"It is easier to find men who will volunteer to die, than to find those who are willing to endure pain with patience."
- Julius Caesar

Chapter XLIII: Autumn Wind

Yekaterinburg, State of Yekaterinburg, European Union
November 3, 2025

They really were in it now, Akito knew as he charged alongside Ryo against the latest round of Imperials. Though the Imperials still had yet to breach the Iset River at the near center of Yekaterinburg, the city's defenders firmly had their backs against the wall at this point, holding the line even further than when the fighting had initially started, all while Marrybell, or whoever was in command on the other side, continued to feed troops into the crucible. It was trying as it was arduous, but Akito knew with the rest of the wolves that the more forces the Britannians fed into the city to cross the Iset, the less they would have further on, and there was still the western half of the city they had to conquer yet. That was more than enough for the Europeans to keep fighting, such that Akito and Ryo both placed their Wolfens into a zigzag pattern, evading the bullet fire from the Sutherland squad that they had intercepted and were now about to decimate.

For their part, the Imperials remained as driven to wrestling Yekaterinburg from Europa, or destroying it entirely, as emphasized by the present group of enemy knightmares charging in to meet the two special forces units head on. Though the two Werwolfs weaved around their bullets and grenades, both Akito and Ryo had to admit that the Sutherlands were coordinating their fire well, such that the two Japanese turned European devicers had to take extra steps to keep their thin-skinned Wolfens from being hit. Effective, both admitted, but the opposition remained standard grunts, and so both European machines let loose their respective assault rifles, cutting down to Sutherlands straight away as the rest scattered. From there, Akito and Ryo broke formation as well, utilizing their knightmares' superior speed and mobility to outflank the remaining Sutherlands and gun them down, one after the other. The last of which falling upon Ryo unlimbering his bazooka and firing a single rocket into the center, obliterating the Britannian machine before the pilot could ever hope to eject. The two European wolves moved on from there, sensors quickly designating a new set of targets for them to kill.

Not for the first time in the last few days did Akito found it rather strange, even as he and his wingmate charged against the next squad, which included two Gloucesters, one of which was armed with MVS. There were plenty of Britannians to go around obviously, but none of the enemy knightmares were adorned in ubiquitous red and gold. Akito knew it shouldn't have bothered him so much – if anything the continued lack of Ceridwren Knights should have made things easier still – but the man lauded as Hannibal's Ghost would have thought that Bloody Marry would have sent them out now at least. Again the defenders' backs were firmly against the Iset at the heart of the city – literally a few blocks away from the two Werwolfs' current position – ensuring that the Britannians would extend that much more of their assault force before they could cross it. And once more, there was still the entire western half of Yekaterinburg to conquer before the Britannians could even think about crossing the Urals.

As strange as it was that Marrybell retained her elites still however, it was far from Akito's immediate concerns, or Ryo's for that matter. Maneuvering around a lance wielding Sutherland as it attempted to flank and then charge, Akito wasted little time in launching his slash harken into the cockpit pod, knocking down the enemy knightmare without breaking stride. He then banked around the grenade shot of another Sutherland, right before firing his "Urteil" into it, causing it to fall and its own cockpit not to eject. From there, the MVS equipped Gloucester entered the fray, both blades powered up and slashing, with the Wolfen receding to evade them. Again Akito launched his harken to deal with the higher end fifth generation type then and there, but the enemy devicer, fitting for his machine, had enough skill to evade the rocket anchor while pressing the attack. Not too bad, Akito had to admit, but still nothing to him as he extended his own "Uruna Rand" hidden blade and put his Wolfen into a full speed dash, impaling the Gloucester straight through the middle in the midst of its own attack. Withdrawing the blade just as quickly, Akito did not need to look to see that additional blood now covered it.

He then turned to face the remaining Gloucester, only to find Ryo had also cut it down with a dash along the left, the cockpit ejecting thereafter. Their latest round of opposition out of the way, both Werwolfs tracked another set of oncoming signals in proximity to them. Again no Ceridwrens sighted, though there were still those sporadic reports of a Knight of the Round being present, yet unconfirmed. Either way, the two wolves put power back into their units' landspinners and sped away, readying themselves to add additional Imperials to the ever growing corpse pile.

Imperial Army Headquarters Krasnoyarsk
Krasnoyarsk, Krasnoyarsk, Britannian Empire

General Sir John Blackman of the Imperial Army may not have been the best commander in the Empire's muster – he was skilled, but certainly not in his princess' league, much less that of Prince Lelouch or Prince Schneizel – but even he, as expectant as he had been toward Europe's defense of Yekaterinburg, could not believe just how much time and effort his side was spending in trying to breach the Urals. No, the Europeans hadn't shifted the battle – not that Blackman really believed they would – but they were definitely running the forces of His Majesty the Emperor ragged, much as they since Operation Batu's very beginning. In fact, in Blackman's opinion, Yekaterinburg was more a concentration of the last five years than an entirely new battle; a focused point in which the Europeans bled Britannia of its fighting men and women as well as its steel, while the Britannians did well to return the favor as they pressed onward despite. They were still advancing – in fact, they were just about to reach the Iset – but the advance was slow as it was torturous. And they still had yet to cross the damned river, which would be a chore in itself!

Sighing to himself over the whole thing, Blackman ultimately understood that such a confrontation had been inevitable. It had been a long and arduous advance to the present, and the Europeans had inflicted much upon them throughout, but eventually there had to be a point in which the Europeans refused to give another meter of land. Zhukov had simply managed the time and place of that point, choosing the foothold into Eastern Europe itself as where he and his countrymen would make their stand, conveniently in a battleground that the Imperial forces had little room to maneuver. Infuriating, despite the fact that Blackman was actually impressed with the Bear of the Far East's strategic acumen. Had Erwin Rommel or any one of his contemporaries felt the same way toward Georgy Zhukov back in the day?

Still, without turning back toward the command throne toward the rear of the room, Blackman remained assured all the same. If anyone could, and would, beat the Bear at his own game, Princess Marrybell would certainly be that one. Yes it was costing their forces much, and had cost them much to simply reach this point in the battle, but Blackman knew more than anyone else – save for Dame Oldrin of course – that Her Highness knew what she was doing. That alone told him that the battle was still on, despite the mounting losses, and that eventually Yekaterinburg would fall as so many other cities had, including the one they were commanding the battle from now, had before. It was only a matter of time, and corresponding patience, though Blackman admitted that he did not have as much of the latter as he should have.

