"Power is given only to those who dare to lower themselves and pick it up. Only one thing matters, one thing; to be able to dare!"
- Fyodor Dostoevsky

Chapter XLVII: Priyome

Balmung Control
Volgograd, State of Azov, Eurasian Union
November 21, 2025

"What do you mean it's still inoperable!?" Peiper nearly bellowed at his subordinate, causing all within auditory range to either look up or to pretend to still be working. Needless to say, the Colonel's rage was felt well beyond his office and throughout the complex. And there was very little wonder as to why. "Balmung should have been ready to fire again two days ago!"

"I'm sorry sir, but it appears the damage has been more extensive than previously believed," the officer, a random faced captain, responded as he gestured back to the wall monitor for visual reference. Along the gridline image of Balmung itself, several areas were marked in the red. "The repeated firings on Krasnoyarsk…"

"Are none of your concern Hauptmann!" Peiper rambled with far more force than was in any way necessary. It was bad enough that Krasnoyarsk had been a complete versauen, especially when Zero and his miscreants had literally disappeared in front of him, but the resultant firings had caused burnouts in multiple areas of the ion cannon itself. Burnouts that, by and large, should have been fully repaired long ago. "Marrybell's army is set to march on Moscow, and Zero and his filth are still out there as well! I need Balmung to deal with both!"

"Sir, with all respect to you and your drive to defend Eurasia from Bloody Marry and the Demon King, there's only so much the laws of thermodynamics and electromagnetism will allow," the captain responded, actually surprising Peiper with his backbone. "Balmung was set for only five, maybe six shots upon Krasnoyarsk, yet it was fired over twenty times from start to finish. The residual heat alone was enough to cause considerable damage, to say nothing of the inner…"

"I don't want to hear excuses!" Peiper shouted again, bristling at the indirect reminder that the original plan had only called for one shot to be fired. His superiors back in Berlin, from General Heydrich himself to those below him, had already made it perfectly clear how much his deviation from that original plan had cost, much as the Colonel's ears were still ringing from the incessant phone and video calls. "I want Balmung ready to fire again before the day's end! Und keine Sekunde mehr!"

Peiper then swung his arm toward the door. "Now get out! And don't even think about coming back before you have actual results!"

"Sir!" the captain could only come to and salute before making his very prompt exit. Only coming to ease after the door had shifted close behind him, from which he sniffed with veiled contempt.

Ōgoe de baka, Setsuna very much thought to himself as he moved back down the corridor, where he would quickly become another anonymous face within his present setting. His mission – Hokage Squadron's mission – would only continue on from there. Ensuring the sword of Sigurd remained inoperable through the foreseeable future, and hopefully well beyond.

Black Knights mobile battleship Izumo
State of Moskva, Eurasian Union

"I must say I'm rather impressed," Lelouch complimented to the one on the other side of the "SOUND ONLY" display, actually meaning it as well. "I thought it would take somewhat longer for Hokage Squadron to slip into Volgograd, and Balmung Control thereafter. And yet, not only have they done so in such a short time, but they are well carrying out the mission."

"Indeed," Hanzo responded with a semblance of undisguised pride, though he clearly had expected nothing less. "Though I'm rather perplexed myself Zero. Why choose to disable Balmung as opposed to destroy it? Hokage Squadron is clearly in the position of performing the latter."

Despite the inquiry, both from Colonel Shinozaki and from Kallen, who was naturally sitting beside him and silently observing, Lelouch grinned and shook his head quite enigmatically. "Doing so would tip too much of our hand to the Eurasians, and possibly Marrybell alongside," he admitted, even though he had clearly thought about it before. "It was bad enough that we had to use Caer Sidi in the open once before at Krasnoyarsk. For the Black Knights to strike in Volgograd would not only fully confirm that capability, but it would also give away our present position this side of the Urals."

Though neither he nor Kallen could see the response, they both knew the commander of the Black Knights' Special Forces Group "Iga" nodded in agreement. "I understand," Hanzo responded with only slight reluctance. "In the meantime, you can rest assured Balmung will remain inactive through your stay in the Rodinia, though only just. We can only keep up the sabotage for so long before the Eurasians finally catch on."

"I'm well aware of that Colonel," Lelouch acknowledged. "Rest assured I do not intend to overstay our welcome here, and intend to vanquish Marrybell and her legion of the damned at the earliest opportunity."

"Ah yes," Hanzo replied, again in such a way that both Lelouch and Kallen could see him nodding, as though he knew and understood as much. "Your little rout along the Volga?"

This time both Lelouch and Kallen frowned at the reference, somehow feeling they should have expected the Colonel to have been aware of that plan. Despite his rarely leaving Kumejima, or his dwelling in Uezu House proper for that matter, Colonel Shinozaki seemed to be aware of literally anything and everything. Needless to say, both prince and knight had their suspicions, but that was for another time and day.

"Operation Akigumo goes into effect within ten days' time," Lelouch stated regardless, recalling the timetable he had stipulate correctly. Granted they were still in the process of receiving the key instruments – once more Caer Sidi could only be used sparingly – but the transition would be completed soon enough. "Not one Sutherland will ever set foot into Moscow."

