"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 Griffin-class air cruiser Glorious
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 cruiser Glorious 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 air cruiser 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 force to Pearl Harbor to counter the enemy; even the revelation that the enemy force was using the Artorius 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 what possible 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 Glorious 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 cruiser 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 mobile battleship Mikasa
Pacific Ocean
April 11, 2025

The shot from the remaining Emperor's bow cannons reached Mikasa in a matter of milliseconds, slamming directly into her bow at multiple points. The collective shock alone caused the entire ship to pitch, knocking nearly the entire crew around their posts and ratting every millimeter of the battleship. The bridge crew was 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 Jones had managed to get the Mikasa stabilized, as well as reengage in evasive maneuvers.

"Port armor down to thirty-seven percent! Multiple hull breaches reported!" Futuba called as she crawled back up to her seat and overlooked her ship readout screen.

The ship rumbled again as another shot impacted just as everyone realized how much trouble they were in. "Maintain evasive maneuvers!" Minami ordered, subconsciously waving his right arm in a Zero-like gesture to emphasize the command. "Return fire!"

At that, Mikasa turned to port, thereby exposing her more armored starboard side as well as bringing her cannon turrets to bare, which she 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 battlecarrier to disengage from its assault momentarily. Or at least turn away to allow her CIWS to intercept the missiles, causing a flurry of explosions across the sky

Meanwhile, the remaining destroyers, whose numbers remained abundant, took the opportunity to fire another combined missile spray of their own, causing projectiles to rain over the Mikasa as she brought her own defensive weapons to bare. The enemy's tactics weren't lost on Minami; the enemy was now attempting to box him in for a final assault, one that he knew his ship would not be able to withstand. By now the Mikasa had wiped out the bulk of their fleet, including their aircraft and much of their submarine force, but she had paid the price in return; her battered hull was almost completely stripped of its defensive power, and what weapons remained were running dangerously low on ammunition. All the while the enemy remained abundant and undamaged enough to press the advantage.

And now, with his ship's armor whittled down even further, Minami knew that the battle had officially turned for the worst for his side. The Britannians now knew the Mikasa was effectively crippled, and so were further incensed to attack as they were doing now. As the battleship's remaining active CIWS knocked a few of the missiles out of the air, a fair number got through, slamming into her and causing her to rock once more. As is that wasn't enough, the Emperor renewed its cannon barrage and at least two of the remaining Astutes added their own torpedoes in, causing additional explosions across the Mikasa's already stricken hull. All while her cannons could only turn and fire once again, striking another Daring and obliterating her as well as damaging the Emperor that much further, yet doing very little in dissuading the enemy offensive.

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 his XO, Lieutenant Colonel Adrian Van Valkenburgh, 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; all he could do was push back against the enemy offensive. Thus, as the Mikasa's main cannons fired once more, 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 Mikasa schematic displayed on the main monitor continued to turn red...

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

"Goddamit!" Kallen roared as the Tristan's harken struck her left side, ripping a fair chunk of the Guren away. The only reason it hadn't done further damage was because Kallen had foreseen the attack and moved to evade, but she wasn't fast enough.

"You're starting to slip up," Gino remarked as he retracted the harken, all the while pressing forward against the retreating Guren. "Not a very professional thing to do."

Kallen grimaced as she prepared to avoid her opponent's next attack, which she knew was about to happen. Sure enough, the Tristan followed up by charging headlong, 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 when she had an opening. Unfortunately, her shots were evaded as the Tristan banked out of their line of fire. "This dance has gone on long enough!" Kallen barked as she continued firing. "I don't have any more time for this!"

"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, you're not in any position to retreat as is! Not when your mothership is being torn to pieces as we speak!"

"Bastard!" Kallen shot back as she returned fire again, only for the Tristan to again bank away from her shot. Her follow up shots were little different, as the light 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 reversing 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 back 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 banked around it. 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 hand and planting it 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 arms just as Kallen retracted her harken and 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 micromissiles shouted out from the Hector's 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 Hector responded by moving away to a new position where it could renew its attack. In response to that, 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 maneuvers to avoid becoming overwhelmed by the miniature projectiles.

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 missiles at the Jikisanshiyo's far greater than average top speed, she returned fire with ease. The Hector's armor again deflected the attack, 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 was about to pull the trigger, the Hector twisted around and countered with its chest launchers. Again C.C. had no choice but to abandon her offensive and reverse, further evading the missiles.

From there the Hector continued to fire its missiles, obviously hoping to overwhelm its opponent. C.C. felt annoyance rise up within her as she found herself being forced to evade that much further, almost wishing that she hadn't taken out the Hector'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 missiles 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. Again the Hector's armor weathered the bullets, thus allowing C.C. to escape the barrage and return to her own offensive, which was signified when she managed to spear the Hector's left arm with a radiant wave rocket, the limb bubbling not long after, forcing the Knight of Six to eject it before the radiation spread to the rest of the frame.

In response to the loss of its limb, the Hector'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 missiles 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 missiles; she had not expected the Hector to be capable of that either. With that she kicked the Jikisanshiyo's landspinners to full power and zoomed off through the city, the missiles being unable to arch around tight enough to follow her.

Even so, the purple knightmare only continued to spray out more firepower as it remained airborne, and C.C. soon ended up being forced into extreme maneuvering to keep from getting struck. At one point she attempted to move at the Hector as it landed and get a shot into its right hip, but was unable to get a clear enough aim before having to evade another wave of missile fire. This happened again when she attempted to strike at the cockpit pod, in which the Britannian unit angled itself around 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 deflecting whatever the return fire came. Such as it was when she ducked under the next barrage and swept around the Hector, where she moved to spear it directly through its right side.

But again the Hector turned toward her and fired first, and C.C. grimaced as she threw her knightmare out of the line of fire, her body straining against the force. Unfortunately that strain was enough to cause her to pause for the briefest of moments, allowing one of the missiles to strike against her own left shoulder, blowing away the pauldron mounted there and causing her whole knightmare to rock from the blast. Seeing its opponent finally incapacitated, albeit not for long, the Hector moved in for the kill.

Then suddenly, the Hector's head turned toward its 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. "Major!" Hannya Two called out as the trio flew around the Hector.

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 Hector'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.

