first came to this island, situated south of the ruins of your homeland, broken, shattered, grieving, remembering the horror of the Devastation and the deaths of your comrades and loved ones, it would have been easier to simply allow yourselves to disappear into this land and continue to hide from the world instead of building up your strength in the hope of going into battle again! It would have been easier for you to simply settle down and live out your lives with those you have come to care about and love, instead of to reengage the war you started years ago! It would have been easier for you to simply let this Great World War play out and pray that it is the European Union that comes out victorious, instead of taking matters and the fate of humanity into your own hands! Despite this obviously simple path that you could have taken, instead you endured, and waited, and listened, and now you have seen what your patience, understanding, and obedience has granted you!"

He waved his hands outward. "Once more, I am free of my own imprisonment, ready to lead you just as I had before, all with an army of knightmares and a fleet of warships, all featuring the most advanced weapons and technology ever conceived!"

Lelouch felt his lips fold into a grin as he went on. "Remember this moment, when you tell your descendents of this war, this war for the soul and lifeblood of this planet, that it was because of your sacrifice and your deeds that victory was made possible! The very fate of the human race lies with us now, not Britannia, not the EU, nor any other force! We will show the world that, once we ride into battle, there will be no haven for those who practice evil!"

His arms raised toward the crowd, as if he were reaching out to them. "My Black Knights! I command you!" Lelouch roared, before raising his fist into the air. "RISE!"

The cheers were deafening, as chants of his name rang out across the soldiers in equal measure. Lelouch made no command to silence the cheering. Instead, he simply stood where he was, a new dominant smile swept across his face as his army roared with unified allegiance toward their leader and fury at those who had wronged them.

It was upon that day that the course of humanity would change forever, as the Black Knights prepared to ride once again.


Author's Note: Based Lelouch's final speech on His Divine Shadow's In Vain Doth Valour Bleed, which can be found under my favorite stories list. Yes I know, I'm an unoriginal bastard, but I really loved Reinhardt von Seydlitz's speech to the 10th Panzerkaempher and have been wanting to use my own rendition of it for years. Anyway, the fiction is recommended for any Mobile Suit Gundam fans out there. It's been dead for a while, but what's out there is worth the read.