Chapter 8

Recap: Lelouch lands in Amestris, gets picked up by the Elric brothers under Mustang's secret orders (who knew because all the weird glowy crap that was going on a while before he landed) then was imprisoned back on base for being a possible hostile homunculus. The actual homunculi attack to retrieve the anomaly threatening their plan but were unexpectedly repelled by both prisoner and imprisoners. Lelouch is then released from custody. Elrics, Winry and Lelouch are sent off from Eastern HQ to 'lay low' for a while, from both Mustang's mysterious problem and the more overt problem of imminent death via homunculi. Chap 7 ended with their possible upcoming doom at the tender mercies of Izumi Curtis! And this weird place called Rush Valley that Winry keeps goin on about?

…Not much has really happened yet. This is all just formalities for the main story to take the stage, which hopefully kicks off in this chapter.

The train pulled into the station with a comforting clack of wheels and steam.

"Rush Valley," announced Ed, already fishing out his trunk. He made a face. "Let's get this over with." Winry rolled her eyes, stretching into a groan.

"How do you ride these all the time?" She straightened. "You'll see. Rush Valley is famous for its automail, food, mechanics and diversity. It's an amazing place!"

Lelouch tugged at his jacket uncomfortably. Mustang was actually his height if not his exact size, but he had enough tight clothes to fit Lelouch to a T. It was actually vaguely unnerving seeing so much casual authority from a military officer, but in the end the clothes were all packed into a small, nondescript bag sitting on the seat beside him. How strange to have all his worldly possessions stuffed in a box. Starting over once more.

After pulling in through the arid edges of the plains, they settled to a stop in a dusty, lively town. In the station outside was familiar chaos- settling in the anonymity afforded by a large crowd proved invaluable the three months he had disappeared from the public. There were so many people in Rush Valley, and half of them seemed to be entering by train station.

During the train ride he had compiled a list of the things he knew and the things he had to do, and the previous was very short while the latter was becoming depressingly long. He was sure if he strayed from the alchemists that those homunculus things would come to get him, which didn't sound appealing in the least. Elric was his only connection to whatever was going on. He was inexplicably high up in the military for a self-gratified brat. That sort of reminded Lelouch of Suzaku.

"Waaarfgh," said Ed, already half buried in the crowd. "Out of the way!" He shoved aside a few workers, Al trailing behind him and fishing him upwards when necessary. Lelouch frowned, craned his neck to look for Elric, and knocked straight into another passerby, who fell to the ground with a clattering noise.

"Oh, excuse-," began Lelouch automatically, looking down.

"No problem," said the man in a dismissive tone, taking his hand and pulling himself to his feet. His wrists were wire thin and surprisingly strong, and he wore black sunglasses over his eyes, as if he was blind. "Tourist, huh? Welcome to the boom town of the broken down." He smiled wryly as if to some hidden joke.

"Thanks…," said Lelouch, "er, is that all yours?" The man tilted his head, and turned around, allowing Lelouch to see how the huge pack on his back had been torn open, allowing a pack of swords to clatter all over the floor in the impact.

"Shiit," the man exclaimed, dropping to his knees. People were starting to give them both a small berth now, which was a little alarming but more helpful. The man threw off his backpack at Lelouch. "Hold this." He quickly scrambled around, gathering the swords in his arms, muttering to himself under his breath the whole while.

Lelouch held one end of the bag gingerly. It folded open, revealing the huge hole on the inside.

"Aw great," said the man, catching sight. I'll never hold all these on my-" the man head snapped in his direction. "Say, what did you say your name was?"

Lelouch deliberated. "I didn't. I'm Lelouch."

There was no reaction to this. "Interesting name. And I'm Davis, pleasure to meet ya." With little warning, he stood and dumped the heavy pile of metal in Lelouch's arms. "Now you can ditch that bag and carry this instead." He smirked. "Thanks for all your help, Lelouch."

"What! No. Take these back!" Lelouch said in a half-yelp, trying not to drop the sudden weight.

Davis patted his shoulder condescendingly. "My store is just a little ways away, it's not as if it'll be that far. You break it, you buy it." He nudged another sword by his feet, then kicked it up in a perfect arc to land in the small pile in his own arms. "I'm not just going to leave all my amazing hard work here."