"Heh," Hanzo espoused, sounding rather bemused by the prospect. "You are quite assured, I grant you that. Though I can only speculate how long that shall truly last…"

Kallen was tempted to open her mouth and give a rather coarse reply to the Colonel over that one, but was able to reign herself in. Hanzo Shinozaki might have been Sayoko's father, as well as an important asset to the Order with the rest of the Shinozaki Ryuu that made up Iga, but that didn't mean she had to like the bastard. That being said, it would have been professional, much less below her rank, for her to speak out at that time, no matter how much she was put off by the ninja master.

"In any event, you will have an easier time with Bloody Marry's attempted crossing without Balmung to hinder you," Hanzo continue to espouse knowingly. "For what it's worth, I wish for your great and impending success Demon King."

"Heh," Lelouch laughed slightly in return, deciding to match the Colonel's bemusement with his own. "You have my gratitude for that as well Colonel. K-1 out," he finished before terminating the communique.

"Kasu-bukuro," Kallen growled, finally being allowed to do so now that the commlink was severed. "I can't believe you trust that…"

"You know I don't," Lelouch responded as he got up and moved to the nearby cooler, where he withdrew two glasses and one of the Britannian wine bottles that had been left behind in China. After filling two glasses at a nearby counter, he returned to the living room area and handed Kallen one of the glasses. "In point of fact, I don't think there's anyone in the Order that trusts Colonel Shinozaki, up to and including his children, but that doesn't make him any less of an asset."

Sighing, Kallen had to nod in acknowledgment. "I suppose," she admitted before tapping Lelouch's glass with hers. Both then took a light sip before continuing the conversation. "Though I still wouldn't mind if he were to 'die' himself one day."

Again Lelouch laughed, this time a little more so. "That would be a little difficult considering his purported blindness. And he is very much aware of my Geass."

"As though that has ever stopped you," Kallen pointed out with a grin.

One that Lelouch matched himself. "You're right, of course," he said before drinking more of his wine glass. "And if I can't do it, then I suppose Sayoko would be the first to volunteer."

Lelouch then tapped the remote, causing the monitor to turn active again. This time displaying a certain strategy map. "In the meantime however, I believe we have enough problems to deal with this side of the world. And in all too little time."

Kallen again nodded, this time with far more reluctance as she too looked upon the map in question.

"To our victory to be," Jeremiah proclaimed as he and Chigusa both tapped their glasses together, causing a small but no less audible clink. "And our grand return to home."

"Cheers," Chigusa agreed, both raising their bourbon glasses and taking a drink. Neither of them knew where the originating bottle had come from – the general assumption was it was another leftover from China – but both Colonels had been more than willing to claim it before leaving Ryukyu. In the frigid plains of Eastern Eurasia, such a beverage was as warming as it will revitalizing. "God willing we're all home in time for Christmas."

"I would like that as well," Jeremiah confirmed with a nod. Unlike Chigusa, he didn't have any family waiting for him back on Ryukyu, though obviously he had made his own personal connections. Especially and most surprisingly the head maid of the Urasoe household, who cyborg actually found himself missing well into the present. "Between Alexandra Land and our present battlefield, I find myself appreciative of home having a much warmer climate."

"Oh?" Chigusa questioned with open curiosity. "I would have thought those Eildon cybernetics kept you warm and functional no matter the weather."

"They do that, but they were not made to grant me comfort alongside," Jeremiah shook his head. "V.V. and his minions are only as attentive to the human condition so long as it serves them. My being able to better adjust to excess heat and cold was never considered, alongside whether I could become fully human again."

"I don't know Jeremiah," Chigusa responded, this time with assurance as she took his left hand, feeling the combination of flesh and mechanics against her gloved fingertips. "You seem human enough, to me at least."

"Heh," Jeremiah espoused a little bit, knowing that his longtime comrade meant it. "I appreciate that Viletta."

It was then that Chigusa expertly moved away from that topic of conversation. "Of course, in order to get back home, we only have to fight an army of Geass-maddened soldiers led by one of the most insane princesses to ever come out of the Imperial Family."

"A princess who has an elite cadre of knights, who in turn are led by a member of the House of Zevon, and at least one Knight of the Round on the payroll, yes," Jeremiah nodded, frowning at the thought. "Though we do have a bit of an edge in that area."

"What do you mean?" Chigusa asked, again curious.

"I do not believe Marrybell used her Geass on the core Ceridwrens," Jeremiah said, remembering his previous battle with the Kirkwall. "My Canceller certainly had no effect on the one I fought."

"That's not much of an edge," Chigusa argued. "Geass or not, they're still loyal to Marrybell."

"True, but they're not maddened like the rest of her troops," Jeremiah pointed out. "That should count for something when the time comes."

Though Chigusa didn't quite see it that way, she decided to take her friend and former superior's word for it. "And the Vampire?"

Again Jeremiah frowned, recalling the recon sightings of the Maleagant among Marrybell's forces. "I do not think Marrybell had used her Geass on him either," he thought out loud. "So long as Luciano Bradley is able to shed blood, he cares not for who he fights for."