Kento glowered as he saw another Akatsuki get cut down from enemy fire. In response to the death of a comrade, he turned a shot a radiant wave rocket directly into the offending Sutherland's side, bubbling and obliterating the whole frame in one shot before moving away. Beside him, Naomi's Jikisanshiyo followed up by opening fire with its own handgun, raining bullets into any Britannian knightmares in front of them and clearing a path for them to move through, which the couple followed upon with great speed.

All around him, Kento watched in near desperation as more Black Knight signals were marked "LOST" on his tacscreen. It seemed like the losses were stacking up that much faster now, all the while the Britannians, despite their own losses, retained their superior numbers. The reason why was obvious enough; as Kento and his wife both felt with themselves, fatigue was starting to set in, with the Black Knights having been engaged in constant fighting for whole hours, while the Britannian force from the Homeland had only recently arrived by comparison. It helped even less that they had two Knights of the Round, as well as Schneizel's Sword, mixed amongst them.

However, Kento couldn't concentrate on that or is exhaustion as his sensors once more beeped in warning. From overhead, a trio of Sutherlands descended from a set of building tops. At their descent, both Akatsukis brandished their katen yaibatous and charged. All at once the Sutherlands attacked with their machine guns, raining bullets and grenades at the pair of Jikisanshiyos as they approached. Kento put his unit into evasion, as did Naomi beside him, wading their way through the fire as they always had. One bullet came close to clipping Kento across the left shoulder, but he ignored the sensation and kept his knightmare on course, firing back as best as he could throughout.

Once he was on top of the first Sutherland, Kento brought his chainsword around and moved for a diagonal cut, only for the Sutherland to parry with its tonfa. Suppressing a growl in anger, Kento had his Jikisanshiyo deflect the following two slashes, then proceeded to counter, scoring a nice sized gash across the waist. His frame's main powerplant stricken, the enemy devicer had no choice but to eject, from which the second Sutherland moved in to take its place, again forcing Kento on the defensive.

Gritting his teeth at the sight of the sparks flying between his blade and the Sutherland's, Kento pushed his Jikisanshiyo forward, throwing the Britannian knightmare back. Upon doing so, he brought his handgun back up and fired a burst, spraying bullets across the enemy frame. It didn't explode, but it was obvious that it and its devicer were dead, as the Sutherland crumpled under the fire and collapsed at the side of a building. Simultaneously, Naomi managed to finish off her own opponent by thrusting her chainsword into its torso and the cockpit, a fresh coat of blood covering the blade as she withdrew it.

At that, two Gloucesters were detected moving in from another vector, forcing both Black Knights to leap away as they open fired. Noting that they were both armed with lances, both Kento and Naomi returned fire simultaneously, but the two ace issue knightmares weaved through the bullets in almost effortless fashion. Having no choice, the Akatsuki devicers could only raise their blades and parry the lances as they were thrust, pushing them upward while either Gloucester attempted to overpower them. Though only a marginal upgrade to the Sutherland as a whole, the Gloucesters were still powerful enough to push hard against either eighth generation knightmare, such that both Japanese pilots exerted their full strength to keep them from breaking their holds and moving in for the kill.

However, the Gloucesters weren't powerful enough. One after the other, the Sugiyamas forced them back, then proceeded on the offensive themselves, with Kento bifurcating his opponent along the waist while Naomi dodged the responding lance thrust and moved behind, slashing the cockpit pod from the right. The former knightmare fell back in halves, its cockpit pod ejecting, while the latter simply fell dead.

And then, just as either devicer began to catch their breath, a new signal was detected by their sensors. One moving considerably faster than the preceding Gloucesters and Sutherlands, such that it was upon them in a matter of seconds. What the-!? either devicer just managed to think before reversing their knightmares to avoid the oncoming attack.

From there, the green and gold Vincent fell, its lance aimed downward to impale where Kento had originally been. As the newer generation knightmare righted itself, glaring back at the two Black Knight units with its triple eyes, both Sugiyamas felt cold dread move over them. "Schneizel's Sword!" Naomi gaped, raising her handgun and firing instantly, Kento joining her just as quickly

Upon their attack, the Vincent banked to left, redrawing its VARIS and returning fire. Being familiar with the weapon through their experiences with the Lancelot, both Sugiyamas evaded the shots by separating and putting their knightmares to their full speeds, moving to attack the Vincent at its flanks. However, upon drawing close with their chainswords, the Vincent responded by raising its conjoined lances once more, effortlessly parrying either blade as it reversed. From there, when it looked the Vincent was about to back into the side of a nearby building, the enemy knightmare leaped up and over once more, in turn causing the two chainswords to cross.

"Naomi!" Kento let out as the Vincent landed again, dodged to right while bringing its left needle blazer to bear, and then charging straight at Naomi's Akatsuki. At that, Kento moved to intertwine himself between it and his wife's machine, but he was too late. Only the timely ejection of his spouse's cockpit pod, just as the green and gold knightmare smashed its peculiar weapon into its torso and triggered the ensuing energy burst, prevented the worst from occurring. The pod landed several meters away, to which Kento immediately moved in front of to prevent the Britannian ace from doing what so many of her kind had done in the past.

Though seemingly uninterested in the downed cockpit pod, the Vincent charged on regardless, thrusting its lance with such power that Kento was just barely able to parry it. From there, he took several steps back as the enemy ace launched a flurry of attacks with her primary melee weapon, which either the Japanese devicer was just barely able to deflect or did in fact strike, taking bits and pieces of armor off of his knightmare. And all throughout, Kento had the sinking feeling that the enemy devicer wasn't attacking him with her full strength; that she was merely backing him into a corner before she would launch the finishing blow.

That thought in turn proved to be the case as, once Kento moved with his back against the side of another building, the Vincent proceeded to slash his katen yaibatou at the hilt, causing the chainblade to fly away. At that, Kento raised his handgun, but that too was cut away, and then his slash harken once he launched it. All that remained were the radiant wave rockets, to which he only had one left; Kento immediately raised it up and fired at point blank. Only then did the Vincent reverse, at which it spun its lance around just as the rocket flew from its launcher and cut the projectile into halves down the middle, both of which flying away in separate vectors. From there, the Vincent righted its lance and charged once again, all the while Kento could only hold his breath and wait for the inevitable.

