Hi everyone! I figure an explanation to the end of last chapter is overdue, so here are the answers you seek! I only hope that I didn't keep you all waiting for too long. As always, thank you for reading, your continued support, and I hope you all enjoy!
Guilford shut off the shower as he braced himself against the wall, breathing as if he went through boot camp again. His battle with Zero far surpassed his expectations; despite Zero's clear lack of combat training, he somehow gave Guilford a fight like none he had ever experienced. He felt like he had fought their ace 3 times in a row; it probably had nothing to do with his physical prowess. Zero instead pushed his mind to the breaking point, and that was probably why he felt so exhausted. Yet, he wasn't satisfied with his victory. "Perhaps, it's as they say: revenge will not bring you piece…" he thought grimly. Revenge wasn't the sole motivation for his battle, but he'd be lying if he didn't say Cornelia's disappearance drove him to confront Zero personally.
Drying off and grabbing his robe, he wandered into his lounge and decided to grab a book to read. He had read most everything in his private library before; but like any good collection, it had things worth looking over again. Before he could pick something out, his phone rang. Picking it up, he hid his exhaustion and asked "Hello?"
"Sir, there something you need to see on the news." Guilford recognized the voice as his lieutenant.
"It doesn't matter."
Not fully understanding what he meant, the knight picked up his remote and turned on the power. What he saw made him drop his remote. "It can't be!"
The man he believed he had killed earlier this afternoon was on the TV, this time in his trademark attire. "I am Zero! And I have returned!" he proclaimed proudly, raising his clenched fists.
Earlier, approximately 9 hours ago…
"Broken Mirrors and Mix!" Lelouch shouted. As the other Sutherlands ran around spreading the smoke screen, Lelouch put his into reverse and parked near the buildings behind him. "CC, are you ready?" he asked anxiously.
"Almost; I'm coming down!" she replied.
Lelouch breathed deeply, praying the smoke wouldn't be dispersed too soon. Then, something banged against his cockpit. Opening it, he let out a breath he didn't know he was holding, as CC was outside dressed in the same manner as him, minus the mask, which she tucked under her arm. Her other hand held onto some sort of grappling line. Lelouch didn't bother asking her if she wanted to turn back; they went through that before. "It's as you said?" Lelouch asked.
"Yes. There's a knightmare hangar at the docks that leads directly to the Chinese Embassy from underground. When you geassed the High Eunuch, he gave you all the details. Use the code I gave you, and you'll be in." Lelouch got up, and took hold of the line while CC took his seat. "Brace yourself." She said as she put on the mask.
Lelouch yelped in pain as the grapple took him up, nearly tearing his arm out of its socket. Soon, he was back up with CC's knightmare. He was about to get in and take control, when he noticed a sticky pasted on the seat.
"This is a really good knightmare. Save it for me. P.S. Don't worry.I disabled the knightmare's tracker."
Lelouch had to roll his eyes. "In a time like this, she's asking me to look after her 'toys'. Lelouch got inside, and activated the knightmare. Making note of the stats, Lelouch could only whistle. "CC's right; this IS a really good knightmare." Quickly, he jumped from the skyscrapers and onto the adjacent street. "Madam Cheshire, for the hundredth time, please RESPOND!" the comm line shouted. "I think we can do without this for now." Lelouch shut off the communicator, and took off, following CC's instructions.
Making sure he wasn't being followed, he looked from a street corner near the bay. "This is the place." Typing the code into his console and sending the signal, one of the docks flipped open, revealing a knightmare hangar below. Lelouch would have taken a moment to be impressed, but he knew better than that; every second counted. Quickly, he drove toward it and dived in. The dock then closed above him.
3 hours later….
Lelouch listened over the radio as they reported the afternoon's earlier events. As they had planned, CC had taken the fall for him; thankfully, she would rise again. Even after being told all he would have to do, Lelouch didn't think he could find it in himself to sacrifice another person. His make-shift mask on his lap, he stared aimlessly at the roof above him. "Rolo…" Lelouch missed his brother. But he could not deny he tried to kill him, and he killed Shirley. Vileta, his own teacher, attempted to do the same. That…he could not forgive. But, he still needed to confront them. To figure out the truth. And if what everything Kallen and CC told him was true…he couldn't think of it now. "I'll find the truth, eventually. But for now, if nothing else but to survive, I must focus on the matter at hand."
Deciding it was time to reveal himself to the Black Knights, Lelouch opened up the knightmare and descended down to the floor level. Taking the platform up to ground level, he pressed on the intercom. "Uh…hello?" That probably was not the best way for Zero to say it.
