A Code Geass/Misc. Fanfiction
Operationally, God is beginning to resemble not a rule, but the last fading smile of a cosmic Cheshire cat.
-Sir Julian Huxley
In certain kinds of writing, particularly in art criticism and literary criticism, it is normal to come across long passages which are almost completely lacking in meaning.
Politics is the art of speaking eloquently while saying absolutely nothing of substance. Whatever you do, though, never make a promise you can actually keep…it's one of the signs of the antichrist. Competency just scares people, I guess.
Chapter 7 – After Midnight
Kallen slammed him against the wall, her left palm pressed against the chest plate of his suit as her right hand cocked back, her fingers curled into a striking fist. The faceplate of the Hardsuit had folded back, revealing her wild blue eyes and mussed hair. There was a lean and hungry look about her…a feral aspect to her appearance that spoke of someone pushed to their very limits in body and mind.
"Oi, Kallen, wha-" Tamaki cried, his face exposed as well. None of them were afraid of battle now…at least, barring the betrayal of young girl stuck in a computer.
"Tamaki, shut up," Kallen spat, her voice as chill as the expression on her face. Lelouch carefully schooled his own appearance to be as aloof and indifferent as possible, in spite of the redhead's dangerously cold rage. "I want answers, Lelouch, now."
"Unless I've completely hallucinated the past few hours…and believe me, I wish such were the case," Lelouch stated somewhat acidly, "Then I believe you have quite a few answers…what more could you possibly want to know?"
"How about the truth?" Kallen growled, a few smoldering embers flaring within her temper. "I know your type…you just hide it better than anyone I've ever met. You're a con man, Lelouch Lamperouge. You're a liar, a cheat, and a demon in disguise…and I won't lie to my friends, my comrades, for a Magnificent Bastard like you."
"Even if I'm Japan's only hope against the Empire?" Lelouch asked, an eyebrow raised. He would have to play his cards very carefully indeed now. Angela had promised them 'safe' travel out of the facility, but there were no real facility defenses left after the Red Queen massacred the staff. The only recourse his goddaughter had was to put the entire base in lockdown and, door by door, let them make their way to the surface. Kallen, if so inclined, was capable of killing him where he stood.
Kallen scowled, "Which is why I'm letting you explain yourself. You say pretty things, you know the exact words to tug at someone's heart…so I'm going to ask you questions, and I swear by our cursed Britannian blood, you will tell me the truth or I will crush your head into pulp."
"The truth," Lelouch replied, not even a hint of the dangerous and volatile rage he was nursing evident in his voice. Kallen, at her core, was not a leader, she wasn't capable of bearing that responsibility…and yet she dared presume to question him? "Very well, Kallen…speak your questions and I will tell you nothing…but the absolute truth…until you can stand it no more."
Tamaki looked on nervously as the two silently stared each other down.
Kallen was silent a moment, considering her first question carefully. Wording was important to someone like Lelouch…just like in those old fairy tales Naota and her mother used to read at bedtime. Supernatural creatures…imps, spirits, fae, demons …they took things with deadly literality. "Were you being honest when you said you hated Britannia?"
Violet eyes glimmered darkly, "The two constants in my life, Kallen, are my hatred for my father's Empire and my love for my sister. The latter fuels the former…Nunnally cannot live in the world of Charles zi Britannia."
Kallen relaxed slightly, her fist coming down…though her palm didn't leave the other teen's chest plate. "Do you swear to me…on your mother's soul, that you will never betray the Black Knights? That you'll lead us to victory?"
Lelouch's eyes sparked at the mention of his mother, a deep pain and anger flaring without regard for the years which had passed. When he spoke there was a weight to his words, as though each and every day of his life was pressing down on the Black Prince. "I hereby swear, Kozuki Kallen, that I will do all within my power to wrench the grip of this Unholy Empire from your native land and my adopted homeland. I will see the armies of our enemies driven before us. I will bind their tools of war with shackles forged from the suffering of the oppressed. I will be the striking hammer of a vengeful and abused people…"
Kallen and Tamaki's breath caught in their throats.
"…But here me, heir of the House of Stadtfeld, while I may put the fear of God into the hearts of evil men…I will see no innocent blood spilled. I will not raise sword or gun against those who do not bear arms themselves," Lelouch hissed, his voice harsh by the end of his impromptu speech. "I hereby swear these declarations on the soul of my slain mother."
Kallen's hand dropped from where it held Lelouch against the wall, her eyes closed in silence. What she was thinking…was anyone's guess.
"Is that, Q-1, the type of person you would lie for?" Lelouch asked, his gaze still intent, focused.
The question had been spinning inside her head since things had resolved themselves last night. With the aid of the Umbrella Computer…Angela, it had been almost comically easy to get out of that nightmarish space. In the end, though, she'd taken Lelouch's word, because…
Because, if there was one thing those old fairy tales had taught her, it was that demons and monsters, when cornered, would reveal themselves for what they really were. And Lelouch was nothing if not a supernatural creature. He preformed acts of brilliance and cunning on an almost daily basis…he was a man who conjured miracles with seemingly effortless concentration…
Maybe it was naiveté?
Maybe it was stupidity?
Whatever it was, her instinct told her Lelouch wouldn't betray the Black Knights.
Lelouch had slipped his faceplate back on, his Hardsuit concealing his identity as sure as the Zero costume had previously. They'd met up with the rest of the shell-shocked, frightening, and grateful Knights, passed Bartley off as a hostage, and decided to disband for the evening. The full 'debriefing' would wait until the next night…as well as a discussion on whether or not Zero would remain as their leader.
She and Tamaki had gone to bat for Zero, sworn up and down that he was trustworthy, and assured their comrades that he was exactly who he said he was…
"Zero is Zero," She'd said, "The mask is who he is…It's the only absolutely true thing about him."
But…was it the right thing to do?
"You comin' Kallen?" Ohgi asked hesitantly, wary of the teen's intent expression.
"Probably gonna' stay and laugh at us behind our backs. Now that she's in on Zero's conspiracy-" Yoshida muttered.
Ohgi elbowed the man with a sour expression. "…if you need one of us to stay and help…?"
Kallen snorted, shrugging her shoulders in a gesture that was more relaxed than she felt. "It's no big deal you guys…I'm just gonna' put a boot up his ass for scaring us like that."
A half-smile tugged at the faces of the Black Knights at that, each of them dutifully filing out of the mobile base despite their pale faces. The shock of the meeting had begun to wear off…though many of them would be getting very drunk in the privacy of their own homes that night. The stark reality of a possible imminent apocalypse was a disturbing concept to many of the rebels, most of whom had only considered the death of Japan as the closest thing to the 'end of the world' any had pondered.
"You sure you don't want…" Tamaki asked, hesitation clear on his face. Kallen might be able to take care of herself, but Ohgi wasn't the only one who'd known Naota. He also wasn't the only one who'd owed the man.
Kallen rolled her eyes and gave the Osaka-jin a half-hearted push. "Go out and get some beers with Minami and Ohgi, Tamaki…just don't run your mouth about anything."
Tamaki snorted dismissively, "I might not act the part, Kallen, but I ain't a dumbass."
"That means I only have one idiot to deal with tonight," The redhead muttered, turning away and back into the mobile base. A bark of laughter from outside announced Tamaki's late-dawning mind had finally grasped the brunt of the joke. Kallen marched up to the second floor of the base and knocked once on Zero's 'office' door before pushing it open-
-And promptly spinning around and stepping back out.
Moments later, Lelouch, now fully dressed in civilian attire, opened the door for a blushing Kallen to step back inside, "Traditionally, one waits to be acknowledged before entering a room…much less one owned by a superior officer."
Kallen's eye twitched as she growled under her breath.
"Well…" Lelouch paused, "I suppose given what happened in the shower… we're even now." Honestly, he'd normally care a little bit more that the redhead had just seen him very nearly naked, but…impending apocalypse and all that.
Tends to put things in perspective.
"What can I do for you, Kallen?" The Black Prince asked, his tone slightly dismissive, looking at his watch. "I actually do have dinner with Nunnally tonight, so I need to be leaving."
Kallen was silent a moment. "All of that stuff…you said? About the…zombies?"
Her voice was hushed, nervous.
Lelouch, Zero, sighed, pressing a hand to his face, "I might…lie, Kallen, but however far you think I'll go to pursue my own vendetta…deception is one thing…sacrificing the lives of one's men is something completely different. Do you think that I would willingly and knowingly, send you to your deaths pointlessly?"
The redhead's face twisted, "That was the truth then?"
"As far as I know," Lelouch confirmed. "I'd varied Britannia's response in the scenarios, but the Japanese were always expendable assets. At best, millions would die from negligence…at worst, many times that number from 'cannon fodder' tactics and…experimentation, to find out exactly what the T-virus is."