Suddenly, a brilliant stream of crimson energy forced the Vincent to abandon its charge and leap away again. From there, a familiar cobalt blue knightmare made its way onto the scene, its surger extended to fire another shot. "I'll take care of this Tengu One!" Rai called out as he charged after the Vincent, which began shooting at him with its VARIS. "Take Kitsune One and get out of here!"

Knowing he wasn't in a position to argue, even if he wanted to, Kento quickly brought his Akatsuki out and moved toward Naomi's downed cockpit pod. Once it was in his arms, he put his landspinners to full power and charged away in search of a temporary safe haven.

Could this really be it for us…? he thought as he glanced over his monitor, both looking back toward where the Aoren was combating the Vincent, as well as his still present tacscreen. Where an additional number of Black Knight signals were marked "LOST" in the last few minutes.

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 grip 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 Artorius 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 Lord Waldstein 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 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 Artorius 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 Artorius' 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 Artorius fired its VARIS at him, to which he just barely evaded by reversing his landspinners and evading the resultant shots. From there, the Artorius continued its attack by redrawing its own left hand MVS and charging forward again, making a mighty swipe that again the smaller Lancelot just managed to evade by skating back, the crimson 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 Artorius moved in and reached out with its right hand – having stowed the VARIS just before – then 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 knight charging at him again, this time both MVS drawn for the kill. Out of desperation Suzaku triggered flipped himself back up and put all power into his landspinners, pushing the Lancelot back and again just barely dodging the Artorius'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 prepared to charge back at the Artorius, 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 Artorius charging right at him through the flames, only this time instead of the opposite knightmare attacking him with its swords, 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 Artorius 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 Artorius jumped back and drew its VARIS, firing it on Burst Mode. From there, the 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 both of its arm mounted 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 Artorius moments earlier, emerald eyes flared with vehemence and looking as enraged 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, the fact remained it was not dead.

"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 Artorius' left shoulder, breaking the pauldron there. Lelouch attempted to counter this by firing his VARIS at point blank, but Suzaku responded by firing his left hip mounted slash harken into the rifle, causing it to detonate prematurely and destroy the barrel, though sacrificing the harken in the process. As if responding to the "pain" of its wounds and Suzaku's insolence, the Artorius' eyes seemingly ignited with crimson while it drew an MVS, rising to strike back. However, Suzaku easily saw that attack coming, and instantly brought his remaining MVS around to knock the opposite sword out of the Artorius' grip, before proceeding to cut into the Artorius' right arm mounted Blaze Luminous generator.

Grimacing from the additional damage, Lelouch reversed and returned fire with his slash harkens, sending the rocket propelled anchors forward. Only the sight of the Artorius bringing its arms up gave Suzaku enough warning to evade in time, as well as deflect with his remaining arm mounted Blaze Luminous. A moment later, the Artorius gave chase and smashed its remaining MVS against the Lancelot's singular blade, 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 across the ground 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 own left shoulder pauldron as well as nearly cut into its chest 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 Artorius' leg up and let loose a massive kick into the Lancelot's side, one that caused its Yggdrasil drive to flicker in power. As a result, the Lancelot temporarily lost its balance, and so fell back onto the ground cockpit first. With only milliseconds to spare before Suzaku recovered, Lelouch launched the Artorius forward, ready to plant his sword right into the Lancelot's chest with full force. 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 Artorius continued to hold its blade tip 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 Artorius' blade, 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 Artorius' blade 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 Lord Waldstein. 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 Artorius's sword off its shield, and Lelouch responded by reversing his landspinners as the white knightmare got back up moved to strike with its own blade. Both swords clashed as the duel continued yet again. "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 Artorius, but Lelouch was quick enough to reach his knightmare's left arm out and engage his own Blaze Luminous 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 Artorius' 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 Artorius'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 Artorius' 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 as he brought his sword up to deflect the Artorius' attack, and then follow back up with his own.

Black Knights mobile battleship Mikasa
Pacific Ocean
April 11, 2025

Another blast rocked the entire Mikasa, 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. "Main drive is red lining!"

"B and C turrets have been destroyed! Damage reported in engine room!" another shouted out, just as another shot slammed into the Mikasa'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.

"Return fire with A turret!" 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 enemy fleet. "Continue evasive maneuvers!"

"Already working on it sir!" George called up from the helm section as he struggled to keep the ship under control. Little by little, the ship turned, though the damage to her motor controls meant that the process was more drawn out than before. Minami could only grit his teeth as a result, as the slower his ship moved, the more open she would remain to enemy fire.

By now, most of the Britannian fleet had been whittled down to a select few numbers, but there were still enough out there that the Mikasa could not disengage. Beside the remaining Emperor-class, which even now was bombarding the Black Knight flagship with her main guns, there were still several destroyers moving about, adding whatever missiles they had remaining to their own flagship's bombardments, as well as one or two Astutes lurking around. No more Lightnings had appeared for the last half hour, which meant they were all either shot down or run out of ordinance, but the Portmans remained, continuing to track the Mikasa while attacking with their own torpedoes at every opportunity.

Despite the enemies' loss of numbers however, the problem remained that the Mikasa was growing more and more on her last legs. Reduced to one turret for her main guns, her bullets and missiles nearly spent and her armor all but completely overwhelmed, Minami knew that the mighty battleship would not last much longer. This was only emphasized further when another shell found its way into the Mikasa's bow, causing her to quake once more as the lights and monitors flickered upon impact. Minami could just barely hold himself down onto his chair. This in turn was followed by a torpedo barrage from the Portmans, which slammed into the starboard side. "Why aren't we returning fire!?"

Mutsuki could only shake her head amidst the quaking. "Our targeting systems were damaged in the last attack!" she called out. "Damage control is still repairing them!"

Another explosion rocked the ship as more enemy projectiles struck, causing the lights to blackout for a brief time. And then, an internal communication circuit suddenly beeped open. "Engine Room to Bridge! We just lost the main drive system!"

Minami glowered further. That was exactly the last thing they needed. "What about the secondaries!?"

"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 darkness 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, finding his words alien to his ears for their calm and collectedness. "Either we win, or we go down fighting."

