"Confront them with annihilation, and they will then survive; plunge them into a deadly situation, and they will then live. When people fall into danger, they are then able to strive for victory."
- Sun Tzu

Chapter 16: Calling to the Night

Britannian Logres-class air battleship Connecticut
New Liverpool Air Base, Grand Duchy of California, Area 1 (North America), Holy Britannian Empire
April 11, 2025

With as much efficiency as one would expect from a military airship crew combined with their knowledge of every minute they weren't airborne meant another dead comrade or worse, the crew of the battleship Connecticut was hard at work at their respective posts, each preparing their mighty warship for immediate departure. The captain, the grizzled, mustached Wing Commander Gary McCullen, was currently shouting out to the array of stations that lined the bridge, one after another, and in turn the assorted officers and operators each responded with the current status of their station and the systems that it monitored; a time honored tradition as much as it was a logical procedure, meant to ensure that their vessel was as ready to take to the skies as it could be. And with the way the reports were all coming in, it would only be mere moments before the battleship launched and begun its course westward, alongside the other airships that made up the taskforce.

At the same time, the bridge crew had even greater incentive to get underway as quickly as possible: that incentive was Prince Schneizel, who was sitting in the command chair at the rear of the bridge, flanked by Kanon and three others of his Royal Guard. And even then, it was not the Second Prince's presence that provided motivation to the crew, but rather the fact that, for the first time any had seen of him, Schneizel actually seemed angry. Sure, it wasn't physically obvious; in fact, had Schneizel's expression been on any other person, others would have found it "unreadable" at best. But even so, the prince as he was now gave off a great aura of displeasure, evident through his narrowed eyes and the way his hands seemed to grip the armrests of the command chair. That single image was enough to instill a quiet dread throughout those around him, even his own attendants, and only inherent military discipline kept those who beheld him from breaking down to his gaze. Such was the force of the prince's mere presence to those around him.

Standing directly to his side as always, even Kanon had to admit he was greatly disturbed his liege's agitation, though not to the point that his body threatened to breakdown trembling from under him. Part of that was due to the fact he, unlike others, actually knew the sources behind the Prince's wrath: the Emperor, and all the effort the prince had to go through to convince His Majesty to send more ships to "investigate" the "disturbances" in Area 7. For all his charisma and skill at diplomacy, even Schneizel had been unable to initially convince his father to send out a larger armada to Pearl Harbor to counter the enemy; even the revelation that the enemy force was using the Gawain in its attack, therefore identifying them as the same group that sacked Pendragon weeks earlier, did little to sway His Majesty. It would not be until a full hour or so later before the Emperor relented and allowed Schneizel to call upon additional forces to intercept the enemy, and if the way the Prince appeared now was any consideration, the Emperor seemed to do so more to humor his son than to respond to a direct threat against his empire.

Though he was not one to voice criticism toward his superiors, especially the Emperor of all people, it disturbed Kanon greatly that His Majesty seemed so unconcerned about recent events, and not just the attacks on Britannian soil. In fact, to Kanon's memory, the Emperor rarely involved himself in any kind of administration for the last several years or so; even the current war in Europe seemed to be more of a trivial affair to him than anything else, as His Majesty had generally left the whole war effort to Schneizel and the other theater commanders and only intervened whenever it seemed to suit him. This had also been the same during the Black Rebellion, in which the Emperor had mysteriously been out of reach throughout, and thus it had again fallen to Schneizel to take command of the battle, and subsequently give the command to initiate Operation Nero. And now it was so once more, with His Majesty showing little if any concern about the fact his Empire was under attack, and it again fell to his son and Chancellor to take direct action in a time of crisis.

For his own part, Schneizel never seemed to let the fact that he was essentially running Britannia in all but name and title bother him too much, but Kanon was no fool. He knew his liege, and he knew that underneath the pleasantries, something dark and sinister was accumulating toward the Emperor and his lack of concern for anything beyond whatever it was he focused himself toward. Now, it had only intensified enough that it could be visibly observed, even if it was just barely. And as he stole a corner glance toward his liege's narrowed eyes, Kanon did not want to think about there ever being a time where that darkness would reach a boiling point. Neither Britannia nor the world as a whole would be able to hold against it.

Yet even in the wake of events at hand, as well as his lord's displeasure, Kanon could not help but dwell back on the Emperor and exactly why he lacked interest at this time. The rebellions that had been popping up around various Areas as of late, as well as the Great World War itself, were excusable, as one could claim His Majesty simply saw them as the human race purging itself of those too weak to survive, going along with what he had stated at Third Prince Clovis' funeral not long ago. But what ruler would consider an attack on his or her dominion 'mundane'? Why would the same man that declared the Second Pacific War in response to Japanese ships passively blockading Britannian ports not see the need to counterattack against a direct incursion on his nation's soil? And above all else, exactly whatpossible task could the ruler of an empire that currently controlled over half the Earth devote himself to so greatly that the administration of his country was below concern?

"Your Highness." Wing Commander McCullen's voice sounded as he suddenly turned to face the prince, breaking Kanon away from his thoughts in the process. The Wing Commander did his best not to squirm under the Prince's gaze. "We have received confirmation from Air Control. Your taskforce is ready for departure."

The Prince only stared back for a few moments longer. Then, as if whatever fire within in him had been cooled by those words, the minute leer on Schneizel's face disappeared like a puff of smoke, replaced by evident satisfaction. "Very well Commander. Send word to all ships: launch."

His liege's orders made apparent, the Wing Commander turned and began shouting orders again. Soon enough, the Connecticut lifted off from its resting place and slowly, but with building momentum, took the sky, alongside the other ships that made up the taskforce. When the appropriate altitude was reached, the massive battleship turned until it was facing to the west, before it began to move in full flight, both the ship and crew to face whatever waited them over the horizon, as was their Prince.

Yet again Kanon knew better than the others. For all his apparent determination and finality toward the coming battle, the young attendant knew exactly what was really weighing down on Prince Schneizel's mind.

Growing fear that they may be too late.

Black Knights air battleship Ikaruga
Pacific Ocean
April 11, 2025

The shot from the Avalon's bow cannon reached Ikaruga in a matter of milliseconds, and unlike the HV cannon shots, they did not stop at the radiant wave shielding; rather, the projectile only continued past the Ikaruga's shielding, its entry signaled by the standard red ripples, before blasting into its starboard side with even greater force than a HV shot. The collective shock alone caused the entire ship to pitch to port, knocking nearly the entire crew to the floor and ratting every millimeter of the giant land battleship. The bridge crew were no exception to this, and even those seated could barely keep themselves in their chairs, if not at all.

"Report!" Minami barked as he held himself in place by putting his foot down against his monitor and his hands gripping his chair's arms tightly. By now George had managed to get back into his chair as well and get the Ikaruga stabilized, as well as out of the Avalon's line of fire.

"Hull breach on deck eight through twelve, starboard side!" Futuba called as she crawled back up to her seat and overlooked her ship readout screen. "We also lost the number three HV cannon!"

"How is that possible!? Our shields are still up!" Buckmaster let out as he too managed to keep himself from falling from his seat, albeit not as effectively as Minami.

The ship rumbled again as another shot impacted just as everyone realized how much trouble they were in. "Evasive maneuvers! Keep us off the Avalon's bow and return fire!" Minami ordered, subconsciously waving his right arm in a Zero-like gesture to emphasize the command. "Are the hadron cannons still operational!"

Futuba looked at her monitor and nodded. "Both remain undamaged!"

"Begin recharging them!" Minami ordered as the ship shook again, once more nearly throwing him out of his seat.

The Ikaruga arced in the air as the Avalon continued its attack, bringing its ventral cannons to bare against its opponent, which it immediately open fired with as well as launched a spray of missiles from its VLS. The combined return barrage alongside the missiles was enough to convince the Britannian cruiser to move from its assault momentarily, or at least turn away so the shots would impact against its "Blaze Luminous" while the missiles were intercepted by its CIWS, thus causing it to turn its bow mounted super cannon away along with it. It then proceed to fly toward the Ikaruga's aft, its own HV cannons now continuing to fire in place of its main cannon, which while were still unable to bypass the black battleship's shields, still put additional strain on the radiant wave generators that powered them.

Meanwhile, the Somerset, which had just moved toward the Ikaruga's port to avoid being targeted by the battleship's hadron cannons, turned its bow to present all five of its own HV cannons to its enemies side, firing a barrage that complimented the Avalon's. The enemy's tactics weren't lost on Minami; the enemy was now attempting to box him in while keeping away from the hadron cannons' line of fire, and with or without that special cannon on the Avalon he knew his ship would not be able to withstand their collective firepower forever. Silently he cursed himself for revealing the hadron cannons like that, alongside the selfless and valiant crew of the Plymouth that took the shot that was meant for the Avalon; despite the fix the Black Knights were now in, Minami had to admit it was hard to see an enemy that sacrificed itself for its comrades in the same light as those who had caused the Devastation.

Either way however, Minami knew that the battle had officially turned for the worst for his side. The Britannians now knew of the Ikaruga's main trump card, and were making great efforts to avoid it using their superior maneuverability, while the Ikaruga itself was quite vulnerable to their own weapon. In that regard, he knew that dividing his ship's firepower between them would be a futile effort, as their "Blaze Luminous" were enough to hold back that kind of weakened firepower, but at the same time he knew he would be risking even greater damage if he attacked either ship directly. Attacking the Avalon solely would only be suicidal, as her captain was obviously skilled enough to keep his or her ship out of harm's way while counterattacking the Black Knights ship's weak points, and going after the Somerset would open up the Ikaruga to an open attack from the Avalon as well. And then there were the Britannian reinforcements, which were all but guaranteed to arrive soon, further complicating the scene for Minami and his comrades.

Struggling with both himself and the shuttering from the enemy fire, Minami, his teeth gritted together and his eyes narrowed, whacked his brain to find an effective strategy to implement, a plan that would reverse all their fortunes before the worst occurrence, while Buckmaster covered for him momentarily in giving commands. Yet, no matter how hard he thought, he could find no way to get his ship out of the fire, as all three paths he could take would only lead to the destruction of his ship and the premature defeat of his side. As such, fear and panic soon set upon the intrepid captain of the black battleship, as well as upon Ohgi and several others, all the while more and more areas of the Ikaruga schematic displayed on the main monitor continued to turn red...

"No...!" Kallen gasped as she looked into her monitor, which displayed the now smoking Ikaruga along with the Avalon moving around for another pass with that bow cannon. At that point, the Ikaruga moved to avoid the cruiser's fire, while at the same time trying desperately to bring its hadron cannons to bare, but it was still unable to outmaneuver the smaller and faster ship. And soon enough, another shot from that cannon were fired into the black battleship's side, causing even more smoke and flame to erupt from its hull.

That slight pause was just enough for the Tristan to move in against her and launch its right arm slash harken straight across her side, knocking away her top right wing and nearly causing her knightmare to fall out of the sky. "You let yourself get distracted." he remarked as he retracted the harken. "Not a very professional thing to do."

Kallen grimaced as she felt her machine lose stability, wrestling with the controls to keep from dropping out of the air and at the same time avoid her opponent's next attack, which she knew was about to happen. Sure enough, the Tristan followed up on its attack by transforming and making a dive at the Guren, machine cannons blazing away. In turn, Kallen was just able to activate her radiant wave shield and deflect the bullets, then fire off a grenade and then a radiant wave stream as the Tristan passed. Unfortunately, her shots were evaded as the Tristan barrel rolled out of their line of fire. "I don't have any more time to play with you!" Kallen barked as she continued firing.

"Really? That's a shame, because you have no real choice." Gino replied in his usual tone, swinging the Tristan around again and firing of his harkens once more. The Guren pulled back again in response, but this time firing off more grenades to keep the Knight of the Round unit from closing the distance. Gino grunted as he had his knightmare weave around the grenades, but did not drop his velocity. "Besides, what can you do against a 'Blaze Luminous' equipped cruiser? The only weapon I've ever seen pierce that kind of shielding is a hadron cannon; your surger alone won't do the job!"

"Bastard!" Kallen shot back as she returned fire again, only for the Tristan to transform and bank away from her shot. Her follow up shots were little different, as the transformable knightmare did not seem to have any issue evading.

Gino sighed, as if actually annoyed at Kallen's brazen attitude, while in turn he attempted to move in and reengage with his poleaxes. "If you're going to blame anyone for the current situation, you might as well blame yourself and whatever 'baka' led you out here." Gino said, as he made a slash with his poleaxe that the Guren evaded by flying back. The Guren in turn redrew its fork knife and easily parried the next slash. "After all, it was you people who attacked first and then refused to surrender when offered. What did you think our response was going to be for your actions?"

"Don't give me that 'you shot first' crap!" Kallen roared as she attempted to fire out the surger via rocket harken and grapple the Tristan directly, but once again her opponent was able to evade her attack. When he moved to cut the surger wire, Kallen was quick to retract it and return to fighting with her fork knife. "You know exactly why we made this attack, and that Britannia doesn't have a leg to stand on! Not after all the things your kind has done in the name of your so-called 'Holy Empire'!"

She knocked away the poleaxe once more and then delivered a kick into the Tristan's side, sending it flying a good few meters away with its pilot temporarily disoriented. "What did you think our response was going to be for your actions on September 13, 2017!?" Kallen demanded as she made a renewed charge, slamming her knife against the Tristan's blades. "Did you think those of us who survived would just let it all go there!? Did you think we would just forget about seven years of bondage that ended in the destruction of our homes and the deaths of our families and friends in one single act!?" the Guren only continued to attack as its pilot went on. "Did you even bother to think at all, or were the sufferings of a few surviving Elevens and left behind countrymen that far beneath you Britannian!?"

Upon the utterance of that last word, Gino suddenly felt the playfulness and aloofness disappear from his being, again being replaced with the doubts and disgust he felt within himself to everything associated to that term. Once more he felt the hesitance enter him, accompanied by the images of Aoi and the Devastation being carried out in the distance, as well as the fear that he was fighting for the wrong side in this war. Only the fact he was in the middle of battle, and therefore was concentrated on survival and victory against his current opponent, kept him from breaking down where he was, but it could not keep out the revulsion he felt toward that word being used to describe himself.