"No, really, I need to-" he looked up, but Ed and Al were nowhere to be found. Unbelievable. Some disciplined guards they were. Well, the brothers would be just in the city. It wasn't as if they would leave without him. "Urgh. Fine. Whatever."

"That's the spirit," said the strange man with the glasses, then got distracted by a child who had picked up a weapon. "Hey twerp! Put that down, all slowly like."

Recognition almost blew Lelouch over in shock.

The boy looked up, eyes wide, and slowly backed into the crowd, only to Davis practically flicker forward to pluck the sword out of his hands. "Kids these days," he scoffed, spinning the sword in one hand before popping back up into his pile. He looked back at Lelouch. "Huh. Something interesting about my skills? They are pretty good, I know." His voice was curious under the saccharine tone.

Lelouch was trying not to drop his swords in his sudden shock. "You, kid, what's your name," he barked out, his voice sharp and angry.

The child trembled a little, almost like a vibration running through his frame. He looked up under his cap and answered in a high, soft voice. "M-my name is R-rolo, sir."

"What?!" The boy flinched, and fled into the crowd.

"Where is he?" Edward said irritably, glancing around from his perch on a station bench. "Did the bastard make a run for it?" He snorted and hopped off the bench. "Well, good riddance."

"This is a military mission, Ed!" said Al, "you can't just leave him here."

"Uh, yes I can," said Ed, brow furrowed. He patted down his ruffled coat. "But I won't. Not because of Mustang, shut up, It's just that bastard still owes me." Al didn't know if he meant Lelouch or the Colonel.

"He's a little weird, but it didn't seem like he was about to run off," said Winry. She nudged Ed with her shoulder. "He'll be fine."

Ed sputtered. "I wasn't worried about him! Don't get the wrong idea here. Seriously, he was a prisoner! What the hell?"

"Yeah, so you told me, but what exactly did he do! He's been nothing but polite."

"Look Winry, Lelouch or whatever his name is weird, in a bad way, and he can mess with your mind, and he's… well, he's…" Ed was about to say something like immortal or possibly something like not really human so Al butted in.

"And he hurt Major Armstrong, one of our friends. I don't think he meant to, but he's dangerous, Winry. We still don't know what he wants."

Winry sighed. "I believe you. But come on, let's go into town. I'm sure he can meet us up there."

With one last sweep of his golden eyes, Ed turned and left the station. The entrance of the town was framed by huge wrought iron arch, twisting and welded in ways that didn't look like alchemy. Ed was reluctantly impressed.

"This place is amazing!" Winry gasped, stars in her eyes. "I can't believe they have all these advanced mechanics in one place!" She rushed to a shop window. "Would you look at that, fresh from the forge. That shine! Is that chrome? They can do that now without corrupting the-?" Something else caught her eye. "That wrench!" A sound remarkably like a pleased baby seal escaped from her direction.

Ed backed away unsubtly. "She's not going to make me buy anything, is she?" he whispered to Al. He had quite a stipend as a state alchemist, but the cutting edge technology in this place was up in the thousands.

"She's so happy, brother, you should let her pick whatever she wants."

"Soft! Al, you're too soft!"

"Don't be a jerk, Ed," said Al. Ed whapped him with his automail arm. A few nearby men with bandanas wrapped around their head suddenly turned at the resulting sound. Ed edged away from them, back towards Winry. The architecture here was interesting, but the people creeped him out a bit. Mechanics. Almost redundant in an alchemical world. Not that he'd /ever/ say that to Winry.

"Ed," said Winry, suddenly in his face. Her eyes were brilliant and determined.


Her grip landed on his shoulders. "Strip." He then noticed a small gaggle of engineers- if their glasses and upraised screwdrivers were any indication- behind her. They all seemed to glint evilly in unison.


"Take off. Your shirt." Ed suddenly had chills. He shot a desperate glance at Al, who simply stared back at him. Ed was sure he was laughing. Ed was indeed correct.

"N-no! I refuse!" Winry's eyes narrowed, but Ed could tell she was a bit injured. "I mean, it's just a shirt, right?" He shot a look at the engineers, who still looked interested despite themselves. He wouldn't want them to not realize Winry's work.

Ed stripped.

There was a lot of noise. A small crowd gathered. Ed was stripped more.