Nodding grimly, Minami turned back to the rest of his crew and returned to barking orders. "All remaining weapons, fire at will!" he commanded, as more shells struck home. "Concentrate on that damned carrier!"

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

Not much longer. Carta thought as she steered a glance toward her tacscreen, additional numbers of enemy units having been marked destroyed. Though they weren't dying in droves as Carta would have preferred, the fact remained that the enemy was dying; surely and gradually, the Britannians were hunting them down and overwhelming them, one after the other, such that victory for the Empire, and Pendragon's subsequent avenging, was all but assured. They need only keep up the pace.

Unfortunately she couldn't watch the tacscreen for long as her threat indicators beeped in warning once more. Charging directly at her, the blue knightmare that she was facing once more extended its claw to ensnare her, but Carta was quick enough to leap back just as the weapon's tips closed over where she had been. She then countered by firing another shot from her VARIS, but once more the cobalt blue knightmare generated a red energy shield, which stopped the bullet short in a field ripples. That in itself provoked the nagging sense of familiarity within Carta as she landed back and charged herself, switching back to her lances in the process. There was indeed something about the enemy's tactics and technology that she recognized, but couldn't place, much to her growing annoyance. Just what had she and those around her been fighting against all this time? The answer continued to evade her, though she knew it was close.

As she half-expected, the blue knightmare banked aside to dodge her thrust, to which she spun her Vincent around and reangled the twin lance to deflect its following knife attack. It then reversed and moved to launch another grenade, but Carta evaded by dodging to the left, then maintaining her velocity while bringing her needle blazer to bear once more. This time she was fast enough that the enemy knightmare, unable to dodge in time, was forced to throw up its shield once again. Unfortunately for the enemy devicer however, the needle blazer was more than strong enough to shatter the shield at point blank, causing the enemy frame to recoil in the process. However, just as Carta was about to lay a strike in its torso, where she suspected the Yggdrasil drive was placed, the enemy managed to reverse in time to evade her slash. He – and somehow Carta knew that the devicer was a male as much as he was an ace – then fired his slash harken, which forced Carta to back away as well, allowing the enemy room to rebrandish his knife and drive forward again, regaining the offensive.

The Britannian knight sneered at the enemy's charge, once again forced into evasion as it attacked with its claw and knife simultaneously. If there was one thing she hated about the Vincent, it was that it lacked the Blaze Luminous projectors of its parent. Not that Carta disliked the needle blazers that were put in their place, as they were grand striking weapons, but she would have preferred Britannia's next generation knightmare – or at least the prototype of said next generation knightmare, as she doubted the Vincent would be completely mass produced in its present form – to have held suitable defensive power, which had been the primary failings of the Glasgow and the Sutherland. Even so, she was able to dodge or parry the attacks with her lances well enough, even managing to inflict a nice sized gash into the enemy knightmare's right shoulder; not quite severing the claw arm as she had intended, but a hit was a hit. This in turn caused the enemy knightmare to respond by slashing its knife at her torso, which in turn managed to land a cut as Carta reversed and evaded, but seemingly not one deep enough to cause any serious damage.

Backing down the street as the blue knightmare continued its offensive, Carta deflected its latest claw attack, knocking the peculiar weapon away before it could grasp onto her machine, and then spun her lance around to swat the knightmare with the side of the pole, sending it flying into the side of nearby building. At that, she charged to finish it off, but the enemy devicer, retaining his quickness, launched his slash harken again to the building roof and moved upward, landing on the top in a matter of seconds. Following his example, Carta launched her own harkens and scaled up the building after him, moving in fast enough to evade another energy stream attack as she did.

Launching her Vincent forward, she smashed her lance against the enemy's shield, the maser vibration blade holding against the crimson ripples as she pushed her knightmare on. Eventually, the enemy knightmare managed to force her blade to the side, then proceed to slash at her again with its knife, but Carta remained prepared and easily parried the knife attack, though she ended up interlocking her blade between its prongs. She managed to tear it away however, from which she spun and moved to strike with the opposite blade, but the blue knightmare reversed away, leaping back onto another building top, forcing Carta to pursue.

"Run all you like my little blue friend," Carta thought with a vicious grin as she closed on the enemy knightmare, moving from rooftop to rooftop while continuing their duel. All the while a quick glance toward her tacscreen showed further Britannian progress against the enemy. "You will be finished regardless, alongside the rest of your ilk."

Seemingly responding to the enemy ace's claim, the blue knightmare twisted around to launch another energy stream, but Carta again dodged, leaping into the air and spinning her lances around, setting to vertically impale. This forced the blue frame to leap off the roof it was on and back to the street below, narrowly avoiding the lance blade, which buried itself through the rooftop and into the compartment underneath. Momentarily hoping that she hadn't caused too much damage, nor inflicted any casualties, Carta followed her adversary quickly, landing and subsequently crushing a parked car before leaping after the blue frame, smashing her lance against its knife once more.

C.C.'s felt her teeth grit together as she and her fellow Hannya Squadron pilots continued firing their guns, sending more bullets sailing at the Hector 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 Hector's armor was still enough to deflect their shots, and every small pause on any one of their parts was followed upon by a barrage of micromissiles. This was the immediate case for C.C. herself, to which she put her knightmare into overdrive and dashed past the projectiles, one after the other, until she gained another clear shot at the Hector itself, albeit still not quick enough on the draw to target a weakpoint.

Yet despite the lack of real 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 Hector'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.

The pink one in particular was proving to be more skilled than the other; as horrid as its color scheme was, its devicer was clearly an ace, as well as a probable unit commander. As if that weren't enough, something in Anya felt a sense of familiarity with that unit, as if she somehow recognized her opponent's fighting 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 micromissiles lanced out from the Hector, 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 missiles at all of them, sending the Hannya knightmares back on the evasive as well. Immediately C.C. saw her opportunity, and so charged in, brandishing her katen yaibatou as she did.

"I'm moving in close!" C.C. shouted out to her subordinates as she put power into her landspinners. Far faster than a normal Akatsuki could manage, the Jikisanshiyo shot through the fire, chainblade aglow, and moved to strike the Hector at close-range while the others regrouped. At first the Hector 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 the cockpit block. Anya's eyes widened in horror at that; no one had ever gotten close enough to strike her cockpit before. As such, she quickly had the Hector move forward, the enemy's resulting slash coming short, before the larger knightmare twisted around to again fire more micromissiles.

