Eternal Geass Moon: The Garden of Sinners
A Code Geass / Kara no Kyoukai Story
Disclaimer: In this particular universe, I do not own or in any way shape or form hold a claim to elements of the Code Geass franchise, Tsukihime, Kara no Kyoukai, any other elements of the Nasuverse, or any other modern works that I may reference in this story.
In the legends of nearly every civilization, there have been references to mysterious cultures on long vanished continents, of peoples that lived during a golden age, when the earth brought forth its bounty without the manifold labors of man, when dreams shaped reality, when all that man required could be brought forth by will alone—a time forever lost when a cataclysm born of hubris and war sank a legendary land, wiping out much of humanity in the process, with the scattered remnants forced to rebuild from what was essentially the Stone Age.
As the ages passed, the practitioners of these arcane arts faded into the shadows as technology kept on its inexorable advance, eliminating the need for mages for the most part. Still, magic and those who use it continue to exist today, and rumors linger of a strange lineage of magi isolated from the flow of time, carrying within their Codes (akin to Thaumaturgical Crests) powerful magic from a bygone age – a lineage of magi known as Witches.
" " denotes speech
'bold' denotes location names
'bold italics' denotes skill use
Sea of Estray, Undisclosed Location
Save for the sound of quiet, rhythmic breathing, there was utter and absolute silence in the office of the Executive Director of the Sea of Estray, a great cavern of a place hewn from a perfectly smooth jet-black stone, unmarred save for where it had been engraved with the silver sigils of the Tree of Sephiroth and various runes of protection. Not that this was anything new, as Elesia Roa Ortenrosse had spent much of the last few days reclused in her office, channeling her considerable magical energies towards directing the course of the Wandering Tomb, the moving mountain range that comprised the main base of the Sea of Estray, as well as reinforcing the wards around it to prevent detection from any scrying eyes from the Clock Tower or the Geass Directorate.
Given that the Clock Tower (through the Holy Britannian Empire) had launched an all-out assault on the Middle Eastern Federation, violating the centuries old treaties of non-aggression between the Three Great Branches of the Mage's Association with the aim of crushing the Alchemists of Atlas and plundering their stores for armaments capable of nigh unimaginable devastation, it was an open secret that their next target would be the Sea of Estray, and thus Elesia worked to preempt any attempted attacks. Already her immediate subordinates were putting contingency plans into action, carrying out urgent tasks in preparation for the pending conflict, meeting with their subordinates, mobilizing its agents and military strength to meet the threat directly.
Elesia herself however, was not involved in this process, as her responsibilities were to the preservation of the Sea of Estray as a whole. The Director was currently laying in the middle of a ritual circle of runes, her chest rising and falling as her senses reached out through stone and air and water, circuits connecting to the rich flows of prana that ran though the mobile mountain range until the entire base, with propulsion, defenses, and all else, joined with her mind, coming under her direct control.
'It has been a long time since this was necessary –I almost wish it hadn't been needful this time either, since each time I have to touch the vast and alien intelligence of the base itself, part of my sense of self erodes away.'
Indeed, while the link was ongoing, "Elesia" disappeared from existence, with the gestalt mind resulting from the connection identifying itself as "Ciel," after the potential of the vast, yet constrained sky, symbolic of how magecraft, for all boundless possibilities, would never quite match True Magic. A gestalt, for while the mountain itself was not quite sentient, within its channels of power ("circuits", if one would) lay the sum total of the knowledge of those few others who had previously borne the title of Director, making the experience rather like fusing oneself with an ancient Thaumaturgical Crest with a legacy that was thousands of years old – far older than even the oldest of Crests wrought from the soul's Magic Circuits.
And yet even that was newer than the Wandering Tomb itself, as the Sea of Estray's unusual base was an ancient installation, with a history that extended back to the Age of Gods, like the organization itself. Indeed, it was commonly believed the mighty spellcraft that rendered the moving mountain range mobile and habitable, with powerful thaumaturgical defenses to make short work of most intruders, had been a joint work of the Grey Witch, the Wizard Marshal, and the Soul-Mistress – the three Magicians known to have been alive at the time of the founding, though whether there was any truth to this, few knew.