But at the same time, Gino knew he could not back down. To back down now would mean he giving up everything he had fought so hard and sacrificed so much for, and as pained as Gino felt toward aiding Britannia in world domination and fighting a remnant of a civilization it had destroyed, he knew it was nothing compared to the idea of abandoning his service to Lelouch and the goal of making him Emperor, so that he may reform Britannia and humanity as a whole. As such, he steeled himself in the face of his enemy and it showed; instead of his usual aloofness, his face adopted a cold and hard expression as he continued to fight back against the Guren. "It doesn't matter what I think." Gino replied to his opponent's inquiry, causing surprise to appear on Kallen's face from the seriousness and intensity of it. "What matters is what you and yours have chosen to do...!"

In a sudden burst of movement, the Tristan spun its poleaxes and knocked the Guren's knife away, before charging back on the offensive. "You could have stayed in whatever haven you made for yourselves!" Gino shot back as he forced his attack, all the while drowning out the disdain for his own words. "You could have kept yourselves hidden and focused on living in the face of this madness! You could have rode out this entire war and lived in peace without anyone else knowing you were still there!"

Kallen could only growl in response as she deflected the poleaxe blades with her fork knife, at the same time trying to grasp the Tristan with her right arm, but never making contact. "But no! Instead you chose to fight!" Gino stated as he stepped up his attacks. "And now that you have openly attacked Britannian soldiers on Britannian soil, you are once again the enemy of an empire that rules over half the world! You threw away whatever you had left from the Devastation when you chose to attack our capital!"

He made another swipe with his poleaxe, but instead of hitting the Guren with the blades as Kallen moved to defend against, Gino smashed the golden pole of his weapon into the Guren's side and knocked it aside, before twirling his weapon around to perform an overhead impalement. Kallen in turn barely deflected this by angling her knife against the pole, effectively hooking her own blade under the Tristan's and holding it there. She then attempted to fire her slash harken point blank, but the Tristan simply caught it with its left hand. And when she again attempted to grasp the Tristan with her surger, Gino turned his knightmare away and let the claw move past, while bringing up his left leg and planting the foot against the wrist, clamping and holding the claw down. From there, his unit's ruby colored eye cameras became fixed on the Guren's sapphire ones, giving the impression that the Tristan was glowering down at its opponent.

"If you and the other Black Knights die here..." Gino continued, yet again pushing back the repulsion he felt inside himself. "...it won't be because of whatever Britannia did to Japan, it will be because you were stupid enough to come out here and restart a war from years ago, all in the name of what you lost instead of what you still have!"

At that, Gino broke the "holds" on the Guren's arm and harken just as Kallen ripped her knife away from the Tristan's poleaxe, and with another charge and battle cry on Kallen's part, the two continued on.

Another swarm of black energy beams shouted out from the Mordred's body launchers and rained down on C.C., forcing her to put her pink Akatsuki into evasion while continuing to return fire with her handgun. As expected, the Mordred responded by raising its front "Blaze Luminous", encasing the entire frame in a green diamond shaped constructed that deflected the shots easily, all the while moving away to a new position where it could renew its attack. In response, C.C. throttled her machine to full power and attempted to use the opportunity to draw in close, but the Knight of Six was quick enough to fire off another barrage that again forced her back and into evasion, performing a line of aerial maneuvers to avoid becoming overwhelmed by the black and red outlined beams. You're tougher than I expected you to be. C.C. thought in the midst of her maneuvering. An anticipating smirk soon formed on her face. Let's see if you can keep up as well...

Moving through the homing beams at the Jikisanshiyo's far greater than average top speed, she returned fire with ease. The Mordred again raised its shield, but that didn't matter to C.C. as she moved right behind the purple giant, bringing her radiant wave rockets to bear. However, right as she pulled the trigger, the Mordred twisted around to its side and reformed its "Blaze Luminous", deflecting the shot intended for the cockpit, before turning full return fire from its chest launchers. Too close to maneuver around them, C.C. threw up her own radiant wave shield and let the beams impact against it.

From there Mordred continued to fired off its homing beams pumping shot after shot against the shield. C.C. felt annoyance rise up within her as she found herself being forced to abandon her defense and go for evasion again, almost wishing that she hadn't taken out the Mordred's stark hadron cannon so that it didn't have to use the same weapons over and over again. She especially felt her heart catch when one of the beams nearly struck her unit's left arm; at that point, she realized she couldn't keep fighting this thing forever and in a test of endurance between the two machines, the Knight of Six's power oriented steed would easily outlast her own mobility oriented unit. As such, she repeated her original tactic, moving as close as she could and firing more shots, and again the Mordred was forced to reengage its shield, thus allowing C.C. to escape the barrage and return to her own offensive, which was signified when she managed to spear the Mordred's left arm with a linear shot, the limb detonating not long after.

In response to the loss of its limb, the Mordred's emerald eyes flared up, as if signifying fury at being wounded for a second time, while in its cockpit Anya's own eyes gleamed with certain malice toward her opponent. "Die." she said simply and emotionlessly, before arcing up on her control sticks and then tapping both rollerball triggers.

In a swift motion, the assault knightmare launched up into the air, faster than C.C. thought it could move, and then began firing off its homing beams in rapid succession, a literal rain of black beams to fall upon the impetuous enemy knightmare. C.C. cursed at the sight of the incoming beams; she had not expected the Mordred to be capable of that either. With that she kicked the Jikisanshiyo's air glide system to full power and zoomed off through the sky, the beams being unable to arch around tight enough to follow her. Even so, the purple knightmare only continued to spray out more firepower, and C.C. soon ended up being forced to climb and then descend again in order to keep from being struck. At one point she attempted to move at the Mordred from the side and get a shot into its right hip, but was unable to get a clear enough aim before having to evade another wave of beam fire. This happened again when she attempted to strike at the cockpit pod from overhead, in which the Britannian unit angled itself upward and shot another wave at her, again forcing her away.

"You really are persistent, even for a Round." C.C. managed to utter with some annoyance, at the same time starting to wish she had gone after the Tristan instead and let Kallen or Tohdoh deal with this monstrosity. There was just something unsatisfying about fighting an opponent whose only real means of attacking was spamming large amounts of firepower and then ducking behind a shield whenever the return fire came. Such as it was when she ducked under the next barrage and swept around underneath the Mordred, where she moved to spear it directly through its pelvic area, likely the least armored portion of the whole knightmare. But again the Mordred angled itself toward her and fired first, and C.C. grimaced as she threw her knightmare out of the line of fire, g-forces causing her strain. Unfortunately that strain was enough to cause her to pause for the briefest of moments, allowing one of the beams to strike against her own left arm, blowing away the sensor module mounted there and causing her whole knightmare to rock from the blast. Seeing its opponent finally incapacitated, albeit not for long, the Mordred moved in for the kill.

Then suddenly, the Mordred's head turned toward its back while it threw up a "Blaze Luminous" shield to cover its left side, just as several additional lines of bullet fire slammed into it. From the distance three standard black Akatsukis moved in at attack vector, their handguns continuing to blaze away shot after shot. "Leader!" Hannya Two called out as the trio flew around the Mordred.

Despite their assistance, C.C. felt herself frown softly. "I thought I ordered you to attack the main forces."

"We already dealt with most of the fifth generation types!" Hannya Four replied while she made her next attack and evaded the Mordred's counter. "And it's not every day we get to take down a Round!"

"Besides, you shouldn't fight this kind of opponent by yourself Lead!" Hannya Three also sounded off while she attacked. "You're not immortal you know!"

It took some effort, but C.C. managed to hold herself back from rolling her eyes at that very ironic statement. At the same time however, she wasn't unappreciative of her subordinates' aid; maybe it would actually be enough to bring down this particular Knight of the Round. "Move to tessen formation and open up! Don't let it overwhelm you!" she ordered as she returned to the fight herself.

Sugiyama grimaced as he saw another Akatsuki get cut down from enemy fire. In response to the death of a comrade, he turned a shot a rocket from his bazooka directly into the offending Sutherland's side, obliterating the whole frame in one shot before flying by. Beside him, Inoue's Jikisanshiyo followed up by opening fire with its handgun, raining bullets into any Britannian knightmares in front of them and clearing a path to fly through, which several other Black Knight units followed upon with great speed.

Directly in front of them, Sugiyama watched in near desperation as the image of the Avalon's orange hull became larger and larger in his main monitor. The enemy cruiser was still attacking the Ikaruga at this point, and the Ikaruga herself was obviously not holding out well against its bow cannon, evident of the smoke trail coming out from its starboard side. If left unattended, the Britannian cruiser would eventually shoot the Black Knight battleship out of the sky, but neither Sugiyama nor Inoue had any intention of leaving it unattended. Even so, Sugiyama could not get rid of the growing knot in his gut as he closed in onto the cruiser, looking more and more monstrous as it came into view; the memories of its passing over Tokyo Settlement eight years ago were bad enough, but he also had to contend with the fact that it was equipped with full "Blaze Luminous" shielding and more anti-air weaponry than an entire fortress. Needless to say, he had high doubts that he or his comrades would be able to do heavy damage, if any damage.

And yet again, he had to try. They had to try, and the sight of the damaged Ikaruga was more the enough incentive for any of them.

"Move in and engage at will!" Sugiyama called out over the radio, giving the awaited command to the other Akatsukis around him. As the Black Knight frames closed in on their single target, fire ignited from Avalon's CIWS and missile ports, raining bullets and missiles into the paths of the attackers. Sugiyama put his unit into evasion, as did Inoue and many others, while those less fortunate were cut down in a matter of moments. At this, Both Black Knight commanders forced themselves to ignore the deaths, even as the number of flashes increased as they came closer to their target, instead focusing on damaging if not destroying their quarry.

Once his sensors indicated he was in range, Sugiyama brought up his bazooka and fired off a pair of shots into the Avalon's side, only for both rockets to be repelled by a transparent green hexagon, while the nearest CIWS turrets shifted their aim to target him. Suppressing a growl in anger, Sugiyama had his Jikisanshiyo bank while simultaneously bringing up its radiant wave shield, deflecting the oncoming bullets while firing another group of shots from the bazooka. And yet again, what rockets managed to get past the CIWS barrage were immediately deflected by the "Blaze Luminous", as were Inoue's shots alongside his and the other attacks into the side.

Sugiyama grit his teeth at the sight of the explosions being repelled by the shield, then pushing his Jikisanshiyo into a full horizontal climb. Two more Sutherlands attempted to intercept him, but he cut them down with his handgun as he passed. A few moments later he was above the Avalon, looking down at its top hull, just as he fired more rockets. Again his shots were blocked by the cruiser's shields and again the counterattack came, this time in the form of streaking missiles. Sugiyama cursed and brought his handgun back online, firing sprays to cut down the missiles, but he was unable to destroy the last two with that barrage. Instead he went into a swooping dive just as they were about to impact and evaded them neatly, all the while using his newly gained momentum to continue his attack against the cruiser in a dive bomb maneuver.

Almost in a rhythm, Sugiyama tapped his trigger assembly repeatedly as he flew by the cruiser's top hull, sending rocket after rocket down into it. Yet no matter how many shots he fired the shield that encased the whole ship refused to give way, and the cruiser only continued its own attack against the Black Knights' mothership. The same went for the other Black Knight units' attacks, and it didn't help that the Ikaruga's own fire was also being deflected, though this was partly due to the Avalon's constant maneuvering around her and therefore rotating any damage done to its shielding. In desperation Sugiyama's eyes scanned his monitors, without moving too far away from the enemy vessel, to see if his sensors had picked up a crack or at least a weakpoint in the "Blaze Luminous" shielding, but he found nothing; the shields were losing power in different areas, sure, but not enough for his shots to make a difference.

"Is there no weakness to this thing!?" Sugiyama hollered as he continued his attack, managing to cause the mirror-like hexagon shield to remain visible momentarily. Unfortunately, he was so caught up in the ineffectiveness of his own attack that Sugiyama did not notice he had maneuvered too close to one of the CIWS emplacements, and before he realized his error a rain of bullet fire took off his right arm and the lower half of his knightmare. With alarms blaring, Sugiyama threw up his radiant wave shield again, but the continuous stream of fire eventually broke through and dug into his knightmare's torso. "Damn it...!" he cursed as he pulled the eject switch, moments before his knightmare exploded.

The only thing that kept his cockpit pod from being shot out of the air was Inoue's Akatsuki swooping in, grabbing the pod, and then climbing away before the CIWS could shoot her down as well, and not without firing three more rockets of her own into the shield, even though the result was the same. Beside her, another fellow Akatsuki was cut down by the fire, and she snarled at the flash. "Nothing's getting through!" she called out, as she weaved around additional bullets and missiles fired at her. "And we're running out of time!"

No sooner than Inoue made that outburst did the Avalon line up for another shot with its main cannon, sending another blast directly into the Ikaruga's port side. The blast took out the launch catapult deck there and much of the ship's side armor, as well as causing the ship to list starboard from the shock. Fortunately the Ikaruga managed to fire a barrage of HV shots to cause the Avalon to veer away before another shot could be fired, but the damage was still done.

Sugiyama turned away from the sight and closed his eyes to still his anxiety. Is this going to be it for us...?

Pearl Harbor Naval Base
County of Crusoe, Area 7 (Sandwich Islands), Holy Britannian Empire
April 11, 2025

With landspinners grinding against the ground with enough force to leave heated tire marks, the Lancelot continued through the inferno that surrounded it, searching for its quarry within the flames. To and fro its head turned about every so often, casting its glowing emerald eyes from one direction to the other, while just as often its factsphere sensors deployed from their chest housings, scanning the immediate area and feeding data directly back to the cockpit monitors for the devicer's consideration. And less often did the white knightmare, seemingly expecting its enemy to leap out of the fire and shadows at any given moment, swing one of its maser vibration swords around in defensive motion, as if the frame itself were channeling the growing aggression and the ferocity of the one housed in its back pod. Cast against the flames, it would have been a frightening image, had there been anyone present to behold it.