Kallen cursed quietly, painfully.
"The worst of the probable outcomes was the Virus' weaponization. Cornelia is geared towards much more…traditional tactics, she would reject viral and bacterial weaponry…but others wouldn't. This…virus, Kallen…it's not sentient, it's not merciful, it won't let us 'surrender.' This, right here, this is war. The only way this ends is if we kill it or it kills us. I'm sorry if I was a little overdramatic for your sensibilities, but I'm fucking terrified by this thing."
He'd sneered at her in those last few words, but Kallen couldn't find it in her to be really angry at her…friend? Commander? Something else?...His face was too pale, his eyes sunken with the weight of something that was utterly beyond him. "Is that enough truth for you, Kallen, or do you want to get me on a couch to talk about my father issues?"
Kallen snorted, the sound too sudden to stop. "I think I've got just as many 'problems' with my family as you do."
Lelouch rolled her eyes and hesitated…should he tell Kallen about Euphie? Hmm…she should be there tomorrow anyway, Kallen as well. Is there anything to be gained from withholding the knowledge? Not telling her would, I believe, seem to be another lie…I despise being beholden to her, but she's an ally I can't afford to lose right now. The truth it is.
"Speaking of my family…"
Nemo sighed, her face bathed in moonlight.
Lelouch had, as promised, had dinner with her and Sayoko. It had been good to interact so much with her brother after the last few weeks of aloof behavior. Shifting slightly, the platinum blonde laid down, letting her hair fan out behind her as she stared up into the night sky. Lelouch had been…distant, but she'd suspected she'd been so as well. It was torture to resist the urge to tell him that she could walk and see again, but…
If Lelouch knew she'd put herself in such danger last night, he'd be horrified, of that she had no doubt. Still, she couldn't stand the idea of not going out and taking advantage of her legs and eyes. She'd waited so long and the night prior had just been a tiny taste of what she could do…what she could experience. Nunnally's sense of guilt lingered, though, a weight against her enthusiastic nature.
"Urg!" Nemo growled aloud, "This type of thing isn't supposed to happen to me! I can't believe my other half is such a wobbie that she's affecting my crazy awesome! Stupid moral dilemmas…I don't have time for this, I need to be kicking names and taking ass…or whatever it is that wicked cool heroes do."
A heartbeat passed.
The blonde girl sat up suddenly, crossing her legs Indian-style as she laid her cheek in her palm and rested her elbow on one knee. The thoughtful pose stretched out for a few moments, Nemo's red eyes glittering with unspoken irritation.
"I…don't know what wicked cool heroes do, do I?" Nemo said slowly, her other self fluttering lightly with amusement, increasing her irritation. "Hey…it's not like you know what heroes do either! I mean, I know we're supposed to stick it to Britannian and look completely awesome doing it, but…"
Nemo trailed off listlessly.
"Urg!" She cried, rubbing at her scalp furiously with both hands, as if to scrub the aggravation from her mind. The repetitive action dislodged a slip of paper tucked into her wrist. As the small note fluttered down to rest on the roof before her, Nemo's curious gaze fixed on it.
"Ayame Futaba," Nemo said, her frown shifting to a slow smile. "Well, I guess she does owe me one."
Should I, though? Is it okay for 'Nemo' to do something like that? To 'talk' to someone like a normal human being?
Nemo blinked, "Why am I even thinking about this? Stupid wobbie's rubbing off on me, rasal-frazin'…."
Her mission decided, Nemo dropped off the edge of the roof and looked for a phone…she could at least make sure the girl was home before bugging her. Well, that, and she needed directions.
When the ether parted, he was standing in a local safe house.
He supposed that the individual groups could have met in the numerous remnants of Japan's underground, but given their abilities, such an existence would be beneath them. They were the true inheritors of the Earth, those select few who had been Enlightened by chance or design, such that they would not be culled or…transformed when the stars came right. All around him, though, people who were not as lucky or gifted, rested on the walls and ceilings of the upscale apartment. Each of the bodies that decorated their place of worship quivered as he approached, each of their souls releasing cosmic energy as they channeled the Old Ones' terrible power.
He approached the alter to the their Lord, the Dead God Hastur.
The structure of the main channeling body of the divine device was a towering twenty feet, reaching up nearly to the ceiling. Carved shapes of brass, bronze, gold, silver, and zinc glittered with demoniac tints of unearthly energies as hooks, clamps, and bolts held in place a macabre tapestry of violence and sadism.
Twisting shapes of distorted human bodies…young, old, male, and female, all nude, had been taken and hung in bizarre shapes from the horrible and mind-numbingly terrible structure. Sores, open wounds, and blackened skin bore slowly-bleeding orifices not completely unlike mouths in shape and form. The black insanity of the formation gave none of the worshipers even the slightest of pause, even when one of the 'corpses' arranged so demoniacally would feebly twitch or moan in their direction.
It was under this patchwork of pain and living death which the faithful met, exchanging between themselves grim pleasure or almost erotic sufferance of the events which, they knew, would soon take place. Starlight twinkled from a few uncovered windows, giving hints of the amazing vista below, the Tokyo Settlement spread out beneath the high-rise skyscraper.
"Brothers and Sisters…I greet you all with the Holy Name of Hastur on my lips, this great and eventful night. We have been faithful to our God and He has rewarded us in kind. I bear with me the fruits of our long-sought quest," The robed man stated, a twisted metal symbol hanging from his chest and denoting his status as the Head of this Order of Hastur.
He was the Priest.
He was the Ascended Master of the Seventh Circle.
He was the man who wore the Yellow Sign of Hastur, that awful shape which waxed and waned with his heartbeats and those of something greater and more sinister than man should know of. In this place, under the watchful eyes of his follows, of Great Hastur's followers, his word was more than equal to the Laws of Man. His word transcended to force aside the Laws of Nature and Physics.
As he pulled out a metal-sided case, lock unlatched, he rested it on the back of bound and blinded man who's blackened pits where eyes used to rest now burned with light from outside spheres. The open case revealed cylindrical prisms where, within, a double-helix of blue liquid was backlit from lights within the case. The congregation, which had been silent before, now fell to the type of noiselessness uncommon to but only those in the grave.
"The artificers and alchemists of this modern culture of man have yielded up great tools with which we might decimate them and pave a road of blood and flesh upon which Great Hastur has and will one day, soon again, trod." The Ascended Master paused there, smiling sinisterly.
Anticipation built silently within the crowd.
"The smallest amounts are all that are necessary to work our magic, Brothers and Sisters. It is the God's decree that each of the Houses within the Seventh Circle shall take upon themselves a vial of this substance and, in due course, do what is commanded by Great Hastur. Each House shall be judged by the Working they complete on Hastur's behalf. It is this day that I visit the First House, the House of the Spilt Blood, of the Seventh Circle to award a single vial to your Lore Keeper. Come Forth."
Another robed figure, this one bearing deep purple and royal blue designs on a stark white cloth that breathed a Hellish Light into a room that had no need of added horror. The figure took a knee before the red-clad Priest.
"I am Lore Mistress Asakiri, known as the Scalpel and Needle of this First House, Ascended Master." The kneeling figure stated, her voice confirming what her masked body type had only hinted at; that being her gender, which was female.
That she was of the 'weaker sex' or that she was an Eleven did not matter.
The Ascended Master nodded once and, taking one of the glass cylinders, pressed it into her hands with no more ceremony. The self-proclaimed Lore Mistress held the vial to her with a tightness and tenderness common to mothers of newborns.
"Work quickly, Asakiri…it is the God Hastur's patience you will wear thin should you be lax in your duty."
Then the red-robed man was gone.
Ether briefly parted, breathing a dark and hateful energy into the room as glimpses of terror-filled vistas and cyclopean nightmares swam in the visions of those in attendance. Once the insanity dissipated, Asakiri lower half-face stretched into a truly frightening countenance, that of a shark.
"Let the operation begin."
"Yes My Lady," A growling voice stated from behind her, a cowl dropping to reveal the twisted face of a man with a too-large mouth and far too many sharpened teeth. "Shall we use subjects from the regular batch?"
"…No," the Lore Mistress stated finally. "Have Veronica raid the Ghettos and orphanages. Give her a team of Chameleons and have them bring in animals, plants, and human beings. I want a very complete subject group."
"Understood, My Lady," The man? nodded, slinking away as his mistress cooed delightedly over her new acquisition.
Nemo cocked her head, pausing at the top of the last building.
It was, most likely, an illegal set of loft housing…the kind that was always making the radio and news in Refrain raids. The address Nemo had been given was in one of the 'worse' sections of the Ghettos…inasmuch as the Ghettos were 'good' and 'bad.' The building had some small amount of obvious structural damage and bore condemned notices on the entrances…but this deep within the Japanese areas the Military and Police only came out in great numbers. Undoubtedly, crime was rife within the filthy and darkened back alleys…
It irked Nemo to see such an ostensibly good person living in such horrible conditions.