From the hints that lingered within the ancient spellwork, "Ciel" thought it was certainly possible, since there was a palpable feeling of isolation and age within the patterns of the lingering energies, with at least one of them matching the feel of the wards around the Giant's Pit of Atlas – which was known to have been created by the First Magician.
'Between Atlas and the Wandering Tomb, the Sorcerers had the foresight to create places where magecraft's power could be studied and preserved, no doubt after having seen the rise and fall of countless civilizations and how much knowledge vanished with each one. The original Association was meant to be an independent power that could withstand the test of time, so that they might not be the only ones who remembered what had been lost and humanity might not forget all that it had once learned. But perhaps there is another reason they went to such lengths – perhaps it was simply that not even such as they would wish to be completely alone.'
For True Magicians lived out existences unlike any others in the world of humans, changed by having touched Akasha in their time so that their destinies belonged to a different providence, a different time. They wielded great power, each being wielding a miracle, but that power also brought them isolation, a profound solitude since they had no real peers save for each other in their eternal deathlessness.
Such was a fate Elesia understood this all too well, given that she too had become immortal after taking up the sword True Demon Neardark, accepting the rank of Executive Director of the Sea of Estray, with her body's physical condition more or less frozen in that moment by a curse of restoration that would repair any damage done to her body by winding time backwards, as if it had never happened. She would not age, nor take wounds, so long as she carried the blade—unless of course, she was struck by a few conceptual weapons which had the power to bring death to the undying.
'Weapons such as the Seventh Holy Scripture, the Black Barrel, or Harpe, among others…'
Each of the Directors of the Three Great Branches was in possession of at least one weapon of this sort, in case hostilities ever ensued and it proved necessary to slay one of their counterparts, as all of them were more "long lived" than common magi by one means or another.
'At least so it was in the original Mage's Association, comprised of just the Sea of Estray and Atlas. In comparison, those of the Clock Tower are mere upstarts, with originating from those that had exiled from Estray due to their…questionable practices.'
Where the Sea of Estray was a society of peers, dedicated to the preservation of knowledge, those of the Clock Tower sought only power, uncaring of what means it took to acquire it, much like the nation in which they were based – the Holy Britannian Empire. In the Tower, as in the Empire, the aristocratic elite held much influence, with those of foreign blood and their unique forms of thaumaturgy looked down on, and the only strictures that mattered were those of secrecy.
'The Clock Tower's practices shame those of us who were of the original Association, but then, there were reasons that they were exiled—and now break from us in open war. I somehow doubt they just left because they were not fond of the name "Wandering Tomb", even if it is a bit odd.'
For now, the gestalt mind of "Ciel" simply bade the floating isle to shift course into the Mediterranean, where it would rendezvous with some students of Atlas that the Dust of Osiris had managed to evacuate from their auxiliary facility before it had been destroyed by wide-scale aerial bombardment. With any luck, Fabro Rowan would be able to provide more information on the goings on in the Middle Eastern Federation…and Illyasviel von Einzbern would soon make contact with the Water Demon, the vampire who lived underwater, having conquered the traditional vampiric weakness of being unable to cross bodies of water without a vessel.
In comparison to that currently being used by the Executive Director of the Sea of Estray, the young Einzbern's mode of transportation was considerably more humble, but then, most things were, compared to a floating island wrought by fierce and forgotten magics lost to the mists of time. Still, considerably more humble was a far cry from marked by poverty, and for her purposes, using a more mundane form of conveyance was preferred.
Thus, the red-eyed young woman, with white hair plaited in a French braid, dressed in a coat and slacks adorned with an intricate black and silver design and a red longcoat draped over the ensemble, found herself at the helm of a yacht on the open ocean at night, the endless blue vista of water spreading out all around her, the wind at her back, the salt-spray of the sea in her face as she headed towards the Sargasso Sea, where one of the few known access-points to Sumire's domain existed.
'Here there be dragons,' she whimsically recalled from an map in her library. 'Or perhaps simply ghost ships, like the others that Sumire is said to have caused to disappear over the centuries.'
After her meeting with the Executive Director, the homunculus had flown to Monte Carlo, where she had made arrangements for the requisite goods she would need when bargaining with Sumire to be brought aboard the yacht Hy Brasil, which she owned as "Iris, the Lady Archer", one of her more whimsical cover identities. It did help from time to time to have such a vessel available for one reason or another, and if nothing else, renting it out for an extra trickle of discretionary funds never hurt.