The visage of Suzaku Kururugi was not much different from his knightmare's hellish image, yet still tapered down by the limits of his body. His eyes, while remaining fixed over his various monitors and control panels, looking for a sign or a hint at his quarries location obsessively, spoke of a strain in their gaze that Suzaku himself could not possibly have put into words. His breathing, labored from both combat and his wrath, came out in rapid yet forceful heaves, to the point that it seemed like each intake of oxygen and exhaling of carbon dioxide caused him pain within. His hands, wrapped around the control sticks of his loyal steed as they always were, seemed to gripped their respective mounts in a painful fashion of their own, where it appeared that if Suzaku could hold them any further, the sticks would only crumple and embed themselves within his palm and fingers. And if one looked at the Knight of Seven's face again, one would have seen how it was all covered with sweat and bruising from the still in progress battle, to the point that slight traces of bloodied scarring could be seen across Suzaku's left cheek and lower lip, while hints of exhaustion could be observed slowly coming upon his expression, circumventing the adrenaline and the inherent fury if only by the smallest amounts possible.

And yet, in spite of the pain and overexertion that was evident so clearly, the rage Suzaku felt within did all but eliminate his exhaustion and keep him focused and completely devoted to the slaying of his opponent. It wasn't just the memories of Lelouch's deeds from eight years ago that kept him in this battle now, but the pure bloodlust and desire to inflict pain upon him for those deeds that kept the Knight of Seven driven. He could almost literally taste blood in his mouth, as well as feel his heart race and his body grow to near numbness with his want to make Lelouch suffer, to utterly destroy him and everything he stood for, while every inch of his mind and being became devoted to that single task. In that regard, whatever pain the Knight of Seven did feel came not from his physical wounds, but instead his opponent's withdrawal from the fight, as each moment that Suzaku was not attempting to dismantle the Gawain with his swords meant the inferno he felt within would remain unsatisfied, all the while his bloodlust grew like a starving man's hunger.

With that last thought, the rational side of Suzaku Kururugi knew an undeniable fact: he had at long last given into his own rage, and that if he remained in such a state it would not be long before his ever growing madness consumed him as Bismarck had warned him. Knowing this however, he could honestly say he no longer cared about it; as far as he was concerned now, there was no more reason to hold himself back, to pretend that his accumulated rage from eight years ago never existed and put on the air of the knight that upheld the name of his lost princess and his chosen country with honor and duty. Instead, as he was now, standing amongst fire and ruin and searching desperately for his cloaked foe, Suzaku existed solely to destroy his single enemy, and that enemy was Lelouch vi Britannia. And to fulfill that objective in this very night, the same objective he had failed to accomplish within the caverns of Kaminejima not long ago, he gladly surrendered himself to his anger and hatred, such that they would fuel and sustain him from then on.

"Where are you Lelouch!?" Suzaku bellowed, as he swung his right handed sword around, as if he had expected the Gawain to leap out at him at that very moment. "Come out and face me!"

Only silence greeted him, though that was to be expected. Even so, Suzaku could feel Lelouch was still out there, somewhere, watching and waiting for him to step into whatever trap he had set. If that were such the case, then Suzaku would be damned sure to draw him out first. "Eight years!" he hollered, as the Lancelot drove further through the fire. "Eight damned years I had to play the part of your best friend, even when deep down I wanted to strangle you every time I saw you! I had to pretend you were innocent of it all: that you never killed Euphie and tarnished her good name, or led my people to their deaths or caused Japan's destruction, even when deep down I could never forget your hand in any of it!"

He twisted the Lancelot around when he thought he saw a shadow move from behind a nearby patch of fire, but by the time his main camera was able to focus on it, he saw nothing. The sneer on his lips only deepened as a result. "Do you know how hard it was for me to pretend, to act like none of it involved you!?" he glowered, continuing his search. "And to hold myself back from killing you every time your back was turned!?"

Again silence answered him, but even so he knew Lelouch was listening to him. "No more!" Suzaku declared with furious disposition. "No more acts, no more charades! No more holding back and making believe it all never happened! This time I will finish you, just as I should have done that night, after I stood by and watched her die!"

As he took a breath, Suzaku unconsciously grasped at the knight pendent on his pilot suit, as he began to speak again. "I said before I am no longer worthy of the mantle of Euphemia's chosen... That there is too much blood on my hands for me to ever hold her name again...!" His fingers grew tighter around the pendent, until it felt as though its edges would pierce through his pilot suit and cut into his skin. "But even so, here and now, I will call out her name one last time and carry out my final duty as her knight!"

Sensing some nearby movement after uttering that last word, Suzaku soon brought the Lancelot around to a nearby hangar, one of the few that somehow remained intact, scanning the inside and around it for his prey, all the while continuing on. "I will avenge her, and those who died with her, so that they may finally find peace, knowing their murderer is now vanquished at long last! The mistake of Kaminejima will not be repeated a second time!"

The Lancelot again deployed its factsphere sensors, but they could not pick anything up beside the surrounding blaze. Feeling his fury grow even further as a result, Suzaku shouted once more. "So I say again, come out and face me, Lelouch...no, Zero...!" he bellowed. "...so that I can finally send you to hell, where you belong!"

"Suzaku...!" a familiar voice soon spoke out from the darkness. Suddenly the threat indicators to the Knight of Seven's right started screaming as his sensors picked up on the Gawain's signal again, right as it came crashing through the side of the hangar and burst through the flames like a demon out of the inferno. Just as Suzaku registered its entry, the Gawain fired twin streams of hadron fire at him, to which he just barely evaded by reversing his landspinners and dashing out of their wake. In turn, the Gawain continued its attack by reactivating one of its "Spathas" and charging forward again, making a mighty swipe that again the smaller Lancelot just managed to evade by skating back, the golden blade just passing the white knightmare's faceplate.

Just as Suzaku was about to line up for a counterattack however, his auditory equipment picked up the sounds of explosions from above him, followed by a beeped warning from his sensors that the ceiling was about to collapse right on top of him. Suzaku sneered at that; of course Lelouch would have used the brief respite to set up a trap. However, Suzaku was not deterred, as he easily zigzagged around the falling debris with a practiced hand. If anything, he felt more annoyance at this tactic than he felt wrath. "Is that the best you can do Lelouch!?" he called out over the radio, as his eyes weaved back and forth between his monitors to keep track of the debris. "Repeating the same tricks you used back in Japan!? I thought you were more devious than that!"

"More than you know." came the sneering reply, and all at once Suzaku realized what was about to happen next. Coming straight from behind him, the Gawain moved in and reached out with its right hand, grasping the Lancelot by its head before the Knight of Seven could counter. This was followed by the larger knightmare literally driving its former brethren's head first directly into the hangar floor, the physical shock of which almost caused Suzaku to regurgitate, before pulling the knightmare back up and throwing it backward, causing it to fall on its cockpit pod a fair distance away.

It was only when Suzaku managed to regain his focus did he see the image of the black and gold titan charging at him again, this time both "Spathas" drawn for the kill. Out of desperation Suzaku triggered the thruster pods on his float system and had the Lancelot jet back, again just barely dodging the Gawain's cross slash attack, but not without leaving an 'X' shaped gash in the middle of its chest plate.

Fury intensified, Suzaku roared like an angered lion as he reoriented his knightmare back upright and prepared to charge back at the Gawain, both MVS ready to turn his adversary into black shavings. Unfortunately for him however, he was once more exactly where Lelouch had planned for him to end up, signified when Lelouch brought up his crown shaped detonator once again and tapped the top red button. A second later, another line of explosive charges sounded off, all of which having been previously placed where the Lancelot had just landed; as a result, the collective explosions shook the white knightmare to its very sakuradite core and stunned Suzaku momentarily.

And again Suzaku recovered his vision just in time to see the Gawain charging right at him through the flames, only this time instead of the larger knightmare attacking him with a "Spatha", it continued its charge until it body slammed the white knightmare and sent it through the hangar wall, cockpit first. The magnetic restraints in Suzaku's pilot chair managed to keep him from banging his head into his control panel from the recoil, but they did little to prevent Suzaku's body from being thrown around the confined space, and it was all he could do just keep himself conscious, let alone grounded to the present, especially when the blow had also caused his head to slam back into his chair with enough force to send any normal pilot into unconsciousness. Suzaku managed to keep himself from blacking out from that last part, but he could not keep himself from coughing out blood from blow.

In turn, the Gawain continued its charge until Lancelot was firmly slammed into a nearby power station, which had originally been meant as a recharging center for vehicles and was still standing even amidst the blaze. Once the Lancelot was firmly planted against the station's center, the Gawainjumped back and let loose both hadron cannons, causing station erupted into a nova-like blast, one that easily encompassed the white knightmare and much of the surrounding area. It then followed this up by launching its slash harkens into an adjacent hangar just behind the epicenter, then retracting them and causing the entire side of that hangar to rip and fall on top of the newly born flames, engulfing them entirely in a pseudo-burial.

For the briefest of moments, Lelouch looked over that rubble and wondered if his strategy had worked; that he had finally beaten the Lancelot and Suzaku with one of his more basic schemes. But then that question was soon answered when his threat indicator came to life again.

A new explosion soon sounded from the center of the rubble, followed by the Lancelot emerging out from the blaze similarly to the Gawain moments earlier, emerald eyes flared with vehemence and looking as "pissed off" as any knightmare could appear. Despite its survival however, Lelouch's plan had proven relatively successful; it was now missing its left arm below the elbow and looking far worse for wear than before, while much of its frame was pitted with cracks, gashes. However, one noticed that while the sides of the frame were damaged, as well as having lost much of its white and gold paint scheme, the center remained relatively undamaged from the attack. It was only in that instance Lelouch remembered the Conquista's torso mounted "Blaze Luminous" and how it covered the entire front of the machine, causing him to bite back a curse at that overlooked detail as he went on the defensive.

"Clever Lelouch, but you'll have to do better than that!" Suzaku screamed as he charged and brought his left foot mounted "Blaze Luminous" online before executing a blurred roundhouse kick. The attack came so fast that Lelouch was unable to block it in time, and the resulting kick immediately smashed into the Gawain's left shoulder, taking out the hadron cannon mounted there. Lelouch attempted to counter this by firing his right hadron cannon at point blank, but Suzaku responded by firing his left hip mounted slash harken into the cannon's maw, causing it to detonate prematurely and destroy the cannon, though sacrificing the harken in the process.

"No more hadron cannons!" Suzaku growled as he continued his assault. As if responding to the "pain" of its wounds and Suzaku's insolence, the Gawain's eyes seemingly ignited with crimson while its left arm Spatha Luminous rose up to strike back. However, Suzaku easily saw that attack coming, and instantly brought his remaining MVS around to slash into the "Spatha's" base generator on the forearm, causing the blade to flicker out of existence.

Grimacing from the additional damage, Lelouch returned fire with both sets of slash harkens, sending the finger-like rocket propelled anchors forward. Only the sight of the Gawain bringing its arms up gave Suzaku enough warning to evade in time by climbing back up into the sky, as Lelouch's previous gambit had also disabled his main "Blaze Luminous" projector as well. A moment later, the Gawain gave chase and smashed its remaining "Spatha" against the Lancelot's singular MVS, the swordfight between them continuing.

Though reduced to one blade, a few harkens and their respective shielding each, the two continued their melee duel as both their knightmares spiraled back into the air at great speed, in spite of the great amount of damage done to either machine. Yet even with Suzaku's rage continuing to energize him, it was not long before Lelouch, once more through his instinctive knowledge of his former friend's fighting style, was able to regain the upper hand in spite of the Knight of Seven's blind rage. Almost like a matador against a raging bull, Lelouch dodged or deflected the Lancelot's attacks with practiced grace, while at the same time making his own counterattacks against the white knightmare's least guarded areas, namely the left side. Though he was still unable to keep up with Suzaku's performance level, especially when the latter was in a berserker state such as he was, Lelouch was still able to cut off the Lancelot's left shoulder pauldron as well as nearly claim the left wing of the float system during the exchange of cuts and slashes.

Even so, Suzaku was far from letting himself get outdone, and in the presence of his adversary's better coordinated attacks and counters, he soon step up his offensive and launched an even greater volume of attacks with whatever remaining weapons he had available. When it became apparent to Lelouch that Suzaku was going to overwhelm him with sheer volume and ferocity alone, he brought the Gawain's leg up and let loose a massive kick into the Lancelot's side, one that caused it superconductor drive to flicker in power. As a result, the Lancelot temporarily lost its float system, and so dropped out of the sky again and landed in a crater back on the compound of Ford Island. With only milliseconds to spare before Suzaku recovered, Lelouch launched the Gawain downward, ready to plant his knightmare's right foot up right onto the Lancelot's head and crush the entire upper body in one blow. Unfortunately however, he wasn't quick enough, and Suzaku managed to raise his right arm and engage the "Blaze Luminous" in time to deflect Lelouch's attack, though the Gawain continued to hold its foot against the shield thereafter.

"You've really fallen, Suzaku...!" Lelouch stated with a mixture of disgust, anger and recognition, all the while he continued to put more strength into the Gawain's foot, as if he were going to drive the entire Lancelot into the concrete. "I always knew that there was something broken with you, ever since I first 'met' you... But now I see just how far separated you've become, both from my friend and the man Euphie loved!"

Suzaku glowered from Lelouch speaking her name once again. "So what if I have!?" the Knight of Seven growled, trying to throw the Gawain's foot away, but failing to bring enough strength into the Lancelot's arm to do so. "What difference does it make to the great Zero if his enemy has 'fallen'!?"

"Damn it Suzaku, don't you see what you're becoming!? Don't you see how you're being consumed by your own anger and hatred!?" Lelouch shot back in near equal fury, again cursing his former friend's stubbornness. "Back in Japan, and even Africa, you always fought with calm composure, always remaining in control of yourself and never letting emotion overwhelm you in battle!