Chigusa sniffed derisively toward that, as well as her own knowledge of the Knight of Ten's wanton bloodlust. "At the very least one Round will be easier to deal with than three," she exclaimed, very much thankful they weren't facing a similar scenario to what they had in China. "Though he still did do a number on us in Pendragon."

"Yes, it will probably take the likes of General Tohdoh or Major Kouzuki to bring him down," Jeremiah agreed. "And if not, then Zero will find a way to deal with him all the same."

"True," Chigusa nodded as she sipped her bourbon a little bit more, thinking. I only hope that he deals with it soon enough, so that we really can be home for Christmas.

"Goddammit!" Tamaki hollered upon seeing his three eights be taken down by Minami's three jacks. "You got those from your sleeve Minami!"

"That's Colonel Minami to you, Major," Minami sweetly responded as he swept up his latest winnings while his erstwhile comrade stewed. "And I don't need to cheat with you. You're way too obvious."

"He has you there Tamaki," Naomi spoke around a chuckle. No matter how many times she had seen it throughout their apparent friendship, seeing Tamaki lose his kuso always lightened the mood. "And I'm sure the alcohol isn't helping you much either…"

"I'm drinking iced tea, thank you!" Tamaki hollered again as he shifted his drink over for good measure, only to nearly whisper afterward. "Your husband wouldn't let me play unless it was non-alcoholic."

"A decision that I stand by," Kento proclaimed firmly, the memories of Tamaki's drunken antics still well with him. That only earned further laughter from his wife as well as some from the usually stoic Minami, much to poor hapless Tamaki's exasperation. "Deal?"

"My turn," Naomi said as she took the cards and shuffled. After a minute or so, she passed a set of cards to each of her fellow Black Knights. "So, any bets on where we're going to go from here?"

"You mean besides Tamaki losing his pay through next year?" Minami quipped, causing Tamaki to fluster once again. "Your guess is as good as mine. I'm still trying to figure out how we got so blindsided at Krasnoyarsk."

"What are you talking about, Colonel?" Tamaki snidely retorted, seeing an opportunity for a jab. "Last I remember, you were sitting on your ass on this side of the continent while we were fighting the good fight in Krasnoyarsk!"

Minami opened his mouth to respond, but Kento diplomatically intervened. "Of course we were all blindsided," he pointed out, namely to Tamaki. "There was no indication toward Bloody Marry having that kind of ace in the hole."

"There were certainly no signs of it prior to that point, yes," Naomi readily agreed with her husband. "And it only took her impending defeat in both Yekaterinburg and Krasnoyarsk to bring it out. But that still doesn't answer my question."

Minami again shrugged, as did Kento. "As I said, your guess is as good as mine Naomi," Minami repeated, taking a drink of his awamori glass. One of three such drinks at the table in fact. "Geass and all things related are well out of my league."

"Indeed," Kento seconded, actually shivering at the Power of the King being brought back up into the open. "Knightmares and landships are one thing, but… how do you fight something that causes literal madness like that?"

"Keep in mind the Eildons have been doing it for the last few centuries or so," Naomi reminded, inadvertently causing additional shivers as that subject was brought up again. "And Operation Fubuki wasn't too long ago."

"That's not exactly reassuring either dear," Kento responded dryly, once again thanking Kami on high that neither he nor his wife, or their respective squadrons, had been part of that operation. And not simply because he had no desire to freeze his ass off anymore than he was so close to doing there in Moskva. "On that particularly bright note, anyone going to place a bet on the present game?"

"Gladly," Tamaki said as he threw two chips in, glaring at Minami in the process, but only for a short moment. "Honestly, you guys are shitting yourselves for nothing! Geass, no Geass? It's all the same to me."

"Really?" Naomi queried, looking onto Tamaki with the same curiosity as her husband and Minami, even as they added their own chips.

"Sure," Tamaki proclaimed while viewing his cards with a certain gleam. "To date, we've stormed Pendragon, fought our way through the Bering Strait, smashed Pearl Harbor and then liberated a third of the entire world in one mass offensive. The latter in which we fought three Knights of the Round at once."

A cold swell quickly descended upon the other three table occupants. Was Shinichiro Tamaki making actual sense?

"I say as long as my buddy is leading us down the line, there's nothing we can't do, or beat," Tamaki stated, then grinning in full. "And speaking of…" He showed his cards. A complete straight.

Both Kento and Naomi placed their cards down in defeat, though Minami seemed to hold onto his a little bit longer. "Well, I can't argue against that logic Tamaki," he spoke with forward reluctance, before taking on a grin even larger than his opponent's. "At least, beyond that last part."

It was then Minami showed his own hand. Full house, sevens over queens.

"Kisama!" Tamaki cursed as he threw his cards down on the table hard as his nemesis again swept in the winnings. Between then and whatever his "buddy" was cooking up in the present, Shinichiro Tamaki felt he was going to be in for a very long game still. At least the Britannians would be comparatively easier to deal with, Geass or no.