"So you can dodge after all," C.C. commented, firing more handgun shots as she closed the distance. Then with certain grace she charged once more and slammed her katen yaibatou against the magenta knightmare's chest. Sparks flew as the chainsword grinded against the heavy armor, the Jikisanshiyo's mono-eye staring directly into the Hector'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. Seemingly reacting to this, the Hector's Yggdrasil drive disengaged, causing the knightmare to fall into an inactive kneeling position, its emerald eyes dimming into inactivity. C.C. could only watch in uncharacteristic shock at this as she reversed her knightmare back several meters, in case the Hector fell forward onto its face.

Once she was sure the enemy assault frame was truly pacified, 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.

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 toward the inactive. "You and the Hector froze in place for almost a whole minute and then it just stopped altogether."

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

She then took a glance toward her tacscreen. Which showed the Britannians continuing to hold the initiative. "Right now, we still have a losing battle to fight."

The Tristan again brought down its poleaxe blade onto the Guren's knife blade, driving the red knightmare back several meters. Kallen ground her teeth and had her knightmare break the lock, then firing a radiant wave stream as she did only for the Tristan to dodge and give chase. Soon enough the Knight of Three overcame 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, brandishing 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 once it landed. The Knight of Three, however, was more or less used to that tactic by now, and countered 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 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, generating a radiant wave shield 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, dashing 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, we retain the initiative, and Prince Schneizel's reinforcements are due to arrive any minute," he dove in and spun his poleaxe into a series of slashes, forcing the Guren back further. "Once they're here, you will be completely overwhelmed."

"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 landspinners, 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 side fin, 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, causing the whole frame to fall onto its side 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 fall, but she didn't care about him anymore. Instead, she concentrated her power on the battle around her. Indeed, the Britannians were holding the initiative, something that their devicers knew all too well; one after another, they moved against the beleaguered and ultimately exhausted Black Knight units, picking them off gradually even as more of their own knightmares were being struck down through the process. Tohdoh was already attempting to rally the others, but it was a vain effort at best, as more and more Black Knight units were being hunted down and destroyed piecemeal, while the Britannians retained their numbers and morale. The end, it seemed, was distant but inevitable.

Thus, it was time for the Red Dragoness to act.

"We're not done yet!" Gino called out as the Tristan shot back up, and ready to resume the battle. Seeing his approach, Kallen gunned her landspinners and shot toward the direction of the closest enemy force, one that was in turn moving against a quickly declining number of Black Knights. They would be the first in what would be her newest line of victims.

The Tristan remained close behind her however, firing its machine cannons in an attempted to knock her out, 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 leaped down from a set of buildings and launched past the Guren Nishiki, falling upon the Tristan faster than most humans could even comprehend. Only a timely re-angling of the light knightmare's poleaxe kept the Zero Squadron unit's surger from reaching.

"Charmelle!" Gino called out in surprise as his former friend 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.

Deflecting the blue knightmare's following attack with a well-placed parry, Carta was about to regain the offensive when her sensors beeped once more; another knightmare had moved into immediate range. At first, Carta paid it no mind, but then, much to her sudden astonishment, she saw how fast the new signal was moving; almost three times the speed of the regular models. At that, she moved to a clear spot upon her apparent field - by now she and her opponent had moved their fight to the top of another building, specifically a large shopping mall, which in turn gave her a good view of the surrounding city – and deployed her factspheres. No more than a second later, the image of the charging knightmare became firmly displayed on her main screen. And all at once, the world came crashing down around Carta.

"That's…!" she gaped, her composure slipping away as surprise and growing fear dawned on her face at the enemy machine. Though it had been a long time ago, she had been to Area 11 once upon a time, having followed her liege during his brief stay there, and therefore she easily identified the Guren Nishiki, the crimson armored beast with the oversized clawed right arm and the piercing sapphire eyes. Just as she knew of its devicer, the woman that had been renowned as the Red Dragoness and the Ace of the Elevens not so long ago.

And following that revelation, the feelings of familiarity that had haunted her throughout the battle at last solidified, such that Carta felt herself cringe against them. At long last she 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 around her control sticks. "Damn you Schneizel!" she bellowed with derision, resisting the urge to plant her fist into her control panel. "You knew from the beginning, didn't you!?"

She then keyed her comm. into the unit band. "Saber One to all available units!" she commanded. "Break off and move to intercept new target, designated Dragon One!" she bellowed, marking the Guren Nishiki as a priority target. "I want it destroyed, immediately!"

She would have broken off and pursued the Guren herself, but her opponent – which she now recognized as a blue coated Guren itself – chose that moment to launch itself at her again, claw open to grasp. Sneering in response, she leaped up and over the machine's claw, even planting her feet on the extended arm for a double leap, from which she landed directly behind and moved to strike with her back lance blade. However, the Guren dodged that as well, forcing Carta withdraw the weapon before it could grab onto it, then spinning it overhead to strike it against the blue knightmare's knife. Both blades ground together as Carta glared at her opponent with now clear rage. "I suppose that makes you the Blue Thunder God then!?" she shouted at the enemy unit as she put more power into her blades.

Though she didn't know whether or not her adversary had heard her, his response was enough. Throwing her lance blade aside, the blue Guren reached out with its claw once more and fired another radiant wave attack, this one a rapid fire machine gun burst, forcing Carta to reverse her Vincent and move across the roof in evasion. At that moment, she realized that winning the present battle mattered more than ever. She didn't know how Kallen Kouzuki, or Rai Sumeragi and the other Black Knights for that matter, managed to survive the Devastation, but she knew that unless they were defeated here and now, then the nightmare of eight years ago would return to haunt Britannia once again. In the middle of a war with the European Union no less, to say nothing of the Chinese Liberation Army and the various other movements that continued to resist Britannia's conquest to the present.

Thus, putting her Vincent into a renewed charge, Carta drove her lance at the enemy she was already facing, now with the full intent of defeating it as quickly as she could. From which she would continue on to the Red Dragoness herself, and then every other black machine still standing, until she was satisfied that there were none remaining. Whatever it took, the legacy of the Black Rebellion had to, and would, die here, before it could spread throughout the world once more.

