"There is no hunting like the hunting of man, and those who have hunted armed men long enough and liked it, never care for anything else thereafter."
- Ernst Hemingway

Chapter IX: Hunter to Hunted

Black Knights mobile battleship Mikasa
Arctic Ocean
March 15, 2025

With how usually crowded the Mikasa's bridge was with people, it was strange for Colonel Yoshitaka Minami to see it nearly deserted like this. Aside from the three main stations toward the front which were filled with weapons operator 1st Lieutenant Ayame Futuba, sensor operator 1st Lieutenant Hinata Ichijiku, communications operator 1st Lieutenant Minase Mutsuki and select others, most of the bridge posts were empty. This caused a calm to settle into the space, which in turn made Minami relax and settle into his chair easily.

Taking advantage of the tranquility, he took off his commissar cap, which he adapted to wearing to further fit into his role as captain of the Mikasa, and placed it on the side of his monitor, just before doing the same with the cup of coffee he had in his hand, except toward the opposite end. He then proceeded to take a sip, drinking it quickly. It was not the best coffee he ever had, but it was enough to keep him warm, which was what he needed most right now.

As he did, he once again found himself considering his current position and just how twisted fate was for placing him there. Of all the things he had believed he would end up doing over his lifetime, captaining a battleship had been among the last he had expected. While it wasn't too difficult a job, Minami couldn't help but feel he was ill-suited for it; he, like the rest of Naoto Kouzuki's original resistance, had not even been part of the original Japanese military, instead having originally been a truck driver that went underground after the Britannians closed down his business and revoked his license. From there he went on to driving military supply trucks and at times piloting knightmares, but he had never served on any kind of warship. So how was he qualified to command such a fine vessel as the Mikasa?

But then he supposed he could have spoken the same way about Zero, since on any normal day he would not have believed a high school student had been capable of leading an army, no matter how brilliant he was. That thought made Minami feel a little more at ease with his captaincy, though it led to darker feelings on other matters.

It had been just over two weeks since the raid on Pendragon. Just over two weeks since they had reclaimed Zero. Since then, the Mikasa had made her way through the Arctic Circle – a somewhat slow and very cold journey along the frozen waters and ice – and was now gradually moving toward the Bering Strait and the Pacific that laid beyond. And all throughout, Zero – and Minami purposely thought of him as Zero and nothing more – had kept to himself, remaining in the Devil's Den and refusing to see anyone except C.C. No word had come from the immortal of Zero reaccepting his position and authority, nor that he was doing any sort of planning toward continuing his revolution from eight years before. All of which was more answer enough for Minami.

On one hand, the Black Knight Colonel couldn't blame the former prince for his dilemma. Though none of the Black Knights blamed Zero for the events of September 12 and 13, 2017, up to and including the SAZ Massacre, it could not be denied that he had a hand, no matter how indirect, in those events, which he had been forced to remember after eight years of blissful ignorance. That was a great weight to carry, one that Minami didn't think he or anyone else on the Mikasa would have had the strength to endure. It helped even less that those events had caused numerous aftereffects on the world at large, some of which were continuing now, especially with the current Great World War. All instigated by a mere joke turned forceful command, or so Minami just knew his former leader was thinking now.

On the other hand however, Minami had hoped Zero would have been able to set aside his grief for the greater good; that good being the world needing him once more. Whatever Zero's origins, it could not be denied that he had started something eight years ago. Whether it was a revolution against the world's most evil empire or the creation of a free and equal nation, that something had promised a better future for all; a future that was worth fighting for. Now, in these dark times, the world needed that future more than ever, and Zero was the only one who had any hope of seeing it through. No others within the Black Knights, no matter how brilliant or charismatic, could ever hope to bring such a thing to pass.

Sighing, Minami leaned back in his chair and gazed out at the field of white beyond. Like it or not, he could do nothing with the situation; if – when – Zero returns, it would be due to the efforts of his trusted confidante, the one who gave him his power in the first place. Until then, all he and the rest of the Black Knights could do was wait and go about their duties in the process.

For that, Minami concentrated on the viewport ahead and the field of white and blue that lay within. Even without Zero, he had to admit they had planned their route out well; despite the fact it was well into the spring, the Arctic Circle remained almost completely frozen and impassible for most surface ships. This included the Bering Strait, which had formed into a near complete ice bridge between Far Eastern Europe and Sunderland; a bridge into the Pacific that none of the Imperial Navy could ever hope to transverse. But for the Mikasa, and her revolutionary Inaba Drive, moving over the ice was just as easy as moving over the dunes of the Sahara.

Granted, there was one potential problem within their course: passing through the strait meant going between the occupied Far East and Britannia itself. However, Minami wasn't worried about that. His ship's stealth systems were state of the art, enough that the Britannians undoubtedly believed that a submarine had been responsible for the attack on Pendragon. And if they believed the Mikasa to be a submarine, then the strait would have been the last place they would expect her to be due to its relatively shallow depth. If anything, Minami surmised, they likely expected her to still have been in the Atlantic.

All in all, it should remain a smooth voyage home. Minami thought as he let out an airy breath. "ETA to the strait?"

"Approximately twelve minutes," the helmsman, 1st Lieutenant George Gray, answered as he continued to guide the ship along. "We should be back on water once we exit."

Minami nodded. That'll be good. he thought. We've been crawling along the ice for far too long…

It was at that point Ohgi entered onto the bridge. "Still a way's out?" he asked Minami.

"About twelve minutes now," Minami answered as the general made his way to his own seat. "It'll really be nice to be on the Pacific again."

"Very much so," Ohgi agreed. Though it had been an eventful trip around the world to say the least, there was just something about that particular ocean that felt like home to any Japanese. "And as a bonus, it's sure to be warmer than where we've been."

Minami sniffed. "Anywhere short of the South Pole is sure to be warmer than where we've been," he exclaimed. "If the Britannians ever make an Area out of the Arctic Circle, I say we let them keep it."

"Good luck explaining that one to the children back home," Ohgi retorted teasingly. "They'll think Santa will end up relocated to a ghetto."

"Nah, he'll go underground and wage his own war against the Brits," Minami shot back just as teasingly. "Not like he doesn't have the infrastructure for it."

Ohgi shook his head at the idea. "I don't think that was what he and the elves had in mind for the toy shop, Minami."

"It wouldn't be the first time General," Minami pointed out. "Just ask Rakshata."

Ohgi couldn't argue that one. They all knew that particular story. "Touché," he acknowledged, before moving onto business at hand. "Anything on our sensors?"

To that, Minami looked over to Ichijiku, who, without looking back, shook her head. "Nothing out of the ordinary sir," she replied as she looked over the readings. "There was a pod of orca at one-eight-zero, but they're long gone now. Last sonar reading was twenty kilometers out, heading south."

"Heh," Minami let out. "Even they got tired of the cold."

Ohgi could understand the sentiment. "Let's hope they're the only things out there," he answered, which earned nods around the bridge.

Despite that wish however, the opposite would soon become quite apparent.

Britannian Emperor-class sea battlecarrier Emperor Alec
Bering Sea, Pacific Ocean
March 15, 2025

"Contact continuing south at zero-zero-zero, speed twenty-five knots," the sensor operator continued to report, as indicated on the bridge's main tactical screen. Curiously, there was no actual contact indicated, but rather a line of blue dots scattered across the screen with a red line passing between them. Wherever the line moved, several of the blue dots would blink off the screen, only to reappear again once the line had moved a fair distance away. "At present course, she will reach the strait in one minute and twenty-seven seconds."

Vice Admiral Sir Gregor Upson, Earl of Thurston and commander of the Imperial Seventh Fleet's Task Force 73, couldn't help but flash a grin. Just as Prince Schneizel had assessed, the enemy battleship that struck Pendragon had been trying to sneak away from the mainland through the frozen Bering, but now it had been pinpointed by the Second Prince's strategy, just waiting to be flushed out and entrapped. And it was up to Upson's taskforce to execute those actions, which he felt a deep sense of honor for the privilege. "Fleet status?"

"Fleet is on standby alert," another operator announced, just as the screen. "Awaiting your command Admiral."

Upson's grin expanded. Now was the time. "In that case, the our vengeance is at hand," he declared as he stood up from his chair and threw his right arm out dramatically. "Commence Operation Glacier!"

Upon that command, the CDCs of the Emperor Alec and those around her became a flurry of activity as missile trajectories were plotted and entered in. Seconds from there, the first missiles ascended from their VLS ports…

Black Knights mobile battleship Mikasa
Arctic Ocean
March 15, 2025

"Radar contact!" the shriek of Ichijiku announced, causing all heads to snap up. After a few more moments, her own head snapped up in alarm. "Incoming cruise missiles, bearing one-eight-zero. They're heading toward our position!"

As suddenly as the outburst had come, Minami and Ohgi's expressions quickly turned to shock and despair. Impossible! The Gefjun Distuber is still active! Ohgi's mind rambled as he took in the situation.

"Sound for battlestations!" Minami shouted regardless. "Standby to engage weapons!"

"Impact in twenty seconds!" Ichijiku followed up with. "All hands brace!"

Minami opened his mouth to give the order to evade, but stopped when he realized it would do no good. The Mikasa was just too big to maneuver that fast and there were just too many missiles to wade around, even if they weren't in fact locked on. The best they could hope for was that none of them would hit period…

"…three…two…one…impact!" At that, the ship quaked as the projectiles fell around the Mikasa. Though the ship itself was undamaged from the attack, the crew found themselves struggling to maintain their balance from the shaking, and the bridge crew was no exception to this. Minami grasped the arms of his chair, while Ohgi had to grip his own control panel to keep himself in place.

"Point of origin!?" Minami demanded as the wave subsided. It didn't seem like any missiles had struck the ship, but they did cover a wide area.

"Calculating!" Ichijiku replied as the Mikasa's Druid System went about its work. "Point of origin six-one, mark one-seven-one!"

Now Minami and Ohgi were even more alarmed. That's in the Bering Sea! Minami thought in wide-eyed realization.

Ohgi could only close his eyes. The truth was now apparent. "Colonel, we've been found out."

"Second wave incoming!" Ichijiku announced. "Impact in thirty seconds!"

Minami nodded grimly as he turned order. "Engage weapons!" he commanded. "Launch interceptors when able!"

Britannian Emperor-class sea battlecarrier Emperor Alec
Bering Sea, Pacific Ocean
March 15, 2025

"We have visual contact," an operator announced, just as the bridge monitor flashed with a red dot appearing at the end of the line.

Right on cue. Upson thought as his eyes narrowed on the monitor, which flickered to show images of the newly revealed enemy warship. Now, let's see what we're dealing with…

As she began to reveal her own weapons to the oncoming missiles, Upson looked over the enemy warship with a peculiar eye. She was clearly a battleship in size and design, and certainly was intimidating aesthetically, especially with its jet black colored hull and those massive twin-barreled hyper-velocity cannons, but at the same time looked nothing like any vessel he had ever seen before. Though her "quadruped" arrangement reminded the Admiral vaguely of the Formidable-class, only doing away with traditional caterpillar treads for some sort of hover based system, Upson doubted she was Britannian in origin. Nor, for that matter, European, Chinese or even Middle Eastern design and make.

A Peace Mark remnant force perhaps? Upson thought as his mouth let out a frustrated sigh at that. Though it ultimately did not matter for the operation, he would have liked to have known which country had the brass to strike against the Imperial Capital, as well as whom exactly he was fighting for it. At the least there was the sigil on the front of the bridge tower, which Upson made a point to remember for future reference.