The doorway opened, allowing C.C. to enter the immediate domain without outside notice. It wasn't any real fancy part of the ship – just one of the myriad cargo holds – but that served her present purposes quite well. There was no way she could do what she was about to do in front of the other Black Knights, or in front of Kallen and especially not in front of Lelouch. In fact, she was taking quite the risk then and there, especially with how far she was from a proper nexus, but desperate times called for desperate measures in this case. The closest elevator was on all too familiar Alexandra Land, and that was over three thousand kilometers north.

For a moment, C.C. couldn't help but hesitate. Did she really have to go now of all times? Back on Ryukyu, where she had unrestricted access to the Kaminejima elevator, she not only had all the time in the world to slip in and out, but she always did so without anyone, especially her two partners, ever suspecting too much. Granted, said partners tended to be more than a little preoccupied with themselves – quite literally – whenever she did slip away, but the fact remained so. There, in the middle of what was once Western Russia, she not only did not have access to a proper elevator, and was in fact about to invoke the power of her own Code to cross the threshold – something that she had rarely done over her centuries long lifespan – but she was going to do so in such close proximity to others. And she dared not fathom what would happen if they – once more Lelouch especially – realized she had such power.

Fortunately the hesitation passed fast enough. She knew she had to do it, that she could not go on much further without it. It was already getting that much harder to continue on, far more than C.C. could have ever anticipated. The thought caused her to audibly sigh in her isolated setting; just how far had she truly come? How much time had truly passed since the previous C.C. had forced the Code upon her? How many friends and family had come and gone to the passage of time while she continued to roam the Earth? One year, a hundred, several hundred? She supposed it didn't really matter, at least to her.

What did matter, however, was that, as reputed an oft heartless and very much immortal witch as she was, she remained human underneath it all. And for all of their strengths and ability to endure, humans were never meant to live as long as she had. Time was as much an exterior force as any form of kinetic energy, and when it could not affect one physically, it certainly wore one down on the spiritual level. Friends and loved ones passing on, culture and society advancing or, more often than not, regressing, history made to be forgotten and repeated, etc. All while the one who bore the Code remained a fixture. Entirely unchanging in a world that was in constant flux, with there only being one hope toward salvation.

Alas, C.C. knew that it was not time for that salvation, and not simply because neither Lelouch nor Kallen's Geasses were mature enough for her to transfer the her Code over. At this point, she even questioned if that time would ever come; as with everything else, so many of her partners had come and gone, and only one of them had ever reached the point where she could have transferred the Code over. That one had been Mao, of course, and to have done so would have been the ultimate folly, even for her.

That thought, and the following resolution, affirmed her more than she believed it would. While she could not free herself from her bondage, she could at least have this respite. And though it would very much be temporary, it would do well to hold her for as long as needed. As it had for just over two hundred and forty years.

With that, she closed her eyes and concentrated, gathering and focusing the power of her Code upon herself. Gradually familiar violet lightning began to flash and crackle across the bay as her hair parted, revealing the very instrument upon her forehead once more. Again it would have been so much easier if she had been able to use a Thought Elevator, but one could only make do with what one had available. And though it took much effort, far more than she would have liked to exert, she gradually felt the power begin to reach its peak. Alongside the feeling of her own self slipping between this world, the so-called World of the Living, and the Other.

And then, with a flash of light and a burst of air, C.C. was gone. Leaving only the empty and, as far as anyone was concerned, completely deserted cargo bay in her wake.

Imperial Army Headquarters Perm
Perm, Volga, Britannian Empire

"You have done well indeed Marrybell," the monitor image of Emperor Charles proclaimed to the princess, who remained kneeling before her father and sovereign. "With the recent setbacks our forces have suffered in Africa and Western Eurasia, your theater is the only one that has seen any great success at this time. And much more, with your circumvention of the Urals, you are well within marching distance of Moscow and the Far East's complete conquest."

"Your words give me great praise Your Majesty," Marrybell responded while doing well not to grin at her father's words. She dared not lest the Emperor somehow detect any potential hubris, despite the great distance between them. "As you said, we are well upon the doorstep of Eurasia's last stronghold in the east. Once my forces make their final push, the EU will revert back to being the European Union, at least until Hannes gets his act together and takes the remainder."

"So it seems presently," Charles responded, eying his daughter carefully. "And you are so confident that your forces can make that final push, even as they face the Black Knights alongside?"

Again Marrybell reneged from smirking, knowing a challenge when she heard it. "I will admit Zero and his minions very well caught me off guard at Krasnoyarsk, and I would certainly be a fool to assume that I have seen the last of them, even this far west, but they will be dealt with all the same," she stated with assuredness. "They will not deny me, or you Your Majesty, from the prize that is Moscow."

After a short moment of consideration, Charles nodded toward Marrybell's words. "You are most assured, I grant you that my daughter," the Emperor stated, his gaze narrowing. "Though I find myself wondering how that assuredness will stand should you face both the Demon King and the Bear of the Far East as one."

This time Marrybell could not keep herself from raising an eyebrow. "With respect Your Majesty, are you suggesting that Zero could strike an alliance with the Eurasians? After they tried to kill him at Krasnoyarsk?"

