And I'm back again! I know you all hate how long it takes me to get these chapters done, but what can I say? Life comes first.
I don't really have a lot going on in my life worth mentioning, but I hope you all enjoy this latest chapter! It was really challenging for me to write, as instead of a straight forward action sequence, I had to put a strategy or purpose behind every action, and redo several scenes. If there was anything about what was going on that you all find iffy, please, let me know! This was a most challenging but fun chapter to write. I look forward to bringing you more like this and to improve with time.
Also, thanks to everyone who pointed out that I did not give Anya's correct age. Once this is up, that will be fixed. I'll try harder in the future not to make such errors.
So, let's get this show going!
"Impossible." Guilford said in disbelief as he stared at the masked stranger in front of him. "You're not Zero! Zero would never show up in such a state!"
There was a long pause before "Zero" responded to save face, and extended his hand. "Apologies, Sir Guilford. With the secret manhunt going on for me, I haven't had easy access to my choice of clothes. But I promise you, I am the real Zero!" he proclaimed, flapping his tattered cloak. The audience gasped in shock at his defiance, some believing he just might be the real thing. That, or a man with a strange death wish showed up.
Guilford, however, was still not convinced. "How do I know you are the same man who led the Black Rebellion?! The same man who stood against the Emperor's will!? The same man who murdered Her Highness Euphemia!?" That last part seemed to have a tone of personal rage
After a moment, "Zero" replied "You don't. But nonetheless, I am here to accept your challenge. So, will the duel commence? Or will you take the chance that I'm not who claim to be, and risk dishonor for backing out on a duel?" The crowd watched in awe as this raggedy stranger stood up to the knight. That convinced many right there that he was Zero.
"So far, so good." CC spoke into Lelouch's communicator. "Try to use your arms more; Zero has always used them to express his ideals and desires."
"I'll try to remember that." Lelouch thought grimly. He couldn't describe it, but as nervous and scared out of his mind as he was at this present moment, as well as convinced that he had gone insane, this felt…natural, to him. It was almost like riding a bike after a long time.
He observed Guilford deliberating fighting this man. It seemed his advisors and followers were hesitant to allow him to duel, as they were certain this was not the man their lord challenged and worried he would lose his life in an unnecessary fight, but Guilford's fear of losing his honor held them back from ordering his troops to fire upon him. Finally, he called them off. "Very well." He declared. "Though I am still skeptical of who you claim to be, just to prove to you I am a man of my word, we will commence the duel. I hope you are up to the task."
Suzaku and Gino, along with the other Knights of the Round, watched the event unfold on live television in the lodge. The only one who seemed to show little interest was Anya, still typing away on her cell.
"Hehe." Luciano Bradley, the Knight of Ten, snickered at the sight. "Let's see what this mystery man is. He might justify deploying all of us to Area 11. Things have been so boring in the European Union; I think terrorists in Japan will do the trick and provide us with some decent entertainment."
Ignoring the homicidal warrior, Gino asked Suzaku "So, what do you think, Suzaku? Is he the same guy you fought in Area 11?"
Suzaku stared long and hard for a moment before answering Gino's answer. "I don't know. I'm sure anyone could imitate Zero at a glance. But, if it is him…I'm afraid Sir Guilford doesn't stand a chance."
"I thought Zero was not a particularly spectacular combatant?" The Knight of Twelve, a young blonde woman named Monica Kruznweski asked.
"He wasn't." Suzaku replied. "But that's not what concerns me. Zero was never one to play fair. Once you felt you were about to catch him fair and square, you have already fallen into his trap. During the Black Rebellion, he promised me a fight between the two of us; he lured me into a trap of Gefjun Disturbers that drained my Lancelot of power."
"Well, nothing we can do for the poor guy now." Gino sighed. "We'll just have to wait and hope for the best."
"I'm hoping for what would be the worst…well, from your points of view anyway." Luciano replied, letting a slight laugh escape him. Obviously, Luciano wasn't the most popular of the Knights of the Round, but no one could deny his skill in the battlefield. The others only wished that he shared their honor and sanity as well.
Everyone watched on, all except one curious to see if this was really Zero. "His Majesty wiped his mind…" Bismark Waldstein, the Knight of One and the Emperor's personal guard, observed. "…yet in the end, he seeks to retain his alter ego. This should be interesting."
The knights waited eagerly to observe the outcome.
"See!? See!? I told you, Zero would come to save us!" Tamaki exclaimed in joy, convinced his hero had returned.
The other Black Knights did their best to suppress the urge to groan at Tamaki's sheer stupidity. If Zero did come back, they doubted that he would do so like this. After a whole year of opportunity to rescue them, and now he would show up? And after abandoning them, why would he risk his life to save them? Then again, to go against a Britannian Knight and commandeer a stolen Knightmare? Only Zero, or one like him, would dare do such a thing. But even if this was Zero…well, just as their hopes went up, they came crashing down. Unless he had been training in Knightmare combat, the only difference his appearance made was an extra minute of life.
However, one amongst them knew the truth. "That idiot!" Kallen screamed in her mind. "He's going to get himself killed! Lelouch, why didn't you just stay away!?" Kallen wanted to call out to him, but if someone heard her yell his name, he would be arrested on the spot. Then, who knows? The best case scenario was that he would rot in jail for the rest of his life.
"Kallen." Ohgi said next to her. "Do you think it's really him?"
Kallen was unsure of how to answer at first. Then, she told him the best possible answer without lying. "I wouldn't get my hopes up, Ohgi. For all we know, some poor soul has lost his mind and assumed the identity of Zero. But…"
Kallen looked at the guards; none of them were paying attention to them. They were all focused on the duel that was about to take place. She was good enough to pull an arm or two out of her strait jacket…but the straps were still an issue. Then, she heard a faint sound behind her. A knife was quietly embedded in her post, next to her head. Looking behind her as best she could, she saw some soldier walk away. "Him! But…" Then, it just occurred to her: Lelouch had been using his Geass! She didn't know the details of his plan, but if she was going to free herself, now was the time. "Ohgi…I'm about to try something very foolish." She warned her friend. "If I'm caught, I just might endanger everyone else here."