Her eyes opened wide and the red orbs glassed over slightly, looking forward in a way which had nothing to do with direction. In short order, the blonde vigilante nodded to herself, satisfied that there was no unusual police or military presence in or around the building. She'd called Ayame, after all, and any normal, sane, person would have called the authorities in preparation. Still, Ayame had every reason to conceal her involvement with Nemo. The girl was Nihon-jin, she had been a party to a multiple-murder of Britannian officers, and she was, even now, conspiring to aid said murderer.
She'd be a fool to call down the might of the Empire on her and her friends.
But, if the past few days had taught Nemo anything, it was that there were many such fools in the world.
And, Gods help me, I am one of them, to be so trusting.
She had learned some restraint, though, so when she leapt from the rooftop of the building, none of roof itself cracked or caved in on itself. The blonde girl flipped elegantly through the air and, with little more than a cat-like footstep, Nemo landed on the fire escape of the building. Reaching out with the knuckles of her right hand, she rapped softly on the window twice-
There was a series of startled sounds from within the apartment, among them the breaking of some small piece of glassware or pottery as well as three concurrent gasps. Nemo's crimson orbs narrowed as she pressed herself against the brick wall, the window was dark-tinted to the point where even her impressive vision couldn't pierce it.
A moment of hesitation.
Nemo could feel someone, she didn't exactly know how, on the other side of the window…some sense other than hearing, smell, or touch alerting her to the other person's presence.
Then the window opened and the head of Ayame Futaba popped out.
"Konichiwa, Futaba-chan," Nemo grinned, her smile widened as the older girl started upon hearing her.
Nemo cocked her head, staring at the young woman she'd saved the night prior. Did I really make that strong of an impression? Not only did she ignore my use of the disrespectful suffix, but she addressed me with '-sama.' Either Ayame-san is annoyingly polite…or I think I've scared her. Interesting.
"Is it her Ayame?"
"Hai," Ayame chirped, backing away from the window and gesturing for the younger girl to enter.
Nemo's eyes glassed over for a heartbeat, then she carefully entered the room.
The space inside was lit with candles, confirming Nemo's guess that there was either no electrical power running to the apartment or that it was so intermittent as to be practically nonexistent. Two other girls were immediately visible, bring the count up to three…a cursory glance revealed no other people within the loft apartment, either visible or hidden. The platinum blonde gave a tentative nod to each of the other women resting within the space, their eyes as wide as saucers as they hastily stood and gave a partial bow to their guest. The rest of the apartment was only remarkable for its utter simplicity in an age of modern electronics and technology.
"A-Ah," Ayame stuttered, "Nemo-sama, these are the friends I'm staying with…Ichijiku Hinata and Mutsuki Minase. I'm sorry…they're normally more talkative than this, it's just-"
"We didn't think she was actually serious," One of them said, interrupting her friend. "Oh…I'm Hinata, ah-Nemo…-sama," Hinata introduced herself, only adding the suffix as Ayame glared at her.
"And I'm Minase, Nemo-san," Minase grinned impudently. "Thanks for saving Ayame-chan, by the way. She gets annoying every now and then, but I wouldn't want to see her hurt or anything."
Ayame seemed to flush and pale at the same time. The three girls were much the same age, though each had their own distinctive hairstyle. Ayame's purple locks swayed as her eyes darted between Nemo, her friends, and back to Nemo again.
Ah… Nemo refrained from gasping as realization hit.
"You shouldn't lie to your friends, Ayame-chan," Nemo assessed dryly, stepping slowly through the apartment to drop her weight fully into a threadbare recliner on the other side of the room. Some previously unknown instinct purred within her, forcing her to take that chair…
Full view of the room, back against the wall…a predator's seat.
Idly, she wondered if that thought should disturb her.
Or if she should be upset that it didn't bother her.
Minase, her black hair down to her upper back with one small band of hair on each side of her face bound in beads, blinked slowly, and turned to regard her suddenly still friend with a strange expression. Hinata stared at the two, her eyes confused. Ayame, though, was looking at Nemo with a pleading gaze.
"I had a friend lie to me recently," Nemo continued, regardless of the woman's begging. "It hurt me very badly…and I still haven't decided what I'm going to do about it. Do you really want to hurt your friends so badly?"
"Is this…about those thugs Nemo-sama saved Ayame from last night? The ones trying to mug her?" Hinata asked tentatively, her right hand reaching up to fiddle with her glasses in a nervous gesture.
"Thugs? Mugging?" Nemo asked, her voice deceptively light. "I could have sworn it was five Britannian Military Police Officers…and that they were interested in anything but money."
Minase, the faster of the two on the uptake, swore venomously. She rose quickly from the couch and went to her friend, hugging her tightly. "Ayame! How-why didn't you tell us! Britannia can't do this…we'll complain, we'll do something-"
"Something's been done," Nemo said shortly, getting up herself and moving towards the window. "I suppose that's another reason Ayame-chan didn't tell you the truth…"
"Huh?" Hinata asked, still looking between her friends and the strange girl who'd come through their window.
Minase, though, had received the unspoken message once again, and paled dramatically. This girl…if what she was saying was true…she'd killed those officers…they were in a room with a murderer…a murderer who was solely responsible for the safety of one of them. The thought of Ayame…someone she thought of as a little sister, being raped. Nemo, who she just realized couldn't be more than fifteen…still a full five years younger than herself, abruptly shook her head and raised the window.
"I don't know what I was thinking, coming here was wrong, I've brought too much trouble on your house already. Forgive me, I'll be leaving." Nemo said, shaking her head as she put a foot on the sill of the window.
"No!" Ayame cried quickly, breaking Minase' grip and taking the few steps necessary to catch one of Nemo's arms in her own. It was a paradoxical scene, the two observers thought…seeing a girl three years older latch onto a younger, smaller girl in desperation.
Nemo hesitated, wary of tearing her arm free. As pale as the girl was, she looked breakable…like fine porcelain. Idly, she wondered if this is what Lelouch felt looking at her in her wheelchair? The need to protect, defend…to shield this girl from anything that might come her way, that feeling rose within Nemo, deciding her course of action for her. With slow, deliberate, careful steps, Nemo brought Ayame back to the threadbare recliner and sat down with her. If either had been any bigger it would not have been an easy fit, but at their current size the two managed to fit, barely, side by side.
Minase's watchful gaze hovered over them, hiding her alarm. It was frightening that her friend had just…broken like this. She'd heard things about rape victims, about how they'd fixate on someone…a protector…
Oh Ayame, please don't pick her. Minase plead, torn between gratefulness towards the strange black-clad girl and an intense wariness of the young murderess. This…'Nemo,' whoever she was, was very dangerous.
Hinata had, in a fit of inspiration, gone to the 'kitchen' area of the loft to bring refreshments. The area centered around a dilapidated refrigerator that didn't have any power running to it and an open tap which hadn't run in months. Still, they did manage to keep a few things cold with copious amounts of ice; it was out of that store of drinks that Hinata brought cups of juice for themselves and their…guest. The brown-haired girl smiled tentatively at Nemo before kneeling and cooing soft words at the still-shaking Ayame.
Nemo sighed and ran a hand slowly through Ayame's hair, "There, there, Ayame-chan, I didn't mean to make you relive it. You're alright. I'm here and I'll take care of anything that threatens you."
Hinata's smile turned somewhat brittle at the threat of implied murder, though she made a stalwart attempt at shrugging it off. "Thanks for taking care of Ayame for us, Nemo-sama," Hinata reiterated.
"Here I was thinking I'd come here for help," Nemo chuckled lowly, still slowly petting the older girl's hair. "I suppose I wasn't expecting you to need my help again. It is nice to feel necessary, though…I wonder if this is what I was really looking for when I called?"
Minase blinked, but paused in addressing the child…teen…whatever she was…and that was the crux of the dilemma. In the end, she decided that her name alone would do well enough. "Nemo…what do you mean? Did you come here because… you're in trouble?"
Red eyes locked with hers, the fearsome gaze forcing her to back down. "No. I came here because I'm confused."
"Confused?" Hinata asked, sipping her drink from the couch. "How?"
Nemo stared at the brown-haired girl, then sighed. "Well, I'm not exactly sure what I'm supposed to do. I've suddenly been given the ability to make a difference in the world…and I'm not sure where to start. I mean…obviously I've got to fight Britannia, but how to go about it?"
"You're talking about High Treason, you know," Minase replied somewhat angrily. She didn't want her friends getting dragged into this mess. Living under whatever hardships Britannia inflicted on them was all they could do since Japan's destruction. "You're one girl…what can you do against an Empire like Britannia?"