His watch was stolen. His very expensive, very meaningful, very important State Alchemist watch.*

"I can't believe that little- rrrrrrrrgh- THIEF!" raged Ed, huffing in a way he hadn't for a long while. He wasn't used to the feeling of being completely physically inadequate to someone. Well, besides his teacher. He had gone toe to toe with the Flame Alchemist! Paninya took the courtesy to glance back and wiggle her butt at him obnoxiously. "How old is she, three?!" He clapped his hands and slammed it into the ground, great monoliths of stone and roof tiling rising around the girl and crashing down. Paninya dodged them with insulting grace, laughing all the while. She was either insane, insanely skilled, hiding a dark secret, or not at all that bright.

An idea sparked in Edward's head. "Al," he grabbed Al by the back of his neck. "Come here for a second." Paninya danced mockingly in his peripheral vision. Ed grit his teeth and ignored her. Curse his weakness of reacting to every single little damn thing. Al exuded nervousness, and Ed imagined what his face must look like and tried to relax into a friendly if neutral smile. His expression morphed into a grimacing rictus.

Winry leaned in their circle with a tiny grin. "You look like you're gonna blow." She wasn't taking this at all seriously.

"That girl," Ed ground out, "how smart do you think she is?"

"Really smart," said Winry immediately. "She's born on the streets. A career pickpocket? That's some amazing skill to have the people around /here/ to respect you for it. Look at her go!" She smiled at Paninya's antics.

"You are not here to make friends with the asshole thief. I am going to beat the shit out of her, ok?" said Ed, waving his arms around, "/And,/ there is a huge difference between tactics and strategy."

Al's eyes lit up with understanding. "Rooftops, that could be easy-"

"-I'm thinking a low corner store, more material to-"

"-I'll set up a few just in case but how about…" Al stood up, using his superior height to scope out as much as the city as he could. It was in an interesting city, smushed against the desert and the mountains. The layout rose and fell far into the distance, a hundred two story buildings and alleyways. "There!" said Al, vaguely gesturing into the distance.

Ed nodded hastily. "I can't lose her, hurry up. Any-"

"This city is her playground, Ed," said Winry, "I don't really understand, but just be careful, alright?"

Ed waved her off impatiently. "Backup?"

Al made a familiar noosing motion and shrugged. "Tactics. In a relay." Without further ado Ed spun away from them and knelt, the ground suddenly rising up like a crackling blue torpedo, throwing him in a horizontal arc. It disintegrated as soon as he lost contact with it, making a small rain of molecularized concrete and dirt.

"Mind letting me in on the plan?" said Winry, shading her eyes to watch them hop off into the distance. Alchemy really was impressive, she mulled, but not as impressive as Paninya.

"Remember when we were kids?" said Al, starting to walk casually down the street.

"Yes, of course," said Winry, slightly wary of another unexpected Al-related breakdown.

"B stands for Backup, that's the rule," said Al with what sounded like a grin in his voice. Winry suddenly remembered years of play, forts and 'no girls allowed!' written on the side of trees and graveyards. Sets of traps and secret codes and baits and lures set in a neat line of relay tag that couldn't fool Winry anymore. But anyone else…

"Oh. Oh, that's mean. Kind of humiliating?"

"No, that's only plan B! I'm really the one setting the trap this time." He stopped in front of a shop. "This should do it." He grabbed a stick, tracing the ground outside in a perfect circle.

"There's a difference between tactics and strategy, remember? We're going to go with strategy." He started absently carving symbols into the edges of the array. "Don't worry, I'll play nice. It's not as if she'll be hurt."

Winry tilted her head. "You boys haven't changed a bit, hm." She let out an easy smile, and looped her arm through Al's metal one as he walked to the next store over.

"Y-you've changed a lot," said Al. Winry giggled helplessly at his obvious discomfort.

"Not really! Relax, I'm glad I came here with you two! You haven't come home much. I guess it's just easier to run after you two still after all the time..." Automail prosthetics were famous for their durability, dexterity, and resistance to breakage. She had always gone above and beyond with the work on Ed's arm, the most cutting –edge enhancements she could develop and support. She knew that arm inside out and eyes closed, and she had every part on hand, all the time. His arm could probably punch through a concrete wall. So it was alarming, how he always managed to completely splinter it into cracked fragments of her crafted labor. She hoped somehow, if she told him enough, that he would consider the fragility of his invincible arm and not be so reckless. Idiot.