Ohgi, getting the gist of it, gave his approval. "Hey. We've got nothing else to lose, especially if that isn't Zero. Go for it."
With that, Kallen began to press her shoulder against the confines of her strait jacket…
"We shall each select one weapon!" Guilford announced in his Gloucester. "The rules are simple: the one who survives, or is still standing, wins! None shall interfere, and neither of us is to leave the arena if the duel is to remain valid!"
"I agree to these terms." Zero answered affirmatively from inside the Sutherland.
Guilford's Glaucoster raised a lance, twirled it and pointed it at his opponent. Zero wheeled his knightmare to the side, and upon observing the soldiers who were offering weapons, chose a sub-machine gun.
Upon observing his choice of weapon, Guilford decided it would be fair to give him a warning. "I hope you're a good shot, Zero…because it will take more than one bullet to kill me! And should you consistently lose your mark…"
"Worry about yourself." Zero told him. "I am most confident in the outcome of this duel."
"It is your funeral, Zero…I will make sure of it." Guilford replied, emphasizing the venom in his voice, gripping the controls tightly in anticipation of skewering the one in front of him.
"Before we begin, I would like to ask you a question." Zero suddenly proclaimed.
"I grow tired of idle chatter; speak quickly." Guilford replied curtly. "I can't guarantee that I won't impale you here and now." The Gloucester made a threatening practice thrust to him.
"A knight must always obey his master. But all masters, as you know, are only human. Should the master order the knight to aid him in an appalling crime, does the knight blindly follow orders and stain his hands, or does he turn on his master and risk dishonor?" From the sound of it, he didn't expect the knight to answer the riddle.
Guilford did not respond, his knightmare remaining in place. "A Knight's position is by definition honor, and once we achieve such status, it is not our place to question our master! We are, by definition, an extension of our masters! Those who have regrets should never aspire to knighthood!" Then, without warning, Guilford charged.
Zero pushed back in reverse to avoid catastrophe, but the lance still put a wide scratch in his hull. "Damn it!" Lelouch thought as he pivoted wildly to avoid any fatal thrusts. "I've piloted knightmares before, but I don't know a thing about combat application!"
"Remember, your goal is the Black Knights. The duel is simply a distraction." CC reminded him.
"This isn't really helping me right now!" Lelouch shouted as he avoided another blow that nearly severed his Knightmare's arm. "I thought you were-"
"I haven't forgotten my role; just make sure you fulfill yours." CC replied seemingly unconcerned about the teen's current debacle.
Lelouch unsuccessfully went on the offensive, firing a couple of rounds. Guilford, experienced fighting combatants with firearms, dodged easily. The Glaucoster backhanded the Sutherland, sending it to the ground. "Get up!" Guilford, red with fury, ordered. "I'm not finished with you!"
The Sutherland, much like a person stunned with fright, struggled to rise. "By the way." CC told Lelouch over his communicator. "I figured out the answer to your riddle."
"Well, if you want me to hear it, now's the time!" Although truth be told, in this situation, Lelouch didn't really care
"A paradox." CC replied. "No matter what the knight chooses to do, he will suffer dishonor either way. Therefore, when choosing his path, he must accept the consequences of his actions…and make the distinction between a rebel and a puppet."
Lelouch, despite the grim situation sneered. "Heh." "Truth be told, I just thought that on the spot. I've no idea where that came from. But…thanks to you, I know how to initiate phase two!"
Lelouch quickly activated the sub machine gun's laser targeting as the Sutherland finally rose. "Foolish, Zero." Guilford warned him. "Your laser will do nothing to improve your aim; all it will do is to is allow me to see the path of your bullets with clarity!"
Zero only laughed in response. "Good; I was hoping that would be the case!"
The laser aimed for its target…and it wasn't Guilford. Like all public displays, the area was segregated between the Britannians and the Elevens. And the laser was aiming straight for the Britannian audience. Specially plated glass was between them and the arena, but it wouldn't protect them from a direct hit from a knightmare firearm. "No!" Guilford thought in horror. Zero fired as the civilians ducked for cover. However, Guilford's Glaucoster rushed to the scene and intercepted the bullets, the knightmare's leg took heavy damage in protecting the people. "You coward! This was supposed to be a duel between us!" Guilford roared with fury.
"And you were foolish enough to believe that just because you demanded a one on one fight that I would give it to you! Perhaps if you did not try to make this a public event, you wouldn't be risking the lives of your own countrymen!" Lelouch, despite his splendid performance, sweated underneath his mask. "It's a good thing he fell for it. I don't know what I'd do if he saw right through me…or if he didn't make it in time."
While Lelouch did aim the laser at the crowd, he adjusted the gun to fire at a different angle. The bullets would've hit the floor, doing nothing more than give the civilians quite a scare. If anything, by attempting to intercept them, the knight walked right into a trap. "It seems we are on even terms now, Sir Guilford!" Lelouch revved up his knightmare's wheels, and charged into the Glaucoster, knocking Guilford into the ground. The Sutherland aimed its gun at its opponent's cockpit, preparing to shoot to kill.
However, the knight was not out yet; without warning, he used his machine's good leg to kick the gun out of the Sutherland's hands, then kicked Zero back. "Fool! Do not assume that just because I'm down that you'll have an easy kill! And now, I'm going to make you pay!"
Quickly, the knight grabbed his opponent's arm and began to beat the Sutherland's head savagely, like a wild animal. "This is quite un-knight like behavior from you!" Zero tried his best to sound amused, but in truth Guilford's sudden ferocity had nearly given him a heart attack.
"You have given up the right to my chivalry! Now I'll kill you…any way I must!"
Quickly, Lelouch increased energy output into the Sutherland's right arm, which Guilford had grabbed hold of. "This has got to be the dumbest tactic ever…" The energy output caused the Sutherland's arm to explode, as well as half of the Glaucoster's. Guilford, leaning his knightmare forward, suddenly felt himself fall face first. Quickly, Zero threw his knightmare into reverse for a strategic retreat. "Thanks for the tip, CC!" Lelouch spoke into his speaker. "I think it's time for phase two!"