"Don't be so frustrated Blackman," the General heard his liege's rather amused voice whisper to him from behind, at a level that only he could hear it amidst the clamor of the control room. "The game is still on, and we're still a long way from being checked."

Smiling wryly at the underlying message, Blackman nodded in acknowledgment. "As you say, Your Highness," he said, keeping his own voice low so that only she could hear him. "Though I would not have minded if we had placed Zhukov into check by this point."

That earned a light, mirthful chuckle from Marrybell. "All good things come to those who wait General," she responded, as though having to remind Blackman of that passage. "We will reach that point in the game eventually."

Again Blackman didn't have to turn to see Marrybell's emphasized smile. "One way or another."

Doing well not to lick his lips lest Her Highness somehow detect it, Blackman could only nod once more. Yes, Yekaterinburg would fall, and they would move well into the west, he knew. It only came down to the question of how that would happen, which Blackman did well not to think about too much. Not that he expected his princess to actually put that tactic into play, especially against opposition such as this, but…

"Vampire One now moving into Sector Iota Three," one of the operators announced, the designated signal marked on the main monitor for all to see. Indeed the signal was moving, and rather quickly at that, into the sector in question.

"Oh?" Marrybell called out in further amusement while Blackman allowed himself to frown. Both princess and general unable to help but wonder what, or who, had drawn Vampire One's unholy attention, and was now about to face the fight of his or her life.

Yekaterinburg, State of Yekaterinburg, European Union

With the force of an all too sudden thunderclap, the building just in front of Akito Hyuga's Wolfen exploded into dust and raining fragments. Instantly did his instincts kick in, the hidden blades of his knightmare extending as he saw the telltale flash of dual camera eyes within the crowd. Sure enough, the newcomer sped headlong against him, its elongated forearm mounted claws slashing about as Akito immediately reversed his machine, narrowly evading the opening attack. In turn, he retaliated with his slash harkens, but the enemy knightmare, which was obviously not a Sutherland, responded just as quickly, veering left and causing the rocket anchors to miss wide. Its shoulders then opening to deploy the factsphere sensors mounted therein.

"Question, what is it that people value most?" Luciano proclaimed as his eyes venomously narrowed on his next enemy. A strange knightmare to be utilized by the Eurotrash, but at least its devicer seemed up to his standards. Not that he expected any less, given said devicer's own unique infamy. "Their own lives, of course!"

"Is that a fact?" Akito dryly responded as he now found himself indeed facing Britannia's Knight of Ten, its so-called Vampire. Signaling for Ryo to continue on without him, the Ghost of Hannibal readied himself for the much harder fight ahead, the mono-eye of his Wolfen flaring. "And I suppose you're here now to take mine?"

The Maleagant's own camera eyes, both already agleam in blood red, flashed with matching vehemence. "Admittedly with a bit of effort," Luciano responded with apparent savagery. "You are, after all, Hannibal's Ghost."

With that, the "horn" on the Maleagant's head tilted forward and launched out, which Akito again narrowly evaded. Just as he dodged the Knight of Ten's next forward charge, the Maleagant's claws slashing about like a wanton beast's. So fast in fact that Akito knew better than to try and draw his assault rifle or bazooka, and so maneuvered against Luciano Bradley's left flank, extended blades ready to slash open the cockpit then and there. A blisteringly fast reversal on Luciano's part allowed him to recede again, from which Akito naturally pursued. He couldn't let this Round kill any more of Yekaterinburg's defenders than he already had.

Laughing savagely over the open broadband, Luciano circled about and launched after the Wolfen, claws now set to tear off the European machine's head. Again Akito maneuvered away rather than attempt to parry – there was no way his miniscule arm blades could hope to deflect those claws – before moving against the Maleagant's right flank this time. He didn't make it far however, as he quickly learned those purple shoulder spikes were also far from mere decorations as well. Fortunately he was quick enough to dodge that harken too, as well as recede when the Knight of Ten slashed at him again. Following that, Akito again attempted to close, this time encircle around and attack the rear, only for the Maleagant to jump back before he could pierce it.

"Ghost or not, even you cherish your own life, after or otherwise, above all others!" Luciano again called out, right as he vaulted against the Wolfen's own left, forcing Akito to accelerate lest he get ripped apart in the next charge. Again did the Wolfen twist around and launch its harkens, only for the Maleagant to evade both anchors, which impacted into one of the side buildings. "Which makes me want to take it, and your ectoplasmic blood, that much more!"

"Come and take them then nosferatu," Akito snarled through nearly clenched teeth as he put more power into his landspinners. He veered left to avoid the next set of claw slashes, and then the following forehead harken launch, but Luciano continued to press the offensive, attacking in a near frenzy. Already Akito could see that the vampir moniker was aptly given. Outside his own affliction, he had never fought an opponent with such bloodlust, such desire for destruction. That made him even more adamant in keeping him well away from the other European units in or around the city. Especially when he still didn't know if or when the Marrybell's elites were due to appear.

Thus did wolf and knight surge down the avenues of the deteriorated city, both maneuvering around and against each other with their bladed weapons brought to bear. The battle seemingly becoming that much more intense for all of it.

European Charlemagne-class land battleship Friedrich Paulus
State of Perm, European Union

"Knight of Ten confirmed!" one of the operators reported, causing all heads to look up as the designated signal was marked on the main monitor. "Presently engaging Werwolf One!"

Well, there's that, Zhukov thought, considering. There had been numerous reports of a possible Knight of the Round being present on the field up to this point, but only now had it been confirmed as fact. Then again, considering this particular Round was the Vampire of Britannia, Zhukov could see why those sightings had all been unconfirmed; nobody had remained alive long enough to validate Luciano Bradley's presence upon the field. In that sense, Zhukov was more than happy to let the Ghost of Hannibal Barca contend with him while everyone else remained focused on the greater part of Marrybell's army, which by now was in a stone's throw away from the Iset. Such that the European forces were now fighting a retreating battle across said river, moving over to the west bank before the bridges were inevitably blown, with the Britannians pursuing accordingly.

Though Operation Tiegel had by and large not gone entirely to plan, enough of it was proceeding to Zhukov's satisfaction. It had taken the Britannians six long days to reach the Iset – six days of constant, fast-paced warfare that only knightmare frames could provide – and they had lost much in blood and iron to get that far, with the entire western half of the city waiting for them. Granted, Zhukov's forces had also taken heavy losses, but as much as the General was want to sacrifice so many men and women to the horde – a fair portion of which was his son and future daughter-in-law's age – such was the nature of war, especially on the Far Eastern Front. Once more he had named Tiegel all too appropriately, for Yekaterinburg was indeed a crucible. One that overflowed with the blood and iron of Britannian and European alike, all for the purpose of keeping Bloody Marry from advancing into Western Europe proper.