Kallen felt her eyes narrow and her heart quicken as she approached her first set of targets 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 knightmares' inner mechanics, as well as the electronics and circuitry. She "saw" the assorted devicers in their respective cockpits, already reacting to her approach with a mixture of fear and resolution. She "saw" the bullets and projectiles being loaded into the firing chambers of their host weapons, either being fired on the Black Knight units that the group was originally preying upon or in preparation of her attack. And perhaps most importantly, she "saw" the enemy commander in the cockpit of a Gloucester, rallying his troops, and all those in close proximity to intercept her.

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. Like a hawk, she streaked around the bullets in a lightning fast zigzag pattern, one that made it impossible for the Sutherlands' and Gloucesters' targeting systems to get a clean shot on her yet allowing her to retain her course toward them. Not once did her gaze avert from her path, nor did her Absolute Awareness veer away from the line of targets that now laid open before 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 storm, her enemies' collective image growing in her monitors, while her Geass continued to hover them.

"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 air and toward the Gloucester that served as the command unit. As she knew would happen, the beam blasted its way into the enemy knightmare and obliterated it instantly. As a result, the command structure of that particular array was thrown into momentary confusion, allowing Kallen to draw closer in. She continued her attack, executing one attack after another at the various knightmares, striking them down in systematic fashion that she would never have been able to perform without her Geass, causing further lines of explosions while taking inner delight in the panic that she was causing throughout the enemy ranks. Both from the death and destruction and the dawning realization among the Britannians that they were now facing something far more dangerous than they originally believed.

The enemy fire only intensified from there as additional knightmares, having diverted from their original assaults, moved to intercept her before she caused too much damage. A greater volume of bullets and shells were fired at her as a result, followed by a spray of missiles from units equipped with Sattel Waffens. Again Kallen dove through the wall of bullets, banking and spinning past them in such a way that could be described as majestic, just as the missiles moved from above. 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 upon another Sutherland squad, from which she drove her knife down on the unit commander's cockpit straight on. From there, Kallen had the Guren put on greater speed and dart around the resulting fire, weaving around the rain of lead while firing back one stream after another at the other knightmares, burning them down one at a time.

By now, Kallen could "see" sheer panic breaking through the enemy ranks; they had yet to identify her as the Red Dragoness, but that hardly mattered, as they saw her as a great, unstoppable monster all the same. And yet, that only encouraged further attacks on her, as more and more enemy knightmares broke off from their original targets and moved to intercept her as she moved throughout the city. From there, the Black Knights began to rally at last, with Tohdoh organizing them into a counteroffensive, but present circumstances prevented Kallen from concentrating too much on that.

Gritting her teeth, she inverted the Guren and made a long drive into another, somewhat larger formation, firing again and again at different knightmares – once again starting with the one with the highest ranking commander – as she moved past, once more while evading any type of fire that was launched at her. More Sutherlands and Gloucesters burned away and more explosions sounded across the streets as a result. More Sutherlands moved behind her as she did this, concentrating their fire on the Guren, but again Kallen danced around it all. From there she twisted around and let out another stream of radiation, one that lasted much longer than her previous attacks, which she swept over the enemy knightmares as a true dragon breathing flame. It was only until the beam completely destroyed the line that she broke off and turned back away, all the while picking up more incoming targets.

As she moved toward Pearl City's largest park area, Kallen felt her attention instinctively shift to the right as she "saw" another group of Sutherlands, this one much larger than those she had taken out, 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.

Once again, she "saw" directly into each and every one of the knightmares, from their aforementioned mechanical parts to the pilots in the cockpit pods themselves. In that same instant she identified the commander, a brown haired man with Major rank pips on his pilot 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, twisting around to charge at the formation. Two more of their number had been properly dispatched with running slashes 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 an on target grenade of her own. In a matter of seconds, their numbers dwindled to just one, which was now moving 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 a nearby building, where a sniper rifle equipped Sutherland was leveling its weapon toward 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 moved around 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 rifle, just as the sniper pulled the trigger; little over a millisecond later, a single bullet 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 turned around and resumed her offensive. By now, almost every enemy knightmare in Pearl City was bearing down on her, attacking her from virtually every angle. She continued to evade however, as well as dispatching them one after the other, now switching between her various weapons depending upon the range and vulnerability. Explosions sounded all throughout the onslaught as a result.

Black Knights mobile battleship Mikasa
Pacific Ocean
April 11, 2025

Glowering from his command chair, Minami kept his eyes glued on the static filled monitor at the top of the bridge. Up ahead, the damaged yet imposing shape of the last Daring-class destroyer – what could only be the last ship within the Britannian taskforce - was centered upon that monitor, where it grew larger and larger in the latter as the Mikasa closed the distance. The destroyer had long since noticed their approach and was trying to throw them off with a barrage from its forward gun, her missiles apparently long spent. The Mikasa pressed on through the onslaught regardless, her armor more than able to hold to that kind of firepower. All the while her own cannons leveled out.

"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 HV shots erupted from the Mikasa and blasted their way directly through the Daring's hull. Another second later, the destroyer ceased to exist as anything more than ignited air and fiery remains, with what little there was of the latter sinking into the water below.

After that, a moment of calm erupted on the bridge as all collectively held their breaths. And then, once Ichijiku verified that there were no further enemy contacts anywhere in the present range, the bridge crew began to relax, with Minami chief among them. His ship was battered and beaten, barely kept afloat under her own power, while his crew - the ones still alive - was thoroughly exhausted and haggard, but all the same, they had triumphed. Only one thing remained now.

"Enemy reinforcements will be due at any moment," Ohgi shouted, causing the bridge to snap back into activity. "Begin recovery procedures at once!"

Shifting back into his role, Minami nodded and then nodded to Ichijiku. "Contact our knightmares and order them to standby for recovery," he commanded. "Then deploy the Hayabusas!"