CC, from a knightmare hidden amongst the skyscrapers, answered "Roger that." She then flipped a switch, causing a series of explosions to rock the area.
Kallen heard explosions behind her. She doubted that anyone would have an opportunity to plant explosions in a Britannian controlled area with soldiers. Looking back, her eyes widened in shock. All the soldiers were dead. "What? How?" She then remembered that a couple of soldiers earlier came up earlier, warning them that something big was going to happen. The guards, of course, scoffed at the idea. She didn't make note of it at the time, but each one seemed to pat the posted guards. "They must have been the ones who put explosions in their uniforms! It's the only explanation!" They weren't sympathizers, no way. The only reason they would have betrayed their own comrades…a shudder suddenly traveled down her body. "So…this is the power of Geass?" She had a lot of questions for Lelouch…if he survived his duel…but that would have to wait. "Now or never, Kallen!" Quickly, holding back a moan of pain, Kallen dislocated her shoulder. As the jacket slackened, she willed her muscles to pull it back in as quickly as possible. Once she could mover her arm again, she took hold of the knife on her post. Pulling it out, she slashed down at her restraints.
Falling free from her crucifix and tying the jacket around her body best she could, she observed her surroundings quickly. A cloud of dust from the explosion surrounded her and the other prisoners, and any other soldiers coming nearby focused their attention on their comrades. At least they seemed to have some humanity. Running over to Ohgi, she immediately cut him loose. "Hurry Ohgi! This chaos won't buy us much time! Cut down as many as you can, and get out of here!" Seeing that someone had left a knife on his post, Kallen passed it to him before he left to help her free the others.
"It's him! It's Zero!" Tamaki shouted as Ohgi sawed away at his restraints.
"Maybe!" Ohgi replied. "But he won't be much good to us if we're all dead! Now hold still!"
Lelouch made a dive for Guilford's lance before the knight could retrieve it. While Guilford had better reflexes, his machine refused to cooperate and Zero claimed it well before he could get within feet of it. "Go ahead!" Guilford shouted without fear. "I dare you to strike me down!"
"Fear not, my good sir." Zero said sarcastically. "I wouldn't be foolish enough to attempt to strike you down with your own weapon. It is better to neutralize you than to be countered. That would make a hero of the people seem rather foolish."
"He sees right through me." Guilford surmised. "No matter. As brilliant as he may be, he is no warrior. Here, that's all the advantage I need!" Guilford managed to force his Gloucester to rise, and rapidly spun its one wheel. Though he managed to get an impressive charge, Zero retreated backwards, and immediately out of the arena. "Finally!" Guilford thought. "Now that he shows no respect for the explicit terms of the duel, I no longer have to hold up my own end of the bargain!"
While Guilford was disappointed he could not exact revenge the way he planned, this was the most practical solution he could see. "So, you show your true colors at last! It seems you value your life more than those of your comrades! If you feel your life is not worth risking for them, I'll let you have it your way!" Switching the communication lines, he ordered his soldiers "Troops! Execute the prisoners!" He got no response. He pressed the button and repeated the command, but he heard nothing from his rifle men.
"I have decided to remove my soldiers from the bet." Zero said. "After all, it was rather unfair for me to risk my men when you would not risk yours."
"No!" Guilford screamed in fury. Turning his knightmare around, he saw that the Black Knights had indeed vanished out of sight. "How can this be!? There's nowhere for them to run!"
Lelouch prepared for phase 3, deciding that now was the best time when Guilford was distracted. "Zero." CC called to him. "I have detected a gold knightmare approaching. I believe it's-"
The next thing he knew, Zero was face to face with the Vincent. Just when it looked like that it was about to decapitate his knightmare, a shot fired at it in the distance. The Vincent immediately retreated. "Before you complain, I fired quite a few rounds at it already. Then I had to reload. That's why it got so close to you." CC told him.
"Never mind that, I get it." The way this knightmare frame moved could mean only one thing: Rolo.
"How do you want to proceed, Zero?"
"As planned. Although, it seems some modifications will be necessary…"
"You know that's not what I meant." CC reprimanded him.
Lelouch cringed; what she was really asking if he could fight his own brother. As Lelouch's grip on the controls tightened, he gave his reply. "Who he is to me is irrelevant at this moment. He tried to kill me with no coercion or provocation, and now he is once more trying to do the same. Until I find out the truth of all this for myself, I will do what I must to survive."
"That will suffice for today." CC replied. She continued to fire shots at Rolo, who retaliated with another sub-machine gun. Since his Geass wouldn't affect her, he didn't bother activating it. "While he can't affect me, the first chance he gets, he'll freeze you in place and come after you. And he's getting better at predicting my shots."
"Do the best you can, C2. I'll manage." Lelouch suppressed a large gulp. "I hope." He had to admit, even without Rolo messing things up, this part of the operation would be hard. "I guess Zero has no choice but to perform another miracle. I just hope whatever I have to offer will suffice."
Kallen did a quick roll call before looking toward the Chinese embassy's wall to observe what was happening. "Lelouch, I don't know how you did it…or, should I say Zero?" As soon as everyone was freed, the embassy's doors were opened. The guard, a young man with long hair and a jian, motioned for them to come inside, while they were still under the cover of the smoke. The doors quickly closed as soon as everyone was in, and none of the Britannians bothered to look, given the chaos. Hopefully, none would suspect they were inside. Looking towards the guard that allowed them in, as he observed all the rescued Japanese, she said "Thank you, um…"
"Xingke. Li Xingke" The guard replied, clearly not interested in any pleasantries. Kallen could tell he didn't want to let them in, rather he was ordered to.
"Xingke." She said, addressing him formally. "Thank you for getting us to safety and shelter. But, why? What does China have to gain by helping the Black Knights?"
Xingke seemed to inspect her, to see if she was hiding anything. "It seems you do not know, unaware of what Zero has planned with the High Eunuchs. Interesting; it seems the great Zero doesn't trust anyone, even his own soldiers, with his plans."
Kallen put on her best neutral face, but truth be told those words did sting her deeply. "Zero-sama puts many plans into motion. Most of which he hopes to never use. I believe counting on you was one of them." Kallen took a moment to make her next sentence clear and certain as possible. "Besides, sometimes it's best the soldiers don't know their general's plans. We've already had to deal with one traitor; I'd say it's a good thing none of us were aware of this arrangement, as who knows what could have happened to us otherwise."