Speaking of Western Europe, there was two more fine points that disturbed Zhukov greatly. The first was the closest of the two: the sturmtruppen. Though they had a few units participating in Tiegel, the dunkelgrau clad miscreants had largely kept to themselves, with no noteworthy movements made outside of Volgograd. And within that particular closed city, Zhukov could only fathom what they were up to. As much as he would like to believe that Heydrich's minions were content to leave the defense of Westeuropa to the "regular" Heer that they openly disdained, the grandson of Georgy Zhukov – who they also made little secret toward disdaining – knew better. There was something in the proverbial wind, he knew deep down, but otherwise had no way of finding out what. Just as he also had a sinking feeling that when he did find out, it would be far too late.

The second, of course, was Berlin itself. Zhukov had heard nothing from Central Command since Tiegel had begun, his superiors in Berlin being seemingly inclined themselves to let him hold back the Britannian advance. Unlike Heydrich and his Untermensch however, Zhukov could very well believe that was the case, as Central Command had long given the Bear of the Far East a wide berth and accompanying amount of faith. The problem, however, was that Central Command still answered to the President, and as much as Zhukov would have like to believe that the present holder of the title had equal faith in him, the General had long held his own suspicions toward how a man like Friedrich Kessler viewed the competency and reliability of a Moscovite (Russian). Indeed, much like with the aforementioned miscreants, Zhukov was more inclined to himself suspect that Kessler had his own plans for the battle – plans that would allow Herr Präsident to be far less reliant on the descendent of Stalin's favorite general – and that they had simply not been enacted yet. If anything, the lack of interference, attempted or otherwise, all but screamed such warnings and indications to Zhukov.

For the time being however, Tiegel remained in complete motion, and the Britannians were being bled thoroughly as a result. For all of his apprehension toward "his" side, Britannia still remained Zhukov's mortal enemy, the central threat to all that he loved and held dear. Next to as many of his troops, up to and including Andrei and Louise, surviving, what mattered most was that no Sutherland or Imperial soldier made it out of Yekaterinburg. And as Zhukov continued to observe the battle, as well as give appropriate commands when and where necessary, he could not help but dare to believe such an outcome to be very well possible.

Yekaterinburg, State of Yekaterinburg, European Union

They seemed to be coming out from everywhere, Louise couldn't help but feel as she reversed her Baer across the bridge, skating along on her ground effect jets while firing her bazooka back into the horde. It was a do or die moment for her and many of the still fighting Europeans around her; either they made it across said bridge to the western side before the former was blown straight to Hölle, or they didn't. Either they managed to keep ahead of the Britannians for that much longer, especially as they overran the eastern side, or they die or fell trying. Naturally Louise intended to be among the former group, and so did not slow or break stride, even as she effectively sped down the entire width of the Iset backwards, while a fair chunk of Bloody Marry's legions remained intent on making sure she and her comrades did not reach their destination. Such as it was as a Sutherland attempted to gun her down from the left, only for Louise to blow its entire upper torso away with a well-placed shell. Her last shell, as her main monitor indicated when she attempted to fire another.

"Verdammit," Louise cursed as she flung the bazooka at the oncoming blue knightmares before twisting her Baer about, now concentrating entirely on making it across the damned bridge. Opposite firing bullets and shells flew all around her, such that she dare not maneuver too elaborately lest she catch one in the back, which considering her cockpit placement would have been quite inconvenient for her. At the very least her Baer was comfortably faster than the majority of its opposition, such that even the Gloucesters among the advancing group were having difficulty keeping up with her and her fellows. Having said that however, that didn't make it any less easy staying out of the Britannian line of fire, much less not taking a bullet in her aforementioned back. And that was without considering that her road to escape could very well blow up at any moment, her still being very well on it.

Fortunately it didn't take that long for her to reach the latter end of the bridge toward the western bank, where a line of allied knightmares had formed to provide fire support for her and those running with her. Bullets and rockets now flying out from the western side as well, Louise put as much power into her ground effect jets as she could still manage and gunned it, all but flinging her already strained frame toward the proverbial finish. Such was her concentration that the Britannians no longer factored to her. Much as it had been for Lot's wife, to look back now was to die, and once more Louise was very intent on remaining alive. She could only hope that it was still the same for Andrei, wherever he was now.

Then, well before it registered to her, she was off the bridge and onto the western bank. Bringing her knightmare behind a set of cover, she was just able to shift her mono-eye across when the bombs were at last triggered. In but a few seconds time, it fell into the Iset, with quite a few Britannians still on it Louise was quick to note. Said Sutherlands and Gloucesters fell straight into the river and did not get out again, at least not from Louise's area of view.

Taking hold of an assault rifle that was passed to her, the Major wasted no further time and moved with the rest deeper into what had once been the commercial district for the city. The destroyed bridges would hinder the Britannians, but not stop them entirely, they all knew. Thus the Europeans only had so much time remaining to prepare for their enemy's next incursion.

Imperial Army Headquarters Krasnoyarsk
Krasnoyarsk, Krasnoyarsk, Britannian Empire

"Deploy the VTOLs, and send out the engineers," Marrybell ordered simply yet precisely. Any novice would have guessed that Zhukov would blow up the Iset bridges as soon as they were crossed, and she had long since made provisions for that stage of the battle. It was an irritation admittedly, as there was nowhere near enough Gyrfalcons to ferry the whole of her army across the river, while it would simultaneously take much time and energy for her engineers to make replacement bridges. Even so, it would not stall her efforts in the least. "I want that river crossable again within the hour."

Shrewdly did Blackman nod as he acted accordingly, sending more exact orders to the operators to transmit out to the field. As displayed on the monitor, while there were still some European leftovers in the eastern half, Zhukov had indeed succeeded in getting the bulk of his forces across the river before he blew the crossings. The General glowered at that. It had taken them too much time and energy already just to get through the first half of the city, and the more it took of either on getting the new set of bridges up and running, the more it would allow the Europeans to better embed themselves for the next charge. And as much as they had been advancing up to now, Blackman knew that his liege only had so much in manpower and equipment to push forward, especially if and when they marched on Moscow.