In the meantime, Upson returned to the matter at hand, grin making its dynamic return. Now that the game was flushed out, he could move onto the next stage of the hunt. The ensnarement.

He turned to the Alec's communications officer. "Inform Schwartzer and Gordiengo that they may deploy their forces at any time," he commanded. "And tell Gordiengo I look forward to seeing the Lohengrin in action."

He then turned to the captain. "Begin launch procedures."

Orders given, the officer began to relay those communications over the radio. Moments later, much to Upson's anticipation, several blue dots began to move toward the target from the east. All the while aircraft began to launch from the Alec's flight deck.

Black Knights mobile battleship Mikasa
Arctic Ocean
March 15, 2025

"Report!" Minami shouted as the last of the missiles fell, striking against the Mikasa's armor.

"Armor is holding!" Futuba announced as she looked over her display for any sign of damage. "None of the missiles got through!"

Minami glowered as he took the news in. "It has to be a task force," he exclaimed to Ohgi. "There's no way that much firepower came from any one ship or submarine."

"Which means the enemy didn't just detect our approach to the strait," Ohgi summarized with graveness in his voice. "They knew we were coming here from the start."

That knowledge washed over the bridge with the effect of an arctic tidal wave. Minami especially couldn't fathom it. Just how could the Britannians have predicted their route? So much so that they not only set up an ambush, but one that had ample force? As far as Minami and the rest knew, only one Britannian was capable of such a feat, and he was onboard the Mikasa with them.

However, before Minami or Ohgi could contemplate any further, Ichijiku's sensors beeped in warning again. "Additional contacts incoming from the east and west! Number unknown!" she announced. "They read as VTOLs! Gyrfalcon type!"

"Knightmares," Minami summarized, letting out a breath he didn't know he had been holding. There could be no other explanation. "ETA?"

"Approximately four minutes for each," Ichijiku reported, her sensors beeping again. "Faint contacts now coming in from the south! Missile launches detected!"

"Stealth fighters, obviously carrier launched," Ohgi summarized in turn. "They're boxing us in."

Minami wasted no time in shouting orders. "Helm, full power! All engines ahead flank!" he ordered. "Weapons, continue launching interceptors, and get me a firing solution on enemy ships when able!"

At that, the first of the missiles streaked in, slamming against the Mikasa's armor and causing her to tremor. "Standby to launch knightmares!"

As soon as she had managed to get her pilot suit on, Kallen wasted no time in charging towards her waiting Guren. The other members of Zero Squadron followed her example and nearly sprinted toward their own Isshikis, guaranteeing that in the next few minutes the Britannians would be seeing a lot of crimson. Both in the form of painted metal, and in the form of blood.

Once aboard her steed, Kallen placed herself into the cockpit chair, feeling slight pain shoot through her body. She cringed at this and pushed back against it; technically she had not been cleared for duty, and she knew why. Her wounds from the fight against Suzaku had yet to heal, and had it been any other time, Kallen would have likely been resting herself. Funny how that worked out.

After the canopy closed around her, thus sealing her inside, Kallen inserted the pilot key and watched as her instruments came to life. First the main monitor, which brought forth login clearance, then the auxiliary monitors, followed by the primary, then secondary sensors, and then the various control panels. Confirming its activation, the Guren's head rose up from its body, its blue eyes flashing "on" as if it had actually been awakened. While she was far from one hundred percent, at least her machine was at optimal condition, responding soundly to her touch. Had the machine actually been a living creature in fact, Kallen would have suspected that it would be anxious to head into battle once more, especially after being unable to participate in the Pendragon strike.

Just how the hell did they find us!? Kallen's mind bellowed as she completed her final checks, before she subsequently pushed such inquiry back. This wasn't the time for her to ask questions; only to kill the bastards that were trying to kill them.

A moment later, she toggled her radio to establish a line to the bridge. "Rei Leader to bridge, I'm heading out. Prepare the catapult for me after the Zangetsu launches."

"The hell you are!" Ohgi shouted out while his image appeared on her monitor. "You can't go out there now Kallen, not when you haven't had time to heal!"

"I'm sorry General, but there's no time," Kallen replied with the utmost seriousness, despite knowing Ohgi was genuinely concerned for her. "As you said, we need everything that can fight right now, and that includes my Guren. This isn't the time for me to be resting."

Ohgi sighed on his end. "I can understand your feelings Major. But with your fatigue, you'll be at a serious disadvantage; even against fifth generation knightmares, you may end up getting overwhelmed."

"Then I'll just make sure that doesn't happen," Kallen interrupted purposely. "Now do I have permission to launch or not?"

"Yes, yes," Ohgi acknowledged, though he didn't look pleased about it at all. "But on one condition: if you have any problems, return to the Mikasa immediately. I won't have you getting shot down at this time."

Kallen nodded at that, smiling slightly. "I'll keep that in mind General."

"You do that Rei Leader. Good hunting," Ohgi signed off, and his image was quickly replaced by that of Lieutenant Mutsuki's, who began giving Kallen directions toward her launch. Thus acting as if nothing were holding her back, she brought the Guren toward the catapult deck.

Already, she knew this was not going to be an easy battle for her in the least, but Kallen also knew too much was at stake for her not to be out there. For now, the Red Dragoness and leader of the elite Zero Squadron would just have to deal with her physical turmoil as best as she could, all the while making mincemeat out of the Britannians like she always did.

So, that's the beast that struck our capital. Brigadier General Sir Schutenkin Gordiengo III, Baron of Cincinnati, thought as his transport moved closer to the deployment zone, one in the several dozen that made up his brigade. He had to admit, even from his current position in the air, she was quite the battleship; not as large nor as overbearing as the Formidable-class, or even the European Charlemagne-class, but still fearsome in its own right. And unlike the former two, this one was able to move on sea as well as land, which was how it got through the Atlantic and Arctic in the first place. Quite the wandering beast to contend with.

At the moment the ship was being bombarded by missile fire from passing naval Lightnings, who either moved away once their main payloads were spent or shot down by responding missile fire. That said, Gordiengo was just able to pick up the sight of smaller units exiting launch ports on either side of the battleship; the enemy was already deploying their knightmare frames in anticipation of his and Schwartzer's forces' approach. So much the better as far as Gordiengo was concerned. He didn't want Operation Glacier to be accomplished too easily.

He quickly switched to his brigade's "push" frequency. "All units, standby to deploy," he commanded as his transport, which was somewhat different from the standard Gyrfalcons around him, drew ever closer to the combat zone. "Vanguard unit will move in first, the rest of us will follow from there."

At that, one of his unit commanders keyed in. "You won't be leading the vanguard, sir?" he inquired, clearly confused.

Gordiengo could only smirk in response. "As much as I'm tempted to…" he spoke, before patting the control panel of his machine. "It's better that the Lohengrin move in after the initial wave."

He didn't need to see the faces of his soldiers to know that they understood. The unit that their general was riding would be more of an unpleasant surprise for the enemy that way. Either way however, they were all looking forward to seeing their commander's steed in actual combat rather than on the testing field.

Despite his usual dour self, Gordiengo beamed with anticipation. Though it had proven to be an effective weapon, it was Gordiengo's opinion that the knightmare frame was becoming obsolete in its current form; the flimsy humanoid armor had served its purpose well in Area 11 and beyond, but now that every nation in the world had its own model, it was time for Britannia to move onto a more effective weapon. A weapon of such power and strength, that the very image of it would properly instill fear and submission in the Empire's enemies, as well as keep their allies in check.

Thus, Gordiengo believed in the near future, just as the world had trembled at the sight of the Glasgow fifteen years ago, it would once again tremble at the sight of his particular steed. As would the enemies that were before him.

With that established, Gordiengo watched as his indicator fell to zero. He then gave the awaited command. "All units deploy!" he called out over the radio. "For Pendragon!"

"For Pendragon!" his troops all recited at once. It wasn't as dynamic as the traditional Britannian battle cry, but Gordiengo thought it was fitting enough. Moments later, he watched as the Gyrfalcons in front of him dove lower, allowing their onboard knightmares to drop down to the ground, tethered by their slash harkens. Once they touched down, they switched to their landspinners and began their charge, their landspinners kicking ice as they moved against the oncoming enemy force.

Kallen sneered with annoyance as she saw the swarm of Britannian knightmares move from the east. Though she didn't detect any high end seventh or eighth generation knightmares among the formation, the sheer numbers alone could be overwhelming to her side if they didn't fight seriously. It also didn't help that those Sutherlands and Gloucesters were all in proper fighting condition, whereas several of the Black Knights' Akatsukis were not fully repaired from the Pendragon siege. As far as Zero Squadron was concerned however, only Rikichi's machine was not at its full composition, as it was missing its left arm.

"You know the drill Rei," Kallen stated over the radio to the rest of her unit, as she had the Guren move its radiant wave surger arm forward, opening the hand manipulator toward the enemy formation. Through some means she didn't understand, she managed to speak without any pain in her voice. "Spread out and engage the Britannians at will. Don't let any reach the Mikasa."

"Ryoukai!" came the simultaneous acknowledgment, underlined by a combined tone of anticipation and bloodlust. That was one thing Kallen liked about her squadron; no matter how badly they were outnumbered or outmatched, they were always waiting and willing to fight. A trait that she herself possessed, even when on the inside she was plagued with pain and self-doubt.

It was General Tohdoh who got the first kill, with the Zangetsu launched into a group of Sutherlands that were too slow to evade, managing to take out three with his seidotou in the process. As if spurred by the death of their comrades, the Britannians were quick to respond toward the Black Knight formation, raining bullets and shells toward them. Fortunately, the Black Knight pilots had been paying attention, and so most of them were able to evade the initial barrage and counterattack in kind, with the two opposite forces converging on each other like two swarms of hornets from different hives.

With a battle cry, Kallen sent the Guren Nishiki screaming into the enemy formation, releasing a radiation beam from the surger that obliterated two Sutherlands. In the midst of the twin explosions, several more knightmare frames came charging at her, causing Kallen to scowl and draw her "Ryogo Otsugata Tozantou" fork knife. As the knightmares moved at her with their lances or stun tonfas, she sped at them as well, parrying any weapon that threatened to pierce or pulverize her knightmare, while slashing at the units holding them. Of those, she managed to move around a Gloucester and stab it in the cockpit, visibly drawing blood once she withdrew the knife, and then proceeded to cut apart four Sutherlands, causing them to either explode or drop to the sea below.

Then her sensors beeped a warning of enemies locking onto her, making her swivel around and deploy her radiant wave shield to deflect the incoming fire, which turned out to be explosive shells. Barely managing to keep the Guren from recoiling from the explosions, she caught sight of her attackers; a trio of Sutherlands and Gloucester armed with bazookas. They maintained their fire, but by that point she had already evaded them and was already in the process of moving in for the kill.

Putting energy into her landspinners, she had the Guren charge up into one of the Sutherlands at face level and deliver a right armed claw slash to its head, creating deep gashes into the articulated faceplate. As the Britannian knightmare staggered, Kallen then leaped over it, twisted into a semi-barrel roll and slashed across the cockpit block with her knife, killing the pilot inside before landing behind the stricken frame. Its comrades tried to bring vengeance upon her, but once more she evaded their fire, and their shells only served to finish off the mindless Sutherland.