"I do not know whether to be honored or offended by such an explanation." Xingke replied quickly. "Either way, my orders are clear. You and your rebellion may take shelter here and we shall deny your presence if questioned. Britannia does not have the manpower to rage all-out war against china…not without casualties anyway. They won't attack us here." Before he let Kallen go, he turned back and warned her "However, don't get too comfortable, for you all may be safe from Britannia, but not from me. Especially Zero himself. If I find any reason to believe he'll throw us away like pawns…or turn against us…his next order will be his last."
As Xingke walked away, she thought "Well, at least we may have a strong ally if we stay on our toes and trend carefully." Her attention then turned to the outside, where the battle was being raged. Judging by the gunfire and sound of steel being scrapped, it was fierce "Lelouch…" Even if he survived this battle, will he be able to survive the remnants of Zero?
"Hey, Kallen!" she heard Tamaki call. "Check this out!"
Kallen came towards a balcony allowing one to peer over the high walls where many of the other knights have gathered. None stood normally, they all simply peeked over the edge. Upon budging her way to the front row, Kallen saw Lelouch's Sutherland engaged with Gilford's Gloucester. It was clear that Lelouch was on the run, but she saw Gilford's knightmare in much worse shape. And either Guilford broke his code of honor, or Lelouch broke some rules, as the gold knightmare that attacked them at the casino also stalked him. Thankfully, an unseen ally…perhaps C2?...kept the Vincent off his back "Thank kami. He's surviving, at least." But she knew this could not last. Not unless he pulled a miracle like only Zero could.
"It seems he really has returned." Todoh said, his voice neutral.
Tamaki, still on a Zero high, took Todoh's statement the wrong way. "Yeah! Didn't I tell you all? That Zero would come back for us!? Now, things can go back to the way things were!"
"No." Todoh next to him replied as he continued to remain as neutral as possible.
Tamaki, furious some weren't joining him in the celebration, yelled "Have you gone blind, Todoh!? Zero is back…"
"…after leaving us in the cold to hang." He hissed.
"What the hell!? I thought you were on my side!" Tamaki protested.
"At the time, I found no use in arguing, as I believed escape was impossible. And even if Zero is responsible for this miracle, that does not excuse him of abandoning us during our most crucial battle and leaving us to rot in prison!" Todoh nearly yelled.
Everyone who was once cheering for "Zero" stopped cold at his declaration. After all, while abandonment might have been a strong word, no one could argue that he was wrong. Tamaki, desperately trying to hold on to hope said "B…But…it's cool now, right? I mean, look at him! He came back!" Todoh only gave Tamaki a death glare. "I mean, we do owe him…right?" he asked, nervously.
"Perhaps." Todoh conceded. "But that does not mean we will line up like his little soldiers again. If he survives, we'll hear him out. But I'll be honest, major…the chances of us teaming up again, let alone following him, are extremely slim."
"But what will we do without him!?" Tamaki yelled, frustrated at what Todoh proposed. Tamaki lived life as a lone rebel before, and he remembered what it was like to only piss off the Britannians, failing to do anything to damage them in the long term.
"If we have to make it on our own, so be it. At least I wouldn't abandon my army in the heat of battle." Todoh replied, steadfast in his position.
Kallen, overhearing their conversation, looked away. She wanted to stand up and defend Zero…but right now, that was Lelouch out there fighting. He and Zero were now two different people…and Lelouch shouldn't have to answer for Zero's sins.
"And you, Kozuki?" Todoh suddenly asked her. "What's your opinion on the matter?"
Kallen stuttered for a second. "I…I don't know what to think. I'm just as confused as all of you are."
"You went after Zero when he departed; surely, you must have found some reason for him to leave, however petty it may be." Todoh pressed on.
Kallen knew she couldn't tell him Zero's true identity; in fact, doing so would damn him even more than he already was. "I traced Zero to Kamine Island…but by that time, he was already gone, and C2 was separated from him as well. By the time I found her, she wouldn't tell me what happened, only assured me it was of the utmost importance. I'm sorry, I don't have an answer. I'm not sure to trust Zero either…but C2 is our ally. I can assure you that much, at least. If she insists Zero had his reasons…I know she's not lying."
Kallen looked back to the battlefield where Lelouch was. It worried her that Lelouch was out there without her to help. But what worried her more was the unlikely event that he would win, and confront the Black Knights. Somehow, she had to protect him inside here, and hope for the best out there. "Lelouch…Live!"
"C2! Hit the gold knightmare best you can! I need him to be delayed before I initiate the final stage."
"Roger." CC said as she took aim once more. Despite the circumstances, CC had to smile at having to use the knightmare again; she was quite liking this model. It was very much like one of the Glaston Knight's Gloucesters, except colored red, but judging by the armaments, was designed for heavy artillery as opposed to close combat. The Joan, she believed it was called. It was clearly still a prototype; it had a few bugs to work out, but for now it was doing its job. However, CC knew that just firing a shot would do her no good; Rolo had proved to very efficient at dodging. Worse, she was running low on ammo. Her next shot had to count. "Let's see if we can calm him down a bit…" CC then took up the Joan's rocket launcher. Overkill for precision type jobs, but for a surprise, it would do. "This should take care of that!"
"CC!" Lelouch yelled impatiently as he continued to retreat from the two knightmares. It would have been funny to watch if his life wasn't on the line. "Golden Knightmare! Now!"
"I'm getting on it!" CC replied. "Perhaps I should make you wait and teach you some manners?" The silence on the other end informed her Lelouch got the message.
CC waited for Rolo to activate his Geass. As Guilford and Lelouch's knightmares slowed considerably, she knew this was her moment. "This is going to be tricky…this wasn't designed to fire two weapons at once…and the targeting system on this bazooka isn't very good…" Still, CC had enough combat experience to improvise. Before Rolo could close the distance, she fired her rocket launcher near him to his left. The Vincent leapt to its right before the projectile could hit, right into CC's sights. "Bingo." Pulling the trigger, she smirked. The Vincent could not dodge the object in midair, and got its knee clipped. Falling onto one knee, it tried to rise, but it was having difficulty doing so. Though it managed to stand, over exertion would tear its gears if it kept pushing itself.