"A possible outcome, though that is not what concerns me," Charles responded, effectively silencing his daughter from further inquiry. "Zhukov's strategy at Yekaterinburg was most effective, while at Krasnoyarsk, Zero had come very well within penetrating your southern flank. You did well to drive them both back in the end, and yet still came very close to defeat in either battlefield, with only the perseverance of your troops truly winning the day."

Again the Emperor's gaze narrowed upon his daughter's kneeling form. "How do you think you will fare in Moscow, where you will undoubtedly face both opponents simultaneously upon the same field? And with the larger bulk of their respective armies behind them?"

Marrybell pursed her lips at that, admittedly having not considered as much. She had won both Yekaterinburg and Krasnoyarsk, yes, but part of those victories – besides her Geass – were due to Zero and Zhukov having fought on different ends and not having been able to support in each other against a common enemy. At Moscow, they would indeed both be present, and well within a position to fight alongside the other, assuming some sort of deal could be struck. Could that be her potential undoing?

"You will do well not to become overconfident at this time Marrybell," Charles went on, his voice as cold as the coming winter just outside the headquarters building. "For as close as you are to a great victory, you are also just as close to a crushing defeat."

Marrybell grit her teeth this time toward her father's words, but that was the only reaction she allowed of herself. Again she dared not allow the Emperor to see any further.

"Just as well, you remain well over a thousand kilometers from the prize, with much in the way of open wilderness standing before you," Charles observed almost casually. "Zero would be a fool not to take advantage."

"Any such attempt will be his undoing father," Marrybell proclaimed despite, once again projecting confidence. "One way or the other, Moscow will be mi…" she just managed to catch herself. "…Britannia's. If I must pave the road before it in Zero's blood, as well as that of his army, then so be it." As well as the blood of anyone or anything else that gets in my way.

Charles gazed upon his daughter for that much longer, such that Marrybell actually wondered if she had somehow uttered that last part out loud. And then the Emperor nodded once more.

"You remain most assured at the very least," Charles answered. Marrybell couldn't tell if his words were praising or scathing this time. "I hope that assuredness is well placed," the Emperor finished with.

Resisting the urge to exhale through her nostrils, Marrybell responded in turn. "I will not fail you, Your Majesty."

Charles gave no response to that, only disengaging the commlink thereafter. Her report to the Emperor apparently completed, Marrybell rose from her kneel, now resisting the urge to give into her anger and curse. Again she dared not risk her father somehow detecting it, in spite of everything.

Moscow will be mine. Euro Britannia will be mine, Marrybell once more assured herself as she turned and made her exit, wishing to get as far away from that monitor and the room that contained it as she could. Even if I must drench this entire continent, and all else beyond, in blood.

Perm International Airport
Perm, Volga, Britannian Empire

The Urien's cockpit hatch dropped open and the command chair extended out, allowing for Oldrin to lower herself down to the ground. It had only been a basic patrol run – something she routinely did if only so she could sortie in the Urien at the opportunity – yet she had returned far more exhausted than she had expected to. Of course, it helped less that she and her team had been ambushed by some Eurasian irregulars, and though they were put down easily enough, the fact was she had not been expecting a fight so close to Perm. Was it going to be like that all the way to Moscow?

At any rate, it was nighttime now, and the traditional sub-zero temperatures had set into that part of the world, such that Oldrin could literally see her breath as she exhaled. Thankfully she was wearing her pilot suit, which was designed not only to protect her from most hazards, but was also meant to keep her warm in colder temperatures – as well as cool in higher ones – so she didn't have to worry about freezing to death as she exited the hangar and moved toward the nearby terminal. Even so, while she was not physically cold, at least from below her head, the climate was something that she had never truly gotten used to in that part of the world, even after spending five years fighting across it. If anything it made her miss the Homeland that much more, such that she truly looked forward to the day that Operation Batu – the invasion of the Far East at large – was completed and she could return. Surely Marry would allow her that for a time, regardless of her plans for the continent, yes?

Shaking her head as she entered the warmth and bright light of the terminal, Oldrin decided not to think of any more on it and instead concentrate on finding the nearest lounge and some warm tea therein. And she kept that concentration, even as a certain ghoulish figure leaned against the wall just before her, grinning the devil's smirk as she attempted to walk by. And even though his own orange sleeved pilot suit remained unblemished, Oldrin could very well smell the newly shed blood off of it.

"Quite the hour of return Dame Oldrin," Luciano greeted with infuriating casualness. "I didn't realize dear sweet Marry let you out so late."

Oldrin sneered as she tried to move by the Knight of Ten, only for him to throw his arm out to stop her.

"Come now, there's no need to rush back to her," Luciano went on, his casualness now complimented with a dark underlayer. "Surely you're at least curious to see what sharing a bed with a man would feel like."

"If I find one who is worthy, I may consider, but only then," Oldrin snarled as she forced Luciano's arm aside and proceeded on. Unfortunately that was what the loathsome vampire anticipated and, with rather surprising swiftness, brought his body about so that he now had Oldrin against the wall. Only the knowledge of what would happen to her if she were to strike a Knight of the Round outside of self-defense kept Oldrin from responding physically, at least at that moment.