Ed didn't keep them waiting for long. They could hear the sounds of Ed and Paninya's apparently epic fight rage hither and there, slowly working in their direction. There was a brief pause, then the roof suddenly exploded in a crackle of alchemy.

"I GOT YOU NOW!" they heard Ed yell, familiar blue lightning crackling up the sides of the building like a flag. There were a series of grunts and the sound of rocks falling and giddy laughter, then the door burst open in a cloud of dust.

"I've been waiting for you," said Al with a hint of a grin in his voice, standing solidly in Paninya's way. She hesitated long enough that Al could trigger the array, bars rising around her like an inescapable cage. Wow. Alchemy sure was amazing. Is this seriously what they did all day?

Then a blade flicked out of Paninya's leg, which was interesting. It was very interesting. In fact, Winry would say it was even fascinating, the way the perfectly balanced mechanism shot out from below her knee with two supports working as a hinge, without interfering with the design of the nerves and movement. Who made that? Then Paninya raised her other leg and there was a missile launcher and whoever created that weight distribution system was a genius and- an epiphany struck Winry. The shape could have entirely nothing to do with function. She had never seen anything like it. This was nothing like those thugs who only used automail as a 'weapon' liked to use- no rickety slide ons or inelegant machine guns welded to the design, the weapons systems here even seemed like an afterthought at the most. Both her legs were automail up to her thighs and she was already bouncing up the side of a wall- Winry lunged forward and grabbed her wrist. "Like hell you're getting away," she growled. The girl looked intimidated. No, no, she must keep good relations with the pretty automail. "That automail's amazing!" she gushed on purpose, and went into an effortless term-filled rant that was entirely genuine. She kept it up until the girl looked almost stupefied with confusion and Ed no longer looked like he wanted continue his fight. Winry paused for affect, waited until everyone's attention was refocused on her, then finished off all conflict by saying, "You must take me to their creator!" Winry paused. "No, wait." She turned to Ed. "Did we find Lelouch?"

It was a good shop, Lelouch decided. He sipped his coffee. The workers were efficient, the workplace was up to par, the transactions friendly and professional. He eyed the dangerous looking weapons on the wall. Apparently Davis and co. made good business.

The blond man saw off one last customer with a winning grin. Lelouch frowned. From what he had seen of the sarcastic man, he rarely genuinely smiled. What was with the switch?

"I'd like to keep the customers coming back instead of keeping to my ebullient personality." He said drily, sliding into the booth. Lelouch blinked. "It was written all over your face." Disturbed, Lelouch tried for his usual bored look.

Davis smirked slightly. "You think you're so tough, kid." It didn't really seem like an insult, though, he said it in the same flat voice he said everything else in. "I know a thing or two about masks."

Lelouch's eyebrows shot up. It was a strange topic to suddenly jump to, any way he looked at it. And he had, it was strangely difficult to figure out this man. He kept expecting flamboyant movement. …Perhaps he had been hanging around way too many nobles. Lelouch sighed a little and just enjoyed the actually decent coffee.

"Damn, you like coffee, kid." Lelouch grimaced.

"Oh, you know," said Lelouch, "Coffee makers in the military don't make the most savory drink." All barracks and Black Knights combined couldn't muster up a decent cuppa. The coffee machine in Mustang's kitchen had only punctuated the point. Wait what the hell did he just say out loud.

Davis' fingers stopped tapping the table. What was wrong with him? He never made slips like that! And since when did he want to have casual conversation with random bypassers, anyway? He surreptitiously stopped drinking the coffee. Maybe it was drugged. This automatic faith he was starting to have in people was disturbing as well. No, it wasn't faith, but…

"My uncle," blurted Lelouch as casually as possible, "he always dragged me around the military, wanted me to join. I didn't."

"Relax, kid, I'm not interested in any of your military stints. How old are you… about 18? 19?" His black sunglasses made it impossible to see his eyes and read his facial expression. That was still a strange way of phrasing it. "Nah," said Davis, "I've always been more of a sword guy." He gestured to his impressive wall of weapons. "You know, weapons like guns have no grace." He abruptly leaned forward. "And you should be eating more, kid, you look like you're starving."