"But look at you now!" Lelouch's tone heightened as he continued. "Throwing away that composure as well as your compassion, while letting your blind wrath overwhelm and control you! No longer caring about your comrades or your friends, while only carrying out destruction like that which destroyed your home country!" he shouted, before looking back with a streak of fear in his eyes. "How is that any different from a monster from a fairy tale!? The kind that exists only to be destroyed by the noble knight in the end!?"

That single line of words brought back the memory of his encounter with Bismarck. However, instead of feeling the discomfort as he did back then, Suzaku found himself uncaring toward the Knight of One's words or Lelouch's in the present. This was only signified further when the fury deepened in Suzaku's expression. "And I say again, what does it matter!?"

Then with a massive push, the Lancelot threw the Gawain's foot off its shield, and Lelouch responded by reversing his landspinners as the white knightmare got back up moved to strike with its sword. Both blades clashed as the duel continued yet again on ground level. "You said it best Lelouch! For all the gentleness and compassion I held in the past, I accomplished nothing with any of it!" Suzaku bellowed as he charged. "So what good is it for me to hold onto them, especially against someone like you!?"

Lelouch tried to respond to that, but Suzaku stepped up his attacks afterward, and he was forced to concentrate on defending against them. "I will not be held back like I was in Japan!" Suzaku ranted on as he made one sword strike after another. "If my compassion will only weigh me down, I will cast it aside! And if my fury will drive me forward, then I will gladly give into it!"

The Lancelot then leapt up into the air to perform a downward slash that would have cut straight down the middle of the Gawain, but Lelouch was quick enough to reach his knightmare's left arm out and form an ADF shield to deflect the white knightmare's attack. "Even if I must sacrifice my very being to see any change brought to this world...!" Suzaku continued to bellow as he shot around to the Gawain's left side in an attempt to cut it at the hip, only for Lelouch to jump back before his blade could land. "...or just to destroy you, then I will do it!"

At long last, a slash got through, leaving a deep downward gash through the Gawain's left eye, ironically mirroring Lelouch's own wound, much to Suzaku's disgust as he forced back the memories of that occurrence from his mind. "I will leave my weaknesses behind and become a true monster if that is what it takes!" Suzaku declared as he continued his attack.

Lelouch only felt his own wrath toward Suzaku grow as he heard those words, the words of a man that had sold himself over to darkness. Such as it was symbolized by the glare in his eyes taking on similar characteristics of pure fury and his voice taking on similar bellowing qualities to what Suzaku's had already developed, all the while the Gawain's remaining eye flashed with equal vehemence. "You idiot!" he cried back as he began his renewed counterattack, charging back at the Lancelot. "Are you even listening to yourself!? Can you really not see!?"

Suzaku's only reply was to roar back and bring his sword to deflect the Gawain's attack, then follow back up with his own.

Britannian air cruiser Avalon
Pacific Ocean
April 11, 2025

Talia watched with inward satisfaction as another blast erupted from the Black Battleship's side, all caused by the latest VARIS attack, much to the collective jubilance of the rest of her bridge crew. In response, the Black Battleship almost visibly shuddered from the attack and attempted to veer off from the line of fire, all the while returning fire with its remaining HV cannons and a spray of missiles. A spirited defensive effort, but proven utterly futile when the HV shots exploded harmlessly against the Britannian cruiser's shielding like those before it and the missiles were cut out of the air by the cruiser's CIWS emplacements. The Avalon continued its attack from there, resulting in additional damage to the enemy battleship.

Despite her own disposition toward the intolerable, obsessive little man, Talia had to admit that Lloyd Asplund had really come through with this new invention of his, even if it was just an oversized, ship mounted version of the Lancelot's primary firearm. On paper it functioned like any other VARIS based weapon, but with its increased in size the VARIS cannon also gained a great increase in power, allowing it to shoot projectiles at even faster velocities than an HV cannon and over a much larger range as well. Yet besides these things, the increase in power also led to another innovation: a far denser MSV particle encasement around each shell at firing point, which combined with the aforementioned velocity allows the projectiles to literally pierce through nearly every known form of energy shielding. This alone made the VARIS cannon perhaps the most innovative weapon ever created in the modern era, such that some, including its creator, believe it to be even more powerful than the hadron cannon. Needless to say, Talia herself had originally been skeptical of the claim, but now she had to admit that while the cannon had not taken out its current target in one shot, it was in its own way far more destructive.

Of course, the cannon's ability to circumvent energy shielding had also made it one of Britannia's most secret weapons to date, such that while the Avalon was currently the only ship to be equipped with it, Talia had been under strict orders to only utilize the weapon when permission from High Command had been authenticated. By using it now, she had flatly went against that order, but at this point Talia did not care, as the survival of her ship and crew came first before anything else, including orders from rear echelon officers. Besides, the order was originally meant to ensure that the EU stayed in the dark about the cannon's existence, and while the enemy being fought in this battle were indeed worthy opponents to contend with, they certainly weren't of the European Armed Forces. Not that it would have made a difference anyway.

"Hard to port!" Talia instinctively called out as she saw the enemy battleship coming about again in an attempt to brings it hadron cannons to bare. Instantly the Avalon tilted to the left and veered off from its attack run, while the cruiser's HV cannons sounded off in place of her formerly secret weapon, ensuring that the battleship would not be able to turn after her. Meanwhile the Somerset moved in from the battleship's opposite side and fired off her own cannons and missiles at the behemoth, taking additional pressure off the Avalon while working over the enemy ship's starboard shields. This effectively sandwiched the battleship between the two Britannian ships, and while its shields held to the conventional weapon attacks like they had done throughout the battle, though it was obvious that this was only a small delay from the inevitable.

In response to being caught between the Britannian cruiser and destroyer, the battleship turned the bulk of its firepower upon the Somerset, and under a concentrated barrage its bow "Blaze Luminous" began to falter. Naturally the destroyer moved to ascend over the battleship to evade, but it wasn't able to do so without taking some damage to its bow, costing it one of its HV cannons and chunks of its nose area and launch deck. A timely spray of vertically launched missiles from the battleship's part caused additional damage to the ventral hull as well, nearly taking out underside bridge module in the process. Talia could not keep herself from looking up at the destroyer as it emerged with battle damage, even if it wasn't nearly as damaged as their quarry.

Resisting to the last, huh? Talia thought as the Somerset swept away over her own ship as well, her lips folding into a grim frown as she saw the smoke trailing from struck parts of the hull. Her eyes then angled back on the Black Battleship once more, where they regained their predatory nature. "Bring us around to their stern, flank speed!"

A moment later the Avalon pitched forward at great speed as Henry maneuvered her around the enemy battleship's fire, bringing the cruiser to its opponent's rear once more. Seeing this, the battleship attempted to evade by turning starboard, but the Avalon was again much more maneuverable, and it didn't take long for the Britannian airship to reorient itself along the battleship's backside. Talia could only suppress a scowl as she gazed out at the black warship's vulnerable aft from the bridge monitor. "Fire!"

Black Knights air battleship Ikaruga
Pacific Ocean
April 11, 2025

Another blast rocked the entire Ikaruga, causing the lights and electronics in the bridge to flicker in and out from the resulting power fluctuations. Needless to say, panic ensured. "We've lost power on decks five through eight!" somebody shouted out in warning. "Shield generators three and six are red lining!"

"HV cannon eight has been destroyed! Damage reported in engine room!" another shouted out, just as another shot slammed into the Ikaruga's aft. Sparks flew from one area of the bridge and a nearby console exploded, one that had thankfully not been manned at that moment.

"Continue evasive maneuvers!" Minami ordered, forcing himself further back into his chair as yet another shot blasted into the ship, causing a section of the bridge ceiling to explode from the power shock, wiring falling out soon after. The main monitor also flickered from the shock, partially blurring the image of the Avalon at their stern. "And bring us about! We have to get them on our bow!"

"It's no good Colonel! They're too maneuverable; I can't shake them off our backs!" George called up from the helm section as he struggled to keep the ship under control.

The bridge again shook from another shockwave, causing Ohgi to speak up this time. "Contact the Akagi and Hiei and recall them to our position!"

Mutsuki only shook her head in frustration as she gazed over her console. "Our long-range array is down! I can only establish short-range communication!"

"Can you contact Zero?" Ohgi demanded as the bridge shook from another shot.

The Ikaruga's communications operator again shook her head. "Negative! I'm not reading the Gawain's position!"

Ohgi felt himself swallow as his options drained away one after the other. We can't use Raikous at this range, and our Gefjun missiles would hurt us as well as them. Another rumbling, another nearby explosion. Damn it Kaname, think!

An internal communication circuit suddenly beeped open. "Engine Room to Bridge! We just lost the main drive system!"

"What about the secondaries!" Minami demanded without pause.

"They're engaged...!" the engineer on the other side replied, as another shot struck the ship and caused it to rock. "...but I don't know how long they'll hold!"

At that, Minami looked back at Ohgi, and only to him and away from his crew did he show the darkeness in his own gaze. Ohgi had to fight himself from reflecting that look while providing a stable answer to Minami's unspoken question. "They will not be looking to take prisoners." Ohgi stated, again finding his words alien to his ears for their calm and collectedness. "We go down fighting."

Nodding grimly, Minami turned back to the rest of his crew and returned to barking orders. "Angle the bow toward the Somerset!" he commanded. "Prepare to redirect all available power to the hadron cannons!"

C.C.'s felt her teeth grit together as she and her fellow Hannya Squadron pilots continued firing their guns, sending more hypersonic shells and rockets sailing at the Mordred while weaving in and out around their opponent, taking advantage of their knightmares' superior mobility and at the same time attempting to find an opening in the Knight of Six's defense. Unfortunately however, the Mordred's "Blaze Luminous" was still enough to deflect their shots, and every small pause on any one of their parts was followed upon by a barrage of homing beams. This was the immediate case for C.C. herself, to which she put her knightmare into overdrive and spiraled past the beam waves, one after the other, until she gained another clear shot at the Mordred itself, albeit still not quick enough on the draw to get past its shield.

Yet despite the lack of damage done to her knightmare since losing the stark hadron cannon, Anya was far from unaffected by those strange units' continuous attacks. She was sweating profusely now, caused from her body's own trembling and the heightened beating of her heart. Adrenaline was now streaming through her body, causing her senses to intensify to a level beyond what she was used to as well as forcing her, driving her to continue fighting. And her breathing, usually a calm and composed function on her part, was now coming in long, rapid cycles, to the point that she could literally taste her own body heat in the cramped confines of the Mordred's cockpit. All this occurred while she continued to attack and defend against her opponents, whose names and faces she did not know, yet were skilled enough to drive her into exerting herself far beyond the amount of effort she usually put into battle.

One in particular was proving to be more skilled than the other, which Anya suspected had been the one she had been fighting up to the point the other three had shown up. Unlike the new additions however, something in her felt a sense of familiarity with that unit, as if she somehow recognized its piloting style. But of course, that was impossible, or at least that's what she told herself as her knightmare continued to be hammered upon.

Soon enough another spray of homing beams lanced out from the Mordred, once again putting C.C. on the evasive while her subordinates moved in at different angles to support. The assault oriented knightmare responded to these by firing additional beams at all of them, sending the Hannya knightmares back on the evasive as well. Immediately C.C. saw her opportunity, and so reached her left arm down to her left hip and drew her katen yaibatou as she charged in.

"I'm moving in close!" C.C. shouted out to her subordinates as she put power into her air glide system. Far faster than a normal Akatsuki could manage, the Jikisanshiyo shot through the fire, chain blade aglow, and moved to strike the Mordred at close-range while the other three regrouped. At first the Mordred remained where it was, as Anya believed its attempt to cut its armor would be no more successful than those who had already tried. That changed however when the specialized knightmare somersaulted around its hulking opponent, whirled around, and attempted to make a cut at one of the small float system wings on either side of the cockpit. Anya's eyes widened in horror at that; while the cockpit itself had the same amount of armor protection as the rest of the knightmare, the float system was much more vulnerable. As such, she quickly had the Mordred fly forward, the enemy's resulting slash coming short, before the larger knightmare twisted around to again fire more homing beams.

"So you can dodge after all." C.C. commented, before firing more shots, forcing the Mordred to raise its shield again. Then with certain grace she charged again and slammed her still drawn katen yaibatou against the emerald shield that encompassed the entire frame. Sparks flew as the chainsword grinded against the energy shield, the Jikisanshiyo's mono-eye staring directly into the Mordred's twin eye cameras as she continued her attack. "You're just full of surprises, aren't you...?"

And then, before Anya could reply or C.C. could follow up on that comment, both suddenly felt a psychic wave wash over them with the force of a tsunami. What sounded like a woman screaming echoed in the background, and their respective visions became immersed with flashing colors, causing C.C.'s gaze to turn up into the air in unrelenting shock while her hair parted to reveal her Code, which was now aglow. What...?

Suddenly feeling as though her head were about explode, Anya's hands retracted from her controls and clenched the sides of her forehead, her eyes now alight with horror as various images flashed through her conscious mind. Images of what appeared to be Lelouch as a child in various scenes, the first of him standing in front of a rose garden, while another showed him running around a meadow with his sister, still alive at that time, running ahead of him, and then another showed the two with a much younger Princess Euphemia hosting a tea party. There were also scenes of other people as well, such as a group of shocked noblewomen looking up in horror while a shadow of a knightmare loomed over them, the tearful forms of Lelouch and Nunnally at their feet, while another showed a much younger Emperor Charles reaching out with a gloved hand, and another showing a child with long blonde hair aiming a machine gun toward her line of sight...

"What...what is this...!?" Anya let out as the images continued to erupt through her mind. They came and went without control, experiences from a life and perspective that wasn't hers overflowing into her mind, and no matter how much she struggled she could not hold them back.

In her own cockpit, C.C. also saw the images come and go from her mind, but unlike her enemy, she immediately realized their significance. "So, this is where you've been all this time...!" she called out through her own mind as the shadowed image of a black haired woman in an orange gown appeared before her, looking toward her from a field of light.