"Truly a waste in my opinion," Luciano proclaimed as he took a lock of her orange-red hair, frowning as he ran his thumb over it before she snapped it back. "For such a beautiful, not to mention talented warrior to be taken by one such as her."

If anything, it was far more tempting for Oldrin to become violent over that insinuation than over the physical threat. "Who I choose to be by, Sir Luciano, is entirely beyond your concern," she glowered threateningly. "Just as Her Highness is entirely beyond you and your so-called charms."

She pushed him aside at that point and returned to her earlier trek. Or at least, she managed to take three steps on the latter when Luciano began to laugh.

"I suppose that's one way of looking at it Dame Oldrin," Luciano openly considered, retaining his grin against the Ceridwen Knight's back. "Her Highness is entirely beyond me."

That was enough for Oldrin to freeze yet again, once more contemplating using terrible violence. She had no illusions toward what the Knight of Ten was truly alluding to.

"It must be quite the strain, being such a pure-hearted warrior to such a princess, such a woman," Luciano continued as he strolled right behind her, coming so close that Oldrin could feel the heat between them. "How does it feel to evoke all the noble trappings of the Zevon family, and yet remain in the service of one so evil?"

"Speak another word Sir Luciano," Oldrin threatened, now sounding more akin to a beast intruded upon than a human. "And your status as a Round will not protect you from my response."

Though very much tempted to try his luck there, Luciano merely smiled and backed away. The response she had given was precisely what he had wanted.

"Just remember Dame Oldrin, I am but a mere, humble vampire," Luciano continued to proclaim. "I fight for blood. To shed blood, to drink blood, to bathe in blood. So long as there remains fresh blood to be had, I am content."

His grin then increased as he added. "Your Princess, on the other hand, does not fight for blood," Luciano spoke all too knowingly. "She fights for fire."

Eyes widening at that insinuation, Oldrin could not keep her lips from peeling back into a deep snarl. Again only the knowledge of what would happen to her if she attacked the sick bastard of a Round outside of self-defense kept her in place.

"That is what makes her truly beyond even one such as me," Luciano stated, knowing full well he had just struck a sweet spot on the opposite knight. "And all the other butchers and mass murderers that our fair empire may offer."

Barely holding herself in check, it was all Oldrin could do now but storm off, to get as far away from the hideous vampire as she could get. Yet no matter how much of a distance she put between her and him, Oldrin would still feel the fiend's smile against her back for some time yet.

The Kremlin
Moscow, State of Moskva, Eurasian Union

In 1946, one of the bloodiest, most destructive eras in history had ended in that very room. It had been the very same end for the much reviled Soviet Union, as well as the end of Russia being a composed, sovereign entity. For the room that General Sergei Zhukov sat in now, reviewing the latest troop movements on a comparatively more modern computer terminal, had once been the personal office of Joseph Stalin himself. The very domain from which he had administrated the Great Terror over the Russian people as well as the Great Patriotic War he had launched into Western Europe, only to meet his own demise there through Lavrentiy Beria's bullet. Through that single gun shot in that very space, one period of history had ended, and another had begun. Would it be the same for the present age?

The more days passed, the more it very much seemed that would be the case, even though Zhukov had no intention of dying behind that wooden desk, the same desk that Stalin had once sat behind and Georgy Zhukov had oft times stood before. No, in victory or defeat, he intended to fight to the end against Bloody Marry, one way or the other, alongside those under his command. If he was to catch a bullet himself, it would be in the command center that was now being set up further into the ancient fortress or, God forbid, in the cockpit of a knightmare himself, not within that office. And it would certainly not be a Eurasian bullet he would be shot with, assuming President Kessler and General Heydrich didn't have anything to say to the contrary.

Of course, that didn't change the fact Zhukov had no intention of dying at all, which was consequently why he was where he was now. Though he was under strict orders to conserve his forces for the oncoming assault, at the very least he could watch and anticipate Marrybell's actions and mount his defense accordingly. And though it would not be the crucible that Yekaterinburg had been, Moscow was still a fortress unto itself, and would not fall to Marrybell and her legion so easily. The initial settlement had survived the Golden Horde through Daniil Aleksandrovich, had been put to the torch by the Crimean Tartars in 1571 and rebuilt in short order, had stood against the Russian famine at the beginning of the 17th century and had gone onto endure through the Age of Revolution, Bonaparte's forced union of Europe, the Habsburg War and, of course, Russia's own revolution and the events thereafter. Compared to those, what did Marrybell and her horde truly amount to?

Sniffing a bitter laugh, Zhukov need not merely remember to answer his own question. Had it been any mortal enemy he had been facing, he could afford to hold such an attitude, but his events at Yekaterinburg had well shown that he was not facing a mortal enemy. He did not know what force was driving Marrybell's army, but the General had little doubt it was something that had not been faced before – not even by his grandfather – and was likely not of this world in itself. No doubt Marrybell would employ it upon reaching Moscow, and this time, neither Zhukov nor his own army would have any room to retreat. To do so would be to invite Marrybell to strike into the west itself, which would effectively finalize what Stalin and his Red Army had failed to do long ago. And though the present day Zhukov was far than enamored with the leadership in Berlin – outside certain exceptions anyway – he at least believed in the principles that Bonaparte had built the initial union toward: Svoboda, Ravenstvo, Bratstvo. The Bear of the Far East would be damned before he allowed the unholy Britannians to strip those away from the world.