The other side of the comm responded. "Zero?" the voice of an effeminate man asked. It was probably Gao, the ambassador of China, if CC was correct. "Is that you?"
Lelouch hesitated for only the briefest moment. "Yes. I take it you were expecting my company?"
"But of course! I knew the great Zero would not die such a pathetic death!"
Quickly putting the gas mask back on, Lelouch watched the doors open. The High Eunuch Gao stood before him, smiling blankly. "It is an honor to have you here once more."
Zero only nodded dumbfoundly. He believed him when he said he was here before; but his apparently amnesiac state was not helping matters. Doing his best to play along, he asked "Have the Britannians investigated the consulate?"
The Eunuch only continued to smile proudly. "Of course not! They cannot do so, not without my consent!"
That worried Lelouch slightly. "Any reason in particular they need your word?" he asked as they walked down the hall.
"Why, for the truce, of course! Britannia's First Prince Odysseus is to wed the empress, and in doing so establish a truce between our nations! Of course, should you and your rebels be found, it would be nullified."
"And yet, you risk that treaty by helping me. Why?"
"Why, I must please you, of course!" he proclaimed. "It is my duty to please you in any way!" he proudly proclaimed.
Lelouch suppressed the urge to groan. "CC did say I geassed him earlier before. But if he makes that clear, it could become a problem." Lelouch finally spoke aloud to him. "For the future, I suggest you come up with a more…practical reason than that the next time you are asked."
"Of course, sir!" Gao replied.
"Also, I suggest you be on your guard. Legally, Britannia may not be able to enter without permission, but I doubt they'll let that stop them! Be on the look-out for spies."
"I already have my best man watching over us." Gao replied proudly. Looking towards the right corridor, Lelouch caught a glimpse of Xinge Ke. The man glared back at him, and judging by the tightening of the hand on his sword, he looked ready to kill. Lelouch would have to make a note to keep an eye out on him.
"Here we are." Gao proclaimed, emphasizing the huge oriental doors in front of them. "Ever since your…demise, I should say…I have allowed them access to the lounge and provided them with our finest cuisines to lift their spirits!" Lelouch only stared at the doors blankly. "Shall I announce your presence?" Gao asked.
Lelouch felt a chill run up his spine. Of all the things he and CC worked over meticulously, they never went over what he would actually do when he met the Black Knights.
"It wouldn't do for a general to keep his troops waiting, especially when they're in the midst of despair."
Lelouch snapped back to look at Gao. "It seems he's not as mindless as I first believed." Lelouch took a deep breath. "I just hope the welcoming is warm." Sighing, he commanded his thrall. "Open it. But do not say anything. I will announce my presence when I feel it is best."
Using a remote control, Gao opened the large doors, much to Lelouch's relief; he was afraid they would have to push it, and given Lelouch's physicality (more like lack thereof), they would have been here a while. There, seated in various chairs and pillows were the Black Knights. Lelouch held his breath; it felt like being in a cage with wild animals. Thankfully, none of them paid heed towards the two who had entered; all were fixed at the large projector in front of them, watching the news. It seemed the media on every channel was doing a story on Zero, and Lelouch had no doubt they were doing their best to spin him as a terrorist. No, that was true, a given. More like a foul villain was how they tried to present him.
Lelouch did his best to discern the mood of all the Black Knights, despite the darkness and looking from behind. From what few expressions he could gather, none were sad or broken-hearted per say…but, maybe disappointed was the best way to put it.
Then, one of the female members caught his eye. It was Kallen! Yet, despite the familiarity, he still dared not call out to her. She seemed disinterested in what was being broadcast; it seemed she was lost in her own thoughts. Her head slowly turned, not looking for anything. However, even in the dark room, her eyes were red and puffy. "She was crying…for me?"
Lelouch breathed, his mask enhancing the sound, and Kallen's eyes darted over to him, widening upon seeing him there. The two just stared at each other for the longest time. "Le…Zero?" she finally said.
One by one, all the Black Knights turned around, and were met with equal surprise. "I don't believe it!"
"I guess that's a miracle of Zero for you!" one shouted enthusiastically.
Suddenly, everyone burst from their chairs and surrounded him. "Zero-sama! You're back!"
"I knew you'd come back you old son of a-"
Lelouch was quickly overwhelmed from the crowding of the Black Knights, wanting nothing more than to flee. "Now the whole gang's back together!" Tamaki exclaimed as he enveloped Lelouch in a man hug. "That's how it's done, Zero-sama! Now, what are your orders?" He exclaimed, eager to begin.
Lelouch was about to make the biggest mistake anyone masquerading as Zero could make: stutter.