And then upon that image materializing, the pressure increased their flow tenfold, causing Anya to scream out from the intensity, before it all came to a head with her losing consciousness. Without her control, the Mordred's shield disengaged as did its altitude control, and the whole knightmare dropped from the sky. C.C. could only watch in uncharacteristic shock as the knightmare disappeared through the clouds below them, likely to fall into the sea unless some form of control were taken before impact.

Now alone again, C.C. found herself panting and feeling overwhelmed, the psychic backlash still linger in her mind even though the images had long since ceased. Of all the things I thought I would see... she thought, as she touched a hand to her Code. I never thought I would end up finding you out here...!

"Hannya Lead, are you alright!" Hannya Two stated as her unit fell next to C.C.'s and reached a hand out to its commander's shoulder, while Yume and Meisa's units remained on standby.

C.C. blinked a few times to refocus before responding. "I'm here Hannya Two."

"What happened?" Hannya Two inquired, her unit's mono-eye staring down at where the Mordred fell. "You and the Mordred froze in place for almost a whole minute and then the Mordredjust stopped altogether."

"I don't know." C.C. lied, slowly rubbing her head to bring the last of the pain away.

"Lead, the Ikaruga!" Hannya Three's voice suddenly shouted out over the comm.

At that, both C.C. turned her knightmare's head to "look" at the direction that her sensors displayed the Ikaruga act, and all at once her expression went from dazed to grim as she beheld the damage done to the Black Knights' flagship. This was not helped by the fact her long-range sensors, as well as those of her subordinates, soon picked up upon the growing amount of damage done to the ship and soon established a readout on her main monitor.

"This is...!" Hannya Four let out a horrified curse as she read the amount of damage. The other two Hannya pilots held similar looks of despair.

While C.C.'s own expression remained poker faced, inside she felt the same sentiments. We really could go down this time. she thought grimly. "Let's go."

With that simple command, the four knightmares took off toward the battling warships at maximum velocity.

The Tristan again brought down its poleaxe blade onto the Guren's knife blade, driving the red knightmare back further in the sky. Kallen ground her teeth and had her knightmare ascend upward, firing a radiant wave stream as she did only for the Tristan to dodge, transform and give chase. Soon enough the Knight of Three over came her and swept in from the side, showering the Guren with fire from his knightmare's machine cannons, forcing Kallen to perform even greater evasions to avoid additional damage.

"I'm not playing around anymore...!" Gino called out as he charged, transforming the Tristan back into knightmare mode, redrawing his poleaxe and moving to bringing a blade down into the Guren's back. The Guren responded by flipping backward and knocking the poleaxe back with a well placed kick, then extending its claw to ensnare the Tristan in an inverted position. The Knight of Three, however, was more or less used to that tactic by now, and counted by knocking the Gurenaway with the pole portion of his weapon again. "This battle is going to end soon, and I'm going to make sure you're either a captive or a casualty when it does!"

Kallen only snarled in annoyance to her opponent as she reoriented the Guren and shot back, attempting another knife slash only for the Tristan to deflect her blow and then swing its main weapon around to counterattack. The strike was prevented when she reached her right arm up and engaged the surger, the resulting radiation funnel acting as an effective deflector against the blade. That didn't stop Gino however, who repeated his opponent's action and brought his knightmare's right leg up, knocking away the claw and then spinning the poleaxe around again to catch the Guren with the opposite blade. Only a reflexive parry with her fork knife kept Kallen from losing her units head from the resulting flash, but the force was enough that she was again knocked back.

"You have nowhere to run and nowhere to hide." Gino spoke again, his tone cold, serious and totally devoid of its original lightheartedness. As he spoke, the Tristan raised its poleaxe again and charged, continuing its attacks against the evading Guren. "Your forces are routed, your mothership about to be destroyed and any allies you may have are too far away to provide support."

The Guren attempted a spray shot with its surger, but Gino burst into action immediately when he caught glimpse of the metal rods folding out onto the claw, banking around the Guren and moving to bifurcate it in a single cut. Kallen was just as reactive however, jetting forward to avoid the cut, then spinning her machine a full one hundred eighty degrees and firing out her right arm, only for Gino to jump around it. "Meanwhile, our ships are still in the air, and Prince Schneizel's reinforcements are due to arrive any minute. Once they're here, you will be completely overwhelmed." He dove in and spun his poleaxe into a series of slashes, forcing the Guren back further.

"You're even more annoying than you were five minutes ago...!" Kallen responded with disdain as she held her knife in place again, both knightmares struggling to overcome their respective opponent in an apparent contest of mechanical strength.

Gino returned in kind by putting more power into the Tristan's float system, moving to drive the Guren down and open it up. "Don't you get it? There's no way you can save yourselves now!" he stated firmly as he put more power in, then releasing the hold and attacking. "It's over!"

As he called that last sentence out, the Tristan swatted the Guren away again and prepared to move in for the kill. For several moments, it seemed that the Tristan was indeed going to finish its opponent off, as the Guren was unable to reorient itself before the Britannian knightmare's strike. And yet, Kallen, as she caught sight of the Tristan readying itself to deliver a hammer blow directly into her unit's torso, called out with all the energy she could muster. "We haven't lost yet!"

And upon that cry, the sigil of Geass blazed to life in her left eye.

With a twirl of her knife, Kallen deflected the poleaxe blades away from her just before they could impale, allowing her to fire her harken directly into Tristan's head, smashing half its faceplate and knocking away the right golden horn, the recoil knocking the whole knightmare backward. Gino recovered from this however and charged again, feinting his first attack at the front only to move to strike at the cockpit from the right side.

As such, he was greatly surprised when Kallen, having long predicted his strategy, evaded his follow up attack by spinning the Guren away and simultaneously bringing its grenade launcher to bare, where she fired a single round directly into the Tristan's torso. The resulting explosion caused great damage to the knightmare as well as knocked out its altitude control, causing the whole frame to drop as Gino's head recoiled against his seat, letting out a pained "Geh!" and nearly blacking him out from the resulting physical shock.

From her perspective, Kallen could "see" that Gino was not yet defeated and was quickly recovering the Tristan from its drop, but she didn't care about him anymore. Instead, she concentrated her power around the Avalon, which was now attacking the Ikaruga directly from behind and remaining there in spite of the efforts to outmaneuver it, while the last Caerleon, as damaged as it was, moved back in to provide support against the battleship's port side. She inwardly flinched when she "saw" the exact amount of damage the Ikaruga had taken, and even moreso from the fact the battleship's main drive was beginning to fail while on the bridge, Minami had just gave the order to bring the ship around for a "final" hadron cannon shot on the Caerleon, he and the rest of the crew clearly intent on going out in a blaze of glory. Like hell Kallen was going to let that happen.

As such, Kallen quickly turned her eye on the Avalon herself, and in a matter of moments, found herself "gazing" into the inner workings of the cruiser, the very mechanics and power systems that allowed the cruiser to function now laid open for her to "see" and "behold". She saw the shells being loaded into its individual cannons before they were fired, the power conduits distributing energy from the main superconductor drive system all throughout the ship, and even the bridge crew's jubilation at the sight of the enemy warship wounded and in retreat from their attacks. But above all those things, she "saw" the "Blaze Luminous" shield that encompassed the vessel, which was otherwise invisible to the naked eye, as well as a certain key fact about them.

And it was through that realization that Kallen, now feeling certain hope rise from within her, "saw" how the Black Knights could still win.

"I'm not through yet!" Gino called out as the Tristan shot back up into the sky, now transformed and ready to resume the battle. Seeing his approach, Kallen gunned her thrusters and shot toward the Avalon's direction at the Guren's maximum velocity.

"This is Rei Leader!" she called out over the Black Knights' main frequency. "I'm making a run on the Avalon! All available units cover me!"

A mixture of confusion and acknowledgement followed her call, but all the same her allies were quick to intercept the Britannian units that would have otherwise obstructed her. Only the Tristan remained to pursue her, which soon fired its machine cannons in an attempted to knock out her air glide wing system, and in turn she evaded with pinpoint precision while maintaining velocity. Kallen sneered as she "looked back" toward the determined Gino in the Tristan's cockpit, the expression showing he was deadset on following her to the end of the earth if necessary. I really hate pushy guys...

Intent on removing the distraction, she focused her Geass on finding a nearby friendly unit. Needless to say, it didn't take long before she "saw" one. "Rei Three!"

"Roger!" Charmelle replied as her Guren Isshiki streaked past the Guren and fell upon the Tristan faster than most humans could even comprehend. Only a timely transformation on the Tristan's part and the angling of its poleaxe kept the Zero Squadron unit's surger from reaching.

"Charmelle!" Gino called out in surprise as his former colleague engaged right where they had left off over Pendragon, letting out a battle cry as she drove him back. Before he realized it, the Guren Nishiki was out of his range.

Britannian air cruiser Avalon
Pacific Ocean
April 11, 2025

"Another knightmare's making a run at us from Sector Sigma Eight!" Sean warned as he looked over his screen, reading the data aloud. "It's a single unit, but...!" The shock soon became evident in his voice as he finished looking over the readout, then turning back toward Talia while speaking the next few words. "It's flying at three times the speed of the others!"

A sudden chill ran down Talia's spine at that description, and not just due to the fact only specialized knightmares like those piloted by the Knights of the Round were capable of the velocity described. Immediately she steeled herself before replying. "Put it up on the main viewer!" she ordered, grasping the arms of her chair as she looked up.

No more than a second later, the image of the charging knightmare became firmly displayed on the main screen, and almost instantly the crew became struck with shock by its design. But none were as instantly shocked as Talia, who despite her usual calm composure, could not keep the surprise and fear from dawning on her face at the enemy machine. Even if none of those gathered around her could recognize it, she had been to Area 11 once upon a time, and therefore she easily identified the Guren, the crimson armored beast with the oversized clawed right arm and the piercing sapphire eyes, as well as its pilot, the woman that had been renowned as the Red Dragoness and the Ace of the Elevens not so long ago.

And following that revelation, Talia at long last realized who exactly she had been fighting all this time, who Britannia itself had been fighting all this time, causing her gut to clench and her fists to tighten. Damn you Schneizel, she thought with derision. You knew from the beginning, didn't you!?

She shook her head of the thought, as that was something she could bring up after the battle, before returning to command. "Maintain attack vector...!" she ordered out, in direct defiance of the nagging urge to call off her next shot at the battleship in the face of the charging red knightmare. "And focus all defensive fire on incoming bogey!"

"On just one knightmare!?" Edward exclaimed in confusion, looking back from his station to make sure he heard that right.

"You heard my order!" Talia shouted back in turn, her eyes dead set on the single red unit, just as it was about to begin its own attack run on her ship. Though by all facts and logic the Guren would not be any more effective against her ship and its defenses than its fellow Black Knights had been, an indescribable feeling in her gut told her that there was something different about this particular ace. Something that would make all the difference...

Kallen felt her eyes narrow and her heart quicken as she approached the Britannian cruiser at the best speed she could manage, all the while she focused her Geass around the entirety of the airship. She "saw" the various moving parts in the inner mechanics, as well as the electronics and circuitry. She "saw" the assorted crew members at their respective stations, working to perform their equally respective duties in the heat of the battle. She "saw" the bullets, weapons and shells loaded in the various gunnery platforms alongside the previously mentioned "invisible" hexagons that made up the "Blaze Luminous" shield. And perhaps most importantly, she "saw" into the Avalon's bridge, where she could "see" the Avalon's captain, a young, brown haired woman dressed in a standard blue uniform and bearing the rank tabs of a Group Captain, shout orders to turn the entirety of the ship's defenses against her while maintaining the attack on the Ikaruga.

The latter was quickly followed upon as bullets began streaking toward the Guren's, but with her Geass active and working in tandem with her natural reflexes and piloting skills, Kallen had little problems evading them as she maintained her own vector, despite the loss of stability from having only three functioning air glide wings. Like a hawk, she streaked around the bullets in a zigzag pattern, one that made it impossible for the Avalon's targeting systems to get a clean shot on her yet allowing her to retain her course toward from the cruiser. Not once did her gaze leave the airship, nor did her Absolute Awareness veer away from the line of targets that now laid open before her.

Again through her Geass she watched as the different CIWS turrets open fired, from the bullets being discharged through the electromagnetic coils that lined the gun barrels to each new replacement bullet being shifted upward through into the firing chamber after a predecessor was fired. She "saw" the various inner mechanics of each turret perform their respective task toward firing round after round into the sky, along with the electrical parts that fed power and signals into the guns, "commanding" them to aim and fire in the first place. Yet even though the "sight" of these various components allowed her to track the firing point of each bullet and evade them at ease, it wasn't the guns themselves that gave Kallen the advantage she sought. Rather, it was the fact that, in order for the guns to fire, the "Blaze Luminous" in front of each turret had to be dropped in order to allow the bullets to pass.

Just like a fading light, she could see the previously invisible hexagons that made the full shield disappear whenever a gun port open fired, leaving the weapon with no obstacle in launching its payload, and yet leaving the weapon with no protection either. And not only the weapon, but the rest of the ship as well, as while the Avalon's armor may have been thick enough to deflect bullets and HV shots, Kallen did not "see" any defense mechanism for energy weapons like her surger; even a single, short shot would travel quite far into the ship's hull, and do massive damage to its internal systems and power distribution network. At the same time however, each shot would have to be perfectly timed and aimed to get through the smaller than average target areas. Impossible targets for others, but not her.

...you are one of the few that can perform "miracles" like me. Lelouch's words from before echoed in her mind and memory as she blasted through the air, the Avalon's image growing in her monitors, while her Geass continued to hover over the hexagon shaped openings in the shield.

"Lelouch..." she murmured as she drew closer, adjusting the settings of the Guren's radiant wave surger to the appropriate settings before toggling a lock on one of her highlighted targets. Once her targeting sensors indicated that she was in firing range, she declared in a determined voice. "This is my miracle!"