No, one way or the other, he had to stand his ground there, in the onetime capital of a once mighty nation. One way or the other, Moscow would endure once again, and through its resilience would Eurasia's own salvation be maintained. Needless to say, Zhukov did well to see the irony; that the citadel of one of the hated men in the Old World would serve as the staging ground for not only the Rodinia's liberation, but that of its former enemies as well. Zhukov could almost feel his grandfather smile beside him from Heaven over that.

"Arise, Russian people, on a glorious battle, to the death battle," Zhukov began to sing quietly and absentmindedly to himself, once more if only for irony's sake. After all, Sergei Eisenstein's Alexander Nevsky had been specifically made to arouse the Russian populace for the Great Patriotic War in the making. Perhaps it could be used for a similar purpose now? "Arise, free people, for our honest land…"

And so Zhukov would carry on, both with his private song and through the latest reports from the front. Resolute, at the very least, in the place of his last stand.

Cathedral of Christ the Saviour
Moscow, State of Moskva, Eurasian Union

Akito Hyuga had never been one for churches. Not simply because he came from an irreligious culture – at least, it had been before the Britannians had conquered it – but he had never been comfortable inside houses of worship, especially those that claimed to be dwellings of God. For one thing, one of the darkest, most haunting events of his life had taken place in a church. And though he only remembered so much of his brother Shin's Geassing the entirety of the Hyuga clan to slaughter each other – and subsequently Shin's own death thereafter – it was a memory that Akito feared he would carry with him for the remainder of his days. In fact, had it not been for Leila being there for him – to love him for all that he was despite – the darkness from that memory probably would have consumed him long ago as well.

Another issue Akito had with churches was a far more basic one: he was a sinner. Probably one of the worst sinners to ever walk the Earth, and though it was said the Lord on high was the benevolent sort, Akito could only fathom how anyone could ever forgive the likes of him for his crimes. It wasn't as though it were any easier for Akito to forgive himself, so why should God? Any more than he should feel welcome in His house?

Even so, he was within that cathedral now, standing before the large and highly decorated altar, gazing upon the various frescos depicting Christ and His followers at various points of their lives and ministries. Admittedly it was all very beautiful; Akito could admit that much, even to himself. Beautiful and very much serene, as the cathedral was now quite deserted save for a few latecomers holding prayer. Compared to what was happening now in Werwolf's assigned barracks – last he saw, Ryo and Yukiya were having some squabble over a rerun of Klink's Kommandos – it was quite peaceful there. Combined with the ambiance, the Japanese-turned-Eurasian officer actually felt the most at ease he had been since the initial departure for Operation Mitternacht – outside his distant contacts with his love of course – which made him inclined to believe that God did actually favor him somewhat. Whether or not that favor would continue toward the fated day was another matter entirely.

"Nice to see a familiar face at this hour," the voice of Major Andrei Zhukov spoke as its owner came up to stand beside Akito, the former dutifully crossing himself as he came before the altar. "Honestly, I wasn't expecting to see you here Major Hyuga."

"Just as I didn't expect to be here Major Zhukov," Akito greeted cordially enough, while doing well to keep his voice lowered. "But then, I could say that about being in Moscow proper."

"Couldn't we all," Andrei responded with a wry, understanding smirk. It still burned him how Operation Tiegel had failed so spectacularly; how the war should have ended then and there, but didn't. He wisely forced such ire away however, as it would serve him no purpose in the present.

From that, the two officers and commanders stood by for a moment longer, both observing the altar and the frescos therein. While it was clear Akito was at least undetermined where his faith truly stood, Andrei was very much a believer and a god-fearing man. But then, there was that old saying about Atheists and foxholes.

"Do you know the history of this cathedral Major?" Andrei spoke up again, a note of curiosity now in his voice.

Akito could only shake his head at that. "I'm afraid history is not my strong suit, Major Zhukov."

"Understandable. Not many outside the Rodinia care to know its history," Andrei went on. "Even so, I cannot help but feel that this church is most symbolic of present times."

"Oh?" Akito actually found himself interested.

Andrei nodded, gesturing at the altar. "Do you notice anything about those frescoes?" he posited. "How well adorned and colored they are? Showing no signs of age or wornness?"

Giving his Japanese comrade a moment to see that precisely, Andrei elaborated. "Compared to other paintings you would see in churches throughout Eurasia, those frescoes are relatively new," he glanced upward and around the chapel. "In fact, this entire cathedral is relatively new. It was rebuilt in the early 1950s, just after the end of the Soviet War."

Akito easily caught the choice of wording. "Rebuilt?"