"Better of your kind have tried, scum!" Kallen roared with a certain fury, once more fighting against the strain inside her. As if reflecting its pilot's wrath, the Guren moved even faster. "And yet I still live!"

She then leveled her surger arm and fired another stream of radiation, destroying another Sutherland in the process and causing the remaining two to split up and try to flank her. Her eyes narrowed at the predictability of their actions; even without her Geass active, she could see the two enemy machines were going to try and catch her in a crossfire, forcing her to focus on one while the other nailed her in the back. It was something she had seen Britannian pilots constantly try against her in the past, though not once were they able to catch her.

Deciding to go after the Gloucester first, she sped at it, deftly dodging its fire as well as the Sutherland's in the process. Just as she reached her target, she jerked to her right and cut off the Gloucester's bazooka arm, before kicking the frame away. She then switched to her other target and aimed her left arm mounted grenade launcher at the Sutherland in a split second, firing off a single grenade and sending the explosive into the enemy knightmare's torso, causing it to detonate in a grand explosion. With that accomplished, Kallen then turned her attention back to the Gloucester, which only now had managed to recover from her kick.

As the command knightmare attempted to draw its machine gun with its remaining arm, she closed the distance between the two knightmares and slammed her surger claw onto its head. With her enemy trapped, she let loose the power of the surger, watching as the knightmare's armor boiled in her grasp, before letting go and withdrawing back to keep from being caught in the following explosion.

Not seeing any others advancing towards her, Kallen took the opportunity to target an enemy squadron that was trying to make a break for the Mikasa, which in turn was already busy shooting missiles out of the air with its CIWS and firing its hyper-velocity cannons over the horizon. Again, Kallen fired her surger into an enemy group; as a result, seven out of the twelve were immediately hit, with four going up in smoke, three losing individual limbs and the others managing to evade in time. To finish those off, Kallen simply switched the surger to spray mode and launched a spread wave of radiation, freezing the enemy knightmares in their tracks by disabling their main electronics. The Mikasa's CIWS only finished the job, and Kallen felt no remorse at the sight of helpless Britannians being picked off one after the other.

Once more hearing her sensors beep a warning, Kallen turned and watched as a pair of Gloucesters came at her with their lances. Launching at them herself, she grabbed one lance with her surger arm and fired off a pair of grenades from her launcher at the other, forcing that unit to abandon its attack. She then sent radiation into the lance and boiled it to liquid form, though its owner let go of it just before the radiation connected with its arm. Kallen threw the ruined lance away, but as she did, the Gloucester launched its slash harkens, with one actually smashing into the Guren's chest and knocking it back.

As the Guren shook from the impact, Kallen felt her body slam against the back of her cockpit and then into the front. Upon her chest and stomach impacting, she let out a sharp cough and watched as blood sprayed out onto the panel. She looked at the red splatter grimly. I'm still in bad shape …

But in spite of that, there was no time for her to pause and recuperate herself as the second Gloucester came charging again. Her eyes shifting into a fierce glare at her enemy, Kallen made the Guren leap up and over the lance, then land and move toward the first Gloucester, where she took hold with her claw. However, instead of sending radiation into the frame, Kallen instead spun the Guren around a full one hundred eighty degrees, then while reflexively letting out a bellow, threw the Britannian machine at its counterpart, who inadvertently impaled its comrade onto his or her own lance, complete with the pilot's blood across the tip. Just as the still living enemy pilot comprehended what had happened, she fired off another burst of radiation and destroyed both machines in an intertwined blaze.

Breathing heavily as the glare of the explosion began to run out, Kallen wiped away the blood that had gathered underneath her chin and once more turned to look for a new target. Inside, she could feel her gut burn and her vision grow hazy, but still she refused to withdraw.

"Not yet…!" she muttered to herself, putting the Guren into full burn toward another enemy formation. "Not when I can still fight…!"

Black Knights mobile battleship Mikasa
Bering Strait

March 15, 2025

As the Mikasa shook again from another projectile hit, Ohgi gripped the sides of his chair in order to keep himself balanced. Though he was afraid, for himself and for others, he knew this was not the time or place for it to show. Zero had named him Vice Commander of the Black Knights years ago, and he still maintained that position to this day. Therefore, it was time for him to be what his subordinates expected him to be. "Has the enemy fleet entered visual range yet!?"

"Negative, they appear to be holding at current position!" Ichijiku exclaimed after looking over her sensor readings. Sure enough as Ohgi looked toward the enemy taskforce, he saw that they remained along their original position, continuing to fire missiles and HV cannon shots toward the Mikasa. While this made it easier for the Mikasa's guns to aim and fire back at them, it also blocked their escape route south; the enemy fleet could easily break up and intercept them, no matter where they moved to. Their defenses also seemed to hold up against the Mikasa's firepower; that was not a good thing either.

"Continue heading," Minami instructed, trying to come up with some attack plan. Nothing came to mind however, beyond firing long-distance at the enemy ships while their close-in weapon systems worked their magic against the missiles and knightmares. "Maintain barrage against the Brit warships, but concentrate our secondaries against the enemy knightmares. If we can diminish their numbers, we may yet be able to escape."

"What the-!?" Ichijiku suddenly shouted out, catching the attention of everyone. "Another unit is moving in from zero-four-six, at a far higher velocity than should be possible!"

"Put it on the main monitor!" Minami ordered without pause.

Soon enough, the enemy unit was properly displayed at the front of the bridge. And just as quickly, dawning realization came upon the bridge crew: the enemy unit wasn't another Sutherland or Gloucester.

"What is that!?" Minami gaped, unable to mask his own shock in spite of his usual control. It could safely be said he had never seen a knightmare like that before. Nor did anyone else on the bridge for that matter.

Ohgi, however, wasn't so much concerned with the unit itself so much as where it was heading. Looking up at the sensor screen, he saw that the enemy unit's course was aimed directly toward the Guren. Faster than he ever thought he could move, he came down to Minami's station and toggled the radio.

"Rei Leader, behind you!"

Ohgi's warning came just before her sensors spouted off a warning of their own, that the Guren had been locked onto and the enemy unit was about to fire. Without thinking, Kallen jerked back on her control sticks and forced the Guren into a zig-zag pattern. Just as a flurry of bullets fired past where she had once been.

At the end of the burst, Kallen twisted Guren's head to face the direction where the bullets had come from. Her heart nearly froze in her chest at what she saw. "Nanjasorya!?"

The best way Kallen could describe the thing that was moving against her at high speed was something like an ushi-oni; a big, bulky, metal based ushi-oni. Far more massive than a standard knightmare, it nonetheless moved at great speed, which was obviously due to the equally larger than average landspinners placed on its massive legs. In fact, it moved at such speed and velocity that its great bulk didn't seem to hinder it in the least.

Its arms, meanwhile, both hefted strange apparatuses that seemed to consist of three triple-barreled guns apiece – the obvious source of the earlier bullets – while its cockpit was rimmed with several massive ammo drums that fed into the guns. A pair of characteristically large swords were also placed on the back, while the hips held two twin-barreled pistols and the chest two elaborately designed slash harkens.

And then there was the head, which, following the ushi-oni comparison, was an ornate piece with two golden horns on either side and six eye cameras – four of the standard set seen on fourth and fifth generation units and two of the human eye-like set seen on seventh and eighth generation units – which seemed to glare at her in magenta as the unit closed in. All of it together with a maroon color scheme with gold and green highlights to create a menace of knightmare that Kallen had never encountered before.

Just as the enemy machine, which Kallen's computer somehow identified as the Lohengrin, launched dual barrages from its triple guns, the Red Dragoness once more evaded and returned fire with her radiant wave surger. But as she was sure she was about to score a direct hit, the knightmare narrowly evaded the shot, then fired back as it continued on its advance. Kallen snarled at that as she evaded. "You've got to be kidding me!"

She then had the Guren charge at the Lohengrin, hoping to catch it before it raised its shield again. Her approach caused the giant to shift its triple guns over and concentrate fire, which she managed to bank around, clenching her teeth as her body strained to keep up. However, before she could even begin to level her surger, the Lohengrin ceased its barrage and fired its slash harkens at her. Knowing she was finished if she got caught, Kallen had the Guren somersault under the harkens, causing them to fly over her, then fell back on her landspinners and reversed, to which the Lohengrin gave chase.

"Damn it!" Kallen cursed as she dodged more triple gun fire. When she was far enough, she turned and circled around, firing another burst of radiation at the enemy knightmare's left side, but the Lohengrin again evaded the shot, then turned at her. Putting all possible energy into her landspinners, Kallen shot away before the enemy machine could overwhelm her, and upon failing to do so, the Lohengrin returned fire with its guns, which she also narrowly avoided.

However, the Lohengrin did not relent on its assault and kept it charge, forcing the Guren to dive to the left and dodge the unusual knightmare's charge. In turn, Kallen fired a spray of radiation in an effort to disable its motor functions like she had done numerous times against enemy knightmares, but once more that shield kept the radiation from reaching through and allowed the knightmare to remain operational. The Lohengrin replied with another blaze of its main guns, dispensing one of its ammo drums in the process, and Kallen barely managed to raise her own shield.

"If I let this thing get through to the Mikasa, it's all over…!" Kallen muttered out, before she charged back at the Lohengrin and fired off another surger beam, if only as a delaying tactic. Sure enough the Lohengrin's shield deflected it, and Kallen crouched and maneuvered to evade another slash harken shot. The giant only pursued, and Kallen skated along the ice while dodging more of the Lohengrin's firepower, her adversary giving chase.

Black Knights mobile battleship Mikasa
Bering Strait

March 15, 2025

Though everyone was still focused on their respective duties, all contributing to keeping the Mikasa moving, a lot of attention on the bridge was still directed toward watching the gigantic knightmare keep up its attack against the Guren Nishiki and several of the other Black Knight affiliated knightmares. For the most part, the crimson knightmare was doing a great job at evading the enemy machine's firepower, a true testament to the piloting skills of the Red Dragoness, but others were becoming less fortunate. This was capitalized when two Akatsukis were gunned down by the Lohengrin's triple guns.

"That thing's a goddamn beast..." Minami murmured, completely aghast. "How the hell could the Britannians make such a knightmare?"

Ohgi thought similarly as well. Though they had fought the Hector in Libya, this knightmare seemed like an entirely different force to contend with. To be able to keep up with Kallen and the Guren, in spite of its bulk…

"We have another problem!" Ichijiku nearly howled, now looking as though she wanted to cry. "Two more incoming groups, closing in from two-seven-four and zero-eight-seven respectively! Looks like enemy reinforcements!"

No! Minami cursed under his breath in horror. Once more, reinforcements had been inevitable, but the Britannian commander had managed to send them in faster than he had anticipated. With enemy warships to the south, Britannia to the east and the occupied Far East to the west, and enemy missiles and knightmares constantly coming in, they were well and truly trapped. Even retreating back to the Arctic only serve as a delaying tactic at best. "Reload all tubes! Target as many of the incoming VTOLs as you can!"

"Belay that! We will only be wasting missiles!" Ohgi spoke up, much to the surprise of everybody. He looked over at Minami. "We're well and truly isolated now. Expect additional enemy warships to appear."

Looking back at the main monitor, those assembled saw that sure enough, the signatures of Britannian landships were beginning to emerge along either coast. Minami visibly seethed at that; whoever they were fighting was pulling out all the stops. "Bring up a cannon barrage against all incoming enemy ships," the Mikasa's captain ordered. "Then have 1st and 3rd Squadron intercept the knightmares as they drop!"