Sailing, after all, was a common enough hobby among the more wealthy individuals of Europe, and given that the open ocean was generally considered neutral territory, Illya rather thought that her yacht would be overlooked by any intelligence reports, since at the helm of her ship, the elegant young woman would simply be one more person enjoying an outing at sea, hardly anything worth noticing from a military standpoint.
'And to prevent detection from enemy mages, Seven is aiding me...'
Such was a very real consideration, given that as a homunculus based on the genetic material of the late Sorceress Lizleihi, the one thing that Illyasviel von Einzbern had in spades was mana, seeing as she was a being wrought of magecraft and required it to survive. In a sense, her body as a whole was simply a living circuit, capable of channeling as much power as the Director herself – though the downside to this was that without precautions, she shone like a beacon to certain senses. Hence, her garments (up to and including her famous red longcoat) were woven of holy cloth with defensive attributes, protecting against the outer world and those within it. It did not grant magic resistance, but merely cloaked her from detection—something that was quite needful, given that her existence was a closely guarded secret of the Sea of Estray.
On this particular mission, however, something…more…was necessary, so Seven, the several hundred year old familiar of Elesia, created from a unicorn horn and the soul of a young woman, had come along in the form of a cloak.
Her purpose for coming was twofold: on one hand, as a familiar, Seven was ideal for watching for and suppressing any spiritual interference, but then, Seven was also the spirit of the Seventh Holy Scripture, a powerful Conceptual Weapon known to be wielded by Elesia herself—one very effective against Dead Apostles, such as the one they had been sent to treat with.
'Sumire is fickle and enigmatic at the best of times from what fragmented memories of her I have, and when bargaining with someone powerful as she – the only being alive capable of wielding Marble Phantasm, a power that could alter probability to make any possible event occur—it is good to have a bit of leverage.'
If nothing else, Seven's presence served as a symbol of Elesia Roa Ortenrosse's trust and authority, as it was one of the two weapons the Executive Director had carried for a long time. Exactly how long no one knew, since her blade granted her immortality, but it had been long enough that the title "Serpent of Akasha" had become synonymous with death to those who had the misfortune to face her in battle.
Still, one couldn't browbeat a Dead Apostle Ancestor into submitting to one's will, which was why Hy Brasil's cargo hold was filled with casks of fine wines, hors d'age brandy (distilled wines too old to determine age, but of great quality), an assortment of vodkas, and spiced dark rums, in addition to a bottle of mead (produced in the ancient fashion, with fresh rainwater mixed with the proportion of a half-liter of water to a pound of honey, further distilled into a "honeyjack"), as mead was the ancient drink by which contracts had been sealed during the Age of Gods, from which Sumire originated.
Alcoholic beverages were the only trade goods that the Water Demon cared about, after all, as the Dead Apostle Ancestor had no use for money, jewelry, or any of the other trappings of power. Money was immaterial to Sumire, given that there was nothing to spend it on in her domain; precious metals and gemstones were something she had aplenty from shipwrecks or from any sojourns she did make onto land; and while she might have been interested in acquiring Noble Phantasms or Conceptual Weapons, trade in those was…impractical for several reasons.
For one thing, it was generally rather impolitic to bring powerful weapons (beyond those needed for personal protection) into the realm of a party one was treating with as an equal. The Sea of Estray was merely bargaining for a favor, after all, and so did not want to give Sumire any further advantage beyond the impressive arsenal of abilities those she already had, given that she commanded the seas. And then, there were security reasons, since such implements were not only greatly valuable, but tended to attract a great deal of attention from elements of the supernatural, unless warded in many bounded fields or shrouded in protective holy cloths. And since they wanted to keep the details of this mission sub rosa, withoutdrawing scrutiny from any of their counterparts…
'…thinking about it, it is much safer to stick to alcohol, the cause of and cure for, so many of the world's problems. Even if Sumire will probably make me drink a round or two.'
The silver-haired homunculus' lips curled up ever so slightly at the thought, as she did enjoy eating and drinking from time to time, even if such sustenance wasn't strictly necessary for her survival.