"Zero, if you can hear me, the Vincent has been crippled. Be on guard though, it can still move when pushed enough. Continue with the plan."
"I read you." Lelouch replied.
C2, disguised as Madam Cheshire, lead soldiers into the hangar. "I don't mean to be rude, my lady…but why do you need all of us?"
"Your task is of the utmost importance in determining the new prototype's capabilities; rest assured, Sir Guilford will be fine. In fact, what I'm asking you all to do is not that different from your assigned duties. The most important thing is that you watch the duel best you can."
"Yes, we'll get the Joan ready, but we still don't…" All soldiers stopped when what looked to be some homeless bum squatting in the middle of their base. It also seemed many of the workers inside chose to ignore him. "What the-!? Who the hell let this trash inside!? Throw him out, now!" one of them shouted.
Two soldiers rushed to grab him by the arms and hoist him away. However, by the time they forced him to stand, two other soldiers came from behind and restrained them. "What the hell do you two think you are doing!?" The other soldiers aimed their guns, although it was unlikely they would fire. This was after all, an act of insubordination, not treason. "You better have a damn good excuse for this behavior, because I sure as hell can't think of any!" the one in charge shouted.
Suddenly, the stranger spoke. "Look into my eyes, and you will see." The stranger pulled the hood back, revealing Lelouch, and his geass eye uncovered. Before the soldiers could react, he said "You have a new set of orders to follow!"
The soldiers' eyes glowed, and they relaxed their weapons, putting them back into place and stood at attention. "How may we be of service?"
Lelouch took a moment to take it all in. The power to control the very will of people…the power was so intoxicating and terrifying.
"Lelouch." CC hissed. "The orders." She reminded him.
"R-right." Lelouch quickly composed himself. "Take close note of the damage my knightmare will take during the battle with Guilford. When I say 'Broken Mirrors', you will all create a smokescreen and inflict similar damage to each other's knightmares. Make sure you don't destroy one another completely when you do so. Everyone will then line up in two single file lines. When in line, you will not react to anything, even when attacked. Whenever I say 'Mix', you will rearrange yourselves into two lines accordingly. No matter what, you are to remain in position unless told otherwise. When the battle is finally over, you will forget any of this happened. Is that understood?"
"Aye, my lord!" They all answered simultaneously, saluting.
"Good. Get into position, and wait for my commands. Oh, and get me a Sutherland. I'll join you all soon." The soldiers marched off. Lelouch then came up to the two soldiers he forced to help him earlier. "You. When you go topside, put a knife on the post of the red-haired Black Knight. Make sure no one sees you. And you, put these explosives in the vests of the guards. Do it discretely."
"Aye, my lord!" the shouted in unison as they went about their task.
"Excellent." CC told him. "It seems you are getting more accustomed to the Geass…"
"What other choice do I have?" Lelouch replied. "More importantly, are you sure you will be alright?"
"Please." CC replied, tired of Lelouch worrying about her. "If this would get me killed when there is still so much we need to fulfill together, I wouldn't have suggested it." Lelouch couldn't help but notice a pained look on her face, but quickly dismissed it.
Lelouch sighed seemingly in defeat. "Okay."
"Then it's all set." CC said approvingly.
"CC." Lelouch suddenly said. "Good luck."
CC smiled at him, amused. "If anyone needs luck right now…it's you."
"Time to begin." Lelouch said to himself, mustering what little courage he had. Switching to the radio channel to the other Sutherland units, Lelouch yelled "Attention units! Broken Mirrors!"
Suddenly, the surrounding Sutherlands activated their smoke screen. "What!?" Gilford yelled. "What is the meaning of this!? Soldiers, you will cease this at once!" He repeated the command, but none responded.
Rolo figured Lelouch was up to something, he just didn't know what. "Whatever you are planning, Zero, it will not work! I'll freeze you in place before you escape!" Just when he was about to activate his geass, another explosion from the unknown assailant rocked his machine and forced him to retreat. "Damn it!"
Finally, the smoke began to dissipate. Gilford then switched his communicator to a different channel. "I swear, I'll flog them for this…" he thought, thinking about why his men would interfere in his battle. Come to think of it, up until now they were just standing by; Zero infuriated him so much he didn't notice. Finally, he got in contact with surveillance. "Has any knightmare left the area?"
"No sir. All knightmares observed are still here." came the technician's reply.
When the smoke finally cleared, his eyes widened in shock. All Sutherlands present at the time lined up in two parallel lines, each having inflicted damage on one another. "My own men are helping him!?" Guilford thought. "Somehow Zero has forced them to become his camouflage! But how!?" Not bothering to ponder the answer, he addressed his soldiers. "Men, stand down! This is between me and Zero!" He received no response. "This is your superior, Sir G.P. Guilford, and I AM ORDERING YOU TO STAND DOWN, OR FACE SEVERE CONSEQUENCES!" Still, not a knightmare budged. The simple thing for Guilford to do would be to cut them all down, but no matter their behavior, he could never do that to his own men without hearing them out. "Blast!" he growled, slamming his controls.
He then noticed the gold knightmare. Due to his fury earlier, at first he brushed the mysterious pilot off. But, since the terms of the duel were broken, he supposed in this situation some help would be useful. Opening a channel to him, he said "You there. Have you seen where Zero's hiding?"
"I'm just as much in the dark as you are." A man's voice on the other end came. "I suggest you stand down, Sir Guilford. I was especially assigned to kill Zero."
"And this is my fight." Guilford responded. "It may no longer be the duel I was promised, but I will finish this with my own hands!"
The gold Vincent said nothing at first. Then, its reply came. "Very well. Go and get Zero…if you can catch him before me!"
Rolo switched off the communication link. "I could only imagine how he would react if he knew I was only 16. This voice scrambler sure came in handy."