Of course, that wasn't to say that Her Highness had played her entire hand yet. Once more did Blackman found himself shivering at the mere thought. No the battle had still not reached the point where such a move, if it could be called that, need be necessary, but he knew that if it came down to it, his Princess would make it. And Blackman knew all too well what would follow next…

All too suddenly did the command center light up in warning alarms as another set of signals appeared on the monitor, well before any of the operators could announce it. Blackman now found himself gaping, as the signals were nowhere near Yekaterinburg. Instead, they were directly south of Krasnoyarsk and advancing fast. "Identify!"

"Checking now…My god…!" one of the operators breathed in horror. "It's the Black Knights!"

Sure enough, a vidwindow flashed onto the monitor, displaying an entire formation of telltale black knightmare frames speeding across the plain. At the very front was the Mordred, flanked by the twelve Gurens that made up Zero Squadron.

"Where…?" Blackman himself breathed in his own newfound horror. "Where did they come from…?"

Unnoticed behind him, Marrybell herself frowned rather deeply as she watched the newcomers' approach. No, while she initially believed Zero – should he have decided to intervene – would have been more inclined to aid the Europeans in Yekaterinburg, she had not discounted the possibility of the Demon King coming for her more directly. That being said, what disturbed her was that there had been no indication whatsoever of the Black Knights' approach; no reported movements south of the theater, much less sightings of landships or other such craft crossing northward through China. How had Zero managed to move his army without anyone seeing them coming? And much more, how had he done it so quickly?

Well, either way, Marrybell resolved herself regardless for what was literally coming at her now. With the bulk of her forces over two thousand kilometers due west and well tied up therein, the Imperial Princess knew she would have another fight on her hands there in Krasnoyarsk. And though she had again anticipated such a possibility, and had taken another line of precautions toward it, that fight would be truly dire all the same.

Attack her where she is unprepared, appear where you are not expected, Lelouch paraphrased to himself, recalling that particular passage from The Art of War with bemusement. Though he obviously could not literally read or project the thoughts of his sister or any of her command staff, he knew that he had succeeded in that much in his opening move. Even if Marrybell had anticipated a possible enemy attack on her headquarters – and Lelouch did not doubt she had – there was no way she had seen him coming, much less prepared appropriately for his advance from the immediate south. For all of the risks that the first stage of Operation Akikaze had entailed, and there had been plenty, Lelouch could see that it had indeed born him fruit. For he was now about to attack his "beloved" sister's castle from its most vulnerable flank, while her main forces were elsewhere and well out of reach.

Of course, that wasn't to say Krasnoyarsk didn't retain its own share of defenses, as the Mordred's sensors, augmented by its Druid System, were quick to detect and identify enemy units and positions throughout the city. Having since detected his own approach, the garrison knightmares were especially quick to rally and charge southward to meet him before he and his forces moved into the city. And of course, that was before the most obvious problem: Marrybell's headquarters was located well within the city's northern sector, with the Yenisey River nestled well between her and Lelouch. Not that Lelouch hadn't anticipated and made preparations for crossing it of course, but it would be a tricky maneuver at best, especially as he had neither the time nor the resources Marrybell retained for her forces to cross the Iset. And there was always the possibility that she would take flight from Krasnoyarsk proper, now that it was about to be breached.

However, such things were trivial compared to the sheer apprehension Lelouch felt within himself, as though he were leading his army headlong into the keep of one of the worst enemies he could ever face. In many ways Marrybell was that. Not simply because of her deeds as Bloody Marry, but because Lelouch knew firsthand how serious an opponent she was, even for someone like him. No, she had never defeated him at chess like Schneizel and Johann had, but she had always been a peculiar opponent for him. For all of her (projected) sweetness and light, Marry was cold, callous and well inclined to always strike at her enemy's weakest areas, and though she did well in hiding it, Lelouch knew she enjoyed the damage and suffering she inflicted throughout. In many ways, that made her even more dangerous an enemy than Schneizel or Cornelia, for the former only took to war reluctantly and where necessary, while the latter was a warrior who enjoyed the thrill of battle – at least once upon a time – but did well not to be consumed by her bloodlust and vehemence. In contrast, Marry thrived in all of it, especially in the bloodshed and destruction, such that Lelouch found her moniker very much understated. In a just world, she would have been labeled Princess Massacre, not Euphie.

But then, if the world had been just, Lelouch wouldn't have been where he was now, much less have had the opposition that was now entering within firing range. "All units engage," he commanded as he drew his VARIS. "Wipe them out."

He fired first, indirectly signaling those Black Knights that had also reached their outlying ranges to open fire as well, striking down several of the oncoming Britannian units from the onset. Beside him, Kallen was quick to follow up with a surger blast, in turn supplemented by the other eleven of her squadron, effectively taking out an entire row of Sutherlands and causing the enemy formation to quickly shift. As both sides closed in, the bullets, missiles and energy bursts became that much more abundant, until the awaited convergence came to pass and the fighting entered into the close-in phase. Lelouch himself quickly replaced his VARIS for his MVS, both swords shifting crimson as he moved upon a lance-wielding Gloucester and cleaved it through the middle before it could move against him. From that opening kill did he move upon two more Sutherlands, both barely able to extend their tonfas as he cut them down as well, with Kallen slashing down another with her fork knife.

Regardless of his lingering apprehension, Lelouch and his knights of justice were well within it now. Thus as Kallen remained beside him, the former prince focused on the fighting at hand, effectively wading through the defenders toward Krasnoyarsk proper. Where the throat of one of his most dangerous enemies lay ever close to his grasp.

Even now, well into the opening salvo, Jeremiah could not shake off the feeling of strangeness as he let loose his assault rifle into the Britannian lines, managing to take down at least one Sutherland from the onset. For the life of him he still had difficulty believing he was where he was now, fighting under the banner of Zero, the man he had despised for time innumerable, in a (largely) Japanese knightmare frame against the empire he had dedicated his greater years toward serving. It was all foreign to him, even as he drove his Akizuki well into the enemy formations, his (Britannian) rifle still blazing away with bullet and the occasional grenade as he waded through the horde. A feeling that was further emphasized as he engaged his left Blaze Luminous to deflect an attempted flanking attack, then promptly finishing off that Sutherland with his chest mounted harken. Who could have foreseen such an outcome for the former leader of the Imperial Army's Purist Faction? The man that had been labeled – another point of irony now – Orange, whose life and career had suffered greatly by the actions of the Demon King that Jeremiah now swore his loyalty toward? He would have thought it all madness not too long ago, but then, was there any part of the present world that wasn't mad?