And then the smile faded as the winds picked up considerably, waves picking up, with dark clouds swiftly moving over the horizon as if to veil the area from sight. At this time of year, storms and squalls could arise quickly, Illya knew, but…
'There's something odd about this…all the same, I should reef and furl the sails.'
As she went about her appointed tasks however, a certain sense of malaise seemed to hang in the air, and though there wasn't anything in particular she could point to as justification for this gut feeling, but as a being wrought of magecraft, the Einzbern was far more attuned to imbalances in the environment around her than most.
"Seven…do you sense something?" she murmured quietly as she finished, returning to the control booth, her eyes reinforcing themselves as she peered into the distance. So far, there was no hostile intent, nor any sign of magecraft used, but mages were not the only beings who would affect the world around them.
The familiar was silent for a long minute or two as its presence flittered about, before the voice of the horse-girl seemed to speak into Illya's mind, a mental tug directing her to look towards a certain area.
Lightning flashed between the dark clouds in the distance, and thunder rumbled, a deep, ominous sound like the hoofbeats of a phantasmal group of horsemen in mad pursuit of intended prey. And running before the wind, as if fleeing the Wild Hunt, the shadow of a great ship was illuminated by arcs of electricity running from cloud to cloud.
An old bark carrying a press of sail on its three masts, with topgallants and mainsails tattered by age fluttering in the gale, three staggered lines of cannon run out on each side as if expecting an engagement, bearing down on Illya's smaller vessel with all due speed.
'An aged man o'war running a storm?'
From her reading, Illyasviel von Einzbern knew of ancient tales and legends, but in particular, her old fascination with spirits and souls pointed to one story that fit these particular characteristics all too well. The legend of a Dutch warship that had foundered in a storm while trying to round the Cape of Good Hope, but whose crew had been denied a true death, who wandered the ocean to this day as a ghost ship, a specter that heralded the appearance of fierce storms in which lay one's doom.
'The Flying Dutchman…'
But there was no time to react to this identification, much less even to the presence of the other, for at that very moment, the yacht quivered and shook under Illya's feet as it heeled hard to port, a terrible roar like the world itself being torn asunder bellowing from the watery depths as the bottom seemed to fall out of the ocean.
Violently, the yacht surged forward and down as if seized by a mighty hand, spiraling down a newly birthed maelstrom that like spawned by the legendary monster Charybdis. Out the window, Illya could just catch sight of the Flying Dutchman and a ghost fleet that trailed after it, moving to take up position around the edges of the massive vortex, preventing any escape—even if one had been possible in the first place.
'So…this is Sumire's power…'
That was Illya's last thought, before with a thunderous crash, everything went black.
Palace of the Dead Apostle Ancestor Sumire, Precise Location Unknown
In the shadowy depths of the ocean, amidst the ruins of ancient lands and shipwrecks that spanned the whole of time, symbols of how all was once of the sea, and to the sea all would return in time, there existed a vast realm isolated from the flow of time, a kingdom where strange and eldritch beings lived besides those who were once human, ruled by the Dead Apostle Ancestor called the Water Demon. None had been able to find it without the permission of its ruler, as it, like she, was enshrouded by a darkness and shadows, by a longing for rationally and fear towards the taboo—an invisible protection that fooled even nature, close in form to the alternate world in which the fey dwelled.
Not much was known of her, even by the denizens of this realm, save that she was an immortal monster whose layer upon layer of diabolical magic made her one of the most powerful beings in the world, a being as deadly and mysterious as she was beautiful, akin to the ocean itself, to which she had become linked.
The center of this underwater kingdom was an ancient castle where Sumire greeted guests when not wandering the seas or up on land, a structure wrought from the ocean floor by the power of Marble Phantasm, with curves and spires simultaneously delicate as the folds of a jellyfish, yet harsh and unyielding as the basalt of the sea's bottom, lit from within by a strange luminescence.
Some of the realm's denizens were curious, for outside the palace, within a grotto used for storage of some of the older watercraft, a modern yacht was moored, with the entrance warded by a great curtain of air denoting the outer edge of the bubble that had brought the vessel down to sea floor, escorted by the ships of the Dutchman's ghost fleet.