The two knightmares quietly inspected the motionless Sutherlands, looking for a sign of damage that occurred only on Zero's knightmare. However, except for the missing arm, none paid attention to the minor damage Zero's Sutherland suffered at the time. "Where is he!?" Guilford thought. Suddenly, one of the Sutherlands attacked with its slash harken. Guilford narrowly avoided a crippling blow, the hook grazing the knightmare's shoulder. He attacked with his lance, while Zero only had a small combat knife to defend himself with.
Rolo prepared to activate his Geass, but Lelouch suddenly shouted "Mix!"
The Sutherlands moved simultaneously, circling around the two before taking different places back in line. "Shit! Now he's changed places!" Guilford thought. "I've got to single him out somehow. But as soon as he senses he is in danger, he'll do the same thing! What do I do!?"
Guilford momentarily forgot about that when he saw the Vincent raise its sword against a Sutherland. "Stop! What do you think you're doing!?" Guilford ran over to intercept Rolo's sword, blocking with his lance. "That could be one of my men!" he shouted.
"Doesn't matter." The Vincent's pilot said. "My mission is to kill Zero, and anyone who gets in my way is my enemy." Guilford prepared to defend his soldiers, knowing the risk leaving himself open to Zero would pose. "I'll end this quickly." Rolo prepared to activate his geass, but he suddenly felt his knightmare's leg give out.
The Vincent tumbled to the ground, and upon landing, all he could see from his one working camera was the concrete floor. "NOO!"
Zero's Sutherland stood above it, the machine itself feeling a moment of triumph. "No matter how weak you may perceive your opponent, never let your guard down." Truthfully, Lelouch felt like he was making up his stuff as he went along, but there had to be some truth to what he said, right? "Mix!"
The Sutherlands once again circled Guilford and switched places in line, too fast for his eyes to track. When the other knightmares stood in place, Guilford said "I'll be with you in a minute Zero! First, allow me to dispatch this cur!" As Guilford raised his lance over the fallen knightmare, the Vincent's cockpit ejected, leaving Rolo safe. "Never mind." Guilford sighed. "I'll investigate that's pilot's identities later. For now, back to business." He returned to his main objective observing the Sutherlands.
Guilford sighed in disappointment as he tried to differentiate his enemy's knightmare. "Still no damage on these machines that I can isolate as Zero's. If only there was some way…" Guilford's eyes then drifted back to the broken Vincent on the ground. The leg was missing some paint where Zero kicked it. "That's it!" Guilford quickly scanned their feet, and found the one with remnants of gold paint. He rushed up in front if, and with his good arm, and pierced the cockpit just enough to dislodge it. "I have you now!" Pulling the door from the cockpit, he was met with disappointment as he was staring at one of his own soldiers. "He used this soldier's radio to broadcast his voice! He tricked me again!" "Coward! You use my men to fight your battles!" Aside from the rage he felt of his men being used as puppets, the blank stare the soldier had unnerved him as well. "What did he do to you all?"
Lelouch, watching directly across from where Guilford was looking, gripped the controls tightly. "Well done." CC told him on the communicator. "I was impressed you thought to use one of the soldiers to take out the gold knightmare."
"We can celebrate that later." Lelouch said tensely. "Now that everyone else has been neutralized, it's time to begin the final phase."
"Yes. With everything going so smoothly, what are you worried about?"
"Can you pull it off? A second too late, and I'm history!"
"Relax, it will be fine. I'll be coming down. I'm already dressed."
Lelouch took a deep breath. "This is it…" he thought. "…if I pull this off, nothing will ever be the same again. If I don't…well…" Lelouch couldn't put it into words. It would be game over, simple as that. "No turning back now…"
Quickly, he ordered "Broken Mirrors and Mix!" The Sutherlands circled Guilford once more, leaving smoke trails in their wake.
"I've had it with these games!" Guilford decided the best thing to do would be to neutralize all knightmares the best he could without killing anyone; at least not until he narrowed down Zero. Focusing on the faint silhouettes of the Sutherlands, he fired his slash harkens, decapitating one Sutherland after another, essentially crippling them without dealing a fatal blow. Despite this, he could see the knightmares' shadows continue to move in perfect precision. "To do that…they would have to open their cockpits!" Guilford smiled in anticipation as he waited patiently for the smoke to clear; once it did, he could narrow Zero down to a couple of knightmares. Maybe spot Zero himself, even.
When everything was clear, Guilford realized that only two Sutherlands had their heads remaining. Quickly scanning the lines, Guilford could clearly see his men in the cockpits. "That leaves only two choices…how do I narrow it down?" Gilford then decided the simplest way was to charge; none of his soldiers seemed to react to anything but Zero's commands. Only Zero would retreat when faced with danger. Quickly, Guilford charged his knightmare at an angle that would hit both knightmares if one didn't get out of the way. As he predicted, at the last second, retreated back towards the ring. "There's no escape!" For good measure, Guilford stabbed the leg of the one still standing, and pursued the other.
However, his Gloucester had taken too much damage. After running for so long on one leg, the strain of bearing all of the knightmare's weight began to take its toll; it looked like it was about to crash any minute. "No! I will not be defeated! Not…" He typed in the command to disengage the main body from the legs. "…like…THIS!" The upper torso of the Gloucester flew just as the leg fell apart. Firing his slash harken, Guilford crippled Zero's Knightmare, and impaled it from the back with his lance and slashed down. "Yes!"
Before Guilford got too carried away, he opened his cockpit and stumbled out of his knightmare. Today had been harder than he anticipated; he had to be positive he had vanquished Zero. Observing Zero's ruined Sutherland, he grimaced. It clearly did not explode, so chances are he was still alive. Pulling out a communicator, he called one of the technicians below. "Get as many men who we can trust up here now!"
"Right away, my lord!"
Soon, a small battalion armed with machine guns and explosives arrived. "Blow this door open! I need to confirm he's dead!" Guilford ordered. A plastic explosive was attached to the back of the Sutherland's cockpit, and blown open. The soldiers stood by, their guns at the ready.