As fast as those commands came forward, the different bridge personnel resigned themselves to carrying them out, knowing that each passing second was vital to their survival. With the crew suitably focused, Ohgi lowered his head somewhat, feeling as though a cold hand had wrapped around his heart. Finding us and trapping us like this… the enemy commander isn't some random Brit. he thought. It's got to be one of their higher generals, or perhaps a Knight of the Round...

A sudden realization dawned on him upon that. No, it's far worse than that. Ohgi thought, grimness entering him as he recalled. This kind of entrapment isn't meant to simply destroy or capture us; it's meant to make an example out of us and send a message to all other nations and armies, that Britannia will show no mercy to her enemies.

Swallowing, Ohgi's mind went on. Besides the Emperor himself, there is only one other that employs such ruthlessness.

Upon recalling that name, Ohgi at last saw just how far gone the battle really was. Second Prince Schneizel el Britannia, the same man that almost killed Zero at Shikinejima eight years ago.

Once more the Mikasa shook from enemy weapons fire, and while the rest of the room shook with it, Lelouch still remained firmly seated on his bench, his eyes fixated on the display screen at the far end of the room. Originally, he had used it to look over the battleship's schematics and various systems, as well as several of the new knightmare frames and support craft that the Black Knights possessed, if only to pass the time. But now, instead of the screen displaying blueprints and technical notes, it showed black and purple tactical grid that represented the current battle. On one side was the Mikasa and Black Knights knightmares, all colored in red, with special units such as the Guren Nishiki and the Zangetsu highlighted, while on the proverbial other side were the Britannian fleets and their knightmares colored in yellow, with the Lohengrin represented by an enlarged dot. As Lelouch could see, while the Black Knights were fighting valiantly, the yellow side grossly outnumbered the red side, and slowly but surely were overwhelming them.

Lelouch sighed at the grid, his fist tightening as he watched the battle play out. While he wasn't sure how they were found out, though he had his suspicions, he would have already guessed that the seaships to the south were meant to draw them into the open, where combined air and ground forces would be waiting to strike, thus trapping them on the ice flow. Had Lelouch still been on Britannia's side, he would have praised the effectiveness of such a grand yet simplistic strategy, as it was something very few would have been able to come up with. That said, Lelouch could easily guess who was leading this "fox hunt".

Obviously, the knowledge that Schneizel was the Black Knights' central foe in this battle did little comfort to Lelouch. While he may not have been actually present in the battle itself, the former Black Prince knew that his brother was out there, watching his prey struggle against the ensnarement he created, while secretly moving his personal forces to strike the final blow from the rear, thus leaving nothing for the Black Knights but either capture or total annihilation. For a moment Lelouch wondered if Schneizel would have stayed his hand if he knew his younger brother was aboard the enemy battleship, but Lelouch found himself shaking his head at that. If anything, it would only motivate his elder brother even more to keep one of his siblings from becoming a hostage or, if he knew the truth of it all, an enemy combatant.

With all of these factors, it was definitely apparent that the Black Knights, and Lelouch for that matter, would not survive if things stayed the way they are. The entire strategy had hung on the Mikasa remaining undetected as it slipped back to friendly territory, but now that she had been found out, it would only be a matter of time before Schneizel delivered them to checkmate. There would be no escape, nor any mercy.

In the midst of that thinking, Lelouch found his eyes shift from the screen in front of him to the part of the room where that black mask continued to lay. As he stared at the featureless purple orb at the center, he couldn't help but feel as if it were calling to him like a siren to pick it up and once more assume the role of the Demon King. It would have been so simple to direct the Black Knights toward providence; as long as Schneizel was not commanding at the front, then it would be all too easy to reverse the current favor of the battle. Every element was in place for it, and the Black Knights would certainly follow his commands to the letter. All that was needed was for him to don the mask as he did before, as it held a built in radio transmitter that he could use to directly contact the knightmares as well as the Mikasa's bridge.

Then just as quickly, he cringed and looked away, his face worn with disgust. No! I swore I would never wear that damned mask again! he thought in anguish. Everything will become undone if I do!

Even thinking that, Lelouch knew that his refusal to take hold of the situation only meant that his death was assured with the rest of the Black Knights. However, inside of himself he actually found peace and solace in that fact; it would only allow him to atone for everything that he had done years ago, and in the scheme of things, it removed one more villain from terrorizing the world. Yes, if Lelouch vi Britannia was truly meant to die here before he could give into the temptation and return to being the harbinger of chaos, then he would wholeheartedly accept such a fate without pause or complaint, though he was just as accepting should death choose to elude him.

And in that last thought, Lelouch could finally understand how Suzaku felt with his forced living through the power of Geass. What worse fate could exist than being denied atonement for one's crimes?

Another Akatsuki exploded near him, causing Tohdoh to grimace at the knowledge of losing another one of his own. In an act of retribution, he twisted the Zangetsu around at the Sutherland responsible, letting his machine cannons blaze into the enemy knightmare. A couple dozen warshots later, the blue colored machine seemed to crumple before finally exploding. Then dancing around another volley of machine gun blasts and warheads, Tohdoh twisted around and charged through the incoming formation of Britannian machines, slashing and dividing each one he passed with his seidotou before twisting around and firing a machine cannon barrage at the remainders.

This is not going well… Tohdoh thought as he observed the battle while being in the midst of it. He watched as three Sutherlands ganged up on an Akatsuki and drove their lances into it from different angles, before jumping away to let it explode. As well in another part of the battle, he saw a Gloucester throw a chaos mine in midair and spray another Akatsuki with shrapnel, ripping it into pieces, before turning to move onto another target. All of that taken in, things were certainly looking grim for the Black Knights, whose knightmares were still damaged from the previous battle as well as dropping numbers quickly, whereas the Britannians had continually growing numbers. The situation was truly desperate.

But Tohdoh knew, just like Pendragon, that neither he nor the rest of the Black Knights could afford to die here. They needed to get through this and return to their new homeland, where the rest of their armies were waiting for them, depending on them, to deliver back their leader and renew their war that had started fifteen years ago. The Japanese had already suffered so much, and the demise of the Mikasa and all of the Black Knights' central membership would only be the final nail in the coffin for Tohdoh's people.

Thus the man who had been renowned for the Miracle of Itsukushima pushed the Zangetsu to the limit as the custom knightmare sped toward another pair of Sutherlands. He caught the first Sutherland by surprise and was able to slash it down the middle with a diagonal cut, forcing the enemy pilot to eject. His second victim was slightly quicker, managing to bring up its stun tonfas and parry Tohdoh's next slash. At that, Tohdoh engaged the seidotou's rocket thrusters at full burn and pushed the enemy knightmare back a few meters, then performed a spin and caught it off guard at the side. One quick slash into the cockpit later, and the Sutherland fell to the ground.

As if spurred on by the viciousness of his attacks, the Britannians closest to him regrouped and concentrated their collective firepower against the Zangetsu. Tohdoh swore loudly at this and went into an evasive pattern while charging ahead, drawing closer until he was able to smash into a nearby Gloucester. Knocking his hapless victim into the crossfire, the commander issue knightmare was sprayed with bullets while Tohdoh darted sideways to the left.

"Not yet! We're still not dead yet!" Tohdoh called out, pushing his feet down on his cockpit's foot pedals, sending the Zangetsu into a charge toward the gathered knightmares around him. Upon reaching them, he began to butcher them one by one, fighting with any and all muster the General could manage within himself.

However, in the midst of his slaughter, his sensors beep, signaling new contacts incoming from Sunderland. Another wave of enemy reinforcements had arrived.

"Kisama!" Tohdoh cursed before switching to broadband. "All Squadrons be alert! We have new arrivals coming in from zero-nine-zero!"

"We may not be able to hold them, Shogun One!" Naomi spoke, her voice sounding quite worn despite her best attempts to conceal it.

"We have to hold them Kitsune One! We lose everything if we fall here!" Tohdoh replied back with great force. Though he felt just as exhausted, he hoped the force behind his tone concealed his fatigue from those under his command. "Shoguns Two and Three, form up on my position, we'll charge them down the middle! Take down as many as you can!"

"Shouchi, Shogun One!" Asahina and Senba both acknowledged simultaneously, with their respective Akatsukis maneuvering in formation around the Zangetsu.

With that, Tohdoh led the charge against the enemy formation, seidotou brandished. But even as he began to tear into the newly arrived knightmares in hope of keeping them away from their mothership, he could still feel a sense of dread within himself, toward the notion that if things remained the way they were, the Black Knights would at last be laid to rest.

A snapshot from Kallen's radiant wave surger at long last tore through the Lohengrin's left triple gun pod, causing it to explode after being properly boiled. As if it had been a living creature that just had one of its limbs cut off, the behemoth visibly shook, before readjusting its vector to move against the Nishiki's side and fire its remaining triple gun at her. While she dodged that attack, Kallen smirked. At long last she had managed to wound the beast.

But even though both the machine and its pilot's pride were damaged, Kallen knew the fight was far from over. While in the middle of a maneuver, she swung her left arm up towards the giant and fired off two grenades from her launcher, specifically into the front of the machine where she thought the main sensors were located. Though the explosives would in no way break through the enemy machine's shield, the flash alone would incapacitate the pilot for just a few seconds. That gave Kallen enough time to dart toward the machine's let side again, where she prepared her surger for another spread shot, one that would disable the knightmare and leave it helpless against her.

Unfortunately the enemy pilot managed to respond quickly in spite of losing temporary control of his machine, firing his left slash harken and angling it around to strike the Guren. As she was forced to abandon her attack in order to avoid the harken's claw end, Kallen's face twisted with frustration. "Bastard!" she called out, firing another surger beam in a follow up attempt to strike, but these were only deflected by the shield once more.

Following this, the Lohengrin ramped its landspinners to gain some distance from the Guren, at the same time firing its triple gun. Kallen just barely managed to move around the enemy machine's fire zone, continuing to bombard it with her surger bursts and grenades while flitting across the ground like a fox. But no matter how much firepower she directed against the enemy's shield, nothing pasted through the green shroud of energy, and the Lohengrin charged in once more with its own guns blazing. And as Kallen's shield would not hold up as well against the enemy knightmare's onboard weapons, she was forced to expend more energy by maneuvering around each passing blow, pushing both the Guren and herself further to their respective limits.

Already Kallen was feeling dazed, as she felt her nerves slowly begin to lose feeling and her eyes begin to lose vision. She was mostly fighting by instinct now, using motions to control her knightmare which were so familiar that she could perform them just by reflex alone. While it didn't bring her any closer to defeating the Lohengrin, it at least kept her alive and circumvented her exhaustion and physical fatigue somewhat. But at the same time she still needed to retain her focus in order to overcome her adversary, which was an extremely difficult task at least, and Kallen could feel herself losing more and more of it with each passing second.

I can't keep this up for much longer. Kallen's mind managed to think amidst her various instinctive actions and reactions against the behemoth. I have to nail him and get back to the ship before I blackout or he shoots me down. Come on Kallen, finish this!

Before she could do anything however, a flash caught her eye and after breaking away from the Lohengrin, she saw what it was. Immediately she felt a surge of horror enter her body. "No, the Mikasa!"