In a split second, she reached the surger arm out and fired a single crimson beam that streaked across the sky and toward the cruiser. As she knew would happen, the beam only continued past the "Blaze Luminous" line, blasted its way through a CIWS turret and further into the hull, causing a massive explosion that rocked the ship much like its attacks had done to the Ikaruga. From there, Kallen continued her attack, firing one stream after another at those single unshielded spots across the Avalon's hull, causing further lines of explosions while taking inner delight in the panic that she was causing throughout the ship, both from the explosions and the dawning realization among the crew that their ship was no longer untouchable.

The anti-air fire only intensified from there, with a greater volume of bullets being fired into the open sky, followed by a spray of missiles from the Avalon's vertical launchers. Again Kallen dove through the wall of bullets, banking and spinning past them in such a way that could be described as majestic, before being forced to climb from the incoming missiles. For the latter, she quickly switched her surger to spray mode and launched a blood red funnel of radiant wave energy, detonating the missiles in near simultaneous fashion and leaving only a collection of smoke and fire behind. Once the last of the missiles were dealt with, she flew through the resulting flames and came over the Avalon's topside, where additional CIWS responded to her presence. At that, Kallen had the Guren put on greater speed and immediately dart directly over the hull, rolling and weaving around the upward rain of lead while firing back one stream after another at the assorted CIWS turrets, burning them down and causing additional damage to the ship that they rested upon. The result was apparent, as she "saw" the Avalon's power network begin to flicker from the damage.

Along with that slight power loss, Kallen could "see" some of the hexagons that made up Avalon's entire shield fade away in certain places, but not yet at a significant enough level that she could attack the bridge, float system or main drive. Gritting her teeth, she inverted the Guren and made a long dive along its portside, firing again and again at different openings in the shield as she flew past, one more while evading any type of defensive fire that was launched at her. More CIWS turrets burned away and more explosions sounded across the hull as a result. When she was about to fall below the ship itself, she turned and altered her flight path so that she was flying toward the rear of the ship and in the "right side up" position. From there she arced around until she was directly behind the Avalon's stern, where her Geass had detected one of the larger hexagonal openings. Once her targeting reticule was perfectly aligned, she let out another stream of radiation, one that lasted much longer than her previous attacks, which burned its way deep into ship and through several decks and corridors. It was only until the beam reached the power grid that she had been aiming for from the start that she broke the beam and shot away, while the Avalon began listing to port from the additional loss of power.

Before she could follow up on her attack, Kallen felt her head instinctively shift to the right as she "saw" a group of Sutherlands break through the main battle and move toward her position. She felt her lips curl into another sneer, as she wished she had detected their intended approach earlier, but all the same she understood how they had managed to get through: even though her Geass could cover a large area at will, Kallen was still human and she could only concentrate on so many places at once. As such, there were times, such as now, where an outside force could slip in close while her focus was elsewhere. Even so however, they had yet to make it close enough to do any damage before she became truly "aware" of them.

As with the Avalon, she "saw" directly into each and every one of the knightmares, from their mechanical parts to the pilots in the cockpit pods themselves. In that same instant she identified the commander, a brown haired man with Flight Lieutenant ranks pips on his flight suit, in a unit that was more toward the rear of the formation. At present, he was ordering his subordinates to "flank the bastard" while he moved in the center and "popped it with the money shot", while the smirk on his face reflected his belief that they were about to catch their target blindsided. At that, Kallen dryly swung her surger arm directly back and lanced a crimson stream into that Sutherland, taking some minor delight in "watching" the unit and its occupant instantly boil and explode, as well as the great shock its "random" destruction caused its comrades.

She was back in motion no sooner than the Sutherland had exploded, ascending and then flipping around to charge at the remainders. One of their number had been properly dispatched with a running slash from her fork knife before the others were able to get over their shock enough to return fire, shooting machine gun rounds and grenades at her direction. Even without her Geass she would have had no trouble dodging their uncoordinated fire, but since Kallen had chosen to leave it active she barely exerted any effort in weaving around each bullet stream, practically one bullet and grenade after another, before closing on a Sutherland and dispatching either with her knife or slash harken or with a well placed grenade of her own; she wasn't about to waste any more radiant wave energy on this helpless bunch of cannon fodder. In a matter of seconds, their numbers dwindled from an entire squadron to just one more, which was now flying back and firing its machine gun helplessly, its pilot knowing death was imminent.

Before she could dispatch it however, Kallen's attention again shifted back toward the Avalon, which was now attempting to bring one of its HV cannons to bare on her for a sneak attack. She laughed snidely on the inside at that; hadn't they realized by now that she could literally "see" through their every move? Not hindered in the slightest, she shot at the last Sutherland like a crimson lightning bolt, but instead of dispatching it right up front, she flew over it, twisted around and landed a solid metallic kick into its cockpit pod. As a result, the knightmare was flung directly in the firing path of the HV cannon, just as the weapons officer had pulled the trigger; little over a millisecond later, a hyper-velocity shell tore through the Sutherland right at the center while the Guren had again long moved out of harm's way.

Ignoring the "sight" of the Sutherland getting literally blown away, Kallen resumed her attack on the Avalon, which was now mounting a defense with its remaining CIWS while its VLS tubes fired off another missile shower. She easily evaded these and continued back toward the ship itself, which thanks to the loss of power, held even larger openings in its "Blaze Luminous" than before. This allowed Kallen to fire longer lasting radiant wave shots across the cruiser's orange hull, leaving entire lines of burned and melted remains while pillars of smoke billowed from the ones that were still alight. Secondary explosions sounded all throughout the onslaught.

Black Knights air battleship Ikaruga
Pacific Ocean
April 11, 2025

Kallen... Ohgi's mind spoke out as he watched over his personal monitor as the Guren ripped through the Avalon's hull all the while dancing around the bullets and missiles. Inwardly grimacing at the knowledge that she was using her Geass to "see" through the cruiser's defenses and act accordingly, he shook his head and forced himself to concentrate on the present. Despite his own misgivings, Kallen had given them the opening they needed to slip away from certain doom, even if it would prove to be momentary. And Ohgi, as well as Minami and the rest of the Ikaruga's crew, would be damned before allowing that opening to be wasted.

Up ahead, the damaged yet imposing shape of the Somerset was centered upon the bridge's main monitor, as well as the bridge windows, where it grew larger and larger in the latter as the Ikaruga closed the distance. The destroyer had long since noticed their approach and was trying to throw them off with a barrage from its remaining HV cannons, but the Ikaruga pressed on through the onslaught regardless, radiant wave shields more than able to hold to that kind of firepower. Her bow ports had been reopened and her hadron cannons revealed once more, both aglow with crimson and white.

"In range!" Futuba reported as she read over her weapons console, looking more ready to send the enemy airship to kingdom come than one would have expected of her.

"Fire!" Minami gave the command immediately.

A second later, another set of twin blood red streams erupted from the Ikaruga and blasted their way directly through the Somerset's "Blaze Luminous" and then through the main hull itself. Another second later, the Somerset ceased to exist as anything more than ignited air and fiery remains, with what little there was of the latter falling toward the earth below.

Gino grimaced as the enemy knightmare came at him with another overhead slash attack with its fork knife, one that, knowing he would be unable to evade, deflected by spinning his poleaxes. Despite that, Charmelle kept up her offensive, supplementing her knife attacks with an occasional stream from her surger, keeping the Tristan pinned down and unable to even transform, let alone move away from its crimson attacker. Even a point blank shot with his right arm slash harken failed, as Charmelle banked to the side and then cut the cable with a quick slash.

At the loss of his harken, and with it half of his electromagnetic rail cannon, Gino was about to push more forward in an attempt to retake the defensive. Spinning the poleaxe again, he moved into a series of slashes, followed upon by a direct thrust in an attempt to impale the enemy machine, but Charmelle was quick enough to dodge each and every attack with precision before smashing her fork knife against the axe blade. From there, she angled her left arm to bring her grenade launcher to bare, but Gino knocked the knife away and then twisted the poleaxe around, just in time to slash the launcher clean off the arm before Charmelle could pull the trigger. However, this action also brought the Tristan and the Guren Isshiki directly face to face with the other, with both machines attempting to overpower the other's hold and strike while their pilots glared out from their respective optical systems at the other's machine.

"Disappointing Gino!" Charmelle stated with a subtle yet vicious edge. She followed this up forcing the poleaxe into the air and then using her free right arm to punch the Tristan across the opened gash in its faceplate, crushing the metal and inner mechanics that had previously been exposed by Kallen's last attack. The Tristan then shot back just as she executed another slash, to which she pursued in an aerial dash. "You're still as hesitant as you were over Pendragon!"

Once more it was all Gino could do to defend, parrying each knife and surger attack with as much energy as he could muster in the face of his former friend's ferocity. All that while he again pushed back his still churning doubts and emotions from the forefront of his mind. "Just what is it that you and the Black Knights intended to accomplish Charmelle!?" he barked with frustration as he tried to behead the enemy knightmare with a counter slash, only for Charmelle to evade. "What was it that made you come out here!?"

Charmelle flashed a smart smile. "Britannia delenda est, Gino." she replied, just as she launched her slash harken in an attempt to catch Gino off guard. However, after seeing the attack performed so much by the Guren Nishiki, Gino had little trouble evading the harken, even though Charmelle kept him from cutting it away by pressing her attack. "We're going to make that phrase a reality."

Gino's teeth grit together, both from Charmelle's answer and her continued offensive. "Then you are all fools!" he shouted back as he moved the poleaxe down for a hammer blow, only for Charmelle to deflect it at the tip. "It'll take more than sieging Pendragon and sacking one military base to bring down Britannia!"

"True enough." Charmelle acknowledged as the swordfight continued.

"So why!? Gino shouted out as he felt his inner turmoil beginning to overpower him again. "Why did you throw your lives away in a place like this!?"

Much to Gino's surprise, Charmelle's response wasn't another biting quip, but rather, a burst of derisive laughter that made Gino's gut clench and blood run cold. "You severely underestimate us if you believe it will all end here Gino." Charmelle stated as she charged again. "I might not be privy to the real plans, but I know this much: Pendragon and Crusoe aren't meant to be our 'last stand', but a preview to what lies in store for Britannia and the rest of the world in the coming future."

She followed up her sword attacks by kneeing the Tristan in the gut, further destabilizing its still growing unstable pilot. "And believe me, when everything comes to pass...!" she continued with a smirk as she reached out and incinerated the Tristan's entire right arm, forcing Gino to eject it, but not before it had passed its poleaxe to the left. "...the world will never be the same!"

"That's assuming you'll survive here and now!" Gino stated with ever growing fury, as he spun the poleaxe and then moved to impale with it again.

Charmelle's smirk grew until it became outright dominant. "Such little faith." she replied, just as she made her Guren perform a midair jump up and over the poleaxe. In that same instant, she twisted around in midair to perform her patented Hunchback Strike, "landing" directly onto the Tristan's cockpit pod with the Guren Isshiki's metal feet slamming down on the canopy and causing a hardened clamping noise to shudder throughout the entire knightmare. And then, just before Gino could regain control of his frame, Charmelle brought her surger up and ensnared it over the Tristan's head, then proceeding into firing radiant wave energy directly through the head and into Yggdrasil Drive.

As Charmelle planned, the energy attack wasn't enough to destroy the drive and the Tristan with it, but it was enough to destabilize the entire frame's power network. Right after, the Tristan lost power to its float system and literally fell right out from the Isshiki's feet, at the same time losing its grip on its poleaxe. In a last ditch attack, a still defiant Gino reached the left arm up and attempted to fire his remaining slash harken at the Guren, but Charmelle saw the attack coming and managed to dodge in time, only losing her left leg below the ankle as a result.

In a matter of moments, the Tristan disappeared beneath the clouds and Charmelle turned away to the continuing battle at hand, not once bothering to look back.

Britannian air cruiser Avalon
Pacific Ocean
April 11, 2025

"Captain, the float system's been hit!" one of the deckhands exclaimed on the Avalon's bridge, which among other things was now darkened due to the loss of primary lighting, while several of the displays, including the main monitor were now reduced to static. Another blast rocked the hull just after the deckhand had given that report. "We're losing altitude!"

Still sitting in the captain's chair, Talia took off her cap and rubbed the sweat off her forehead. The damage had been far beyond her expectations to say the least; hull breaches in nearly every section, almost all systems were disabled, power fluctuations becoming more and more rampant, and now as reported their float system was going offline, symbolized by how the ship was beginning to list forward and fall. Fortunately the Avalon, as with all airships in the Imperial Armed Forces, had been fitted with a backup float system that would control the ship's descent until it touched down, which Talia was more than a little grateful for. Yet this was only a poor consolation when compared to the undeniable truth: the Avalon would become the first Britannian airship to be shot down by a single knightmare frame.

The Group Captain could only grit her teeth at that knowledge, as well as the flickering image of the Guren on the main monitor, still streaking around the Avalon's hull. The knowledged that she had made the wrong decision in focusing her ship's AA batteries on the knightmare, thereby leaving gaps open in the "Blaze Luminous" for the Guren to shoot through, didn't help her pride any either. Not that anyone in her position would have believed that the Black Knights had equipped that particular knightmare with a Druid System or something similar of course, even if the technology had long become standard for them with the original theft of the Gawain. Yet even so, there was no excuse for her: in spite of her current misgivings toward her liege, she had failed Prince Schneizel, as well as let down her crew, the men and women that had depended on her to lead them to victory. All she could do now was survive and hope for a chance to redeem herself.

At the same time however, she wasn't about to go down without taking one last shot at the enemy. As such, Talia righted herself in her chair and shouted out the following demand. "What's the position of the Black Battleship!?"

Sean looked over his monitors quickly, hitting it once to clear the static, before shouting back. "To starboard at Sector Kappa Ten...!" his eyes widened as he saw an image disappear on his display. "They just destroyed the Somerset!"

Talia grimaced in response. Yet another point to add to her current string of failures. "Angle the bow toward them and focus all remaining power onto the VARIS cannon! Set for burst shot!"

"I don't know if he have any power left for that ma'am!" Eric replied in response.