Soon, a seemingly battered Zero came out, and collapsed from his knightmare, landing right in front of Guilford's feet. Drawing his pistol, he said "How fitting to see you at my feet. Before I dispatch you, do you have any last words for your people?" Zero only looked up at him and said nothing. "As you wish." Guilford pulled the trigger, and emptied his clip into Zero's head. The entire area went silent upon his apparent death. "It's done." Guilford whispered. "Princess, I only wish you could see this."
With that, Guilford signaled for his men to collect the body. "Bring him to the morgue, and see if we can i.d. him. Then throw it in a furnace for all I care."
"Yes, my lord!" his soldiers shouted.
Quickly, they lifted the body and got it away from the public's view; it would be unwise to unmask him and risk the slim, but real possibility of a scandal. It was best to identify him in private and have the royal family determine if releasing his identity will be acceptable. "My lord." Another of his soldiers got his attention, handing him a megaphone.
"Go check on the men in the knightmares; I have a few questions for them." He told him.
The soldier ran off, while Guilford addressed the crowd. "Citizens! I profusely apologize for the chaos that has happened today! We have doctors and medics in the base down below, and we will attend to any regretfully injured! Fear not, though, for your harrowing experience was not in vain; you may all rest easy tonight, knowing the one known as Zero is dead! He managed a small victory; freeing the rest of his terrorist scum. But rest assured, they are no longer the force they once were, as their head has been severed. The shadows can only hide them for so long; we will find them…and we will finish the work we have started here today! This, I swear to all of you!" Raising his fist in the air, he closed his speech with his nation's proud slogan: "All Hail Britannia!"
"All Hail Britannia!" the Britannians echoed back, raising their fists and cheering.
The Japanese were distraught however, their one hope for liberation once more gone. None said a word; Zero coming back from the dead only to be killed again had ultimately crushed their spirits.
"Well…" Gino said, staring at the screen in shock. "It's done, I guess." Turning off the TV, he looked at Suzaku. "So, what do you think?"
Suzaku didn't turn to look at him when answering as he looked at the blank picture in deep thought. "I'm not sure."
"Well, Zero…or whoever that guy was…lost, didn't he?"
Suzaku only continued to stare at the screen for a moment before answering. "Something's not right." Gino silently motioned for him to go on. "His tactics, the way he cheated and manipulated the field…that's definitely the work of Zero. Only he could pull seemingly impossible feats like that."
"So, it was Zero that Sir Guilford just killed." Anya interrupted, not sounding too interested but making it clear she was aware of what was going on before she got up from the couch and left.
"No. He showed all the behaviors and tactics of the Zero I knew…he would not allow himself to die that easily." Suzaku growled.
Suzaku's statement only confused Gino more. "Then…it wasn't him?"
Suzaku only sighed as he got up from the couch and exited the lounge. "I don't know."
"It's over." Todoh muttered, still emotionless as ever.
"No! It can't be!" Tamaki cried in disbelief. "Zero would never die like that!"
Todoh sighed. While it looked like it wasn't Zero, the tactics of deception and surprise employed were definitely that of the infamous masked man's. And though he wouldn't show it…he was deeply disappointed by the outcome as well. Finally, he announced to the troops "Then, I suppose he was an imposter. However, no matter who he may have been, we should thank him. Thanks to him, we are alive to fight again, and Japan has hope once more, however difficult the journey may be. His sacrifice…will not be in vain. This I swear."
The Black Knights turned towards the outside and saluted their unknown savior. All except one. Kallen, while nobody was looking, disappeared inside the consulate.
Finding a bathroom, she sat down, and let the tears flow freely. "Why, Lelouch…why? Why did you sacrifice yourself? Why did you have to do something so STUPID!..." Her head fell low. "…something so brave…and now, I have to bury you too." Kallen pulled up her knees and sobbed.
"Yeah! That's how it's done, Guilford! Wooooh!" a random student shouted.
"That idiot should have known better! He should've stayed in hiding with his tail between his legs like he has been this past year!" another joined in.
Most of the student body of alumni shouted various nationalist obscenities, while Milly looked at them in disgust. "Is this really the face of Britannia? The same society that exiled my family from nobility?"
"You seem distressed." Milly turned to see Rivalz behind her, giving her a concerned look. "You're not glad that Zero is defeated?"
Milly turned back to the screen as the media pulled their usual spin with branding Zero as a terrorist. "Zero was a terrorist, there's no denying that." Milly answered. "However, seeing my country quite literally celebrate a man's death sickens me. Even more so, was the fact that my country lured him out into the open to kill him by threatening to execute prisoners. The Black Knights…if not Zero…at least deserved to be heard out. At least they had a reason for their hatred. Their feelings were not misplaced." Milly was careful to speak in a low tone, as to not attract attention to herself. "You don't think I'm being foolish…do you?"
Rivalz nodded no. "Actually, I pretty much feel the same way." he whispered solemnly.
Villetta leaned back against her chair as she breathed deeply. It felt like she did not breathe for the entire duration of the battle she had seen on the TV. And truthfully, she didn't know why she felt so relieved. Either because Zero was killed…or because Ohgi escaped. Reflecting on it immediately brought back the same feeling of apprehension and revulsion earlier. "Perhaps I should go home for today, and sleep it off. I'll just tell the principle I'm ill…"
Villetta got up and opened the door, preparing to leave. However, something occurred to her. "What if…this is all a ploy?" Zero pulled off the impossible before with his Geass; even if he lost most of his memories, judging by his performance today, he could possibly pull it off again. Deciding there was nothing more to be done at this point, she ultimately closed the door and made her way to the principal's office to call a sick day.
Of course, others from across the empire had watched the death of what may have been Britannia's greatest enemy. And there was one young woman who was once close to Milly's circle of friends, but had since moved onto a different path of life.
Nina Einstein, now residing in Dallas in the Britannian homeland, watched the TV in shock. She had wondered if Zero would show up, and it seemed he did, allowing Guilford to deliver the Coup de' Grau. "Miss Euphemia…you've finally been avenged…" she thought with joy.
"I knew you would be watching." An elegant, masculine voice said. "I take it you are pleased with the outcome?"