At long last, the enemy warships had managed to overwhelm the Mikasa's armor enough to tear into the hull underneath, thus encouraging the enemy to shower the Black Knight vessel with further cannon and missile fire. Though the battleship seemed to hold up in the assault, Kallen knew it wouldn't stay strong forever, signified by the trail of smoke that had emerged from the constant barrage. To make matters worse, she also detected several knightmare frames make a beeline for the wounded battleship, akin to sharks having been enticed by a stream of blood.

"Oh no you don't!" Kallen roared, changing her vector to intercept the enemy knightmares before they could even reach the Mikasa. Other Black Knights followed suit, but they were only able to catch up to a few Sutherlands and Gloucesters.

Angling the radiant wave surger, Kallen struck four Sutherlands with a sweeping beam, obliterating them just as they were closing in. Then she went into a full charge, coming up behind a Gloucester and driving her fork knife into the cockpit block, then withdrawing it quickly and appearing before a Sutherland, where she slashed it across the waist. The Sutherland's wingman noticed her at that point, and so abandoned its advance on the Mikasa to go after her, but by then she had already aimed her left arm and fired off a single grenade, destroying that knightmare as well.

Acting without pause, Kallen came up to another Gloucester and leaped and over so that she could drop down in front of the advancing knightmare. By the time the enemy pilot was able to level the machine gun at her, she had already latched on, induced a sufficient amount of radiation into the frame, and then tossed the freshly boiled machine into one of its nearby comrade's like a makeshift hand grenade. The Gloucester soon exploded and took its hapless ally with it, but Kallen wasn't able to watch it, as she still had more enemy knightmares to kill.

By now several enemy knightmares had gotten close enough to the Mikasa to launch attacks, but the onboard CIWS made short work out of the majority of them. However, the few that managed to evade were able to fire back with their machine guns and grenade launchings, taking out the individual weapon turrets and hardports. While these attacks were pinpricks compared to the damage done by the capital ships, they were still limiting the Mikasa's ability to fight back, and it wouldn't be long before one of them were to attempt a move against more vital components.

"Damn it, we can't take too much more of this…!" Kallen blared as she had the Guren launch forth to intercept those enemy knightmares, already targeting a Sutherland for vaporization in the process.

And right as she was about to pull the trigger, her sensors beeped shrilly in warning, directing her to behind. Just as Kallen was in the midst of turning, the Lohengrin launched at the Guren. Knowing she had no time to dodge, Kallen reflexively threw up her radiant wave shield. It was not enough; the Lohengrin easily overwhelmed the shielding and smashed into the knightmare frame behind it, sending it tumbling across the ice. The force enough to snap its left arm off and mangle its armor.

In the midst of the recoil, Kallen's head flew back and hit the cockpit canopy hard, causing her to lose all sense and sprawl across the right side of her cockpit as the Guren fell across the ground. Her ears could hear the calls and cries of her comrades amidst the warning alarms of her instruments, and her darkening eyes could just see three of her subordinates from Zero Squadron attempt to reach her, but had been intercepted by another Sutherland squadron. And as she herself attempted to reach her hand out to her control stick, she felt both her strength and her consciousness at long last drain away.

"Kallen!" C.C. called out from her own pink Jikisanshiyo. Immediately she drove away from the battle and angled her knightmare toward the broken Guren, whose adversary was proudly walking toward it, drawing its left mounted pistol. Unfortunately however, another unit of Sutherlands blocked her path, raining machine gun fire at her and forcing her to go evasive.

Gritting her teeth in uncharacteristic frustration, C.C. returned fire with her own hand gun while bringing about her katen yaibatou. But even as she pushed her way through the Sutherlands, taking them down one after the other with her sword and her handgun apiece, she realized all too clearly that she wasn't going to reach the fallen crimson knightmare.

Black Knights mobile battleship Mikasa
Bering Strait

March 15, 2025

"Rei Leader, Rei Leader do you read!? Respond!" Mutsuki pleaded into her headset as the red knightmare remained dead on the ground, with the Lohengrin gradually moving up for the finishing blow. But in spite of the hurriedness of the comm. operator's tone, the Guren did not rise, neither did its pilot reply back. "Rei Leader respond!"

Toward the rear of the bridge, Minami wore an expression of forced calm, but deep inside held nothing but fear toward his longtime comrade's current form. Yet even he could not compare to the clear anxiety that had taken hold of Ohgi, who was close to jumping up from his chair and grabbing the edges of his command console with such a grip that his fingers would indent themselves into the metal. In the face of the Guren's dead image, all mental control he had over his emotions were quickly dissolving, and it was beginning to show over Ohgi's face. It wasn't even clear if the Vice-Commander was breathing or not.

"Come on Kallen, get up!" Ohgi whispered under his breath. Although his exclamations were barely above whispers, the fear that was held in each word was apparent. "Get out of there!"

Yet the knightmare remained where it was, and with each meter that was lost to the Lohengrin's trek, Ohgi could feel his regret and despair grow. His dearest comrade outside his wife – who was also trying to fight her way to the Guren but was being held up by a Gloucester – was about to die. And his promise to the late Naoto Kouzuki, in which he had sworn to protect his little sister, was about to be broken.

In such desperation, Ohgi felt himself begin to pray silently, to no particular deity, for a miracle…

No…! Lelouch heard his mind cry out even when his voice did not, as his eyes watched in horror as the Guren lay across the ice like a dead phoenix, its would-be killer now almost over it. In those milliseconds, which had become eons unto themselves, the former prince heard his own breath draw into a great slow as his throat ran dry, the air itself seemingly being choked, and his heart freeze within his chest, causing everything to grow cold. And within his mind, Lelouch found every thought and emotion swept away and replaced with unrelenting fear and anxiety, all directed to the prospect of losing the one who, above all others, had believed in him the most.

Although Lelouch never wanted to place any special priority on any one soldier, Kallen Kouzuki had been the clear exception to that rule even as far back as eight years ago. Back then she had been his most skilled soldier and his most devoted follower, to the point that she chose not to learn his secret identity when he had offered, and had even gone so far as to protect his face from the other Black Knights. She had always been there for him, to protect him in battle when he was unable to do so himself, and to carry out his commands to the best possible outcome, as well as to keep him focused on his objective, if indirectly. She had also been the only one to lay her life on the line for him, specifically at Shikine Island where she abandoned the Guren to plead with Suzaku to let him go, just as the Avalon appeared to spray the battlefield with hadron fire.

And now, in the present day, her worth and devotion to him lived on as she had put her life on the line once again to go deep within enemy territory and liberate him from his invisible prison, even when he himself did not want to be freed. In the process she had also fought Suzaku to ensure his escape as well as her own; a fight in which she had not come out of unscathed if her current performance was any indication. And while Lelouch had not interacted with her since he had regained his memories, he knew she meant much to him even to this day; his remembering her face while still under his father's Geass alone meant that he cared about her more than he should have allowed himself.

But the Guren remained fallen and vulnerable, in spite of the various radio messages directed at it, as well as the knightmares trying to fight their way through masses of Britannians to reach her. Lelouch knew there wasn't much time before the Lohengrin delivered the executing shot, but nothing that was being done was able to avert that outcome. Her death was very much imminent.

In the face of that knowledge, Lelouch felt himself fight against his own reluctance and doubt, and he again looked toward the black mask on the floor. He could still feel it call to him, but instead of attempting to draw him in like a temptress, it was now a hurried, desperate cry for him to come to the aid of his soldier, his devoted subordinate, his friend. This time, Lelouch could not hold himself back from its siren song, with the urge to move forward and reach out to her while there was still time overpowering his resolve to keep the Demon King from returning, as was the familiar desire to take hold of the battle and ensure their survival.

Yet he knew what would happen once he took the mask again: that once he wore it and identified himself as Zero, he would not be able to do away with that existence again. Was the life of one soldier, no matter who she was to him, truly worth that?

At that thought, Lelouch's mind flashed back to their dance in the Grand Hall, and the smile that she wore on her face throughout the waltz, displaying both her happiness and satisfaction just from being there with him. That was all the incentive he needed. Damn it to hell…!

Though he should have remained where he was for the sake of the world he had done harm to eight years ago, Lelouch could not keep himself from leaping up off the couch and taking hold of the black mask once more.

She was at peace, perhaps for the first time in a long time. In her mind's eye she could see herself being with her family once again, what she once had before Britannia ever invaded her home, before her brother's death, before she had joined the Black Knights and before Japan had been destroyed. This all brought out a warm feeling within her; at long last she was where she had belonged.

"What are you doing!?" she heard a voice yell out to her. She looked up and around, but could not find the voice's bearer, even though she knew who it was. "Why aren't you getting up!?"

"Onii-chan...?" she looked around the white space she had apparently appeared in, but saw nothing at first.

Then, as if responding to her exclamation, the whited out image of her beloved elder brother appeared before her, his expression one of grave concern. "Don't tell me you want to die in a place like this, after coming so far!"

"But Onii-chan, I tried…" she murmured, feeling emotion overwhelm her at being able to see her brother again; had she been able to, she would have ran up and embraced him as she did when she was a child. "I really tried, but I wasn't good enough …"

"Don't give me that!" her brother replied with firmness. "Not when you've taken your first step toward making your dream reality!"

"My dream…?" she wondered out loud.

"Yes. The same dream that has kept you alive for so long, even after losing so much," her brother answered, his voice calmer now. "I was unable to achieve my own dream in my lifetime, but you still have a chance with yours. That is why you must live through this!"

"But…" she tried to phrase her words amidst her tears. "But…wha- how do I do this? I don't understand."

Her brother's expression softened at that. "You'll come to understand soon enough. But for now, you have to rise up." then his voice regained strength with the following words. "Rise up and fight Kallen! Are you just going to let yourself be defeated like this!?"

"Onii-chan!" she called out and attempted to reach out toward her brother's image, before she felt life return to herself…

"…K1 to Q1, do you read me? Respond!" the Guren's radio blared in her ears.

In an instant, Kallen's eyes flashed open, just in time to see the Lohengrin take aim at her cockpit pod with its pistol. Rolling away from the shot, Kallen had the Guren leap back onto its landspinners and move back, jut managing to evade the Lohengrin's follow up triple gun attack against her. As she fired back with her radiant wave surger, she couldn't help but wonder about that voice, as only one person had ever referred to her with that codename. Is that Lelouch?

Sure enough, the channel was on a private frequency that Zero had established with her eight years ago, and only he had access to it. She quickly keyed in to reply. "This is Q1, reading you loud and clear K1!"

Kallen could almost see Lelouch sit back in relief from the very clear sigh that came over the radio. "Good." Lelouch said, before continuing further. "I have orders for you Q1…"

At that, Kallen was forced to continue her fight with the Lohengrin while keeping her ears open for Lelouch's instruction. By now the enemy knightmare was firing its triple gun and pistol at her in sequence, forcing her to zig-zag across the ice while returning fire. More of the ammunition bins fell from the Britannian knightmare as it gave chase.

"Once you destroy that knightmare, you are to take Zero Squadron and follow a specific set of instructions that I'm sending to you now," Lelouch said, just as data flew into the Guren's computer. "When this is complete, you will withdraw with the rest of the Black Knights."

Though Kallen was in the middle of a fight, her ears heard the words perfectly, but she wasn't sure if her brain interpreted them correctly. "…Say again K1?"

"You heard me the first time Q1," Lelouch replied, voice sounding even. "Execute my command so that we may escape."

Kallen visibly cringed as she felt more bullets come close to striking her. Though she was still able to fight, the fatigue on her body was still there. "Negative, I cannot comply. I've taken too much damage to my frame!"