The two who had been aboard that yachtnow stood in the presence chamber of Sumire's palace, studying it as they waited for the Dead Apostle Ancestor to appear, as it seemed they were expected by the one who ruled. Still, while she was waiting, Illya saw nothing wrong with taking a brief glance about the room in which she found herself, noting the presence of great blood-red crystals growing from within the walls, resonating with the currents of air about the place to render haunting echoes and mournful strains whispering of mysteries long ago lost from mortal memory.
'Like an elfin grotto…Sumire really has moved far beyond humanity…'
The crystals were rhodochrosite, a manganese carbonate whose name was derived from the Greek word ῥοδόχρως, as in its most pure form, it was the blood-red of the finest crimson roses. Some civilizations had even once believed it to be the blood of former rulers, crystallized into a form that would transcend time – and as such it was the perfect stone to grace the chambers of a Dead Apostle Ancestor.
…as well as to denote one which ruled an undersea realm, as manganese was commonly found in nodules scattered across the ocean floor, with minerals depositing over time on discarded shark teeth, plankton, or even a grain of sand.
"So, you have arrived, Emissary of the Serpent, for you could be hardly anything else with her familiar by your side," a voice spoke from behind the homunculus, with Illyasviel von Einzbern turning slowly and deliberately to meet the speaker without any visible hint of unease, catching her first sight of the one named Sumire, who was not at all drunk.
'She certainly meets the meaning of her name…'
The speaker was a rather statuesque woman about 180cm tall, with elegant, aristocratic features, and whose figure was shrouded in a stately black dress with hints of blue-green iridescence, shimmering like frozen water or perhaps some form of seaweed. Her eyes were a deep, vivid crimson even in the dim light of the surroundings, and her face was framed by long tresses of wavy waist-length hair that started as a blue-green at its roots but faded to black as it grew longer, much like the sea itself. And upon her head, as if to signify her rank, was a delicately wrought presence circlet of rhodium inset with several blood red gems, mirroring the color of her eyes.
"Indeed I have, Lady Sumire," Illya replied, curtseying to the new arrival in the deferential way in which she had been taught. "I assume you were responsible for the…interesting manner in which we arrived? It certainly made an impression."
A throaty chuckle.
"And kept your arrival from prying eyes, of course," the Water Demon added, studying the one who had stepped into her realm, raising an eyebrow as she found something odd and interesting. "An interesting choice of emissary for the Serpent, and a canny one, as she knows I once knew Lizleihi quite well."
"Did you expect otherwise from the Director?" Illya returned, meeting the other's eyes.
"From the Serpent? Hardly, when she has done you the favor of loaning you her familiar, child, stocking your ship with a cargo she knows well I have a weakness for," the Dead Apostle Ancestor intoned, circling the younger woman, though her eyes narrowed as her senses detected something…or rather, a lack of something. "Your nature is concealed, and not simply by the Seventh Holy Scripture."
"Not dissimilarly from you, Water Demon," the homunculus shot back, earning a hint of a smile of acknowledgement. "But while I conceal only my nature, you have concealed an entire realm in shadow and mystery, as few others have managed since the Age of Gods. But then, you do wield the power of Marble Phantasm, something beyond the ken of most, mortal or immortal."
"Hmph…there is that," Sumire allowed, allowing herself to smirk for a moment before the expression faded. "Well, now that we have told each other what powerful people we are and who we represent, perhaps we may dispense with the flattery and pleasantry, and you might tell me for what purpose you have come into my realm, as I doubt this is a purely social visit. I take it the Director wishes a favor of me…and one to do with my unique ability?"
At odds to the rumors of her usual demeanor, Sumire showed no trace of drunkenness or eccentricity, exuding only the air of age and authority that she showed to very few outsiders. Most of the time, when she interacted with others, the Dead Apostle Ancestor gave the impression of being inept or inebriated, but that was all it was, an impression, so that those who sought to use her might underestimate her, whether in negotiations or in war. Though she truly did love wine and other alcoholic beverages, she was never quite as drunk as she let on – and on the rare occasions when she did actually become inebriated, she could drink anyone under the table anyway.
To show her serious nature to anyone, much less someone not of her realm, was an honor and a gesture of respect, one which Illya acknowledged and understood full well.
"Very well then…let us talk."