"You didn't see her fight," Ayame said suddenly, cradling her juice close to herself. "Nemo…you're serious, about this?"
Nemo cocked a pale platinum eyebrow, "Yes, I am."
"You want to be a hero, then? Save more people like Ayame?" Hinata asked, her eyes wide in childish wonder.
"A…Hero?" Nemo asked slowly.
"Yeah!" Hinata cheered, jumping up from her seat and holding one arm up in a 'heroic' pose. All three observers stared at the standing girl, disbelief coloring their gazes. "Heroes save people! They come swooping out of the night and take out the bad guys, for Great Justice!"
"For…Great Justice?" Nemo asked, now thoroughly confused.
Minase sighed and palmed her face. "Forgive Hinata, she's been an anime otaku since we were kids. She even buys the contraband stuff they sell on the black market nowadays. Not even the prison time they threaten Elevens with scares her from breaking the Cultural Sanctions."
"Mou~!" Hinata pouted, "They may be able to take my life, my liberty, and my totally awesome figurine collection, but they'll never take my Mahou Shoujo! In name of the Moon, I'll punish them!"
Ayame giggled, showing the first burst of good cheer since Nemo had arrived. Minase, though, just groaned tiredly, "Hinata-chan, you really need to grow up. Heroes like that don't really exist."
Nemo frowned thoughtfully. The specifics of the conversation and the obvious references to specific popular culture, but the spirit of the discussion was plainly apparent to her. "Why not?"
Minase blinked, "What?"
"Why don't heroes exist? I mean…why can't someone just go around saving people who are in trouble?" Nemo asked petulantly, her voice carrying all the naiveté of Nunnally and the rebelliousness of a normal teenager.
The older girl's dark brown hair shifted slowly as Minase shook her head in disbelief. She spat a low curse before explaining, "Look Nemo…we're grateful for how you helped Ayame, really we are, but if you think one person, let alone a teenage girl can actually make a difference-"
"Okay," Nemo interrupted. "I can take your hint easily enough, but…for the sake of argument, how would someone go about being a hero? Who would they fight?"
Minase rubbed her forehead tiredly. "Fine, if you want to go get yourself killed… the first 'bad guys' you'd have to take down are criminals. In Tokyo, we have the remnants of the old Yakuza families, then there's the upper-scale Syndicates run by Britannian Nobles, and then you have the foreign import market-smuggling. See everyone knows where you go to find these people, but not even the military police try unless they're out in force."
Minase voice hardened. "People in the Ghettos, our lives are ruled by these people…that's power you can't buy; that's the kind of power that comes from the barrel of a loaded gun. They don't fear anything…not even the Viceroy. We're just Numbers…they don't have anything to fear as long as they don't mess with upstanding Britannian Citizens."
Nemo's red eyes flickered with barely repressed bloodlust. She kissed the top of Ayame's head to quiet her objections, then stood to make her way across the room. "I guess I'll just have to give them something to be afraid of, then."
"What, you?" Minase asked derisively, looking up to meet the girl's gaze.
In that moment, she could have sworn her blood literally froze in her veins.
"Me," Nemo confirmed, her eyes shining red-red-red, like twin stars staring out across a void of cosmic distance. In that horrible, horrible gaze, Minase found it within herself to believe that this girl, this child…she would stand up to the greatest Empire their world had ever known using nothing but her own strength and determination.
"Now, be a good girl, Minase-chan, and tell me which closets the monsters hide in," Nemo whispered.
As the platinum blonde leaned over the other girl, it was all Minase could do to whimper out the location of the closest Yakuza den.
Leaving only an empty glass and an open window to mark her passing, Nemo was gone from the apartment moments later, leaving Minase to wonder exactly what the hell they'd invited into their home…
He'd been awake since 3 A.M.
Granted, Cornelia's shipment of watchdogs didn't come in until five, but he'd needed the two hours to finish his preparations. Thankfully, he'd familiarized himself with his elder half-sister's personnel management style in the (likely) event he'd need to infiltrate her regime at some point; that tactic had born fruit now, as he'd managed to accurately determine the location of a member of Euphemia's security team on his first try. From that point, he'd used his Geass to force the locations of the other bodyguards and, subsequently, placed them all under his control. From the reception room in the Ashford Academy Clubhouse he pondered the decision.
Such an extensive use of my ability is dangerous…they'll follow my orders to the letter, and not an inch further. I should be able to relax for the time being, though. With the entire security team under my control, I can effectively screen information regarding Ashford from Cornelia…additionally, now that they're under Geass, they'll report any disturbances to me first, rather than Sister.
"It's a slipshod plan, at best," Lelouch concluded sourly. "I hate relying on this power so much, but with so little time to plan…"
And then there were the distractions.
Oh, by God were there distractions. It was actually hard to believe that that horrible nightmare of mission was only two nights prior. The fallout from that horrific night is as far-reaching as it has been inconveniencing. Still, I can't help but think the worst is yet to come. Putting aside how easily I've put a collar on Cornelia's watchdogs, there's the swearing in of the first recruitment group tonight…
Lelouch sighed, massaging his temples tiredly.
"I'll need to go to class tomorrow also," He muttered lowly to himself. Luckily, today was an 'off-record' absence, courtesy of Milly infamous party-planning. The rest of the Student Council, as Lelouch had promised Suzaku, was on various errands to secure snacks and drinks, which would allow him the precious time needed to talk to his half-sister. Still, skipping even two days was too much with his absentee record (no matter how Milly intervened) and, again, there was only so much Geass could do…
Right now, the largest 'kink' in his plan was Euphie herself. Putting aside whether or not he would be able to guilt and manipulate his half-sister's silence regarding himself and Nunnally…there was the rest of the Student Council to consider. Shirley hadn't been able to stop talking about the hostage incident and how brave and courageous the Third Princess had been when she stood up for Milly and Nina. The mousey genius had been rather quiet on the matter, though Lelouch assumed she was either star-struck or in shock over the entire incident. Possibly both. The crux of the matter, though, was that they had all seen Euphie and would, doubtless, recognize her.
Exactly what the fallout from that would be, he could only wonder.
Idly, Lelouch contemplated using his Geass on Euphie to make her change schools…an act which would, in the short term, simplify things…but would probably just create another fire he'd have to put out at some later date. Tiredly, the Black Prince reached underneath his desk and retrieved a nondescript white bottle, tapping out two pill and swallowing them.
"I wouldn't be surprised if Kallen drops by today as well," Lelouch stated, anticipating the redhead's next move. Now that she was sure he wasn't going to blow her cover, she'd likely want to keep as close tabs on him as possible. Given what she knew of Euphie's impending appearance at Ashford, it was almost certain she'd be there…either to keep an eye on himself or to determine if he and his sister were 'conspiring' together. Still…if she does stop by the Clubhouse, I'll have to introduce her to CC…
By the time the day was over, he was sure to need a new bottle of painkillers.
At the thought of his green-haired coconspirator, though, another ugly thought reared it's head. I'll need to see to her paperwork as well…and I'll likely have to convince her in regards to attending classes as well…
He wondered if they sold headache medicine by the gross?
Violet eyes snapped open, regarding Sayoko steadily.
"Kururugi-san has brought Euphemia-sama, should I show them to the parlor?" The maid asked, her head bowed minutely in respect.
"No, the library, if you please, Sayoko?" Lelouch asked, rising from his seat and straightening his clothes. "And...tea, if you could?"
"Hai, Lelouch-sama," Sayoko replied, bowing deeper.
The maid turned, her gaze expectant.
"If this goes badly…you are not to kill either Euphemia or Suzaku," Lelouch said shortly. "I will take care of the matter."
Sayoko's lips turned downwards so slightly that, were it not for his extensive experience in reading the kunoichi's expressions, he might not have noticed the frown. "Hai, Lelouch-sama."
Perhaps he should have ordered her not to kill Kallen either?
Hmm…probably unnecessary. I'd like to think she has more sense than to pick a fight with Sayoko.
Euphemia li Britannia was enjoying the best day she'd had in ages.
Suzaku, being as nice as he was, had taken the day off from his classes, utilizing the time to take her on a detailed tour of the school. They'd walked around the Campus before the first bell had rung, viewing all of the absolutely lovely gardens, the out-buildings, and the small wooded area resting behind the school proper. Suzaku had even taken her up the bell tower to get a bird's-eye-view of the campus. Afterwards, they'd stopped and had a small breakfast snack in the dining facilities before moving on to the school itself.
The Honorary Britannian, for his part, had taken an enormous enjoyment in playing tour guide for the Third Princess. Though…
Dressed as she is, I'm not sure if anyone would believe me. Euphie had insisted on following the school's dress code, even on a day when she, technically, wasn't in attendance. She'd even tied back her long pink hair into a pony-tail and disregarded most of the 'frivolous accessories'-
…Her words, not his.