Nina gasped as she turned in her chair and hastily bowed to her superior. "F-forgive me, your majesty! I-I did not mean to slack off…"
The man raised his hand gently, giving her an understanding smile. "It's alright. You've been doing such an outstanding job, that it's only reasonable to grant you a break every now and then. And even if you hadn't, given today's event, I would have certainly allowed it anyway. After all, given how close you were to my sister, you have every right as much as the rest of the royal family to witness Zero's execution."
Nina bowed slowly, this time in gratitude. "T-Thank you, Lord Schinzel…"
Britannia's 2nd Prince, Schneizel el Britannia, walked over and gave the young girl a slight squeeze on her shoulder. "So, how did it feel?" Schinezel asked, seemingly concerned for his top engineer's well-being.
Nina was about to say it felt relieving, even great…but she stopped herself. "I…I'm still angry." She softly admitted out loud.
"Why is that, my dear?" Schneizel asked, pretending to be puzzled by her response.
Nina clenched her fists, as she struggled to keep herself from crying. "He hid for a year, and now he shows himself. We believed he was dead, and now he has come back to torment me! He probably killed many good Britannian soldiers during his last fight, and who knows how the elevens will act…" Nina struggled to find her words as her breathing began to become more erratic.
"But, even with Zero's death, the rage of Euphemia's death still haunts you." Schneizel answered for her, having gotten to know her very well the past year.
Nina only nodded silently, trying desperately to hold her tears. "Please…how do I make it go away…" she softly cried into the prince's chest.
Schneizel brushed her hair tenderly. "Unfortunately, my dear, that pain will only continue to stay with you. If we merely go about our lives, that poison will only continue to destroy us. Before that happens, we must make those responsible pay, make them feel some of our pain. That way, at least, we can die peacefully without regret. And Euphemia has yet to be fully avenged. We will make all of the Black Knights pay, eventually. But for now, we have to be patient. We need to continue your work, so that no rebellion no matter where they may be will dare to rise against the empire and ultimately bend to our will."
Nina only nodded weakly. "For Euphemia…" She then thought back to her sudden change in behavior when she tried to set up the SAZ. Nina was once ashamed of her Xenophobia, but after witnessing her final proclamation… "If Euphemia dictated the elevens had to die…then she was correct!"
"How is the project coming along?" Schneizel suddenly asked.
Nina then walked briskly towards her computer and pulled up the data. "The FLEIJA is nearly 50% complete. It needs more testing and modification, but I can finish it in about 5 months."
Schneizel gave a slight smile. "That will do, Nina. There will be plenty of time. I'm sure that by the time it's complete, we will not need to use it. But, one can never be too careful." Schneizel turned towards the door. "If you wish, you may have the rest of the day off. You look quite tired, my dear."
Nina only got back to typing. "I am fine, my lord. It's important that we finish this weapon…for a better world."
Schneizel only looked back at her as she typed away, almost obsessed. "Well, if you change your mind, remember my offer still stands." Schneizel reminded her.
With that, Schneizel exited Nina's lab. His servant, Kanon, waited for him outside. "Has Zero's death affected her?" he asked as he walked up to his master.
Schneizel only smiled slightly. "Zero's not dead."
Kanon gave him a puzzled look. "How would you know that?"
"Let's just say its instinct; it hasn't failed me yet." They exited the Dallas Research Institute's main building, as they approached his limo. "Anyway, because of that, it will only push Nina deeper into my thrall."
"I do have one concern about all this though, my lord." Kanon said.
"Speak, then." Schneizel wasn't the typical Britannian prince who kept a mindless servant that did exactly as they were told without question; Schneizel enjoyed someone challenging him, though many would consider that impossible, given his keen intellect.
"That Nina girl is quite clearly insane. The propaganda and half-truths you're feeding her may put her in your control, but should you lose that control, I dare not think of the repercussions." Kanon warned him as he opened the door to the back for him.
Schneizel replied without hesitation. "To go wild, she will need to believe there is no one she can trust. As long as I'm around, we have nothing to worry about. Besides, do you think I would allow myself to die so easily?" he asked.
Kanon bowed in respect. "No, my lord."
Schneizel got comfortable, while Kanon proceeded to the driver's seat and got the engine running. "Where to now, sir?" Kanon asked over the intercom. "The Palace, or do you have somewhere else you would like to be?"
"Home will be fine." Schneizel told him. "I'm in no rush to get there, though. Take the scenic route."
"Yes, my lord."
When Schneizel wanted to take time getting somewhere, it meant he wanted to be alone in deep thought; more so than usual.
Later that night, around 9 o'clock in Area 11, a celebration was about to be prepared. In the Tokyo Settlement's main street, millions of Britannians waited eagerly in anticipation. Police gathered in riot gear, tempted to join their fellow citizens, but their duty came first. Finally, satisfied that everything was ready, the commanding officer turned to the rest of the troops. "Alright!" He commanded his troops. "Bring it out!"
A dummy, dressed like Zero, was thrown into a crowd. The masses went wild with it, taking out all of their rage out on it. They stomped on it, spat on it, and even went as far as to lynch and burn it over a traffic light.
Just when the celebration seemed to reach its peak, the public screens above went static. Similarly, televisions across the colony went static. Many questioned what was going on. Then, everyone's eyes widened with fear as they gazed at the image on each screen.
"It can't be!"
"He's a fake, he's got to be!"
While the Britannians screamed in denial, in many parts of the ghetto, the Japanese cheered.
For on every television screen, a familiar black helmet with a cape and purple tuxedo graced the screens. Clenching his fists in victory, the man yelled "Britannia! I am Zero! And I have returned!"
And there you have it! Obviously, the next chapter is going to backtrack a little bit, and explain how Zero survived. As well as deal with other things.
While I haven't deviated too far from the basic plot points of R2, from here on out things will go quite differently. I'm very excited to bring you future developments, as I plan to highlight not only Japan and Britannia, but also other notable locations. I have a few in mind, but if you have any requests, please, let them be known! I'll do what I can to accommodate them into the story.
Also, I'm sorry if my descriptions of Knightmares, particularly the Joan, are lacking. Describing mechs is rather difficult for me, and it would be easier for me to reference previous models (which I guess isn't that far from what the series does, as most upgraded or new models are based on an earlier one). If you have tips on how to improve in that area, let me know.
Until then, see you all next time!