California Base, West Coast, Holy Britannian Empire
Half a world away, in the shadows between two of the main hangers of California Base, Britannia's main port and military training facility on the Pacific Coast, the darkness shifted ever so slightly as two figures took form on a moonless, windless night: a flame-haired woman in a red overcoat over black shirt and white skirt, and an enigmatic form clad in strange charcoal grey and crimson combat armor, resembling nothing so much as a medieval knight.
They had arrived under cover of darkness because some things simply were best done in the middle of the night, not only for the sake of secrecy but because darkness lent no false auras or pretensions to things done under its aegis, much unlike the light, which nigh invariably heralded treachery and mistakes wrought by over-hasty assumptions. It was light that painted things one way or another, after all, as all were equal in the night.
The briefcase-carrying woman was none other than Aoko Aozaki, the Magic Gunner herself, Attainer of the Fifth Law, said to be unparalleled when it came to destruction by virtue of her command over Preservation and Entropy. It was a trivial thing for her to convert matter into energy by affecting the laws of entropy, causing matter to break down into its constituent components…energy which she then expertly manipulated to perform her dreaded attacks, usually by the simple expedient of superheating the air into plasma and loosing it on an enemy in the form of Starbow and Starmine. Simple, but effective, as most things tended to be at the very least damaged after a run-in with what was in essence a contained lightning bolt, blue fire blazing like the surface of a star.
Of course, if the situation demanded it, there were other more dangerous applications of her abilities that she could use, making her nearly unmatched in terms of absolute destruction. Applications like "Retroflow – Genesis Light", that allowed her to surround an entire area with a stasis field and modify the entropic properties in it all at once, reducing all of it to nothingness—keeping the blast from exiting the area except for when she chose to allow it to do so.
It was, quite frankly, the most terrifying ability in her arsenal, which none caught within could resist or escape.
'Well…maybe not quite none, since the Old Fart could probably slip its bounds and beat me,' she grudgingly conceded, glancing over at the ominous figure standing beside her, clad in somewhat odd, but functional armor. 'And his Knight isn't exactly a pushover either…'
"Is the Old Man sure about this?" Aoko inquired, unable to keep a hint of curiosity from her voice, eyes narrowing as she looked upon the enigmatic figure of the Dusk Knight. "Not that I can't do it, but aren't there issues with the need for secrecy?"
The Dusk Knight, cloaked in a robe of jet black over metallic charcoal grey armor accented with crimson flames, replied, with Aoko noting not for the first time that the other's voice was a smooth, slightly accented, soprano that seemed European in origin.
"Your ability, unlike most others, is unique in that you simply destabilize the inherent structure of things to gain energy, leaving no trace of your personal mana signature," the shadowy Knight answered, the blank faceplate betraying nothing. "That aside, the California base is quiet at this time of night, and Britannia would never expect an enemy to attack it on its home soil."
"…you know my abilities well," Aoko conceded, wondering exactly what role Zelretch's "second" played in the Wizard Marshal's organization. The familiars known as Ren and White Ren (who Aoko tended to leave with the Old Man) ran Café Ahnenerbe and the other more widely known operations Zelretch maintained, acting as his messenger and his right hand in public matters. Ren was well known as one of his associates – perhaps one of the oldest and most trusted—and generally as a compassionate soul that helped who needed it most, soothing the wounds of the body and soul.
Which only made Zelretch's "left hand" and second, the Dusk Knight, even more disconcerting to those who knew of her existence—and what exactly she was—not that that numbered many at all, since few who had discovered her true nature in this world yet lived. Grim, professional, undoubtedly dangerous, she acted as expected of anyone chosen as Zelretch's second – and while it was true that he did have a weakness for beautiful women (as had been proven during the Nimue incident, centuries ago), the ones he gathered as subordinates invariably tended to be obscenely powerful.
'I suppose that I would count, given that the Old Fart did teach me at one point, and I do owe him a thing or two…'
Still, the nature of the Dusk Knight made even Aoko pause, since the very few times the Fifth Magician had seen her outside the battlesuit she invariably wore in battle (an armored exoskeleton that was far more agile and powerful than it looked), the Knight had been revealed as a slim, copper-haired young woman with piercing blue eyes that had seen too much for a thousand lifetimes, who carried herself with a solemn grace that few could match. An appearance much at odds with the offhand comments she made about defying gods, fallen angels and worlds, with the morbid sense of humor of one that had fought battles without end, fully expecting to die in the process.