In any case, Jeremiah could only smirk toward the irony as he focused on breaking Marrybell's ranks with the rest. At the very least, combat was something that wasn't strange to him, even in so outwardly bizarre a contraption as the Akizuki. Black Knight or Purist, the thrill of battle had always been a facet for Jeremiah Gottwald, and he did well to feel and savor it now as he replaced his rifle and extended his forearm mounted maser vibration blades, which shifted in the all too familiar crimson upon activation. From there, his orange steed stormed deeper into the blue horde, moving even faster than its fellow Gekkas as it slashed and cleaved, the Sutherlands and occasional Gloucester unable to withstand his rapid attacks. Oncoming bullets and grenades all but rained from all around, yet none of it so much as grazed the Akizuki as Jeremiah veered and banked, moving at speeds and approaches that he never would have dared attempt in his old red shouldered Sutherland so long ago. Indeed as he slashed down another enemy knightmare, and then sped back and right as its comrades attempted to gun him down, Jeremiah could not help but recall – as much as he could in the present – Kewell's attempted assassination following the Orange Incident, and how Suzaku Kururugi came to his aid with the Lancelot, having fought and struck them all down without so much as suffering a blemish against his white armor. There was just something euphoric about fighting in a knightmare frame – an exhilaration neither the Siegfried nor the Vortigern, as powerful as they had been, could ever hope to provide – and Jeremiah lamented that he had forgotten that feeling until now.

Still, the newest member of the Order of the Black Knights did well to keep his focus, and not let himself lose sight of his objectives. As fast as he and his fellow Black Knights were now advancing, they had much in front of them – and not all of it enemy knightmares – before they could hope to reach Marrybell's command center across the Yenisey. Such was emphasized as his sensors picked up a group of Viper gunships entering the melee from above, moving as fast in the air as their knightmare brethren were on the ground and beginning their strafing runs just as quickly. Missiles and autocannon fire all but blazed from the sky, with Jeremiah himself having to bank left to evade one such pass. He would have returned fire had he still had his assault rifle in hand, but as it was, he could only focus on his groundbound enemies as the VTOL passed over, too high in altitude for his slash harken to reach. Even so, that didn't stop Jeremiah from deploying his factsphere camera – the "old" Britannian equivalent of a modern day eye camera "glare" – before turning around and throwing his Blaze Luminous back up as another pair of Sutherlands moved on him.

Overall, regardless of how he had come to this point, Jeremiah remained well within his element as he again slashed down his latest opposition, and then maneuvered away as their friends came upon him, redrawing his own rifle at that point and returning their fire. Once more Black Knight or Purist, Jeremiah Gottwald remained who and what he was, a warrior. Something that his present set of enemies did well to recognize as the orange knightmare that their battle computers failed to identify maneuvered and attacked, lessening their numbers with the rest of Zero's forces as the latter at last entered Krasnoyarsk's outskirts.

Imperial Army Headquarters Krasnoyarsk
Krasnoyarsk, Krasnoyarsk, Britannian Empire

This is bad, Blackman thought with unconcealable apprehension as he watched the Black Knights enter into Krasnoyarsk proper in but a few minutes since their detection. He may not have known what his liege was thinking now – no more than he could any other time – but even she had to feel unsettled at the sight of Zero and his demons moving at full blitzkrieg into the city, sweeping through the southern districts like a plague, all but entirely unhindered by the defenders. Granted the fighting would become only heavier for them as they continued further on, and of course they still had yet to so much as reach the Yenisey, let alone cross it, but the fact remained that they were sweeping well into the keep regardless. Never had Blackman seen an army, not even a Britannian one, advance so quickly, and with such power.

For her part, Marrybell merely leaned against his right hand with a (projected) bored expression across her features, doing well not to display the interest and intent she felt on the inside. This was her first encountered with Zero, and the Demon King already lived well up to her expectations. It was no wonder Sir Johann had had such difficulties with the Black Knights in China, despite Luoyang and those other cities having been far more secure – well outside the Argus defense net of course – than Krasnoyarsk could ever have hoped. Not just the rapidness of their charge either, but also the arrangement and organization of it, the Black Knights concentrating their forces in the more accessible areas of the city and against those of Marrybell's forces that could not mounted an effective defense. Indeed, Zero was out for her, and with such acumen matched with such a powerful army, it would not be long before he reached her.

Or at least, he would have been had Marrybell not retained a few more tricks up her sleeve. For the life of her she had not expected to play this particular one – even if she had held the inclination toward keeping it out of Yekaterinburg – but she supposed it was all too necessary against such an opponent as Zero. Necessary and fitting, as her keener than average eyes soon depicted the telltale brown of Peace Mark units fighting alongside the Black Knights, as well as a familiar white tinted knightmare that was not too far removed from the Guren. She could only smirk as she realized how fortunate she, and in spite of her protests, Oldrin alongside her, had been upon her decision. Her decision not to send her most elite forces due west.

"Send them out," she commanded simply enough, her voice betraying no emotion whatsoever.

Nodding once more, Blackman turned back and began making the appropriate subcommands, which again were transmitted out to the appropriate receivers. In but a few moments' time, a new line of signals came into being aboard the main monitor, charging southward to meet the black menace head on. Only then did Marrybell allow herself to smile again. Especially as they, her knight among them, reached their enemy in equal speed and force.

Double blade extended, the Byakuen surged on with the rest of its brethren, itself flanked by the purple, red and green Gekkas that respectively belonged to Zi Dien and Fernando and Marirrosa Noriega. Though the former Black Knight machines could never hope to truly match his steed, they kept up well enough for Orpheus' liking, and he found himself appreciating how he wasn't fighting his way through the streets of Krasnoyarsk alone. Just as he also knew that Zi and the Noriegas were effectively having the time of their lives, not having to put up with the hand-me-down Glasgow and Panther Is that they originally used, at last having knightmares that they could dominate the enemy with. Orpheus related to that feeling now, especially as he slashed down two Sutherlands that had attempted to ensnare him a pincer maneuver, barely breaking stride as he and his team moved further into the city proper. Doing well to keep his eyes, both physical and camera, on the prize.