"You must comply Q1," Lelouch answered, now sounding a bit hurried. "This is the only way we will be able to escape with our forces intact as possible…!"

Kallen snarled as she continued her attacks against the Lohengrin. "Even if I understood what your plan was, I don't think I'll be able to keep fighting for long!"

"I know you Q1. You've taken far worse damage than this before and were still able to fight," Lelouch tried to be reassuring, in spite of being pressed for time. "Just as well, you're the only one that can perform this task and return in one piece."

Narrowly dodging another triple gun barrage, Kallen inadvertently turned the Guren far too hard, and the resulting pivot causing her body to surge with strain from the pressure. She let out a hardened growl as she tried to push it back, but this time it nearly overcame her. She knew she wasn't going to last much longer, and her confidence in being able to carry out Lelouch's plan also diminished considerably. "I don't want to fail you K1…" she murmured, her voice hoarse from the ordeal. "But… I don't know if…"

"You will succeed!" Lelouch's voice staunchly declared over the radio, so loud that there was no way it could have been misheard.

Upon her ears picking up those words, Kallen's eyes widened from their intensity and directness. Only now did she truly realize that the one commanding her wasn't Lelouch Lamperouge, the exiled prince that knew not his place in the world, but Zero, her commander and leader of the Black Knights, now awakened after an eight year sleep.

"I didn't give you the Guren or make you commander of my personal squadron because you're a good pilot," Lelouch continued, all the while Kallen renewed her attack against the Lohengrin, yet continued to listen to his words intently. "I did those things because of all the Black Knights, you are one of the few that can perform 'miracles' like me. You are one of the few that can accomplish the impossible!"

Lelouch paused for a moment breath. "And that is exactly what I am calling on you to do now Q1, a task I know you are capable of performing, even in your current condition."

Time seemed to slow for Kallen at that point; not even the Lohengrin's attacks seemed to register as much to her now, although she still continued her evasions and offensives. "…How…can you be so sure I can do this…?"

The voice on the other end remained silent for a moment longer, before finally replying. "Because…" Lelouch said, his voice now calm and collected, as if to display the total seriousness on what he was going to say next. "Eight years ago, you were the one I chose to be my knight. My Knight of Zero."

Kallen could feel the sharp intake of air she drew in at those few words. Even though she understood the full extent of what he was saying, she did not know how to respond to it. It was as if the workings of the universe suddenly became as clear as daylight, and with it her purpose became evident. For the first time since she had known him, Kallen understood the full extent of her importance to Zero, no, Lelouch, and how much he truly relied on her and trusted her, just as princes only chose the most worthy of followers to be knights in their service. Even the codename he had given her, Q1, meant to denote her position as Queen on his Chess board, had never made her see just how vital she was to the game that Lelouch played.

"Now…" Lelouch continued to speak, his voice rising in strength with each word. "Just as you did years ago, follow my orders and destroy our enemies so that we may live on! Kallen!"

Before she could reply, the Lohengrin had moved in closer to the Guren and moved into another charge, this time to slam into her with its now empty triple gun pod. Only now, the Guren did not bother to dodge or even bring up its shield; it instead remained in place as the charging knightmare surged forward. And then, at the last possible second, it reached its right arm up and actually grabbed the pod, holding it in place even as it was forced back several meters. Realizing that the enemy frame would not yield, the Lohengrin attempted to break away from the pod, but was having difficulty doing so. As such, the Guren effectively held it in place.

In the cockpit, Kallen suddenly felt as if a second wind came over her, pushing back her strain and focusing her on the objective. She knew what was needed now. "Yes…" she looked up, her left eye shifting in color. "As you command, Zero!"

With that, the red sigil formed at the base of her pupil and Kallen could now "see" every aspect of the battle, from the Akatsukis continuing to fight against the Sutherlands and Gloucesters, to the continuing bombardments, to the Mikasa's return fire as she kept making her way toward the sea, her crew continuing to perform their duties adequately in the hope of survival. And above them all, she "saw" how she would destroy the Lohengrin, whose pilot still wore a face of confusion at how the red knightmare had effortlessly caught him.

Glaring, Kallen engaged the radiant wave surger and watched as the pod bubbled across its form, just as the Lohengrin managed to breakaway. At that, she also let go and reversed to avoid the explosion. She saw that this deeply angered the enemy pilot, who was now firing at her with both pistols, but the Black Knight ace could easily see the firing points and velocity of each round, making the Guren dance almost effortlessly around each attack. Soon running out of ammo there as well, the Lohengrin had no choice but to throw away its remaining guns and draw both of its swords, where it then moved to attack at close-range. Even so, the Guren continued to evade its attacks, effortlessly sweeping and maneuvering on its landspinners.

To throw the Lohengrin further off of its edge, she allowed the massive knightmare to charge at her again, only for the Guren to dart around it, moving at different angles and firing small bursts from her surger to force it into a continuous evasive pattern, taking advantage of the Guren's smaller size. She then moved behind it, where the enemy knightmare attempted to turn to face her, only for the Guren to remain glued to its back. No matter how many times the Lohengrin turned, the Guren remained a fixture across from its cockpit block, much to the devicer's aggravation.

"You can't last forever," Kallen called out over the Guren's loudspeaker as she maneuvered, knowing that the enemy pilot was able to hear her at that range. "I'll spare your life if you choose to retreat."

Instead of a verbal reply, the Lohengrin responded by twisting around as hard as it could, bringing its left sword to bear. It ended up slamming against the Guren's radiant wave shield and nearly knocking Kallen back in the process, forcing the Red Dragoness to at last abandon her position as her quarry moved around with its other sword.

"So be it!" Kallen replied, as she sped to the Lohengrin's side, narrowly evading its sword and slash harken attacks. More and more, Kallen could "see" the enemy pilot continue to lose his stability in dealing with her, and as a result he became sloppier in his attacks and defending against her own. She just needed to push him a little more before finally finishing him off with her last ace in the hole.

At long last that opportunity came when she moved around toward the front of it. Once more, the Lohengrin charged at her, both blades ready to eviscerate when it came to range. At this, Kallen flipped back as the behemoth attacked, its swords barely missing her torso and, while still airborne, fired her surger arm forward in the manner of a slash harken, with the claw arm rocketing at the enemy knightmare while remaining connected to the Guren by a cable tether. In an haphazard attempt to avert its coming doom, the enemy pilot tried to bank to the left, but it was too late: the surger passed through before the shield could completely form and latched straight onto its head. She now had the Britannian menace properly dead to rights.

"BURN!" Kallen roared in a manner that made the title "Red Dragoness" all the more befitting, while pressing down on the trigger and watching as the radiation temperature gauge rocketed from 0 to 3500+.

As she "saw", radiation shot through the head and spread across the entire frame, its armor bubbling just like any normal knightmare's would when in her hold. The pilot struggled to try and eject the cockpit, but radiation had evaporated the ejection mechanism and rockets, thus trapping him inside. In spite of herself, Kallen held some pity at this, but then she had given the fool a chance to return and survive, which he chose not to take. Moments later, the entirety of the Lohengrin was bubbled over from the radiation, causing the knightmare to appear bloated and ungainly if only briefly, before Kallen let go of the hull and withdrew the surger, allowing the doomed knightmare to erupt into one of the largest explosions she had seen up close.

Not bothering to watch as the Lohengrin's flaming remnants rained across the landscape, Kallen got the Guren moving again while she toggled her squadron's "push" frequency. "Zero Squadron, to me!" she bellowed.

No more than mere seconds after she gave that command, the eleven Guren Isshikis moved in and leveled out on either side of Kallen's Nishiki, their pilots waiting to receive their commander's will. "We have received new orders!" she announced, sending over the data Lelouch had earlier provided. "By our leader's command, we are to open up the way of our escape! Not one Britannian is to stand in our way as we fulfill our liege's will!"

She then finished with. "Now, reengage!"

With the order given, all twelve knightmares dispersed and returned to battle.

Black Knights mobile battleship Mikasa
Bering Strait

March 15, 2025

To say that the bridge crew were shocked at the sudden recovery of the Nishiki and the ruthless destruction of the Lohengrin would have been an understatement. From the triplet of "bridge bunnies" at the front of the bridge to where Ohgi was sitting at the rear, everyone was wearing nearly the same expression, with eyes widened in shock and awe and jaws slacked, with breaths coming in slow. The battle was still going on, but no one could help but feel stunned at Kallen Kouzuki's incredible display of power and tenacity in the face of an at one time overwhelming adversary.

"When did Kallen ever get that strong?" Minami muttered offhandedly, signifying the thoughts of himself and everyone else. Though he knew that Kallen had obviously activated her Geass at that point, it was still startling to see her move and fight while it was active; she was almost like an entirely different kind of warrior when utilizing the "Power of the Queen".

For his part, Ohgi didn't seem to show any kind of surprise toward it. Instead, he felt a deep twinge of discomfort weigh in on him, knowing exactly what transpired whenever Kallen activated her Geass.

And then, as if to break into the moment as everyone's focus came back into the fight, another event occurred that nobody had expected. First came the sound of the bridge's intercom activating, and then came the sound of a voice that only the veterans from the Black Rebellion and beyond could remember, while the rest were taken back by even greater surprise than what they had felt earlier.

"To all Black Knights, this is Zero!" the voice declared with resolution throughout the Mikasa, and to every BK affiliated knightmare around her. Such was the power of that voice that even if by a small margin, hope was once more felt by the members of the Black Knights. "As of this moment, I am taking command of the battle at hand! If you wish to survive, then follow my orders to the letter!"

"Ohgi…" Minami started to mutter, but before he could continue with what he wanted to say, the General held his hand out to silence.

"First, I command the immediate withdrawal of all forces on the field back to the Mikasa."

Needless to say, that command created much confusion amongst several of the crew as well as the knightmare pilots outside, with many questioning their apparent leader's sanity. Only the true believers, namely the ones that had seen Zero in action in battles before, knew not to voice such questions, only to listen as he continued his instruction.

"Second, as Zero Squadron carries its orders, I want the Mikasa's remaining missiles reset for full penetration. When all knightmares are recovered, the missiles are to be launched to the specified coordinates that I am now sending…"

Sure enough, the bridge's main monitor flashed to display the exact coordinates of where Zero intended the Raikous to land. However, even more confusion was generated amongst the bridge crew; the coordinates set were nowhere near any of the enemy ships, but instead under the water's surface. Notably, each of Zero Squadron's Gurens were now moving toward those positions, where they turned the surgers against the ice to open up direct paths to the water below.

"Once these instructions are carried out, all objectives for our escape will be accomplished. From there on, we may live to properly repay the favor to Britannia another day. Zero out."

"Is he insane!?" someone blurted out once the message went dead. "We're going to be sitting ducks if we follow those orders!"

A direct hit against the bow caused the entire ship to shutter and almost overturn, sending a direct message to those assembled. Time was running out, and fast.

"Regardless of how they appear…" Ohgi stepped up again, his voice now far more direct. "Our commander has given us his plan, and we will fulfill it."

The following rumbles of another missile exploding against the Mikasa's armor only emphasized his words. "Now execute!"

Minami concluded this as well, although he was also taken back by the sheer directness and power that was behind his friend's tone and words. It was almost hard to believe Ohgi could act in that manner, despite being the Vice Commander. Did his earlier exchange with Zero have something to do with it?