Lelouch blinked, was that why he was feeding him? "I'm perfectly fine, thanks. And I'm hardly starving!"

Davis frowned as his waifish figure. "Right." As the last workers trickled out of the store, the backdoor jingled as a woman came in, groceries hanging on her arm. Davis entire body brightened, and he jumped up to take her bags. "This is my beautiful wife," said Davis, his lips quirking strangely as she leaned over to give his cheek a light peck. It was unbearably sweet, and made him feel weird emotions in his stomach so he sipped his coffee to block the view. Something was really off about him today, though he doubted the coffee was actually poisoned. If Davies was some kind of assassin, it made no sense for Davies to meet him in that manner back on the platform with so many variables. The way he acted seemed genuine, if guarded, and he was doing far too many unnecessary actions to realistically be planning harm against Lelouch. It was ridiculous to keep being suspicious. He was probably just having an off-day. Too much stress, he was being delusional. ….Like that inexplicable Rolo look-alike at the station. Probably because the look-alike had just turned tail and ran when Lelouch had stepped closer, it was just some random resemblance. And the same exact name. And ridiculously similar mannerisms and voice. "Her name is Riyal," Davis continued in the same slightly gooey voice, "Riyal, Lelouch." Lelouch's mouth tightened. He knew how he performed under stress, this was different. No, something was-

"Oh!" he heard the wife say in surprise. He looked up, his face clearing into a polite smile. His eyes widened, tracking up and down her face.

"It's a pleasure to meet you, miss Riyal." She was looking at him, eyes wide in charming surprise. She was beautiful in a classically Britannian way few seemed to be in this country, dark black-blue curls down to her mid back and light blue eyes. It was as she was the exact opposite of her tall, stoic, and blonde husband. She looked very young, at least not much older than him. Lelouch blinked slowly and reevaluated the other man's age. It made sense that he was younger than he looked, then his actions fell into context. He had to be around 21, 25 at the most. It was really hard to tell with those glasses covering half his face.

…For some reason, Lelouch couldn't stop looking at her. It was bad. Every time he looked away, his thoughts instantly pulled his gaze back to her, like gravity. She looked really… appealing. It was bizarre.

"Your wife is beautiful," he told Davis, and was rewarded with a smile.

"I know, kid."

Davis hefted the bags and made to take them into the kitchen, but Riyal grabbed his arm. "It's fine, I was planning on making some stew anyways. I suppose I have to make plus one?" She smiled prettily.

Davis melted. It was imperceptible, but kind of shocking. Lelouch was almost embarrassed watching them. She took the groceries and disappeared into the back. Davis sat back down. "So," said Lelouch, "her name is Riyal?" He paused. "How did you to meet?"

"It was kind of an interesting meeting," said Davis, a bit rueful, a bit starstruck, "but-" A ringing timer went from behind the counter. "But break time is over," Davis finished, rising silently to his feet. "I'm going out for some materials," he said, loud enough to be heard from the back, "I'll be back in about an hour!"

"Got it!" came Riyal's musical voice from the back, "Lelouch! Can I have some help with the cooking?" Davis smirked at the expression on Lelouch's face.

"Better get goin, kid. You shouldn't keep a lady waiting."

Lelouch absconded, and could practically feel Davis' laugh as he exited the back door. That was becoming strange, too. Since when was he so buddy buddy with a couple of strangers? He ducked into the kitchen, the beautiful woman already shuffling around putting cans into shelves.

…this was ridiculous. Not even Shirley or Kallen could hold his attention in such a way. Maybe. He pushed the feeling to the back of his mind, and tore his eyes away.

The wife smiled at him, settling plates on the counter. "Your name is Lelouch, right? A beautiful name. Sounds French!" The way she said Lelouch like she was stumbling over the syllables probably meant she was foreign. Or not. It wasn't even technically called English here, who knew what else had changed.

"That's right," he said, smiling back, "it's a strange name, I know."

She giggled like he had said something funny. "So where are you from, Lelouch?" She turned to the carrots.

"Oh, Xing," Lelouch said airily, "pretty far from here."

"Right across the desert. You know, the caravans from there are lovely. I always want to go." she said agreeably. She reached left for another carrot to slice, but there weren't anymore. She sighed and gathered up her carrot bits, dumping them into the pot.