Never thought we would ever go at it like this, Orpheus thought amidst his fighting and maneuvering, once again finding himself lamenting just how ineffective Peace Mark had been, even when it had been at full strength. Not in his wildest dreams had he, much less any others within the organization that had a brain on them, would have thought of storming an enemy held city so directly. At best he would have been able to infiltrate on the ground and plant a car bomb or two, perhaps even wire a building to collapse, but never would he have gone so far as a direct attack. Yet here he was now, once again charging alongside the Demon King into the fray, decimating Krasnoyarsk's present occupiers as he and the rest fought their way northward. Even after Alexandra Land, it was a foreign, if not so much unwelcome, feeling, especially as he "snipped" the head off another Sutherland with his scissor blade, and then finished it with a point blank slash harken strike.

Another pair of Sutherlands, as well as a lance wielding Gloucester, soon flung themselves from his left, but by the time Orpheus had turned to face them Zi and the Noriegas were there in his place, their chainswords blazing as the former intercepted the Gloucester and the latter cutting down the Sutherlands as they passed. Not to be outdone by his "juniors", Zi was quick at reversing and then circling around the higher end knightmare, maneuvering his Gekka in a manner he could never have done with his old Glasgow, right before slashing the exposed cockpit block in a single strike. As the Gloucester fell, Orpheus could all but actually see his friend gleam in triumph toward the kill.

Which was precisely when a new set of signals entered sensor range, one of which was moving straight toward the formation at an all too familiar speed. Right as Orpheus looked up, the monstrous red and gold form of a seventh generation knightmare frame – one not least removed from the Mordred and the Lancelot – was upon him, its dual schroetter steel blades raised high for the combined hammerblow. Rather than attempt to parry the attack, the former terrorist reversed the Byakuen, then shifting over to his mounted cannon and lobbing a grenade out. As he half-expected, the enemy knightmare vaulted aside at a speed that well and truly matched his machine – in more ways than one – right as one of the seemingly ornamental blade holders on its back angled out and launched as a harken. Evading the attack himself, such that the twin prongs embedded themselves momentarily into the building next to him before retracting, Orpheus made the Byakuen circle, as did the red and gold knightmare. The latter even deploying its factsphere sensors as it seemingly sized up its opponent, and vice versa. All the while his wingmates moved to engage the enemy elsewhere, leaving their leader to face his effective opposition.

"Brother," Oldrin called out over the broadband, her voice cold and subdued, which only underlined its menace.

"Sister," Orpheus responded back to his twin, and longtime nemesis, with equal vehemence. The very same woman he had fought repeatedly since Marrybell's legions had first set foot in the Far East. "I see you were expecting us."

"Not so much actually," Oldrin responded, shrugging in her own cockpit. "Her Highness simply did not feel it necessary for the Ceridwren Knights to be sent to Yekaterinburg."

"Indeed," Orpheus responded, taking note of the other signals that were rapidly advancing to face the Black Knights, as well as his own forces, now. Whim on Marrybell's part or not, it seemed the charge to and across the Yenisey would not be entirely unchallenged. "How fortunate on Her Highness' part."

"Yes," Oldrin responded back, all but cracking her knuckles on her control sticks. "Very fortunate."

With that, the red and knightmares charged as one against the other, schroetter blade striking against double blade. The Urien and Byakuen glaring fiercely into the other's eyes, in the precise visage of their pilots. The fury and contempt they felt all but flowing through their machines against the other.

So these are the Black Knights, Leonhardt thought as he banked and evaded his Preston through the oncoming handgun fire, MVS already deployed and combined into its twin lance form as he charged, even going low as to employ his left shoulder mounted landspinner for extra speed. Though he had long suspected that Zero would eventually come for his liege, even Leonhardt had not expected the Demon King to do so in this manner, and at such great speed. Had he otherwise not been so concentrated on closing the distance to those black Gekkas, who broke formation upon his approach, such that he only managed to cut down one as he passed, the Ceridwren and heir to the Steiner family would have found himself utterly confounded by all of it. How had any of them gotten this far into the Far East, even if they had come from China, without anyone on Leonhardt's side knowing about it?

Not that it really mattered of course, because he and his fellows were going to succeed where Sir Johann, Princess Cornelia and many others had failed all the same. Thus concentrating on the battle, Leonhardt brought his mobility oriented machine into a full circle, flanking the remaining three Gekkas, whose pilots could only despair at the Preston's blistering speed. Through their shock and his maneuvering, he managed to bifurcate another one in a clean pass, right before reversing a moving left to employ his left needle blazer against the third. The fourth lasted a bit longer, managing to execute one or two slashes before it too was taken out, first beheaded by a well placed harken strike, and then cut diagonally across a split second later. It fell just as quickly as its brethren and did not get back up.

Naturally there were more where those four had come from, as additional Gekkas – ones that were not presently engaged with other Ceridwrens – arrived on the scene and opened fire. Leonhardt had to hand it to them, the Black Knights, whether they be Japanese or former Britannians, were fast in their assault, though not so fast as it to completely overrun him. Again maneuvering the Preston with even greater speed and precision, even throwing in the elaborate spin and twist that Sir Gino liked to employ in the Elyan, Leonhardt dodged and moved around all of their fire as though reenacting a movie action sequence. Just as he again closed in, cutting down one Gekka after another without breaking his pace, with only one just barely managing to raise its chainsword up to attempt to cut him before it was stricken. Again Leonhardt not so much as slowing down as the latter fell, allowing him to proceed onwards for further targets, which were naturally abundant.

A few more Gekkas quickly took note of his approach and attempted to intercept, but Leonhardt decided to leave them to his fellows, who were just as quick to move in his place, and instead focused on seeking out higher priority targets. Perhaps he would not be able to reach Zero himself, but surely he could at least take out the Red Dragoness, Blue Thunder God or Tohdoh. Such losses would surely stifle the enemy advance and present Her Highness the opportunity to quell it entirely. Besides, Leonhardt Steiner thrived on a challenge, which, having not been sent into Yekaterinburg with the rest, he had not been expecting that day.

His desired answer came about all too seemingly as another unit, a Guren, launched after him from the right, surger extended to ensnare. Reacting quickly, Leonhardt withdrew before the claw could clamp down on his Preston, right before retaliating with his harkens. Such was the speed of the ace exclusive knightmare that Leonhardt initially thought he was fighting the Dragoness herself, but upon catching sight of the red knightmare's eye cameras, which were amber colored instead of blue, he realized this was "merely" just one of her squadron. Well, no matter, as the pilot seemed skilled enough, such that Leonhardt spun his combined lance overhead and charged back against the Black Knight, who parried his attack with its fork knife.