"Right, open all retrieval bays and maintain CIWS fire; I only want our knightmares to get through!" Minami ordered, following up quickly. "Reset all remaining missiles for deep penetration and pre-target for the given coordinates!"

Britannian Emperor-class sea battlecarrier Emperor Alec
Bering Sea, Pacific Ocean

March 15, 2025

The enemy battleship was now well and effectively pinned down, as it had no way of completely evading or defending the incoming three way crossfire. Upson continued to watch with glee as various signals were lost upon the main monitor, as he knew the majority of them were either the invaders' knightmares exploding or the battleship being struck with shell and missile fire. The enemy's numbers were falling fast and their mothership was being hammered with the continuous barrage. She would not hold out for much longer, the Admiral knew, and once she was captured, his ascension to in the ranks of nobility would all be assured. Just a little more, and then…

"Sir, unless my instruments are mistaken…" the sensor operator said with peculiarity. "It appears that the enemy is withdrawing their knightmare frames."

"What?" Upson looked up, his feelings of grandeur being replaced with clear confusion, as he looked back up toward the main monitor. Just as the operator had said, the enemy knightmare frames were pulling back at all fronts, although there were still a few that remained in battle to cover for their retreat, albeit from outlying positions. Needless to say, the Britannian knightmares had chose that moment to advance.

If he had not seen it for himself, Upson would never have believed it; such an act was the tactical equivalent of a death wish. Thus, he let out a sharp burst of laughter which unsettled many of the crew members present. "Just what is that enemy commander thinking? Does he really want his ship to be brought down that badly? If that's the case, then I see no reason not to oblige him."

"It could be a trap, Admiral," the Emperor Alec's captain, who was standing next to the Admiral's chair, considered.

"If it is, it's a poorly thought out one. Just what benefit could there be in withdrawing their main defensive force?" Upson stated, entirely convinced.

Before the captain could reply to that, even though he knew it would be futile to convince his superior otherwise, the communications operator looked up. "Admiral, we're receiving a message from the Homeland. It's Prince Schneizel."

Upson's smile could not have grown any wider. "What are you waiting for? Put him on," A minute later, the image of the blonde haired, blue eyed Second Prince was instilled into the bridge monitor. "Your Highness."

"Admiral Upson, I trust you are holding the enemy effectively at bay?" Schneizel inquired, though he seemed to already know Upson's answer.

"All according to your plan, milord," Upson nodded. "All that is needed now is the finishing blow."

"I entirely agree. Once our remaining forces move into the combat zone and do away with the remaining defenders, we may begin the final phase of the operation," Schneizel said.

Upson once more nodded, his smile taking on an air of vindictiveness; the final phase was for Imperial Marines to storm the enemy ship and capture her and her crew. After the deed was done, the recorded footage of the capture would be broadcast across the world to show what fate awaited those who dared oppose the Empire. All the while Camelot would gain new technology to research and potentially reverse engineer.

Needless to say, the Admiral was truly looking forward to it. "Just give the word sire. We will be ready."

The enemy was coming at them in droves now, forgoing any form of evasion to take advantage of the Black Knights' retreat. Three of the Britannian machines turned to face down a wounded Akatsuki with the same mindset, moving in from three different vectors, unleashing a torrent of bullets and grenades from their rifles. Before any of them could hit however, Charmelle sped her Isshiki in front of its comrade and raised its radiant wave shield, deflecting the incoming fire. Following that, the Britannian renegade pushed her knightmare's landspinners to full throttle and zoomed in on the nearest Sutherland, vaporizing it with a surger shot, then following suit with the other two.

The pilot she just saved was quick enough to signal his thanks, which Charmelle responded to by waving her knightmare's hand, before turning away. By now she had long completed her mission, burning holes through the frozen surface for the Mikasa's missiles to fly through to the cold water below. As such, she resigned herself, alongside the rest of the Zero Squadron who had completed their mission, to protecting the remaining Black Knights as they retreated back to their mothership.

At the moment she was too fixated on the mission at hand to think of much else, especially when she had heard who was directing the battle now. Even so, the revelation had caused her to smile, even in the midst of combat. "Zero… back from the dead," she commented amongst the carnage. "Who would have known?"

Only then did the attack on Pendragon fully make sense to her; before Charmelle had been in total opposition of it, as it would have inevitably placed them in this very situation, trapped with enemies in all directions, and at worst exposing Okinawa to Britannia's attention. But now that she knew the true objective behind the raid as well as the result of it, she suddenly became filled with certain hope, just like everyone else in her unit. True, Charmelle did not know what Zero's plan was, but remembering all of his tactics and "miracles" from Japan, and how even the great Witch of Britannia was unable to match his cunning, she knew better than to question whatever he had in mind. Thus, she remained focused on the mission.

With Alfred moving beside her, Charmelle swung her knightmare around and proceeded to charge into the fold. Like a pair of wolves, the crimson knights of Zero Squadron dove into the melee, with one armed Guren Nishiki also moving in within the distance. In spite of its handicap, the legendary knightmare managed to destroy two Sutherlands from the onset with a surger blast, while the Zangetsu moved to support her.

Brandishing her own surger at one side and her fork knife at the other, Charmelle targeted a Sutherland of her own and launched at it, slicing off its left arm, which was holding a bazooka, in one pass. Fully aware of her attack plan, Alfred followed suit and cut off the opposite arm as it was about to grab for the unit's machine gun. From there, Charmelle turned back and finished off the Sutherland by making another running slash from behind, through the cockpit block all the way to the main body. Its fell to the ice not long after.

Following this, a fair number of enemy knightmares soon became gathered against the pair, forcing the two former Britannian knights to evade in a weaving pattern. Charmelle took the opportunity to fire a radiant wave machine gun burst into the belly of another Sutherland, while Alfred picked off a Gloucester of his own.

"Think we got enough targets, Rei Three?" Alfred shouted while bringing his knife up to slash a Sutherland down the middle, its cockpit just barely managing to eject.

"Only if one more shows up, Two," Charmelle replied with a smirk. Suddenly a grenade zoomed past her knightmare, barely missing it by centimeters. Turning, Charmelle took sight of a single Gloucester taking aim with its machine gun, no longer having the element of surprise. Just as it was about to open fire, Charmelle gunned her landspinners and shot up over the knightmare. She then leaped into the air, where she twisted her Guren around so that she landed on top of the Gloucester's cockpit block, the Japanese knightmare's legs closed together to maintain balance; her knightmare's weight, combined with the power of its descent, forced the Gloucester onto its knee. A split second later, she thrust her surger onto the block, activated it and sent pulses of radiation into the hulk, before backflipping away to let it explode.

That never gets old. Charmelle thought as she searched for another target. Though the Hunchback Strike was far from a standard tactic in any military, it was one of many techniques Charmelle had developed and honed during her brief servitude to the Empire. She was obviously quite proud of it.

Looking back, Charmelle could see that Alfred was getting cornered by five enemy knightmares, and although he was holding his own against them, the former Glaston Knight was still having great difficulties as he was likely out of grenades, to say nothing of his radiant wave energy.

"Alfred, look out!" Charmelle called out in warning. With a deft motion, Alfred had his Guren reach out with either arm and deflect a simultaneous flanking attack from a Gloucester and Sutherland from either side, lances brandished. Grasping one blade by a hand manipulator and holding the other in place with a hastily established radiant wave shield, Alfred then went into a single spin, forcing both knightmares close enough so as to be cut across the middle. Breaking away as their cockpits ejected, Alfred flung himself into the midst of three more Sutherlands, who tried to defend themselves with their tonfas, but each was unable to resist Alfred's attacks. In turn, Charmelle provided support by keeping other attackers at a distance with her own radiant wave surger and assorted projectiles.

With that squadron destroyed, Alfred turned toward another group of knightmares and shot after them. Charmelle trailed behind him, firing her remaining grenade into another Sutherland as she passed, but she didn't bother to watch it explode. As well, she brought both her surger and knife up and made more running strikes and slashes against the much slower fifth generation frames as she moved by them at blinding speed; most of her attacks managed to strike against their torsos, but a few were off enough to "just" sever or blast away arms and legs.

As she beheaded a Gloucester with a well-placed slash, Charmelle couldn't help but begin to wonder. Just how much longer do we have to keep this up?

"Charmelle, to your left!" Alfred hollered over the radio.

Barely having time to shift, Charmelle turned to see that a Sutherland had somehow snuck in close enough to her to attack her up close, machine gun angled to strike at point blank. Instinctively Charmelle raised her right arm to angle the surger back at it, but she knew that the Sutherland had already beaten her to the draw and would get the first shot off. In those few milliseconds, the Britannian wondered if her time had come…

But before anything could happen, she watched as a slash harken came flying out of nowhere and smashed into the Sutherland's arms, knocking away the machine gun before it could squeeze out a single shot. Then a moment later, the harken retracted and the Zangetsu came barging onto the scene, slashing its seidotou across the Sutherland's waist. "You should never leave your flank open like that Rei Three," Tohdoh exclaimed as he performed the attack. "Otherwise you may as well ask the enemy to strike there."

Charmelle let out a breath of air at that. "That wasn't my best moment I admit, but thanks for the save Shogun One."

Tohdoh nodded in reply to his subordinate, just as another message was broadcast. "Rei Leader to Mikasa! Primary objective is now complete!"

Minase Mutsuki's voice was quick to respond. "Acknowledged Rei Leader!" the reply came, before commanding. "All remaining knightmares return to ship at once!"

At that, Kallen brought the Guren Nishiki back up to view and followed upon the message with all the finality she could muster. "You heard her Zero Squadron. Disengage and RTB!"

With their orders clear, the remainder of the Black Knights' knightmare forces all abandoned their attacks and bolted for the Mikasa. Though they had taken out a fair amount of Britannians, as was expected of them, the ones that had survived the onslaught quickly regained the initiative and shot toward the black battleship as well…

Black Knights mobile battleship Mikasa
Bering Strait

March 15, 2025

Though Lelouch considered himself a man that was well used to wearing masks, both literal and metaphorical, the one he was wearing now was truly a new experience for him. As his original supply of masks had been destroyed with Japan, the Black Knights had been forced to create this one from scratch, and in the process Rakshata had added her own touches to it.

Instead of it being a simple mask with a radio receiver/transmitter at the bottom, this new model had been equipped with a miniature Druid System much like what the Mordred used, allowing it to scan Lelouch's surroundings and provide a steady stream of data to the miniature HUD that replaced the central visor. If Lelouch had to guess, on its own the mask likely had a maximum range of two to three hundred meters. However, an additional feature had been added to this compact Druid System: when within range, it could synchronize with any unit or system that was also equipped with a Druid System, such as the Mikasa herself, thus allowing the mask to receive data collected from the ship's various sensor systems and inner workings and project it all to Lelouch straight forward, though obviously compacted.

And that was exactly how Lelouch had been watching the battle now, through his mask. From his position he watched as the red arrows symbolizing the Black Knights' remaining knightmares drew back to the Mikasa while the yellow arrows of the Britannians charged forward, no longer having to worry about further opposition, and swarm all over the battleship. A display at the side of the HUD showed that the Mikasa's outer hull was now reaching its breaking point, little by little, from the firepower of both the Britannian knightmares and the airships.

Then a sudden beeping sound alerted Lelouch to shift his attention to the right; another wave of Gyrfalcons were moving in from the coasts. All the while an additional group of VTOLs, specifically Osprey transports, moved in from the south. The latter were obviously carrying Imperial Marines.