-she wore in her public appearances.
But, he'd admirably displayed the same attention to his posture and diction as if he were standing before another Military Tribunal, no matter Euphie's current state of dress. The Second Princess had been quite clear on what would happen should Suzaku not pay proper respect to decorum in her sister's presence. Although, she'd used less polite words to do so, proving, if nothing else, Cornelia's relation to Lelouch, in his mind.
They could both be scary as hell when their younger siblings were threatened.
At any rate, he'd wound the tour around the campus several times, watching the clock carefully. Suzaku knew he couldn't arrive too early or too late. Either would offset Lelouch's carefully laid plans…betraying Euphie presence prematurely or allowing the rest of the Student Council to walk in on the siblings before they were finished. Both of these, Suzaku knew, qualified as 'bad things.'
So it was, then, that the Honorary Britannian showed up precisely on time.
"…And this is the Ashford Academy Clubhouse."
"-Oh my," Euhpie intoned, looking about the structure with curious eyes. "It looks like an actual house, that is to say, it seems very warm, inviting…is this where you hold your Student Council meetings?"
"Ah, yes," Suzaku nodded. "Though, now that you mention it…someone does live here."
Euphie blinked, "Oh? I thought everyone lived in the dorms except for the students who commuted from off-campus."
"Well, yes, that is mostly true. The pair who live here are a…special case. The Headmaster gave them special permission, seeing as one of them is disabled." Suzaku's explanation trailed, guiding Euphemia around the gardens and up to the from entrance. He chanced a look at the overhanging balcony. Sure enough, the Black Prince was ensconced in a shadowy space out of direct line of sight. He held out two fingers of his left hand and, casually, ran them through his hair before disappearing deeper into the house.
Another one of the old 'signals,' Suzaku remembered. Let's see…two fingers on the left hand meant…'all conditions met, proceed with plan.' The two had, in years passed, used the signal to alert each other when it was okay move Nunnally through the hallways in an attempt to spend a few hours outside playing.
With the reassuring knowledge that Lelouch was ready, Suzaku pressed the doorbell. "Actually, Euphie, this is the last stop on our tour."
"Oh?" Euhpie asked, smiling at the maid who bade them enter.
"Yes, well," Suzaku fidgeted nervously, "I'm…ah, friends with the siblings that live here and there's a Student Council meeting in an hour…"
"I will inform the Master of the House you've arrived," Sayoko said stiltedly, bowing deeply.
Suzaku nodded, "Thanks, Ms. Sayoko."
There was an awkward moment where the maid disappeared, presumably to find the resident…possibly a wealthy noble, now that Euhemia thought about it. Anyone with enough clout to pressure a private residence on an already prestigious campus like Ashford doubtless necessitated first-class treatment.
"Suzaku…who does live here? I don't think you ever mentioned a name." Euhpie asked, realizing the omitted detail. It simply wouldn't do for her to make a bad impression on some wealthy Duke's son simply because she didn't know. If word got back to the student's father or mother, it could, perhaps, make her sister's governance of Area 11 needlessly complicated, depending on whom she offended.
"Well," Suzaku started, his voice squeaking. Clearing his throat, he tried again, "Well, Euphie…"
"The Master will see you in the library," Sayoko interrupted, making the two teenagers jump at the maid's unheard approach.
"Thank you, Ms. Sayoko," Suzaku replied, wondering if the woman knew how she'd just helped him. Oddly enough, he had the strangest feeling she did. In short order, the maid showed them to the library of the Clubhouse, where three cups of tea and a platter of biscuits was sitting on a table near a cluster of seats. Euphie, now on her best manners, looked around the room for someone to greet. The room was a fairly spacious one, filled wall-to-wall with bookcases practically full to bursting with large tomes on almost every subject imaginable. She wondered if Rueben Ashford had outfitted the room…some of her fondest memories were playing hide and seek with her siblings in the bibliophile's grand libraries. Back at the height of the Ashford's power and prestige, some had said that the businessman-cum-scientist possessed whole wings filled to the brim with books that could not even be found in the Imperial Libraries.
I wonder if any of these are books Lelouch, Nunnally, Cornelia, and I hid behind? She pondered idly, not knowing if the formerly royal family had moved their extensive collection or merely left much of it in Pendragon after the death of Lady Marianne.
"The Master will be with you in a moment, he asks that you please be seated," Sayoko said, bowing out of the room.
"Thank you," Euphie called politely to the Eleven woman, though part of her was still wondering at Suzaku's tenseness.
With tentative steps, Euphie paced towards the overstuffed armchairs that adorned the room. The sense that something was…not right permeated the space. It was not necessarily a wrongness, but there was something that she couldn't quite put her finger on about the atmosphere…
Then, with her final step towards the seating arrangement, it hit her.
With that step, she was no longer in Ashford Academy, no longer in Area 11, not even in the year 2017 any longer. Between one step and another, some distant memory had snapped into place, a sense of déjà vu that brought tears to her eyes and a quickening of the pulse that made her light-headed. With part fright and part anticipation, Euphemia turned her head gently towards one of the two large windows looking out onto the back gardens…
Nunnally and she wove wreathes of flowers, mock-crowns for very real little princesses, under the watchful gaze of Cornelia. The Second Princess wore a much softer expression than one would later see on the Witch of Britannia, and a blush wholly unbefitting a military commander…their older brother Schneizel sat off to the side under the overhang with his eyes focused on a board of black and white game pieces…
Clovis, his hair a tangle of golden curls even back then, was further off with an easel erected and a palette of paints fit snugly into the crook of his arm. He was painting a portrait of his collective siblings even as Euphie watched…the artist focusing his attention on the young, black-haired opponent Schneizel was pitting himself against. Lelouch, the picture of a prideful, diminutive Imperial Prince, sat on an elevated chair, affecting a thoughtful, distant expression.
The library window was overlooking the children at play, the young Third Princess knew, their mothers taking a precious afternoon to visit amongst themselves in favor of allowing the royal guard to watch the children…
Euphie wiped the tears from her eyes, the nostalgia heavy in her chest. Drawn back from her daydream, she gave the room another, more meaningful glance. The architecture, the flowers outside, even the layout of the room…
This was Ares Villa.
"Euphie…are you okay?" Suzaku asked, alarmed by the princess' stillness.
"Yes," Euphie croaked, her voice thick with melancholy. She cleared her throat, "I'm sorry…it's just that this house reminds me of…of-"
If the earlier flashback had been the calm before the storm, what she saw resting on the small table, next to the biscuits and tea, opened the floodgates. Where, before, the glare from the window had blinded the two framed pictures with reflected light, in her present orientation she could see them clearly. The larger of the two was in a plain silver frame, the photograph depicting a group of small children…herself, Nunnally, Cornelia, and Lelouch, all gathered around the Black Empress.
The second brought tears streaming down her cheeks and a tortured whimper from somewhere deep within her. A young boy, a mirror image of kind-hearted Suzaku, was standing beside another smiling boy and girl, showing only a few months age-difference between the latter picture and their current appearance. The youthful light in the boy's eyes had dimmed somewhat over the period…and the girl's eyes were shut, as if permanently sealed, as she rested in a wheelchair.
The torrent of sadness, anger, resentment, bitterness, and broken-heartedness that had remained sealed within her for seven long years burst free as Euphie fought to stay standing.
"Those are my most precious possession, you know?"
Euphie spun at the voice, which was not Suzaku's. The figure had just stepped through a doorway at the opposite end of the room, enshrouded by the library's low lighting. She saw enough, though, to tell that the teen possessed a wiry frame, thin and cord-like musculature, and a way of carrying himself that no one not of royal descent and training, could ever hope to copy. Then, finally, the figure stepped into the light of the window…
And just like that, her older brother was alive again.
Awkwardness didn't even begin to describe the situation.
Although, it was better than seeing Euphemia cry. His sister's tears had hit him unexpectedly hard. The sight of the pink-haired princess actually crying over being reunited with himself, then Nunnally, had been unnervingly personal. He'd orchestrated the entire, elaborate scene to deliberately pull at Euphie's heartstrings in an effort to elicit a primarily emotional response when he asked Euphie to keep their existence a secret, knowing that should reason and logic prevail, she'd reveal them to Cornelia in a heartbeat on the basis that it would do them good. But…
Did I miscalculate?
It was a possibility. He lacked detailed information on Euphemia's development and her relationship with Cornelia, so it was entirely possible that the Third Princess considered reuniting with himself and Nunnally a shade more important than complete honestly with Cornelia. Still, that didn't quite explain his own emotional response when confronted with a crying sibling he'd not seen (as Lelouch, at least) in several years…
Or maybe I'm over thinking the matter. Mabye Euphie agreed to keep our secret merely because she cares for myself and Nunnally? Regardless, I'm grateful that Euphie has abdicated the position of Sub-Viceroy…doing so will place her below Zero's radar and out of the line of fire. Additionally, she's also a possible source of valuable information…whether or not she has any official position within the current regime, Cornelia will inevitably leak information to her on a personal level.