Again Andrei nodded. "The original Cathedral of Christ the Saviour was built in the 19th century, specifically from 1812 to 1883. It survived through all the political upheavals of the period, and even survived through the Revolution, only for Stalin to tear it down to make room for his Palace of the Soviets."

Andrei actually laughed at the irony of that, which he also elaborated. "In the end however, through the Great Patriotic War, itself spawned by Stalin's greed, his dream palace would never be built. And when Russia was annexed into the EU and De-Stalinization came into effect, this new cathedral was built in place of the original, as though it had always been."

Akito considered that for a moment, seeing what his fellow Major was meaning through that story.

"Funny, isn't it? Of all of Russia's enemies, Stalin probably caused more destruction to its history and its people than any other," Andrei spoke further on. "And yet, the Rodinia endures even now, as this cathedral and all that it is meant to symbolize endures."

"And you think it will be the same for Eurasia as well, Major?" Akito queried.

To this, Andrei shrugged. "In one form or the other, Major. So long as people like you and I remain and are willing to fight, we will all endure."

He then turned back to the frescoes. The very images of Christ that Stalin and his communists had sought to purge from the land and the people.

"And in the end, we will remain standing yet," Andrei finished with, this time with clear determination. For what was to come, how much of a fight he and his comrades would put toward it, and to continue on thereafter. All as Marrybell and her madness were laid to rest beside Stalin's.

Black Knights mobile battleship Izumo
State of Moskva, Eurasian Union

"I admit it's a cunning plan, but it still cuts pretty close," Kallen said as she waited for Lelouch to finish slipping out of his Ashford uniform and into his more contemporary one, hoping that she wasn't keeping the rest of the Order's command staff waiting for too long. "Wouldn't it be better to simply bomb the bridges and trap them on that side of the Volga before setting up a strike?"

"Destroying the bridges will only slow Marrybell down, it won't stop her," Lelouch said as he removed the last articles of his Ashford attire and began to slip on his Zero uniform. "And with Zhukov's forces confined to Moscow, it would fall to us to stop her on the eastern shores, which we do not have the manpower to do. At least, not in a direct battle."

Kallen pursed her lips at that. "So our best bet is to utilize technology that we have barely any understanding of against an enemy that can easily overpower us, while our only direct ally is Orpheus and his entourage," the Major shook her head. "I can't say I like this setup Lelouch."

"And I do not begrudge you in the slightest for that Kallen," Lelouch said as he pulled on his tunic and sealed it, then buckled the belt around the waist. Next came the cape, which he drew upon himself in a short flourish. "Even so, it's either this or we take our chances in Moscow. In which we would be cutting it very close, as it were."

"No argument there," Kallen sighed, not wanting to even think about having to fight Marrybell's forces in such a final stand. Especially when she would undoubtedly unleash her Geass wholesale. "What do you think our chances of success will be?"

Lelouch actually paused in the middle of slipping on his black gloves, considering. "Not as much as they were in Krasnoyarsk, but still better than they would be in Moscow," he said before continuing to get dressed. "Naturally it will take great precision to see through, but if we do enough things right…"

"We end this theater of the war, yes," Kallen responded, understanding that much. Regardless of how risky Lelouch's next grand plan was going to be, the fact remained that, if they were successful, they would both liberate Eastern Eurasia from Bloody Marry's reign of terror and strike an even greater blow against Britannia than they had through China. Needless to say, they could not pass it up, no matter how precarious.

Now fully dressed, Lelouch brought his mask up, where he looked upon the featureless purple orb rather grimly. Despite his assurances to his Knight of Zero, he too had his misgivings about Operation Akigumo, especially how much it could truly cost him and the Black Knights if it failed. Yet again however, there was already so much at risk, and allowing Marrybell to reach Moscow would put even more factors into uncertainty. Thus if they could stop her then and there, before she could hope to reach Eurasia's final stronghold, then all the better.

With that resolution, Lelouch at last slipped his mask on, the HMDS lighting up the moment the device was sealed over his head. Now fully adorned, he exited his wardrobe and moved to where Kallen waited for him. The two then exited the Devil's Den without another word between them, proceeding toward the briefing room. Where the High Command and several others waited to hear Zero's next master scheme.


Eyes fluttering open, C.C. found herself once more in that familiar setting. A pastoral field of ever green grass, a bright sun overhead and a single tree placed in the middle. A realm totally removed from the darkness and destruction that was the world she had long grown accustomed to, the world that she had no choice but to return all too soon. For now however, there was only peace ahead of her and around her, alongside one other. The silhouette of a man she easily recognized, who smiled at her as she took two steps toward him.

"Welcome back Jeanne," George Washington, who very much appeared as he had in his younger days, warmly greeted with an ever present smile. Only his smile could generate such warmth toward her, could cause such feeling to erupt from her.

Biting back the tears as she always did, C.C. did well to return that smile with her own. "Yes," she answered, hoping against hope that both the moment and all that she felt within would never end. "I'm back George."

With that, C.C. ran into his arms, which immediately wrapped themselves around her in a tight embrace. An embrace that was in turn followed by a shared kiss between the two apparent lovers. Long separated by time and space.