"Schneizel," Lelouch muttered out loud, frowning. "This must be your move to check."

With their emergence, the coastal landships had begun to converge as well, moving as close to the Mikasa as they could without going onto the ice itself. With their armor depleting rapidly and the enemy's firepower gaining greater concentration, Lelouch mentally estimated that they could withstand the final attack for two minutes and seventeen seconds before the armor broke and the ship was laid open for capture or destruction. The increased rumblings around him only made that scenario more likely.

"B1 to Zero, all squadrons have been withdrawn," Ohgi's voice spoke out, with his image appearing at the corner of the HUD. Although Lelouch could clearly see Ohgi's face, which was beginning to display some form of panic, he knew that Ohgi couldn't see his from the other end.

"Right, all tasks at hand are clear," Lelouch, in spite of his inward doubts, drew a smirk at the knowledge that his plan was coming together perfectly. "Brace the ship for shockwave!"

As he watched as that last order was carried out through his mask, Lelouch mentally pictured his elder brother, who was likely watching it all play out from somewhere in the Homeland, for one finl. In Lelouch's mind, the elder prince sat upon his command throne, eyes forward and exterior calm as he directed the fleets to converge, fully expecting the checkmate to be his. Lelouch's smirk only grew at that. It was a clever trap brother, but you took too long in sealing it and delivering the final stroke. Knowing you however, that mistake will not be repeated.

After that thought, he gave the final command. "Missiles, fire!"

At Zero's command, the Mikasa opened her VLS once more and fired her remaining missiles into the sky. At first the knightmares tried to shoot them down, believing that the missiles were heading towards them, but they were not fast enough to do this, and the missiles soon escaped their visual range. After reaching a certain altitude and distance, each one of the missiles arched in its flight path and flew at downward vector, rocketing lower and lower in altitude until each one finally and simultaneously shot into one of the freshly burned holes in the ice, where they proceed into the water like six diving seagulls.

But even though they were no longer airborne the missiles continued to shoot further and further down through the strait's depths, the water failing to hinder their sleek frames and rocket propulsion. Only a few seconds later did they in fact reach the relatively shallow bottom of the strait, where they proceeded to bury themselves through, going as deep as they could go. Only when they reached a certain point, as pre-programmed into their guidance systems, did they detonate.

All at once, a great and powerful shockwave spawned from the resulting explosions, creating a rising wall of force that as a side effect also superheated the water to many times that of its boiling point. Augmented by the increasingly evaporating water, the shockwave rose through the depths far faster than what should have been possible, generating only destruction to those caught in its wake. From that, the pressure wave reached the frozen surface of the strait in a near instant.

In a grand spectacle the pressure wave smashed through the ice flow, instantly liquefying it, and into a great burst that reached thousands of meters in height. No longer being held down by the great weight of the Pacific, the wave now took the form of a rising surge of steam that stretched for entire kilometers, covering the area in a great white blanket that ran all the way from coast to coast. All that had remained on the flow's surface, namely the Britannian knightmares, were either destroyed outright or fell into the superheated depths below.

And so, even after the pressure wave had diminished, the great cloud of steam still hung in the area, obscuring all visual means of detection and, thanks to the various minerals that had been held within the now evaporated water, all conventional sensors as well…

Britannian Emperor-class sea battlecarrier Emperor Alec
Bering Sea, Pacific Ocean

March 15, 2025

The concussion had reached Emperor Alec in a matter of milliseconds, knocking just about everyone on the bridge to the floor and rattling every millimeter of the great battleship. Upson was one of them, much to his humiliation, as he felt as though an invisible hand had thrown him from his chair so that he could sprawl across the deck along with others of his crew.

Groaning, the Admiral pulled himself up from the deck, just managing to balance himself against the ever shifting floor, before looking toward the bridge's front viewport. Though the shockwave was long past, the steam had remained, emphasized by the sheer cloud that encompassed the windows and kept Upson from seeing the outside.

"Damage report!" the Emperor Alec's captain barked to the crew, who were also struggling to get up.

"Checking all systems now," one of the operators replied.

"Daedalus and Diadem report heavy damage from collision, as do Diana and Druid!" the radio operator announced.

"What the hell was that!?" Upson demanded as he practically crawled back into his chair. "What could the enemy have…?"

"Sakuradite," the captain replied with solemn realization. "There were sakuradite veins running underneath the strait."

Cold realization eclipsed the bridge upon that exclamation. In their desperation, the enemy had used a tactic that, eight years ago, had literally shaken the Earth to its core.

In spite of his shock, Upson was the first to recover. "What about the enemy…?" the Admiral demanded as he practically crawled back to his chair. "Sensors!"

"…I'm not detecting anything Admiral. The steam must be blinding our sensors as well!" the sensor operator replied while trying to reestablish radar contact. "Wait… it looks like it's clearing."

At that, Upson looked back toward the main monitor and fixed his eyes on it, watching as the static disappeared bit by bit. Yes, it had been an impressive gambit on the part of the renegades, but, assuming they hadn't been destroyed themselves, it was only a temporary suspension of their due fate. Once the steam cleared away and the enemy battleship was in fact sighted, Upson would be quick to reorder all guns to fire, as would all the other ships. That said, Upson was willing to ride out this small hindrance and keep his excitement in check, as it would not be for too much longer.

However, when the steam finally cleared from the horizon, Upson's face didn't brighten with the vindictive smile that one would have expected from an executioner about to finish off the condemned. Instead, his eyes bulged until they looked like they were about to pop out of his head, and his mouth hung open as if he were about to speak but was unable to verbalize any words. The rest of the crew looked the same way, and for several moments the bridge was eclipsed in silence until someone finally spoke up. "That's impossible…"

Instead of a black battleship, whether intact or in remnants, there was quite literally nothing on the monitor but open space. For all intents and purposes, the enemy vessel had disappeared into thin air.

A certain fury began to emerge upon Upson's face. There was no way they could have been completely vaporized. "Where are they!?"

The sensor operator shook his head in confusion. "Radar's clean sir. I'm not picking up anything but our own ships!"

"They must have used the steam as a cloak," the captain hesitantly offered to Upson.

"They can't have gone far!" Upson barked once more. "Send out all available…!"

He was interrupted by the radio operator. "Sir, I'm receiving a message from Prince Schneizel," he stated, before slumping in his chair. "He's ordering us to stand down and await further instructions."

At that, Upson slammed his hands against the armrests of his chair. It was unreal; they had the enemy dead to rights just minutes ago. No, it was outright impossible.

But it was there all the same. As much as he didn't want to think about it, the enemy had managed to elude certain doom at the very last moment with a single tactic that functioned as both a massive offensive strike, which wiped away all means of attacking them, and concealment for their immediate withdrawal. It was a totally unexpected and spontaneous tactic, one that Upson had never considered before, and thus would never have anticipated. Much as it galled him to admit it, even inwardly.

And so Upson slowly sunk into his chair, knowing that he would gain no glory or advancement upon this day. Britannia did not reward those who had failed her, even if it had not been out of personal error, and the Admiral knew he would be lucky to keep his command, let alone his current rank. Instead of going before the Emperor to receive his Victoria Cross or elevation in noble status, Upson would only be summoned to explain to His Imperial Majesty what exactly had gone wrong in this battle, something he found himself dreading even if it was fairly unlikely to happen.

All of that… for this humiliation! Upson snarled once more at the thought, feeling as though he wanted to rip something apart, whether be it an object or a human being, for this failure. When he looked back up, he could only stare through the open viewport toward the horizon. As well as wonder what Prince Schneizel was thinking now.

Ministry of War
Pendragon, Grand Duchy of Pennsylvania, Area 1 (North America), Holy Britannian Empire
March 15, 2025

For his part, Schneizel showed nothing and said nothing in clear contrast to the incredulous expressions of Kanon and many others present within the Ministry of War's command center; the only movement he made was bringing his hands to his chin in seeming thought at the whole situation, clearly trying to discern his next move. Even though orders to scan the area were being shouted, Schneizel knew it was pointless to try and search for them here; it was obvious that the vessel had used the steamsceen as a cloak to exit the strait before contact could be regained, and so could have been virtually anywhere. On the outside, Schneizel showed little concern over this, whereas on the inside he felt somewhat frustrated; the fox had proven to be a much more difficult adversary than even he had expected.

At the very least Schneizel had managed to come up with an effective means of detecting them. By lining the segment of the arctic leading into the strait with active sensors, the Britannians could triangulate the enemy warship's position by which sensors had been "blacked out" by the Black Knights' Gefjun technology, which the prince had surmised was their method toward sneaking close to Britannia without notice. In that regard, it was fairly ironic how the device gave renegades a distinct advantage over the Britannians in disabling electronics and allowing them to move in stealth, and yet just as they could move unseen through active sensors, they could also be tracked by the number of inactive sensors and narrowed down to a certain area.

From there, it was simply a matter of logic and likelihood. As it had been when Schneizel had surmised the ship to be capable of moving over land as well as water from the way the assault in Libya had been carried out. As well as when he had also surmised its course through the Arctic and to the strait; the latter had especially easy given that the Pacific was only the most likely place for former scions of Area 11 to operate from.

Unfortunately it didn't seem the trick would work a second time. Although there was still a chance the enemy commanders had still not comprehended Schneizel's strategy, it would take too long and far too many resources to redeploy another sensor net across the Pacific; even Britannia lacked the means and resources to cover the entirety of an ocean with patrols and surveillance. Thus it would only be by luck that Schneizel would lay eyes on the black battleship again, as well as do battle with the Black Knights before they struck once more.

But even with that rationalization, a smile managed to form upon the Second Prince's face, as the enemy's final tactic had given him a revelation that he had not considered before. Though it was not much of a consolation prize, Schneizel now knew the exact reason why the Black Knights had struck Pendragon, and that it was much more than vengeance for Area 11's demise. And with that element of knowledge came one other insurmountable fact: that it was all far from over.

"Your Highness?" Kanon looked toward Schneizel in wonder, as did several others on the bridge, including the woman that remained present beside him. It was clear from their expressions that they were all wondering the same thing. Why is he smiling like that?

Rather than respond to Kanon's inquiry, Schneizel merely nodded. "As loath as I am to admit it Kanon," he said, with the air of a man who just lost a chess match. "The enemy has won this round."

The second prince then looked toward the nearest operator. "Order our remaining forces to return to base immediately." he commanded. "And reiterate to Admiral Upson that these orders come directly from the Second Prince himself."

Though still not entirely sure, the operator nodded her head at that and began to carry out her orders. The woman beside Schneizel, on the other hand, leaned down so that only the prince could hear him. "How will you explain this to His Majesty?"

Schneizel simply continued to smile. "Let me worry about that," he replied evenly. "I'm sure I can come up with something to still his wrath for the time being."


Author's Notes: Well, that was a bitch and a half to rewrite, but damn was it worth it. Hope you all enjoyed it, just as I hope you find my new twist on Lelouch's miracle believable enough.

RGX-N30 Lohengrin – Aka the Ahura Mazda with a far more sensible name. The only real difference is that I removed the gatling guns (they didn't make sense in a setting where the coilgun is the norm) and replaced them with oversized tri-barreled gun pods (which generally function the same as you saw). Surprisingly it was not only easy to implement, but rather fun to write, as I imagining how it and the Guren tangoed over the ice flow was pretty cool. And in case anyone is curious to know where I got the name of its devicer from, simply check the list of potential knights Cornelia handed to Euphie in season one episode seventeen.