From that, the two machines maneuvered across the city, Leonhardt dodging his opponent's surger blasts when he wasn't moving in at close-range, forcing it to employ its own blade for defense and counterattack. Even a surprise encirclement and then snap charge with his needle blazer failed to catch the Guren Isshiki, or whatever it was called, in the open, the Black Knight easily receding before the power weapon could make contact and then firing its harken to deter. Leonhardt literally skated around the latter, then circled once more with his lance held high. Such that the Guren was forced to parry as he brought his polearm back down, amber camera eyes glaring deep into his Preston's mono-eye camera.

Then, all at once, something in Leonhardt snapped. He recognized that form. He had fought this opponent before. Who…?

A short, bitter laugh quickly sounded through his radio, seemingly picking up on his recognition. "I was wondering how long it would take you," the Guren pilot called out, a voice that she knew the one before her had long thought he would never hear again.

Eyes widening, it was all the Britannian pilot could do to reverse, and then bank around another surger blast. "Marika?" he questioned, somehow managing to be agape even as he continued to fight.

Once more that all too bitter laugh. "Yes," the voice of Marika Soresi confirmed as its owner's knightmare again brandished its fork knife and charged headlong, forcing Leonhardt to deflect. "It's been a very long time, hasn't it Leonhardt?"

"It's a thankless job, but somebody's got to do it," Sokkia found herself singing quite blandly as she nudged her Exeter along, against a set of opponents that were as far from the Black Knights as combatants as Prince Odysseus was to Prince Schneizel, or her liege for that matter, as a tactician. Far be it for her to focus her efforts on mere rabble, but somebody had to deal with the Peace Mark vermin that had apparently aligned with the Black Knights, and Sokkia apparently found herself as the one to do it. Everyone else was too concentrated on Zero's horde to even think about the assortment of patchwork knightmares in brown, some proudly displaying the wolf-headed lyre that had served as their organization's symbol.

Hardly the most exciting fight she had ever been in, Crasher Sokkia took to the field regardless, all the while singing the aptly title piece – a diddly from one of her favorite movies – to herself. It both emphasized her plight as well as the destruction she wrought as she closed in on a pair of Yaoguais, who made a valiant attempt to gun her down but could never hope to keep up with her machine. Both were cut down almost systematically as she passed, the tadpoles falling forward as puppets whose strings had been cut and remaining there. Sokkia didn't bother to see if their pilots – who were terrorists anyway – made it or not, as a Glasgow and a Sutherland, both tinted brown instead of ubiquitous blue, both veered in and opened fire with their own assault rifles. All too blandly did Sokkia bring them down as well, using her hip-mounted slash harkens to do it. They too fell and remained where they were, and the ace moved further on.

From that, three more Peace Mark machines – a Panther I, another Sutherland and a Burai – emerged and added their own bullets and grenades against her. Once more the outdated hand me downs had not a prayer as she banked right and replaced her MVS with her VARIS, striking down the Sutherland dead center before the terrorist ever realized it. The Burai lasted a bit longer, managing to fire its slash harkens after her, but these she all too simply cut down with her remaining MVS before blasting that one down as well. And the Panther I, who daringly flared its mono-eye camera after her, as if that would actually intimidate her? She went to full charge and slammed into the side of a building, effectively living up to her title, though this time the maneuver didn't total her machine alongside. From that, she planted a final VARIS shot into the former European type and receded back, allowing it to detonate and collapse the hopefully abandoned building on top of it.

"Like a mop! Or a broom!" Sokkia sung even more loudly, and blandly, now, not even bothering to hide her boredom and frustration. She had fought actual sport matches that were more exciting than this. "No one wants a thankless job!"

Fortunately her boredom did not last, as her sensors picked up another signal just above her. Receding back, Sokkia was just able to detect a Gekka – one in a very outlandish color – land in the space she had just occupied, its chainsword aimed to impale downward, which it did well into the street. The Ceridwren retaliated by firing her left arm slash harken, but the Gekka pilot was quick, retracting its blade and reversing, then countering with its handgun. The maneuver was so quick it actually caught Sokkia near off guard, such that had she not been her, she certainly would have taken in those bullets. A following VARIS shot dissuaded the Gekka momentarily, but otherwise her opponent remained. In turn causing all fits of boredom to diminish within the former athlete.

"Wow," Sokkia let out as the Gekka moved upon her, chainsword grinding against her MVS. The enemy knightmare's mono-eye flaring menacingly, seemingly at odds with the rest of the frame's pink coat. "Didn't see this one coming."

Suddenly feeling anticipating, Sokkia reversed back long enough to withdraw her VARIS and draw out her second MVS again, factsphere sensors deploying in accordance. Again did the Gekka's mono-eye flare as it charged on, meeting Crasher Sokkia in a most unexpected game, and making her all but forget her previously "unthanked" job.

Interesting, Jeremiah thought as another pair of red and gold Sutherlands attempted to obstruct him, concentrating their fire with an efficiency the former Britannian had seldom seen among rank and file. While the Ceridwren, at least the baseline troops, were hardly in league with the Knights of the Round or other such elite units, Jeremiah could see their reputation was deserved as he closed in on either, maser blades reextended and ready to cleave. The Sutherlands broke formation thereafter, both maneuvering in opposite vectors, so Jeremiah took to the left one first. It launched a rifle-mounted grenade at him, but once more the Akizuki's superior mobility came into play, the orange knightmare all but waltzing around the projectile while keeping speed, thereby cutting down the Sutherland before its pilot ever knew what hit him. At that point, its comrade had circled around to attempt catching Jeremiah's exposed back, but the veteran remained the faster, twisting around and employing his Blaze Luminous to deflect. Another slash harken launch finished that Sutherland as well, allowing him to move further into Krasnoyarsk.

They were being held back now, but not entirely, Jeremiah observed from his tacscreen. The Black Knights were not advancing as rapidly as they had, but at the same time the Ceridwren were having a very difficult time holding them back, such that the Yenisey was entering more and more into range. That was most appreciated on Jeremiah's part; the best case scenario was that they got to Marrybell here and now, while the Europeans decimated her forces in Yekaterinburg. If both those things came to pass, then the Far Eastern Front would be concluded then and there.

Of course, as experienced as he was, Jeremiah knew better than to be too caught up in the best case scenario, as well as discount the fact anything could go wrong at that time. Such as it was when his sensors beep in sudden warning; an apparent swarm of missiles was now launching after him. Taken well off guard by the number, the former Eildon put as much speed into the Akizuki as he could and drove straight down the line, allowing the missiles to rain around him as he passed, his knightmare remaining otherwise undamaged. That nearly changed as the missiles were then followed up by the telltale beam of a hadron cannon – two combined if Jeremiah wasn't mistaken – which he did well to dodge as well. From that, he turned about to see the origin of the fire, now breaking out from the ruin of a nearby building. Its factsphere sensors deploying to match the Akizuki's as it continued to attack.