And then there were the introductions.
Lelouch's eyes darted to the source of the annoyed whine, finding an irritated-looking Shirley staring pointedly at him. "Pardon?"
"You should pay attention when Princess Euphemia's talking!" Shirley cried, chastising the lazy genius.
Milly, Nunnally, Euphie, and Suzaku all tried, with varying degrees of success, to contain their laughter. Milly, completely unrepentant, couldn't refrain from taking advantage of the situation, "Ah, that's right, Your Highness! Shirley's quite attached to our Vice President!"
Euphie and Nunnally both giggled at the comment.
The redhead watched the goings-on with a wary eye from behind her placid exterior. Honestly, Kallen was at a complete loss as to exactly what on earth was happening! Why was her life this complicated? When Lelouch had warned her of the impending arrival of his half-sister the night before, 'alarmed' would be putting her reaction in the mildest terminology possible. She'd objected on many different levels towards Lelouch's plan…really, he was going to 'play on the sympathies' of a member of the Britannian Royal Family?
But, no, Lelouch had shaken off her misgivings with fairly bland reassurances such as 'Euphemia's different' or 'I'm in control of the situation.'
"Every Royal is a cold hearted snake in the grass."
A single eyebrow had risen on Lelouch's face, as if question whether or not Kallen had realized the implications of her accusation.
"And, yes," she'd said, "I'm including you in that assessment, oh great leader."
Kallen honestly came to school today with the expectation that she'd have to drag her fearless leader out through one of the sewer tunnels after the Third Princess blew the whistle on him and Nunnally. But…and she honestly couldn't believe what she was seeing, Euphemia actually appeared to be a decent human being. Sure, Lelouch was a magnificent bastard sometimes, and Nunnally was the sweetest girl she'd ever met, but…was there actually another member of the Royal Family who didn't get off on killing innocent civilians? The revelation had fairly stunned her into silence.
Which, of course, brought her to her current predicament.
I'm an undead-battling resistance fighter under the command of a masked vigilante who's secretly a lost prince of the Empire which has occupied my homeland. My 'superior' and I are having a party during school hours in the company of the heir of a disgraced royal family living it up as the head of an absurdly powerful student council, two MORE Britannian Princesses, and the infamous traitor to the Japanese...
When did my life become an exercise in surrealism?
The ringing of a doorbell brought her out of her ruminations.
"Oh!" Shirley cried, still slightly flustered, "That must be the pizza, I'll get it!"
"Heh, don't mind her, Your Highness," Rivalz excused embarrassedly, scratching the back of his head with his hand, "She gets like that sometimes."
"Oh, I don't mind," Euphie demurred, "But please, call me Euphie. I'd like to be a normal student here at Ashford, if it's possible, Mr. Cardemonde."
Rizalz flushed, "Ah! Whatever you say…Euphie, but it's not Mr. Cardemonde, that makes me sound old! If I'm going to be informal with a princess, I can't have her calling me by my last name."
Euphie giggled and Suzaku grinned at the byplay. He'd hoped his princess would have an easy time interacting with his friends. They'd been overly stiff at first, but now they were warming up to her nicely.
Shirley returned to the main room, though without any pizza. Instead, trailing behind her was a young blonde girl looking more exasperated by the minute. Suzaku recognized her as the somewhat mysterious 'Alice' from the day before. Locking her gaze with Milly's, the younger teen raised an eyebrow, "You know, when I checked in for my classes, the office told me there was an emergency student council meeting. I'm not sure why I didn't expect this, though. Hello, Nunnally."
Nunnally smiled and waved a greeting at the direction the voice had come from.
Milly grinned, "Alice! Nunna told us you were back, but we weren't sure if you were going to be here today." Rising from her seat, the Ashford heiress paced quickly forward, looking as if she were about to pounce on something helpless.
Alice shrugged, "My family took a trip to visit a few cousins last night and my…dad decided he'd make sure I was well-rested before I went back to school. What with our late flight and everything…" The truth, though, was that Madd had decided to test out a new series of suppressant drugs after the late-night clean-up mission they'd had. Honestly, she'd been hoping for a little action when a report of that mystery Knightmare had come in…instead, all she'd gotten was blood and death.
The Geass-Suppressants had been a welcome relief, drawing her into a coma-like state
"Well that's great!" Milly enthused, "You're all ready to have a good time, then! Today, we're celebrating the induction of a new student, and as a member of the Special Junior Student Council along with Nunnally, you get to know who she really is!"
"Milly, are you sure that's-" Suzaku began, still unsure of the strange girl.
"Of course," Milly grinned, dragging Alice across the large room.
Later, the Irregular would thank every god she knew of for Milly's forward nature. As the Ashford heiress dragged her towards the opposite side of the room, her eyes fixed on the 'new student.' Thankfully, Milly had positioned herself, quite by accident, in between Lelouch, Suzaku, and herself, so they didn't see her blank, forbidding, shock at observing The Third Princess Euphemia li Britannia happily conversing with her friend Nunnally. By some miracle, no outward sound of alarm or fright passed her lips, but her eyes remained fixed on the pinkette as if her life depended on it.
Euphemia's own eyes widened as she stared as the younger blonde was nearly dragged forward to meet her. Of course, the introduction wasn't, strictly speaking, necessary. Today had been nothing but a series of surprises, it seemed, though this was the least welcome of them all.
"Alice, I'd like you to meet Euphemia li Britannia, Third Princess of the Empire," Milly introduced smilingly.
"N-nice t-to me-meet you, Your Highness," Alice half-bowed respectfully, "My name is Alice Sinclair."
Nina, off to the side, winced in sympathy. She'd been just as bad, if not worse, when she awkwardly introduced and thanked the Princess. Still, Alice normally seemed so confident…but, she supposed the charisma of royalty affected almost everyone. Even Lelouch looked somewhat nervous in his interaction with the Princess.
"You needn't refer to me 'Your Highness' while we're here, Alice," Euphie smiled, masking her uneasiness and surprise. "It's just Euphie." She held her hand out tentatively. There was something in the girl's eyes at that moment, something more than mere wariness or alarm…it was fear.
Alice's eyes widened minutely once again as she looked between the Princess and the outstretched hand. The Princess was staring at her steadily, as if daring her to refuse…but it was more than that. Euphemia's gaze was knowing.
When Princess and Child Soldier shook, it was with full knowledge that each knew where the other stood.
The doorbell rang again, thankfully shattering the tension of the moment.
"That should be the pizza," Lelouch sighed. "I'll get it."
"I'll…ah, help," Kallen said demurely.
Shirley rose to make an issue of it, but the two had already started down the hallway. The orange-haired girl dropped back into her chair with a forlorn expression, crossing her arms over her chest in irritation.
"There, there," Milly cooed, "I'm sure Lelouch will need plenty of big, strong girls to carry things for him."
"Madame President!" Shirley yelped indignantly.
Suzaku, Nina, Euphie, and Nunnally all shared a smile at the comment
Alice snapped to attention, though, finally coming up with an excuse to get her out of the room. "I'll get the drinks!"
As the blonde retreated from the room, Milly sighed, "What is it with that girl today? I'm sorry Euphie, she's not normally this…jittery."
"Alice always gets nervous when we talk about royalty…I think she might be shy about them," Nunnaly offered. "She gets really uncomfortable when we talk about Conelia, especially…I think she sees your sister as a role model, Euphie."
Euphie sighed. I can imagine why she gets nervous talking about my family. After all, she's met enough of them for it to be sufficiently awkward to omit telling such information to her friends…or, at least, I think she hasn't told them. Why would she get nervous being introduced to me on a personal level if she hadn't? Hmm… "I think I'll go help Alice with those drinks."
Before Suzaku could object, because she knew he would, the Princess had successfully made it to the kitchen…
Alice's breathing quickened as she flew through the door to the kitchen.
Shit! I'm screwed to all Hell! Alice thought desperately, rushing to the sink. Her stomach turned over, threatening to reject her quickly-eaten breakfast. That was Princess Euphemia! She recognized me! She'll TELL THEM!
The Irregular quivered, holding onto the sink tightly as she tried to pull herself together. She was usually so together, damn it! But…that was a Royal in there! Not only that, it was a Royal who'd seen her in uniform! Sure, it had been months…maybe even over a year ago, but…
She'd seen it in the Princess' eyes, and now all that hard work was gone…
The years of building a reputation, building normalcy for herself. Now, in the span of a few seconds, all of that hard work, all of her relationships, were going to be destroyed.