The Magic Gunner had seen such personalities before, but usually in soldiers, and never from anyone that young. Then again, given what the Dusk Knight was, and the function she served (acting as the hidden blade in the Wizard Marshal's left hand, striking down his foes or acting when secrecy was necessary), Aoko rather thought that she might be older than she appeared.
'Which would make sense, given her role…though then again, possibly not as well…'
With her jet black blade, the Knight specialized in infiltration and assassination, but could sometimes serve as a bodyguard if necessary (not that Zelretch had any real need of one), and though she was usually armed with a greatsword, she had demonstrated herself to be capable of wielding a variety of weapons.
"You remember the plan, correct?" the Second's servitor asked seriously, her form fading completely from sight as the battlesuit's advanced thermoptic camouflage activated, the better to infiltrate the enemy base.
"Of course. You will eliminate those at the central command post and cut off communications so that no one will be able to respond, while I set up the field for Retroflow – Genesis Light, correct?" the Magic Gunenr replied, all traces of levity fading from her expression.
"Correct. Then I will rendezvous with you at the extraction point in 30 minutes. The mission is a go."
Vermillion Forbidden City in Luoyang, Chinese Federation
In the underground complex beneath the Vermillion Forbidden City, General Cao, commandant of the Militarized Zone of Liaodong, and the High Eunuchs had gathered for a teleconference with Commander Li Xingke, who had been dispatched to the Militarized Zone of India, discussing the recent developments in Area 11 as well as the continuing Britannian presence in the Middle Eastern Federation, now designated Area 18.
"Li Xingke," intoned one of the numerous Eunuchs, "what is the state of readiness of the Middle East Intervention Task Force?"
"Our men are mobilizing as we speak and resources being gathered, but it will still be some time before we are ready to deploy, especially our more…specialized assets," Li Xingke replied, using a euphemism for what few combat-trained magi the Chinese Federation had at their disposal.
He himself was the best combatant in that sphere they had available, as well should be, for in between planning coups and reviewing military matters, Li Xingke trained himself relentlessly, as befitted a weapon of the Chinese Federation who had been entrusted with the Sword of Goujian, an ancient Mystic Code known as the "Sword of Unyielding Resistance." Aside from serving as an excellent focus for magecraft, said weapon boosted the user's magical resistance and endurance when equipped…and if one was given a life-threatening injury, the enchantments in the blade would provide the wielder with a boost to all parameters.
"And our more…conventional assets?" another Eunuch inquired, looking sharply at the commander. While he was a competent commander, there was more than one reason they had sent him to confront the Britannian forces in the Middle East, after all, since he was also someone they didn't quite trust.
"Better," Li Xingke admitted. "Fortunately, the Maharajah is being most…cooperative in meeting our requests."
That this was because an extra division of Chinese Federation soldiers was in the area was left unsaid, as such was unnecessary to say. It was quite well known that the Maharajah chafed under the rule of the Chinese Federation, though he did nothing to overtly demonstrate this…and would do nothing so long a preponderance of occupying forces was maintained, a practice that the Eunuchs fully intended to maintain, given how valuable the Militarized Zone of India was in supplying the Federation's military and industrial needs.
"Very well, that is as much we can expect in under a week's time," noted Cai Lishi, the de facto head of the High Eunuchs. "Onto other matters, you have heard the news from Area 11?"
"That Zero has assassinated the Britannian Governor General?" the task force commander answered, to confirm what his sources had told him.
"Just so, though that is not all," another Eunuch confirmed, his nasal voice echoing strangely through the meeting room. "Our agents in Area 11 have also procured information that the reprisals ordered by Luciano Bradley did not go as planned, with the Britannian ground troops in at least one ghetto massacred by Zero's, with the Governor General forced to resort to aerial bombardment. However, during this time, the Mobile Command Center used by Bradley, his command staff, and his aides, was destroyed."