"Traveling performers, right?" Lelouch guessed. If the strange parallels to his world were any comparison. "Acrobats and animals."

"I've always wanted to see the zebras especially!" She turned to him with a charming laugh, "But it's that or the zoos, and there aren't any even near Rush Valley."

"Where are you from, then?"

"Oh, a little town down East," she said, "you've probably never heard of it, Talco." She grinned fondly. "The people are a bit more friendly down there. Smaller communities, you know?"

Lelouch smiled politely, wondering why she had called him in.

"Sorry for calling you," the woman said, "I just wanted to get to know you a little better! Could you reach up there and get me the sieve, please?" She pointed to a cabinet just behind the counter he was leaning on.

Lelouch nodded amiably and went to grab the sieve, wondering what exactly she was making. It looked sort of like soup. He turned back. "Is this the right on- what!" He lunged to the side, narrowly escaping the knife that was hurtling towards his face. It grazed him anyway, slicing open his jaw and bouncing off cabinet behind him. Riyal reeled back for another swing, eyes wide and teeth bared in hatred.

"Riyal, I-" Without pausing, she jabbed forward again, stabbing her knife at his throat.

"Shut up!" she snapped. Lelouch automatically brought up the sieve, throwing himself back with the impact. The knife got caught in the fibers and Lelouch twisted, yanking the knife out of her hand. It clattered to the ground. "What are you doing?!" Riyal's eyes flickered to the knife on the floor. Without thinking, Lelouch kicked it away, starting to back towards the kitchen door.

"It's no use," Riyal said in a low, calm voice, her light and airy tone gone. "I locked the door when we came in. She slowly followed him, Lelouch holding the sieve like a shield, his mind racing furiously. "You shouldn't be so surprised, Lelouch vi Britannia."

Lelouch froze. "What- how- I don't know what you're talking about," he stammered with a wobbly smile. "My name is Lelouch Lamperouge. I'm sorry, you m-must've got me mixed up with someone else." He lowered the sieve a little, his hands spread in a defenseless gesture. "Miss Riyal?"

"Coward," Riyal spat, "still hiding behind your lies. Did you think that'd be enough?"

Lelouch flinched, calculating. He scowled. "Fi-Fine," he said, throwing down the sieve and drawing straight, staring directly at Riyal. "Who are you?"

Riyal didn't look the least bit surprised. "I told you, didn't I, your majesty? My name is Riyal. Riyal Stielson, daughter of Earl Stielson." She narrowed her eyes. "Ring any bells?"

"I see," said Lelouch. He vaguely remembered the name from a list of nobles he had eliminated as a matter of course in the aftermath of geassing half the royal court but that made no sense because-

"And how did you know it was me, and not some double?"

Riyal cocked her head in scorn. "There are no such things as French in this country, vi Britannia, nor are there zebras nor caravans nor zoos. You are a fool to have come here and arrogant fool to keep flaunting about your name. You did this to us! You deserve to die."

Lelouch laughed. "You aren't the first to have said that to me, Riyal Stielson. Tell me, is this what your father would have wanted you to become, a knocked up housewife, after he died?"

She smiled grimly. "You're stalling." She whirled in what Lelouch recognized as a trained maneuver and bore down with a quick lash of her high heeled shoes, which he just noticed she had been wearing as they smashed into his side. He fell to the ground, surprised at the distinct waver of pain. That was certainly not what being kicked was supposed to feel like. Riyal made a dive for the knife and Lelouch kicked the sieve to ricochet off a cabinet and knock the knife further away. His calculation was perfect, but his strength was insufficient to properly put the knife out of commission, just tangling it up with the broken wires of the sieve. Riyal turned back to him, breathing unsteadily, reaching behind her short jacket where a hint of a pistol came out with an unmistakable gleam.

Lelouch's attention, however, was drawn slowly and inexplicably to her belly.

"Look at me," said Riyal. He jerked his gaze back up. "Do you know why my father named me Riyal?" She said, her hands steady. Steady with an unfathomable hatred Lelouch reconized, when he was facing the demons that just wouldn't die, that came to torture him again and again in moments like these, he sincerely thought he slaughtered all these families in their homes with only a 2% margin for error. After all, he had bigger things to worry about at the time. He looked down at her arrogantly. It wouldn't be so bad, he thought, to die here, by this ironic mirror of his own actions. "My father named me Riyal," she said in that low and empty voice, "because he yearned for recognition of all his sacrifice, his hard work. Riyal sounded like Royalty, for what we aspired to become." The gun barrel came up. "A mistake," she whispered.