She was who Alice would miss the most. The way that Nunnally said hello to her, the way that Nunnally smiled at her, the way she…
Alice's heart snapped in two at the thought.
"Warrant Officer Sinclair?" Euphemia asked, marking the suddenly stiffening of the younger girl's body.
"Y-Your Highness!" Alice cried, spinning about, belatedly noticing that the water she'd splashed on herself was still dripping down her face. And are there…tears on my face? Oh Hell…I look like a mess, don't I?
Euphie was thankful she'd shut the door against intrusion. The girl's face was a flushed mix of cold water and partially-washed tears. Where before she'd managed to hold herself together, now the Irregular was very nearly shattered completely. Euphie's expression softened. "I asked you to call me Euphie, come here."
Without waiting for permission, Euphie closed the distance between them and picked up a clean dishcloth, wiping away the girl's tears and drying her face. Sniff- "I'm sorry, Your-Euphie. I'm sorry, I just-"
Euphie sighed, "They don't know, do they?"
Alice shook her head. "I…told them my p-parents move around a lot, that's why I miss so much school."
"I'm surprised Col. Madd even lets you go," Euphie said absently, making no effort to hide her distaste when talking about the secretive and cruel scientist-soldier.
"I was rated a breakdown risk on one of my early psych assessments," Alice explained, reporting dutifully as if to a superior officer…which she was. "The Colonel wasn't happy about it, but he thinks I'm too valuable to let…break."
Euphie smiled tenderly, "I think so too…but not because you're a soldier, or even because you're an Ace of Aces. You're more than valuable enough as a person. Honestly, that man makes me sick, taking children like you and training them the way he does. Why didn't you tell everyone?"
Alice stiffened again, "We are SpecOps, Your-Euphie." She deflated, then, "And …I've been friends with Nunnally for years. Her brother…doesn't like the military. I'm afraid he might stop me from seeing her if he found out."
"And…Nunnally is important to you?" Euphie asked quietly.
Alice licked her lips, pausing before speaking. "More than anything."
Euphie sighed again. "I suppose it is your decision…" The Third Princess trailed off, pondering where the discussion might go from here. Lelouch would probably be horrified he's let a Britannian SpecOps get this close to his sister…but I don't want to ostracize Alice from her friends. From the way Cornelia talks about the Irregulars, they're all going to go rogue or insane one day…
Euphie frowned, finishing cleaning up the younger girl.
…and how much do I…or anyone, for that matter, really know about Madd or the Irregulars? He's far too secretive…but if Alice's association with Ashford somehow leaks Lelouch and Nunnally's identities. Even a word to the wrong person could possibly…
And if I'm right about Lelouch, revealing that he's still alive could be fatal.
Her decision made in that split second, Euphie reached into her pocket. I'd been planning on giving this to Suzaku in case he ever needed to see me, but… "Alice, I'd like to keep my stay here as unobtrusive as possible. If anyone ever asks about your classmates…I'm ordering you to tell them nothing. Do you understand?"
Alice blinked, her military training reasserting itself over her almost-breakdown. She stood stoically at attention, "Mam?"
Euphie closed her eyes for a moment, when she opened them, there was somehow something more about her, some inherent charisma of those who had been born to rule. "Warrant Officer Sinclair, as the Third Princess of Britannia, I am hereby giving you a direct order to not reveal any information on your classmates or Ashford Academy itself, under pain of death, granting you the license of an Imperial Signet in the event it is so needed. If you are questioned on these matters, you will report that it is an issue of security to the Third Princess."
Alice's eyes widened at the pin Euphie handed her. It was, indeed, her royal signet…usually only awarded to ones' Knight. There were instances, though, of a soldier carrying his patron's signet on undercover missions… "I humbly accept this token of trust, Your Highness."
As the pinkette pressed the pin into Alice's hands, Euphemia li Britannia smiled tenderly…and just like that, the teenage student Euphie was standing before her.
"Now let's get those drinks, shall we?"
Alice could only nod, wondering what on earth had just happened.
"Mam'-ah, Euphie?" Alice asked, turning from the cupboard to face her.
"For what it's worth, I'm sure Nunnally would understand."
Alice bit her lip nervously.
The 'party' was fairly low-key.
Due to Shirley's prohibition against alcohol and the involvement of an Imperial Princess barred any possible underage drinking. Still, the Student Council had never gone beyond a half-bottle of Champagne for birthdays and special occasions, so it wasn't a very large hindrance to anyone. Still, the atmosphere was amazingly light for all of the suppressed tension, Lelouch felt. Even Nunnally, normally so happy and carefree, seemed to hold her breath every time Euphie spoke. It was hard to believe that the little sister who's innocence he so treasured understood what was happening, how much danger they were in because of Euphemia's choice of school.
Part of him hated his pink-haired sister for causing Nunnally so much stress.
Still, for all that they were in mortal danger every second of the day, Lelouch felt that the party was a success. As the day went on, even Alice seemed to get over her starstruck behavior and relax. She and Nunnally had sequestered themselves in a corner, chatting amicably, which was a balm for the Black Prince's soul.
Kallen, seated directly next to him, kept her eyes fixed forward onto the inane propaganda-merical which had interrupted the movie they'd turned to. "I still can't believe it."
"Exactly what are you talking about?" Lelouch asked quietly, carefully.
"She's a normal person. It's weird." Kallen admitted.
"You'll find that most of my…siblings are normal people," Lelouch responded awkwardly. "At least, beneath the self-absorbed, self-important arrogance. Except Schneizel."
Kallen blinked, "What about him…I mean, he's the Prime Minister, but-"
"He's perfect. Or, at least, as close as any human has ever come," Lelouch admitted. "It's why I'm so nervous having Euphie here. All she has to do is make one slip talking to Schneizel and the jig, as they say, is up."
Kallen rolled her eyes, "He can't be that good…he's always wearing that stupid, smug, half-smile on TV."
"A cultivated attitude of bland acceptance breeds irritation or uneasiness in even the most skillful opponents," Lelouch quoted. "It's something he told me once."
"Huh," Kallen responded, slightly unnerved by the admission, "What about-"
Attention, breaking news!
All over the room, conversations slowly abated, Rivalz even bothering to cross the room and lean over the sofa. "Man…they never interrupt those stupid propaganda things…wonder what this is about?"
"It's probably the Black Knights again," Milly interrupted, leaning on one of the shoulder rests. "That's all anyone's talking about nowadays."
"I-I heard some rumors," Nina volunteered hesitantly, "On the net…about some kind of drug bust at a warehouse…no one had any details, but something was supposed to be strange about it."
Lelouch and Kallen both started, pondering near-identical lines of thought.
A drug bust? Are the police finally getting tired of being embarrassed by us?
"Last night, military police responded to an explosion in the Tokyo Ghetto area, investigations are still underway as to the cause of the explosion, but this news agency has received a tape on which a suspect dictates her reasons for the attack on the criminal elements which resided, previously, in the warehouse. Although the tape speaks for itself, viewers are warned that the following footage is not deemed acceptable for viewers under the age of eighteen by the Britannian Broadcasting Regulatory Agency. It is the belief of this news organization that this recording is authentic and that the self-confessed culprit on the video is responsible not only for the explosion which happened just minutes later, but also for a series of violent attacks on military police and Britannian Knights. It is unknown at this time whether or not the culprit is connected with the dissident population of Area 11, but we urge anyone with any information on this person to come forward. If you recognize the individual in the video, please inform the police or call the emergency hotline."
Without further warning, the television flickered over from the nondescript reporter onto a much different scene. The room now pictured was stark white, with clouds of icy debris wafting through the air lazily. Most in the room instantly recognized the space as that of a walk-in freezer, a very large industrial model that wouldn't be out of place in the back of a supermarket or convenience store. Along the walls, there were numerous boxes and ice chests, all of which were unmarked. For a long moment, nothing happened, then…
Suzaku and Alice's eyes widened as a girl in her mid-teens with nearly platinum blonde hair and a black body suit leapt into the frame. Her red eyes were almost fever-bright as she smiled a too-wide smile. "Testing, testing, 1-2-3…"
Evidently satisfied with the results, she quirked another grin, "Hello there, Japan…Britannia…and anyone else who's watching I guess. My name's Nemo, and I'd like to have a little…chat with you. Seeing as how I've already introduced myself, I'd like to also introduce my audience to my guests, here with me tonight."
Nemo, still smiling, spun the camera, which was most likely mounted on some sort of tripod. The entire Ashford audience, and most likely many others across the Area and Empire, gasped loudly as two men, bound in chairs, came into view. Nunnally didn't need to see them. She knew what had happened the night before. The mere thought of it was enough to freeze the breath in her lungs and…much to her own disgust, some secret part of her was excited at the fact that they'd decided to air her 'home movie.'