"Our informants have heard the name 'Zero' thrown about in cold whispers, with wild rumors of the demon striking once again, unable to abide the 'Vampire' in his territory," yet another spoke, shaking his head at the terms used. "Further, with the destruction of the Lake Kawaguchi facility where many civil and industrial leaders were meeting to divide the yearly supply of Sakuradite…"
"…both the civil and military leadership of Area 11 are fragmented," Cai Lishi concluded, a thin, icy smile crossing his lips. "As the chain of succession is still uncertain and no interim viceroy has been appointed, it strikes me that this is the perfect opportunity to…'liberate' Area 11 from its oppressors, wouldn't you say, General Cao?"
"In hindsight, putting our forces on alert was a very wise idea, especially as an opportunity has come far sooner than anticipated," General Cao replied succinctly. "With your permission, I will begin making preparations for the attack, as our forces in Liaodong are nearly ready to act, and the Britannians are in no position to resist."
"Very well then," Cai Lishi acknowledged. "Then we will contact Chief Cabinet Secretary Sawasaki Atsushi. I trust he will be…rather pleased."
"And my orders, lords?" asked Li Xingke.
"Continue making preparations, and when you are ready, move on the Middle Eastern Federation. The Britannian forces are already weakened by a protracted campaign, while ours are fresh. Surely, we have the advantage of numbers."
"Yes," Xingke acknowledged, maintaining his impassivity. "I hear and obey for the good of the Chinese Federation."
Once again in the shadows, reality flickered for a moment in the back area of the café, as the forms of Aoko Aozaki and the Dusk Knight appeared before the Second Magician, who had been awaiting their arrival following the completion of their assigned task.
"And may I ask what happened to you?" he asked, looking over both Aoko, who seemed completely unruffled, and his second, whose armor seemed slightly…scorched.
"A Britannian scheißkopf detonated a stack of energy fillers, hoping to immolate me in the blast," the Dusk Knight replied gravely, removing her helm to reveal a mane of long, coppery hair, which she shook out, letting the strands fly free. Aoko started momentarily, seeing that the armored one was younger than she had thought, appearing about Mana's age, with sharp but attractive features, though what stood out most was the icy blue gaze of one that had seen too much, to who death was just another thing to deal with and deal out. "Unfortunately, as he was on an airship at the time, this detonated the aerial cruiser's Sakuradite reactor."
"No armor damage, I presume?"
"The only humans who have ever damaged my battlesuit are the Chosen Knight of the First Magician…and the Dust of Osiris," the Knight of Dusk replied succinctly, though there was an undertone of hostility in her voice when she spoke of the latter, as if the alchemist had wronged her once. "It can withstand something as simple as a sakuradite detonation."
"With your pride and sense of importance so well intact, I take it the mission was a success?" the Wizard Marshal inquired of his Knight.
"Just so," the Dusk Knight confirmed in a chillingly satisfied voice, a thin, shadowed smile playing across her lips as she recalled the sphere of light that had lit up the night as if day had dawned anew, the size of the blast resulting in a mighty mushroom cloud blossoming in the sky. "The strike was carried out successfully, completely eliminating California Base and crippling Britannia's ability for rapid deployment of forces to Area 11."
"Well done, to both of you then, especially you, Magic Gunner, without whom none of this would be possible," Zelretch intoned, inclining his head slightly. "Dusk, continue as planned and watch for the activities of V.V.'s agent in Area 11. Aoko…what you do is up to you."
"As it always is," Aoko quipped sardonically. "Just remember, we're even now, Old Man."
"The two of you are the only ones who dare treat me with such irreverence," Zelretch mused aloud, smiling slightly as he said this. "Good. I find it refreshing. Very well then, you have your instructions."
With that, he disappeared, leaving the two women alone in the café.
"Well then, shall I buy you a drink to celebrate?" the Dusk Knight asked of the Fifth Magician.
"Only if you tell me your name…whichever one you're going by these days," the older redhead said, admittedly curious about the other.
"Ah, but what would be the fun in telling?" the copper-haired young woman inquired with a slight smirk. "I will tell you this much: I was named for a ship…"
"What, 'Shinonome' or something?"
"…close enough, it's in the same class,"
"Not quite…so, that drink?" the Knight asked, changing the topic, as she obviously did not want to talk about her past, or even her true name.
"Might as well," Aoko allowed, shrugging. "Come on, I know a place."