"So they have one of those as well," Jeremiah murmured as he dodged the following hadron and missile fire. He had been long aware of the eighth generation Kirkwall, the mass production version of the Knight of Six's Hector, but he hadn't expected to see one in the Far East, even among the Ceridwren. Whoever was piloting it must have been well recognized by Princess Marrybell as, much like the Exeter and the Preston, such units were few and far between, and even more difficult to obtain. Yet here there was one, facing down Jeremiah and the Akizuki with its sheer firepower.

Well, no matter Jeremiah resolved as he redrew his assault rifle and fired a grenade. It didn't so much as scratch the Kirkwall upon detonating, but the shock of the impact was just enough to grant the newest member of the Black Knights some maneuvering room, again bank around the responding hadron blast, which obliterated another building in the distance. This was quickly followed up with additional missile fire, which Jeremiah also did well to evade – there was no way the Akizuki could take such sheer punishment – all the while closing into employ his MVS. Only then did the Kirkwall recede, its devicer apparently not being inclined to fight up close, firing another hadron blast to cover his withdrawal. Jeremiah charged on regardless however, set upon taking out this particular Ceridwren before it became too much of a thorn, especially for his fellow Black Knights. Themselves continuing to fight around the southern parts of Krasnoyarsk, all but evenly matched by their Ceridwren opponents.

Imperial Army Headquarters Krasnoyarsk
Krasnoyarsk, Krasnoyarsk, Britannian Empire

Frown long since encroaching her face, Marrybell continued to look on the monitor with interest, though not without visible displeasure. The Black Knights were proving to be more troublesome than even she had thought initially, such that even her Ceridwren Knights were having difficulty holding them at bay, much less overcoming them. She should have expected that in hindsight, as the this particular group was obviously Zero's personal force, which had fought from the Black Rebellion all the way to the Red and who knew how many battles sense. As honed and seasoned as her forces were from their five year march to the west, there was only so much even they could do against such opponents. Especially when the latter had far more in the way of seventh and eighth generation knightmares than she did.

"Your Highness, we don't have much time," Blackman implored from beside her, his own expression one of hurriedness. "We must evacuate before they reach here."

Hearing that, Marrybell closed her eyes, partly out of acceptance and partly to concentrate on her thoughts and analysis. Indeed they could not remain in Krasnoyarsk, as it was apparent, one way or another, Zero would make his breakthrough. The regular Ceridwrens were doing well enough holding the Black Knights back, while Oldrin and her team were otherwise occupied fighting their opposite numbers. Thus it would only be a matter of time before the Demon King's forces reached the riverfront, and just as Marrybell's forces were now well on their way to crossing the Iset, they too would inevitably do the same to the Yenisey. Once around that, they need only make their run against the center, from which it was but a question of whether Zero wanted her dead or alive.

Even so, the battle, especially the main one, was far from lost. Her own forces were advancing in Yekaterinburg, while those there in Krasnoyarsk were giving the right amount of time to withdraw to the west herself. And of course, there remained her ultimate trump card, which she had kept well in reserve throughout the last five years. She still would rather not use it at that point, if at all, but it remained available to her, and she knew that if she did in fact activate it, then victory would be hers. Otherwise she need only keep up the momentum for that much longer.

"You are correct General," Marrybell responded before slipping her commissar cap back into place, as visible a sign of her resolution as she could give. "Proceed."

With that, Blackman again began barking orders, the operators sending them out before beginning their own withdrawal procedures. From that, Marrybell herself rose with a sway of her cape as two other troops moved to flank her, serving as escort in place of Oldrin. As much as Marrybell would have wanted to remain with her soldiers for that much longer, she knew it was imperative that she be the first one out of Krasnoyarsk, especially as everyone knew she was Zero's central target. At the very least it would not take her long to resume command of the battle. Her private transport, and intended escape vehicle, had been well outfitted for such a purpose.

Thus as she came to the exit, Marrybell made one final turn toward the monitor, where she saw the Black Knights move on, ever so marginally, toward the Yenisey. Allowing a small, rather enigmatic smile to encroach her lips upon that, Marrybell then proceeded out behind her escorts.

We're running out of time! Lelouch thought while employing his Blaze Luminous to deflect additional fire, thereby allowing Kallen to maneuver around him and take out the offending Ceridwrens with her surger. He had been well and truly blindsided over this one, and he cursed himself for his shortsightedness. How could he have not figured out that Marrybell would retain the Ceridwrens for specifically this kind of outcome? No, there was no way she would have known that he and the Black Knights would be there themselves, Lelouch was sure of that, but at the same time Marry had still anticipated an attack from her flank, despite no indications toward. And because of that, he and his own forces were being stonewalled, having slog their way through the city that they should have well overrun now.

Even so, it wasn't over yet, Lelouch, and Kallen beside him, remained aware. So long as Marrybell remained in Krasnoyarsk, he could get to her, and that included if and when she chose to evacuate. She was in the process of that now, Lelouch knew all too well, but it would still take her time to reach that VTOL or whatever craft she would use as an escape vehicle. And whether she went airborne or not, Lelouch knew that she still had yet to flee the city proper. Much like it had been with Eugen Smilas, he could still ensnare her even at that point. But first he had to make it across that damned river!

"Q-1, flank left!" Lelouch commanded as he brought the Mordred into a right maneuver, Kallen mirroring his advance and following his command leftward. Between the two of them they were able to sift around the next gathering of Ceridwrens, who could only fire all to wantonly as the Demon King and his Dragoness knight fell upon them as one, striking them down with blade and harken without losing momentum. It was a race now. Lelouch had desperately wanted to avoid that scenario, but it race it had become regardless. One that would determine whether Akikaze succeeded then and there, or if it would become as protracted as Operation Akatsuki had before it. For obvious reasons, Lelouch would have rather it be the former, as did Kallen and the other Black Knights. One did not fight a land war in Asia, as the saying went.

So concentrated on the push northward, as well as the corresponding defense, however, that it failed to occur to either side that their present enemies – their present groundside enemies – may not have been the only opposition within or without Krasnoyarsk. As such, it consequently never occurred to any of them to look up into the sky. Where, well into the higher atmosphere, a particular object remained in orbit. Seemingly waiting…