Their eyes were wide as they clearly struggled, scared out of their wits. Both men were covered in splotches of blood, though one was clearly of former-Japanese descent and the other, equally clearly, was Britannian. And, judging by the Britannian's clothing, he was at least very well off, if not a noble.
"Here we have Yamada Kenji-san and a Mr. Tarquin." At the sound of his name, the Britannian squirmed especially hard, seeming to complain.
Nemo rolled her eyes, "Oh, I'm sorry. This is Lord James Tarquin, a Noble of the Britannian Empire. Anyway, you might ask what brought these two very different people together, hmm? Yamada-san here is a former Yakuza boss…for our Britannian viewers, that's something like a Mafia Don. In short, Yamada-san is a criminal, the scum of the Earth…he specializes in drug distribution, extortion, blackmail, grand theft auto, kidnapping, slave trading, and…organ trafficking."
Lelouch and Kallen's gazes cooled at the list of offenses. The initial surge of confusion and sympathy had faded, though the others in the room weren't as logical. Nina was practically shaking in her seat. Suzaku and Alice were shaking, but for radically different reasons than the bespectacled girl. Milly, Rivalz, and Shirley were still in various stages of confusion, disgust, and alarm over the young girl now on TV.
"You see…" Nemo went on, stretching the word out as she prowled about the frame, mocking her gagged victims with her cheerful smirk. "After Britannia invaded, Yamada-san decided to continue his illicit activities, but he needed a contact in the occupying forces. Enter, stage left, Lord Tarquin. As a noble of the Empire, he was ideally placed to oversee smuggling operations, launder funds, and smooth over misunderstandings with any law enforcement that might occur."
Nemo took center stage again, still smiling. "Now, I won't bore anyone with the specifics, but this was a fairly lucrative business…I say was, of course, because everyone is very dead right now, except for our two guests."
The blonde teen abruptly lost her grin, a foul and ugly seriousness entering her face. "Now, let's see what our guests have to say…Mr, ah! I'm sorry, Lord Tarquin?" So saying, Nemo stripped the duct tape from the man's mouth in a single rippp!
"You'll never get away with this!" Tarquin yelled immediately, his eyes burning holes in Nemo's grave expression. "I'm a noble! You think anyone will believe your little ramblings, girl? These aren't people you're talking about, they're animals! So I've slaughtered a few of them…thinned the heard, as it were? So what? Do you think any upstanding Britannian citizen cares about these-these, monkeys?"
Faster than the camera could catch, Nemo's fist shot out and caught Taquin square in the nose, stunning the man into a bloody, moaning, semi-silence. The teen flicked blood off her fingers distastefully, "I'd like to apologize for Lord Taquin's earlier comments…he still suffers from the delusion that he's getting out of here alive."
Off to the side, Yamada had quietly begun weeping in desperation.
"Oh! And now a rebuttal from our other guest!" Nemo chirped, her 'happy face' back again. "Yamada-san weren't you afraid you'd get caught?"
Yamada whimpered as she pulled the duct tape free from his face. "Tarquin…he always made sure that the Brits knew to look the other way. Only ones we were worried about were the Black Knights-"
"The Black Kngihts?" Nemo laughed uproariously. "The Black Kngihts?"
Yamada twitched, not daring to move any further as the teenage girl descended into dark giggles, rolling onto the floor laughing, eventually moving off screen in her delirious state. "Oh! Oh, I'm sorry, you're serious, aren't you! See, Yamada-san, I thought you were telling a joke! You know why?"
Yamada didn't move, his face a stark white pallor.
"You know why?" Nemo roared, her voice dark and dangerous beyond anything they'd heard before. The entire Ashford audience jumping out of their seats at the raw, demonic sound which emitted from the girl's throat. Yamada was shaking now, obviously scared beyond reason. "Tell them WHY!"
Yamada's scream was frighteningly loud as the video camera was picked up and spun about, now being handheld, to show Nemo's, once again smiling, face. "Well," Nemo began, then paused when she realized her voice was being drowned out by her captive's cries.
There was a sickening crack offscreen.
Then screaming had gone silent.
"Well," Nemo licked her lips idly. "Not quite the answer I had in mind, but acceptable, I suppose. The truth is…I'm just that much scarier than the Black Knights! Zero's a nice, upstanding, regicidal type of guy, but he doesn't go too far enough! Not too far enough, indeed! You see, when you're dealing with the kind of people who do this-"
Someone, probably more than one person, screamed in the Ashford Clubhouse, horror clear in their ringing cry.
Nemo had shifted the camera a full one-eighty, glancing with merciful quickness by the lifeless body and bleeding noble, and onto the back end of the warehouse. There was a near sea of hanging meat hooks, many with human bodies of varying ages and genders hooked on them. Most had been partially dissected, leaving gaping voids where internal organs had once been. Dead eyes stared vacantly towards the running camera. Lelouch, Kallen, Alice, and Suzaku, all more accustomed to violence than the average person, immediately noticed not only the hanging bodies, but also the mangled and broken corpses littering the ground, all of which bore the customary cheap gray jumpsuit of a warehouse worker, many of which carried firearms with them.
Nunnally's fingers clenched until they were white-knuckled. Only one thought, that of the countless dead and dismembered corpses hanging in that warehouse, allowed her to keep from breaking down in hysterics. Nemo's mantra rang out loud in her mind as she focused on her friends reactions.
They deserved it. They deserved it. They deserved it. They deserved…
"-When you're dealing with people who doe this," Nemo repeated, lingering on the view for another heartbeat before flashing back to her face. "You have to be a little more…brutal with the people responsible. This brings me to the reason why I'm bothering to make this little introduction video for all of you nice, decent, people."
Nemo face lost it's good humor again, her bloody red eyes staring with deadly gravity into the camera. "This is my declaration of war. I'm going to hunt down and brutally murder anyone who preys on the weak. Do not kill. Do not rape. Do not steal. These are laws which any man, any woman, from any faith or creed can respect. This is not a threat. This is not a promise. This is a statement of fact. I am speaking to every lowlife scumbag in the world…you're on my list. I'm coming for you. Which reminds me…Lord Tarquin?"
The camera dropped, swinging as Nemo apparently lost interest in keeping it level as she walked over to Tarquin. The man seemed to come back to himself at the mention of his name, only to cry out at the sight of the dead body of his former partner. Nemo's voice began picking up, cheerful laughter transitioning to darker and darker shades as Tarquin's voice picked up as well…
Then the screaming began…
Nemo's ringing laughter was only cut off by the sudden darkness of the screen, though not before a splash of red liquid washed over the screen. Even when the news reporter came back on, it was a safe bet that none of the stunned Ashford students would be able to remember what she'd said. Finally, Rivalz managed to shake off his fright enough to grab the remote and cut the TV off.
The sudden silence of the Clubroom was loud in everyone's ears.
Well, that…and the sound of pizza being chewed.
All eyes, as one, turned towards the noise which had shattered the tableau of silence. When their gazes completed their transit, one green-haired girl in an Ashford Academy uniform relishing a piece of pizza, blinked in surprise.
"Uhh…" Favoring the notion to bleach everything she'd just seen from her mind, Shirley decided to ask the question…if only because it was on everyone's mind. "Who are you?"
"Catherine Cera," CC answered absently. "Lelouch's cousin."
Alice, though, stared.
Uh...Anyway, yes! New chapter...stuff happened. I ran the gambit between suspicion to manipulation, to heartwarming...between Euphie and Alice...I'm still not sure where that came from. Hmm...Oh!
Someone (or a lot of someones) have asked 'what the F#*&'s up with the time-skip thing' aka 'how'd they get out of Umbrella,' which I kinda' addressed in the first part of this chapter. I thought it was kind of obvious, but...in explication, does anyone really want to read a story where the supercomputer is helping the heroes get out of the facility? Honestly, it's horribly easy after you have something that's in charge of the doors, electronic locks, and surveillance equipment! Here's what that would have been like:
Lelouch: (Standing in front of two doors, A and B) Angela, what's behind door A?
Angela: (Electronic voice) Monsters.
Lelouch: Door B?
Angela: (Electronic voice) No monsters.
...rinse and repeat...
And that's what the last chapter would have been. I think everyone, including me, was happier with how it turned out. Anyway, the SC (student council) finally got some screen time, Euphie's met Lulu...and Nemo's made her 'debut'...hmm. This chapter was a little 'Nemo-heavy,' but next chapter get's back to Lelouch...after a little detour around Euphie and Alice. So...Happy New Year, a belated Merry Christmas, and I hope everyone who actually wants to see me put out a new story takes a look at the poll I've got going on...
Happy Holidays and I hope everyone has a good new semester!
Oh! And Review, Plz! Pretty Plz!
-Slayer Anderson Out!