"Do what you can!" Talia barked out in turn, gripping the arms of her chair hard as Henry struggled to carry out her orders, causing the whole ship to shake. "We're not letting them get away, not if we can help it!"

More fire erupted from the orange hull as Kallen knocked out the final distribution network to the Avalon's float system, causing the system to flicker in power and result in the ship's descent. From her Geass, she could "see" another float system, what appeared to be a less powerful back up model, activate and slowly take control of the vessel's drop in altitude. For a moment Kallen considered knocking that out as well and just letting them ship freefall, but she decided against it; the Avalon was pretty much knocked out of the fight, so there was no need to subject her crew to an unnecessarily brutal demise. As such, she ascended out from "under" the stricken, smoking vessel and ascended, where she planned to watch as the Avalon dropped below the clouds.

No sooner than she had made it up to her intended altitude did Kallen "see" something that made her immediately regret her decision. Much to her growing horror, she "saw" the Avalon captain shout out the last command to take one final shot at the "Black Battleship", and immediately after she had finished did the Avalon begin to turn again, bringing its bow and its VARIS cannon once again directly to bare on the direction of the Ikaruga. Worse yet was in regard to the cannon itself, as Kallen could "see" the long, rectangular barrel casing split vertically, while the inner barrel extended out like with the Lancelot's trademark weapon, all the while a much greater volume of power poured into the firing mechanisms.

Knowing full well that the Ikaruga would be unable to maneuver in time, and much more that from the amount of power being sent into the cannon that the resulting shot would easily if not completely destroy the battleship in one blow, Kallen put all of her own energy back into her air glide wing system and dove toward the gun. However, she soon realized that with the Avalon's current rate of descent, it would take entire moments before she would reach the underside of the bow. Damn it, I'm not going to make it!

Fortunately she hadn't needed to. In what barely registered as milliseconds, Kallen "watched" as a single object, which she quickly identified as a radiant wave rocket, shot through her Geass powered "vision" and landed right at the base of the Avalon's main cannon. From there she continued to "watch", again in what barely registered as milliseconds, as radiation erupted throughout the cannon, causing its mechanics to breakdown and metal to bubble all the way through the line while the disrupted power systems erupted in flame, which also traveled throughout the entire weapon. All of this cumulated in the entire cannon exploding in a thunderous boom, the force of which also destroyed the entire tip of the Avalon's bow and causing additional secondary explosions to rock throughout the ship.

And as she continued to "look" on as the Avalon finally disappeared past the clouds, smoke continuing to trail throughout its fall, Kallen extended her vision further toward the direction that the shot had come from. As she half-expected, there hovered C.C.'s Jikisanshiyo, its right arm extended outward, which C.C. quickly receded. That's when the immortal muttered two single words, which Kallen, upon reading her lips and "seeing" the highly uncharacteristic seriousness of her expression, automatically knew were directed toward her. Get Lelouch!

"...confirmed, all Britannian units destroyed or in retreat." Kallen heard Ohgi's voice over the radio. "All Black Knight units return to the Ikaruga!"

Kallen took the opportunity to key in. "Rei Leader to B-1, Gyoku One is still engaged over target area! Breaking off to retrieve him!"

And without waiting for Ohgi's reply, though she assumed it would have been an approval, Kallen turned away and darted off back to the still burning Crusoe. And as she put the Guren into its top flight speed, Kallen could only hope against hope that the one who had led them here, and would lead them further beyond, was still alive and fighting his nemesis.

Pearl Harbor Naval Base
County of Crusoe, Area 7 (Sandwich Islands), Holy Britannian Empire
April 11, 2025

The Gawain danced across the fire lit sky as the Lancelot stormed after it, their respective blades continuously clashing together all throughout. Armor broken, certain mechanical limbs removed and their respective arsenals now reduced to one blade and assorted shielding and slash harkens apiece, the battle had devolved into a traditional swordfight, but with all the frenzy and malice of a true melee. This was especially the case with the Lancelot now; driven by pure and continuously intensifying rage, Suzaku was now focusing almost entirely on the offensive, executing great and powerful sword strokes that drove the larger Gawain further back into the sky. Lelouch himself could only parry his blows as his mind reeled to come up with an effective counterattack.

Damn it, I'm being beaten back! Lelouch's mind shouted as the Lancelot a powerful butterfly kick, one reinforced with "Blaze Luminous" that forced Lelouch to form an ADF shield to avoid taking damage. The Lancelot then darted to the left side and let loose its two remaining slash harkens, which Lelouch was just barely able to avoid, but not without losing one of the lower left wing to his float system. As a result of that attack, Lelouch struggled to hold his knightmare in balance as the crazed Suzaku continued his assault with his remaining MVS, practically roaring and bellowing each time he smashed his blade against the Gawain's own sword or whenever it redeployed its shield. Even when Lelouch made a downward slash that took another chunk out of the Lancelot's torso armor, as well as disabled its left factsphere sensor, Suzaku was not hindered and only pressed further.

It was pretty obvious that Suzaku's rage had completely overpowered him now, and that even his form was affected by it; as opposed to his usual graceful and precise movements, the Japanese turned Britannian loyalist was fighting with the composition of a rookie, with his attacks coming off as sloppy, ill-timed and randomly aimed. However, the tradeoff of this was a dramatic increase in volume of attacks, to the point that there were little openings left for Lelouch to counter, which was why he was now on the constant defensive. This also had the unfortunate side effect of negating Lelouch's ability to predict Suzaku's actions, as it didn't matter if he could see through his fighting style if the attacks came so constantly, thus disallowing him to fight back in turn.

And worse yet, Suzaku's offensive seemed to be directly tied to his wrath, and with each moment both his attacks and his fury gained additional power. That one particularly stuck to Lelouch, as he knew he would be overwhelmed in a matter of moments if he didn't come up with something fast.

In the middle of his thoughts, the Lancelot surged forward and again attempted a "Blaze Luminous" spin kick, which it followed up with a sword slash, to which Lelouch once more threw his shield up as both attacks landed, causing the Gawain to recoil in midair. Its opponent disoriented, the white knightmare closed in with its blade raised hig, only for Lelouch to jam his own blade up into the path and leave the two knightmares with their swords slammed together in front of their faceplates, their visages further illuminated by the glow of their respective swords.

"Is that all you've got Lelouch!?" Suzaku glowered over the radio, attempting to drive his sword further against the Gawain's sole remaining "Spatha". "Is that all Bismarck has taught you!?"

Lelouch grimaced as he fought to come up with an answer to that. "Bismarck taught me to control my emotions..." he started with a growl. "Something that you could learn yourself!"

With that, Lelouch reached up with the Gawain's left hand, formed an ADF shield around its fist and, in a clear imitation of the Lancelot's kicking technique, punched its way through the Lancelot's right side. While the force of the blow wasn't enough to break through to the Yggdrasil Drive, it did leave a massive hole in the Lancelot's torso armor, as well as sent it flying away from the Gawain. Using that momentary opening, Lelouch took to the offensive this time around, launching a direct attack against his opponent while continuing to speak. "Euphie would be ashamed of you if she were here now!"

Again, the temperature and pressure of Suzaku's blood spiked at the mention of that name from Lelouch's mouth. "And whose fault is it that she isn't!?" Suzaku roared back before charging again. "Who was the one who used and murdered her!?"

Lelouch grounded his teeth, both in response to Suzaku's attack and to keep the leftover emotions he still felt over Euphemia's death and his hand in it from taking over him. He knew if he let his guilt get the better of him now, then he was as good as dead in the face of the crazed Knight of Seven and his relentlessness.

"All she wanted was peace, Lelouch!" Suzaku stated with a howl, as he again drove his MVS to impale only for the Gawain to deflect it. "All she wanted was to give my people back what they had lost, in the way that she best knew how! And you killed her for it!"

Again their blades clashed and held, with neither knightmare nor pilot being able to overcome the other's hold. In that same moment, Lelouch felt his mind flashback to his final "meeting" with Euphie and the horrible events that had unfolded thereafter; his Geass going out of control in that very moment, just when he had claimed he could make her "kill all the Japanese", therefore turning her into a murderous slave in spite of her initial attempts to resist. From there the slaughter begun, to which Lelouch had no choice but to step in and end Euphie's rampage, and having to go against his very humanity and love for her to do so.

In that same moment, Lelouch was tempted to tell the truth about the whole thing then and there, just to lay the matter, and his inner demons, to rest once and for all. And yet, while visibly closing his eyes in doing so, he held himself back on one single factor: he did not know what the truth would do to Suzaku as he was now. While he had little doubt Suzaku would believe him, if only because he knew Lelouch was not one to tell such a "lie", Lelouch did not know how Suzaku would handle such knowledge; would it relieve him of his own demons, or would it only serve to break him further?

Either way, Lelouch, as one last act for the sake of his friend, let the truth die in his throat, all the while he instantly came up with a lie that was just as believable. "Euphie's death was regrettable..." Lelouch began, letting some of the guilt through to his expression to further sell it. "...but necessary."

Rage once more flickered in Suzaku's eyes. "Necessary!?" he barked, before breaking the hold and forcing the Gawain back again with a flurry of sword strikes. "She was willing to sacrifice everything to accomplish Japan's salvation, and her death was 'necessary'!?"

"The Japan Euphie pined for was an illusion!" Lelouch stated as he deflected the sword attacks. "Yes the Japanese would have had their names and some rights restored to them, but they still would have been slaves to Britannia! Only instead of their slavery enforced by guns and batons, it would be enforced by economics, thanks to Britannia's exclusive hold on the sakuradite!" he pressed back on his own offensive. "Japan would have been drained of its resources while its people would continue to suffer under the Empire's heel, and without Euphie's position as a Princess, she would have been left to rot as well!"

Lelouch again deflected the Lancelot's next sword blow with his shield, then counterattacked accordingly, as Suzaku, despite his rage still being present, was now suitably distracted by his opponent's words. "Once more, nothing would have changed!" Lelouch declared, his words sounding more distant to his own ears than Suzaku's. "That is why it was necessary to discredit Euphie, and then remove her in one single motion!"

"And the Japanese you made her kill!?" Suzaku demanded in response, his voice lowered to a barely held back growl.

At that, Lelouch projected an air of indifference. "Also regrettable, but just as necessary for the same purpose." Lelouch stated simply.

Needless to say, Suzaku only became more livid. "And you call me a monster!?" he roared in turn, again driving his own attack forward. "Just how many have you used as pawns on your damned chessboard Lelouch!? How many have you murdered to fulfill your damned purposes!?"

Feeling anger welling up in him at that question, Lelouch reached his blade overhead and deflected a downward cut from the Lancelot, holding both swords in midair as a result. "You have the gall to ask me those questions Suzaku!?" he muttered with growing disdain, before shouting out. "Even when you murdered your own father for a similar purpose!?"

And all of a sudden, the rage disappeared from Suzaku's face only to be replaced with frozen realization. Immediately Lelouch seized the opportunity, knowing it was exactly what he had been waiting for, driving his "Spatha" forward to throw the Lancelot's MVS aside. "Do NOT lecture me on murder, hypocrite!" Lelouch bellowed as he pressed the attack. "Not when you killed your father to stop a war and potential genocide!"

After a few massive swipes, Lelouch sent the Lancelot sailing to the ground, where it landed in a kneeling position. From there Lelouch dove and attempted to strike at its head, only for Suzaku to reflexively raise his sword and block the attack. "I did what I did to keep the Japanese from becoming more enslaved by Britannia than they were already! Just as you did what you did to ensure their continued survival! Both of our hands are bloodied as a result!"

Lelouch put even more energy into it attack as he followed up with his declaration. "So DO NOT pretend you're any better than me, Suzaku!"

Suzaku's head only dipped down so that Lelouch could no longer see his eyes, just as he pulled the Lancelot back on its landspinners, only stopping when the Gawain landed itself. Again, both knightmares became motionless, while they "stared" at each other with their eye cameras, the Gawain's single functioning ruby eye and the Lancelot's twin emerald eyes. At that, Lelouch, breathing heavily from both his tirade and the small pause in battle, wondered what Suzaku's response was going to be; had his words reached out and taken away his drive for battle? If it had, then now was the time for him to retreat, to which Lelouch intended to do until he heard a sound over the radio.

At first, it was a minute sound, little more than a quieted 'heh'. Then that sound was repeated again and again, until Suzaku began chuckling full on. The chuckling only grew in volume with each passing moment, until it seemingly threatened to fill the entirety of the Lancelot's cockpit and overpower the speakers in the Gawain's.

And then, in a moment that would be entrapped in Lelouch's memories forever, Suzaku flung his head back up as howling laughter echoed throughout the air.

Just as suddenly as the laughter had came, Lelouch's rage and initiative degenerated into cold shock and confusion, as he found himself no longer staring into the face of wrath, but something that was far more dark and destructive. Something that he was entirely unprepared for: madness. "Suzaku...?" he murmured quietly, feeling as though his whole body had gone numb from the display.

Hearing his name spoken out, Suzaku's laughter calmed down, but the madness remained in both his eyes and the twisted parody of a smile he gave off. "So you still don't know...!" Suzaku said, bits of laughter leaking out between his sentences. "After all this time, you still don't know anything, Lelouch...! I honestly thought you would have figured it out by now!"

"What...are you talking about...?" Lelouch stammered, confusion and fear growing within.

"Isn't it obvious...?" Suzaku stated just as his smile grew to seemingly encompass his entire face. Suddenly he made the Lancelot charge again, such that Lelouch barely had enough time to parry his blade. "The true reason behind my father's death!"

At that, Lelouch attempted to regain his composure. "I already know...!"

"You know nothing!" Suzaku roared in a manic tone, something like a cross between a grizzly bear and a circus clown. The force behind the cry, as well as the twisted gaze from Suzaku's eyes, were enough to silence Lelouch. "Do you really believe a ten year old boy would act so selflessly!? That he would take his own father's life for things like country or people!?"

"But Mao said...!" Lelouch stammered to retort again.