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

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 maneuver too well, 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, Gino could only push more forward 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 bear, but Gino knocked the knife away and then twisted the poleaxe around, just in time to slash into the launcher 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 a 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 forced 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 Pearl Harbor 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 growingly 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 left arm, forcing Gino to eject it, but not before it had passed its poleaxe to the right. "...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 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, which was forced onto a knee to stabilized. 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 the 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. As the Guren Isshiki leaped back off, the Tristan lost power and fell silent, at the same time losing its grip on its poleaxe. Its red eyes then dimmed into activity, all the while its frantic devicer attempted to bring it back online again.

Her opponent incapacitated, Charmelle gave the disabled knightmare and its pilot one last glance, before turning back toward the continuing battle. Or at least, what remained of it seemingly; as she looked over her tacscreen, Charmelle saw that her commander apparently had everything well in hand.

I don't believe it. Carta thought as she managed to steal a glance toward her tacscreen again, her heart nearly stopping in her chest at what she was seeing. What had been an almost assured victory had shifted into a nearing total defeat; despite all of its opposition, the Guren Nishiki had not only remained active, but had singlehandedly wiped out the bulk of Carta's forces, practically rampaging through Pearl City untouched as every Sutherland and Gloucester that moved against it was laid to waste. And if that wasn't bad enough, the Red Dragoness' rout had proven enough for the Black Knights to regain the offensive, such that they were now picking off the remnants that the Guren had passed over or had been unable to reach. All concluding to a single undeniable truth: that the Holy Britannian Empire would suffer its third defeat against the Order of the Black Knights as the latter fully entered the war.

The Colonel 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 streets. The knowledge that she had made the wrong decision in sending the bulk of her knightmares after it, effectively sending hounds to hunt a dragon, didn't help her pride any either. Not that anyone in her position would have believed such numbers would have been insufficient against a single knightmare frame, as even the Knights of the Round would have had great difficulty against such a force. 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 the whole of the Empire. All she could do now was survive the present and hope for a chance to redeem herself in the future.

At the same time however, she wasn't about to let the Black Knights have their victory without costing them further. And, as she turned her focus back on the blue Guren in front of her, whose blade remained interlocked with hers, sparks flying between them as they grated against one another, she knew exactly what that cost would be.

Glowering into the amber eyes of her opponent, Carta swung her lance toward her right, in turn throwing the Guren's fork knife toward that particular direction, before spinning her melee weapon around and moving to impale. The Guren countered by throwing its surger forward and generating another shield, deflecting the lance blade in a field of crimson ripples, to which Carta followed up on by withdrawing the lance and planting right needle blazer against. Obviously recalling how the shield faired against that particular weapon before, the Guren reversed and banked just as Carta triggered the weapon, sending the resulting energy pulse into the open air. She then threw up her lance again just as the Blue Thunder God moved to strike her at the side, knocking its claw away with the pole and then turn and launching her right slash harken, which smashed into the Guren's faceplate, nearly shattering it.

At last causing real damage, Carta stepped up the offensive, taking advantage of her opponent's momentary stun to drive the Vincent forward and smash her left shoulder against the Guren, knocking it off the top of the mall and into the parking lot below. She followed, landing mere moments after the Guren reoriented itself and reversed, to which she withdrew her VARIS and fired a shot. This in turn was deflected when the blue knightmare threw up its shield again, but during the process Carta was mobile again, circling to the left and moving to strike the surger.

Again however, her attack fell short as the Guren reversed as well, then switched back to its grenade launcher and fired a shot back at her, which Carta evaded and allowed to fall into the mall's entrance. From there, she closed the distance and slashed her lance against the Guren's outstretched left arm, bifurcating it through the middle and rendering it and the grenade launcher useless while also destroying the fork knife. The Guren then attempted to reverse and bring its surger back to bare, but as shaken as its devicer was, it was no contest for Carta, evoking the image of Suzaku Kururugi before her, to redraw her VARIS and fire a shot straight into the claw, causing it to detonate instantly.

Smirking at her triumph, Carta lined her VARIS up for the killing shot. Though she was tempted to offer the Blue Thunder God the opportunity to surrender, the image of the still burning Pearl Harbor was more than enough to dispel that temptation. After all that had happened tonight, an example was needed for the rest of the world to see.

However, just as she was about to pull the trigger, the Blue Thunder God beat her to the draw, firing his last remaining weapon at her. In a near instant, the slash harken slammed against the Vincent's side, causing the entire knightmare to quake from the impact. This in turn threw off Carta's aim long enough for the blue Guren to withdraw, reversing on its landspinners and speeding away.

"Craven!" Carta snarled as she brought her VARIS back to bear, engaging its Burst Mode and taking aim at the Guren's retreating form. Her target may have been running, but there was no way he would be able to evade her. Not at the present range.

And yet, as Carta pulled back on the trigger, a sudden alert window appeared on her monitor, causing the colonel's eyes to widen in horror. Whether by luck or intention, the slash harken had struck against the area that the Blue Thunder God had damaged earlier; an area that was dangerously close to the Yggdrasil drive. As a result, the powerplant was now damaged and destabilizing; not enough to cause the frame to detonate, much to Carta's relief, but enough for the entire system to fall into emergency shutdown. As a result, the cockpit dimmed as the Vincent fell into in activity, the last image Carta saw being what looked like a VTOL swooping down upon retreating Guren. Obviously to return it to its mothership.

"No!" Carta roared as she fought the controls, trying to get her knightmare active again. But despite her efforts, culminating in the colonel's fists slamming into the control panel, the Vincent remained still. Leaving Carta to remain in the darkness and await recovery, the shame of her defeat fixed over her.

It was all but over now, Kallen "saw" through the blaze around her. From her Geass, she could "see" that, while a few other enemy knightmares remained active, they were now all but in complete retreat; their devicers' morale broken, they moved to disengage, one after the other, and seek shelter. This only led to them being hunted down and struck, much as they had done to the Black Knights beforehand, as Akatsukis, the Gurens of Zero Squadron and Tohdoh's Zangetsu moved to intercept. And what few knightmares remained in closer proximity to her instantly chose to withdraw, less they be added to the pyre that now surrounded her, made of the scorched and melted remains of her newest kills.

And that was not all, much to Kallen's inward relief. Moving into the edge of her Geass' range and closing rapidly, Kallen could see the Hayabusas incoming, ready to withdraw the Black Knights fully. And though Kallen couldn't "see" the Black Battleship herself, as it was still far beyond her scope, the Hayabusas' presence was more than enough assurance that their flagship remained. And with it, the promise of return to Okinawa.