Her finger pushed down on the trigger and for the hundredth time in his life, Lelouch didn't know what to do. Then for the hundredth time in his life, the decision was made for him. The bullet was suddenly deflected to the side in a flash of black and silver and Lelouch was shoved backwards into the cabinets.

It took a second for Lelouch to process what had happened. "I, who-"

The man pushed him back, some kind of yin yang demon mask strapped over his face. He was dressed like some kind of ninja, all dark cloth and blades. Riyal didn't wait, simply shooting again. The man moved impossibly fast and the bullet somehow ricocheted again off something and suddenly there was a choked cry and Riyal staggered.

Lelouch froze, glancing to the masked fighter in confusion. Riyal coughed, ragged and wet, knocking back against the cabinets but still standing, glaring at him in utter hatred. Her hands grasped at her chest, blood starting to leak in a growing stain against her dress. "D-damn you," she said unsteadily.

Lelouch said nothing, eyes wide in surprise. "Your body," he muttered, distracted, "what's wrong with your body?"

The masked man moved forward, but Lelouch pulled his arm with a quick yank. "No," he said, "Don't touch her!" Without waiting for a response he moved forward to Riyal, his vision shifting for another moment as he glanced down at her chest and stomach, the wound lanced too close to her heart. Riyal's eyes were clouded in pain, slowly sinking to the ground.

"You're dying," he told her, matter of factly. She didn't respond, making little wet coughing sounds like blood had entered her lungs. Deliberately not glancing back, Lelouch knelt down with her, pulling her arm away from her chest, feeling her pulse, seeing the wound. She snarled. "You've lost." He said, quieter. "Tell me, what did you mean, 'us?'"

"Y-you," she managed, her hand tightening in his. He waited patiently. "Y-you know what they called me?" She grinned up at him, blood dripping down the side of her mouth and staining her teeth. "Brilliant. They called… me genius. You'll not survive… here…, vi Britannia." And her grip tightened with an unbelievable strength and faded, a single breath sighing out of her. Her head slowly sank to her chest.

The thing in her belly stopped moving. Lelouch glanced down again, puzzled, then his eyes began to widen in horrified realization.

Down in the shop, the door banged open with a clatter and a cheerful clink of bells. "Riyal?" rang Davis' voice through the house, "Lelouch?" But there was nobody in the house left to answer.

"I don't understand," said Ed finally.

Winry glanced up from Paninya's shin. "What?"

"He should have found us by now," explained Al, sounding worried. "We made such a huge fuss, that there were even fireworks at one point! Lelouch still hasn't found us."

"Did he… really run off?" said Ed uncertainly. It was just too weird. Really weird. Just like- he jumped to his feet.

"We were making a lot of noise," he said, "so what if the homunculi-"

Al made a sound of distress. "Seriously? You think they could have got to him?"

Ed sat down, letting out a breath. "No, we can't just jump to conclusions, we just have to-"

He was interrupted by the sound of a loud jingle screeching out into the air. Activity seemed to pause as a there was the noise of scratchy interference crackling through a recently repaired pole with some radio funnels wired on top.


Edward and Alphonse looked at each other.

"Why the hell didn't we think of that?" said Ed blankly.

"Come on, let's go then," Winry said briskly, already heading towards the downtown, "the faster we find him, the faster we can leave." She smiled back at Paninya, who grinned back.

"Where you heading?"

"The station, monkey girl," Edward growled with hostility. Paninya still hadn't given his watch back.

Paninya blinked plaintively, "I don't want to go there."

"Tough," said Ed, stomping off.

"It's really best if you come along," said Al, worried about whoever was calling Lelouch from the police station.

Paninya wrinkled her nose. "It's no problem if we find this Lelouch fellow, right?" She hopped up the side of a recently repaired canopy. "I know this town like the back of my hand! I can find him in no time." She winked at Ed's flabbergasted face. "If Winry's hot descriptions are any help, he'll be easy to find. Don't worry, I won't wander off juuust yet. You're all just so interesting!" And before any of them could protest, she was already speeding away.