"Mao lied!" Suzaku roared in that same tone again, followed by a small bit of laughter as he drove the Lancelot's blade even further, landspinners grinding against the pavement against the still immobile Gawain, which easily held its ground against the smaller knightmare. "He probably believed if you had learned the truth then, you would have been sympathetic to me! But that's no longer an issue, is it!?"

Lelouch could only breath as he both fought to continue holding his ground and to keep from being overwhelmed emotionally. "Then...?"

"Again, isn't it obvious!?" Suzaku chuckled, before letting it all out. "I killed my father..." he began in a somber tone, which instantly turned more frenzied as he continued. "...for you and Nunnally!"

Dawning realization eclipsed Lelouch's face at that exclamation, along with frozen horror and the near inability to breathe. The feeling in his body seemingly drained away at those words, and whatever willingness to battle at that point vanished as well; it was only through his instinct to defend himself from harm that made him continue deflecting Suzaku's attacks. And for the second time in his entire existence, the first being when he saw his mother's corpse and his blinded, bleeding sister laying on the staircase in Aries, Lelouch's mind became completely blank of thought and reason beyond one simple word. What...?

Suzaku's words continued to ring in his ears however, but now they sounded distant and over an invisible horizon. "My father knew that the death of the Japanese wouldn't matter to the Britannians..." the Knight of Seven's words came out more subdued now, but once more the madness remained behind them, seemingly waiting for a chance to come out into the open again. "As long as Britannia got the sakuradite, the mass suicide of over a hundred million would be of little consequence to them..."

The mania grew back into Suzaku's voice, if only a little, as he went on his next sentence. "As such, my father decided upon one last act of defiance to the invaders: he planned on killing you and Nunnally and then leaving your bodies to hang in front of the Kururugi Shrine. Final tenchu on the Britannians he called it..."

What sounded like remorse then came into Suzaku's tone, further emphasized a single tear trailed down his left eye. "And so, to protect you and your sister, the only friends that I ever had, I turned on my father and killed him where he stood."

Lelouch didn't know what to say, and even if he did he wasn't sure if he had been able to speak at that time. As if struck by a tidal wave, it seemed all logic and intellect had been washed away from him, leaving only pure emotion to keep him frozen in place. This, along with realization that, after all this time, he had been the one behind Suzaku's first step into darkness. He and his sister had been the ones that caused Suzaku to turn and commit the act of patricide at the mere age of ten, and from there to suffer an eternity of guilt and longing for a mortal release, which in turn would drive him into Britannia's service.

All this time... Lelouch could barely formulate words in his mind now. It was... Me?

"And now..." another small chuckle escaped Suzaku's lips. "Now here you are... The friend I threw both my innocence and my soul away for, now my greatest enemy, the murderer of the woman I loved and the one who led my people to their destruction...!" more fits of laughter. "...Doesn't that make you laugh, Lelouch!?"

Finally through one final charge, the Lancelot was able to get the Gawain to move again, as it forced Lelouch to reactivate his float system and take back to the sky. The Lancelot followed suit, as a frantic Suzaku rambled over the comm. circuit. "Go on Lelouch, laugh at me!" he called out in that crazed tone again. "Tell me I was wrong! Call me a fool! Explain how you, the great Zero, would have done it all differently!"

Lelouch continued to defend, but it was obvious that he was fighting a losing battle, and as ill-placed as Suzaku's attacks were, he was clearly the dominator. After several more attacks, he began speaking again, all the while slashing and hacking like a possessed man, laughing all the way. "If only I had known then what I do now...!" Suzaku bellowed. "If I had known what you would become...! If I had known what I would lose...!" he then slammed his blade against the Gawain's own "Spatha", far harder than he had before. "I WOULD HAVE LET HIM KILL YOU!"

The words only hit Lelouch with greater force than the sword attacks ever could, and once more only his instinctive will to defend himself, long instilled into him by Bismarck, kept Suzaku's blade from reaching the Gawain's most vital areas. Even so, Suzaku was not deterred, and in that single moment, his initial wrath returned and merged with his present madness. "I didn't lie to you in Kamine, Lelouch!" Suzaku cried out. "Your very existence IS a mistake! IT IS MY MISTAKE!"

Suzaku rammed his blade against the Gawain a second time. "A mistake that I will correct...!" he declared, his hands tightening once more around his controls. "...BY ERASING YOU FROM THIS WORLD, ONCE AND FOR ALL!"

With that, the Lancelot kicked the Gawain away and vaulted into the air, near instantly positioning itself over the Gawain's back and inverting its sword. Suzaku then put nearly all his remaining power into his float system and shot downward, seemingly set to impale the Gawain's cockpit block and its stunned pilot...

And yet it was then destiny seemingly chose to intervene. His sensors bleeping off a warning, Suzaku barely had time to halt his drop and bank, dodging the bright red radiant wave stream that blasted through where he had just been a moment ago. At that, the Lancelot's head turned to see the Guren Nishiki charging in from the dark horizon, sapphire eyes now ablaze with the wrath of its own pilot.

"You...!" Suzaku was just able to let out.

"SUZAKU!" Kallen bellowed in turn, with both her right eye, which remained blue, and her left eye, alight crimson by Geass, speaking of a fury that seemed more intense than even Suzaku's.

Believing the Guren was closing in to attack with its fork knife, Suzaku raised his sword to defend. However, just as she pulled close, Kallen reversed the Guren and brought its left leg up, so that it would kick the Lancelot in the torso as it moved in. As a result, the Lancelot was again flung across the sky, where it landed in the ruins of a nearby watch tower.

With Suzaku momentarily stunned, Kallen turned to the still motionless Gawain. "Zero, we're out of time!" she called out hurriedly. "We've cleared our escape route of interceptors, but reinforcements will be due any moment! We have to go now!"

No response came from the Gawain, nor did Lelouch's expression change from the dazed shocked expression he now wore, as if his entire world had collapsed from underneath him. Kallen knew why that was; through her Geass she had been able to see everything that had transpired in the last few moments, including the madness within Suzaku Kururugi boiling to the surface and his explanation of "the truth". But as overpowering as those things were, especially for her to "see" Lelouch as he was now, they couldn't afford to stay here any longer. As such, she called out again, this time in pure desperation. "LELOUCH!"

At the sound of his name spoken by her voice, Lelouch visibly blinked and finally regained his composure, at least a fraction of it and if only for the moment. "Yes, you are correct Q-1..." Lelouch murmured, still drained from what he had just seen and learned. "We've accomplished our mission. There is nothing left to do here."

After stating such, Lelouch disengaged his Spatha Luminous and moved to turn the Gawain around. A moment later however, the Lancelot cleared its way from the wreckage and looked back up to its opponent. "It's not over Lelouch!" Suzaku called out, now having recovered some of his "normal" self but still exerting much anger in his tone. "Let's finish what we started eight years ago here and now, at the end of everything!"

Lelouch did not so much as look back. Instead, he opened his side compartment again and withdrew his mask. "You're wrong Suzaku..." he stated, just as pulled his his veil back on and slipped his mask over his head. "...this is only the beginning."

Saying no more, he put energy into the Gawain's float system and shot off toward the horizon. Upon seeing this, fury yet again overcame Suzaku and he shot off after the Gawain with another roar, intent on finishing their battle whether Lelouch willed it or not. However, he was intercepted midway by the Guren, who this time did slam its fork knife against his MVS.

"Get out of my way, Kallen!" Suzaku bellowed anxiously.

"I should have killed you in Pendragon...!" Kallen snarled, completely disgusted and infuriated at what she saw from both her normal eye and her Geass in regard to Suzaku before her, and what he had inflicted on Lelouch behind her. Thus with one final declaration of her own, she sounded off. "...you're my mistake Suzaku!"

The Guren then pushed back against the Lancelot while simultaneously switching its surger to spread mode. A moment later, the Lancelot was able to reorient itself and charge again, but by that point Kallen had brought her surger around and let loose her remaining radiant wave energy into a miniscule crimson funnel that immersed the white knightmare. The Lancelot froze in its tracks and remained still, allowing Kallen to turn around and take off toward her commander.

Rage continuing to empower him, Suzaku wrestled with the Lancelot's controls in a futile attempt to get his steed moving again, but no matter how much he jerked the control sticks or what buttons he pushed, the Lancelot remained where it was while the visages of the Gawain and Guren became more and more distant. After several moments of struggle and frantic cursing, Suzaku, at last, surrendered himself to the knowledge that Zero would escape him once more, just as he always had. However, that didn't mean he was about to end it like that.

"Hear me Lelouch...!" he bellowed again over the radio. "It may take another eight years or even an eternity, but I swear on Euphie's name you will pay for your crimes in the end and that I will be the one to finish you! Never forget that!"

Upon that declaration, Lelouch could only close his eyes and at last let the tears flow out.

Britannian Logres-class air battleship Connecticut
County of Crusoe, Area 7 (Sandwich Islands), Holy Britannian Empire
April 11, 2025

Schneizel felt his eyes narrow at what he saw before him, feeling that the worst of his fears had indeed come true. By now the Connecticut the rest of her taskforce approached were holding steady above what used to be the central Britannian naval base of the pacific, while sentry units flew about the area to inspect the damage, as well as for any signs of survivors. From those craft, were transmitted back to the Connecticut and the other ships; images of vehicle wreckage and burning buildings flickered in and out of the bridge's main monitor, while from the bridge windows one could look down and see the telltale glows of still burning flames. All cumulated into an eerie inferno, one that somehow remained bright and vibrant even as the sun began to rise from the east and cast the area into the first stretches of dawn.

At the very least, however, there were survivors, even if only a few. Some distance away, the air destroyers Birmingham and Providence were now moving toward the direction where a group of SOS signals were being transmitted, among which were those of the apparently disabled Avalon and the Tristan and Mordred. And while it was not transmitting a signal itself, the Lancelot had been sighted hovering over the ruins of Pearl immediately upon the taskforce's approach, and though attempted communications with the knightmare had failed, Schneizel held little doubt that its pilot was still alive, in one way or another.

Even so however, this was all a far cry from the victory he had sought. Instead of finding an overwhelmed foe for which his ships and knightmares could move against and finish off, Schneizel's forces were now "merely" operating as search and rescue, prowling the area for whatever survivors and salvageable vehicles that they could find while the enemy, the same enemy that had evaded retribution for entire years, was nowhere to be found. The mere thought of it would have been enough to instill anger within the prince, but aside from the unseen tightening of his fist, he managed to retain full control over his emotions. It also helped that there would be more opportunities in the future to eradicate the Black Knights; the question was how many would he need before he finally accomplished such a goal?

"I still can't believe this..." Kanon murmured from beside him. From his quieted tone he had not intended for anyone to hear his exclamation, but Schneizel's ears were sharp enough to just that.

"I can." Schneizel replied, as he folded his hands in front of his mouth and just under his nose, his gaze remaining on the still transmitting monitor images. "They've already laid siege to our capital, so it would only be natural for them to try something this daring as well."

"But how?" Kanon stammered from his liege's response. "They couldn't have just slipped in like they did over Pendragon, not when the entire Pacific Fleet had been deployed to hunt them down."

"On the contrary, it appears that they did manage to slip in." Schneizel said, still looking over the monitor. By that point, the images had shifted toward the ruined destroyers and battlecarriers. "Look at those images Kanon; all those ships sunk within the harbor itself and none beyond the coast."

"What are you getting at sire?" Kanon inquired.

"Kimmel had fallen into the enemy's trap when he deployed his fleet to intercept." Schneizel explained, his mind still calculating the battle. "I believe the enemy divided their forces into two groups at the onset of the battle: one to route the main fleet, and the other to strike at Pearl itself, which would have been open to attack with Kimmel having jumped the gun. While the first group would launch a blitzkrieg against the main fleet, likely with that missile type used at Pendragon, the second group would have travelled the rest of the distance underwater to avoid visual detection, and then surface and attack straight from behind the main defensive line."

His eyes narrowed further. "I admit it's a rather old and often used strategy, but when used correctly..." he then gestured toward the bridge windows. "...well, the results should be obvious."

Kanon lowered his head down somewhat so that only Schneizel could hear his whisper. "If I may speak freely sire, that sounds more like one of your strategies." he stated. "And aside from yourself, I know of no other commander who could come up with such a plan."

Schneizel remained impassive at that, resisting the urge to grin in the face of the present destruction. "Once more on the contrary Kanon." he replied. "There is one other I know..."

"Your Highness!" the comm. operator suddenly announced, breaking the discomforting tranquility that had settled over the bridge. "I'm picking up a transmission! It's coming in over nearly all channels!"

All at once everyone on the bridge looked up. "Source?" Schneizel demanded.

The comm. operator shook his head. "Unknown, sire."

Schneizel frowned in response. "Put it on the main monitor."

The operator complied with those orders, and a second later, the images of ruined buildings and destroyed vehicles were replaced with a static filled picture. However, as seconds passed on, the static retracted, little by little, until a black and white image of a certain silhouette was firmly displayed. And as the image became more clearer, certain astonishment and disbelief descended upon all those presently gathered, save for Schneizel, who retained his frown. Even if it was not clear entirely, they all recognized what was standing in that frame.

Once the picture finally came into focus, displaying a certain man dressed in a cloak and bearing a certain mask, a booming voice sounded throughout the entire bridge.

"I am... Zero!"


Author's Notes: Finally got past this arc; again, Pearl Harbor turned out to go a lot longer than I expected, but at the same time I'm glad no one had problems reading and following along as I originally feared. Anyway, with that particular battle over, things are officially in full swing. As a warning, the story will start taking a more Gundam-esque approach from here on in (more so than it has already anyway), as unlike in canon it is meant to encompass the entire globe instead of being centered around Japan; in fact, as I've told a number of people, the main reason I blew up Japan was so Megiddo wouldn't be tied down to it like a damn ball and chain, which was yet another of the (many) things I hated about R2. If such a story isn't your kind of thing, then you may be better off looking at other fanfics. Having said that however, I hope readers continue with my story regardless, as it just may become something more than what you or even I would have expected...