It really is our win. Kallen thought as she watched the Hayabusas draw ever closer. She then shifted her attention closer, toward the still burning Pearl Harbor, where the one who brought them that win remained locked in combat with his mortal enemy. An action that would nearly cost the Red Dragoness completely.

So concentrated was she on the continuing duel between the Demon King and Britannia's White Knight that, despite it falling into her Geass' range, she failed to pick up the more immediate threat. Moving stealthily along a set of buildings behind her, the still active sniper rifle equipped Sutherland moved up to its firing position and leveled its rifle. The devicer within knowing he had mere seconds to act, he quickly targeted the Guren Nishiki's cockpit and began to pull down on the trigger.

Only then did Kallen's attention, whether by her own hand or through her Geass' power, shift toward the immediate threat, to which she began moving into action herself. Unfortunately, while her Geass empowered her senses, her body remained constrained by its physical limits, to say nothing of the limitations of her machine. As a result, while Kallen managed to turn her Guren around, she had no time to maneuver, nor even bring her exposed cockpit out of the line of fire. All while the Sutherland's finger gradually pulled back on the rifle trigger. 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 into the left side of the Sutherland. From there she continued to "watch", again in what barely registered as milliseconds, as radiation erupted throughout the frame, causing its mechanics to breakdown and metal to bubble all the way through while the disrupted power systems erupted in flame, which also traveled throughout the entire knightmare. All cumulating in the Sutherland exploding in a thunderous boom, long before the devicer within realized what had struck him.

Squinting from the flash of the resultant flames, Kallen extended her vision further toward the direction that the shot had come from. As she half-expected, there, standing upon the rooftop of another building, was C.C.'s pink Jikisanshiyo, its right arm extended outward. 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 Tohdoh's voice over the radio. By now the Hayabusas were in the process of descending and picking up the various knightmares from the city lines, before turning and flying toward the south. "All Black Knight units return to the Mikasa!"

As a Hayabusa swooped in to pick up her knightmare as well, Kallen keyed in. "Rei Leader to Shogun Leader. Gyoku One is still engaged over target area!" she called out just as the Hayabusa took off with the Guren Nishiki in tow. "Breaking off to retrieve him!"

Without waiting for Tohdoh's reply, though she assumed it would have been an approval, Kallen took manual control of the Hayabusa and had it vector toward Pearl Harbor. And as she put the VTOL 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, would remain alive for the next few minutes.

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

The Artorius danced across the fire lit ground 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 Artorius further back across the field. 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 his own 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 another piece of his armor. 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 Artorius'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, 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 Artorius to recoil. Its opponent disoriented, the white knightmare closed in with its blade raised high, 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 this all you've got Lelouch!?" Suzaku glowered over the radio, attempting to drive his sword further against the Artorius' own. "Is this all Lord Waldstein has taught you!?"

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

With that, Lelouch reached up with the Artorius' left hand and punched its way into 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 gash in the Lancelot's torso armor, as well as sent it recoiling away from the Artorius. 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 Artorius 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 devicer 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 Artorius 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 MVS forward to throw the Lancelot's sword 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 across the ground, where it fell back into 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!" the former prince continued to ramble. "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 his 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 Artorius fell back itself. Again, both knightmares became motionless, while they "stared" at each other with their eye cameras, the Artorius' 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, upon detecting a Hayabusa closing in, 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 Artorius'.

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

Just as suddenly as the laughter had come, 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 darker and more 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...!" more laughter. "I really 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!?"

Lelouch felt himself grow that much colder. "But Mao said...!"

"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 and the still immobile Artorius, 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!"

More bits of laughter made their way through as Suzaku carried on. "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 laughed, 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. "Thus, 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 laugh 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 Artorius to move again, as it forced Lelouch on the defensive completely. 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 Artorius' own MVS, 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 Artorius'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! Your very existence IS a mistake!" Suzaku cried out. "IT IS MY MISTAKE!"

Suzaku rammed his blade against the Artorius 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 Artorius away, Suzaku then putting all his remaining power into his landspinners and launching onward. His blade set to strike through the Artorius' chest and into the cockpit block...

Then, his sensors bleeping off a warning, Suzaku barely had time to halt his attack and bank. A moment later, a bright red radiant wave stream blasted through where he had just been a moment ago. Responding quickly, the Lancelot's head turned to see the Guren Nishiki charging in from the 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 even more intense than 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 had the Guren leap up and bring its left leg about, so that it would kick the Lancelot in the torso as it moved in. As a result, the Lancelot was again flung across the ground, where it landed in the ruins of a nearby watch tower.

With Suzaku momentarily stunned, Kallen turned to the still motionless Artorius. "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 Artorius, 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 heard. "We've accomplished our mission. There is nothing left to do here."

After stating such, Lelouch disengaged his MVS and moved to turn the Artorius around, the Hayabusa descending to clasp on. 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 rage 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 he slipped his mask back over his head. "...this is only the beginning."

Saying no more, he had the Hayabusa take off and launch toward the southern horizon. Upon seeing this, fury yet again overcame Suzaku and he shot off after the Artorius 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, 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 her own Hayabusa to attach, from which she moved off to join 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 Artorius 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 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 Griffin-class air cruiser Glorious
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 Glorious the rest of her taskforce approached were holding station over what used to be the central Britannian naval base of the pacific, while sentry units moved about the area to inspect the damage, as well as for any signs of survivors. From those craft, were transmitted back to the Glorious and the other craft; 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 destroyers Dagger and Diamond were now moving toward the direction where a group of SOS signals were being transmitted from sea, while various VTOL continued to skim the basin and Pearl City for any land-based signals. 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."

Despite that fact, Kanon still failed to understand his liege. "What are you getting at sire?"

"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, 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: Whew, finally got that done. The next chapters should come out faster as a result, though obviously I can't guarantee anything. I'm also starting to look into writing the next chapter of Alpha, though that obviously won't be until I'm done with Megiddo's revisions (and potentially Chapter 25 along with them).

In the meantime [SHAMELESS PROMOTION]Black Sun remains available on Amazon for all to check out[/SHAMELESS PROMOTION].