There were a few seconds of silence. "Augh!" Edward rubbed his hands hard in his hair, "fucking fine then!"

A light haired man with sunglasses on was pacing when Ed barreled up to the desk. "Where's Lelouch?" Ed demanded. The man whirled.

"You know him?" He said, grabbing Ed by the side of his hood.

"What the- get off me!" said Ed, slapping off his hand.

"Were you the one who made the announcement?" Al asked, before the situation could devolve.

The man nodded, running a hand through his hair. Frown lines were worried into his mouth. "I need to find him. I think he's in terrible danger."

"What? Lelouch?" said Ed blankly, examining the man closer. "Who are you, anyway?"

"I'm Davis. Davis Stielson. My wife- my wife was killed, there's blood everywhere, Lelouch was-"

"Lelouch killed someone?" said Ed incredulously.

Davis blinked at him. "He- no, I-" he stopped abruptly. It was obvious he hadn't even considered the possibility. "No, that can't be right," he said, shaking his head. "I just invited him in for some food. He didn't seem like he would just up and murder someone."

Ed and Al exchanged a glance. "What happened?"

"I left a few minutes for my supplier- I run a metal works shop- and when I came back I found-" he gave the most involuntary noise in the back of his throat that Ed had ever heard. "My wife was shot, in the heart, and the only thing they found was this."

He opened his palm, seemingly for the first time, because there was still wet blood around what used to be a golden tassel tied in an intricate knot, frayed at the edge.

"A Xingese charm to ward off bad luck." His mouth ticked up in a hysterical grin. "Just like Lelouch."

"Hello again… Lelouch," said C.C, turning her head to face him. Her bare legs kicked off the edge of C's World, the floating platform a rickety combination of clockwork and steel girder. "Back to the world of living, hm?"

Lelouch tried to say something, but no words could exit his mouth.

"Well," conceded C.C, "if you're really here, that is." She turned to face him in one smooth movement, a silk robe rippling into being and draping itself around her shoulders. "It looks like you can hear me now, however." Her calm gold gaze raked over him, settled on the handcuffs he just noticed he was wearing. "How nostalgic."

God, did she ever get to the point?! His aggravation must have shown on his face, because she gave a familiar flicker of a smirk and turned her back to him. "No, I think I'm having fun watching you bumble around. It's quite entertaining, as code-bearers go. I do hope you realize what you're doing."

She started to fade from sight, just like the dream ending again, and Lelouch finally managed to move and lunge forward to grab her wrist. Everything abruptly glitched, like a perfectly horizontal jitter through the landscape and then smoothed back into the unsettling perma-twilight that was C's World. C.C glared at him.

"You're using up all your free passes, Lelouch. I'm not too pleased with you."

"What's happening to me?" said Lelouch.

Her eyes glittered. "It's always about you. Did it ever occur to you that you're the puppet this time?"

"I saw Rolo-" he started.

"Impressive. Memory capabilities this early in the game," she said. Lelouch glared.

"What? Don't play dumb, witch," his words were still coming out with difficulty, like he was forcing his mouth to move from within a fog, "I… need… to…"

C.C tilted her head, her bangs brushing forward. "Bang," she said, "It's over, Lelouch. Stop trying to change the epilogue."

And as she pulled her arm from his grasp, the world jittered and cracked to pieces.

AN: *ed stripping is already in canon. I'll do it better in the inevitable rewrite, but I'll just post this for now.

Here's a good news/bad news thing. I hashed out a timeline, but now I have to completely rewrite my story at some point. Nebulously after Lab 5. I'll do that later buuuh. So I went back and like minorly edited all my previous chapters, which mostly included deleting the heck out of all my half-hysterical and mostly aggrieved ANs or translating them into calm people language. I'm gonna have to do major rehaul to properly orient and pace better the story but hey! Frankly chapters 1-7 were all one big intro in my head. Now I can write the stuff I actually wanted to write?

Thanks for motivating me! (in fact, I would even use the word fab. You guys are supa fab indeed.)

Edit: Jan 2018 still here, still swamped, may update in five years, let you know, sometimes I look at stuff I wrote many years ago and suffer internally. In other news, Code geass s3 yeah? yeah?