Fortunately, before he could utter the sounds, one of the more reasonable Black Knights stepped forward and intervened. "Hey! Give him some room!" Kallen interrupted. The others were silenced immediately, though some muttered something about being a "fan girl". "Can't you see that Zero-sama has been through the same hell as us!? "She scolded them. "Or close to it, anyway? It's best to let him freshen up a bit and rest; I'm sure when he's ready, he'll answer all your questions." Taking him by the arm, she led him out of the room. "This way, Zero-sama…"
As soon as they were out of earshot, the majority of the Black Knights threw up their arms in celebration. Orders for rather extravagant food and the finest wine in the consulate filled the room.
However, a few were not as ecstatic as the rest. Namely, Ohgi, Todoh and Chiba, sitting next to him. "You think it's really him?" Ohgi asked the two holy swords. "Anyone could put a get up like that on."
"True." Todoh conceded. "But I doubt anyone of us…or Gao, for that matter…would have the gall to pull a prank like that, given our circumstances. And, the things that man pulled today…I wouldn't be surprised if that actually was Zero." He narrowed his eyes in thought. "However…there is something off. I can't put my finger on it, but something's different about him. And it's not his outfit. Something else; something I can't easily describe."
"And if he is who he claims…what now?" Chiba asked. "I still can't forgive him from last year. He abandoned us once before, he's liable to do it again!" She could have potentially started a riot, but thankfully the ensuing celebration drowned her voice out away from the circle.
Todoh nodded in agreement. "True. But…that doesn't change the fact that he saved our lives earlier today." He sighed begrudgingly.
"So…we're going to follow him?" Ohgi asked. "Just like that?"
"No!" both Todoh and Chiba shouted in unison.
Todoh took a moment to compose himself. "We'll hear him out." he clarified. "We owe him that much. But that will be far from making us even!"
"All right. Are we ready to begin?"
In the Valiant Cornelia base in Area 11, renamed in the honor of the famous "Witch of Britannia", the official identification and autopsy of Zero was about to commence. The head doctor's assistants answered affirmatively, eager to solve a mystery that had plagued their country.
"Very well. Place the body on the table."
Two other doctors placed a body bag on the operating table, and unzipped. "Zero's" body was just has Guilford left it; no visible scratches save for the caked blood on the subject's forehead, no doubt from the rounds placed in the terrorist's head. Still, it was standard procedure to give the body a full examination, even when the cause of death was obvious.
"I'm beginning the recording." Another said as he turned the camera on.
The head doctor began the narration. "This is Top Secret file 994876: The identification and autopsy of the terrorist known as Zero. Initial inspection shows no visible wounds save for bullet wounds to the head, courtesy of Sir Guilford. We will now begin the unmasking, and see if we can determine his identity."
The doctors ripped the gas mask off…and were shocked to find a green-haired girl instead of a man. The bullet hole in her head only confirmed it was the person that Sir Guilford had shot earlier. "What? Is this really him!? I mean, her!?" one exclaimed in surprise.
"Is there any kind of voice changer inside the mask?" another asked.
"None that I can see." One replied as he inspected the inside. "I guess this means this woman really was Zero."
"No, that's impossible! The Zero Sir Guilford fought was clearly a man!" one argued.
Another impossibility occurred suddenly: the girl's eyes snapped open, her wound healing closed, evident by the bullet falling out. Before anyone could utter a word, she leapt from the table and decked one with a kick. One reached for a small pistol they all carried in their pockets just in case of emergencies, but CC grabbed the man's wrist and twisted it into his stomach as he pulled the trigger. Tossing the dying man's body into another doctor, they both fell to the floor as jars of formaldehyde rained upon them, knocking them out. However, one doctor took advantage of her temporary distraction and slit her throat with his scalpel, causing her to collapse in a pool of her own blood.
The doctor collapsed on his knees, shaking and hyperventilating. He didn't know what he just saw, he didn't fully understand what he just experienced, but he had to get help; the morgue was sound proof at this base, to ensure nothing left the doctors mouths until their superiors approved. As soon as he mustered some courage, he sprinted towards the alarm. However, someone pulled him back down to the floor. "If a bullet to the head won't affect me, how do you expect a little cut to work?" CC stood over him, having no problem speaking despite the huge (but slowly disappearing) laceration across her neck.
"What…what are you?" he asked in horror.
CC answered, although her face betrayed no emotion. "Over my long, long lifetime, I've been called many things. But, if it will suit your purpose, you may think of me as a witch." She then punched him square in the nose, knocking him out. Taking the gun used on her earlier, she blew the camera to bits. "Now to get out of here."
A guard walked down the hall as part of his patrol routine. Like many of his peers, he was curious to see who Zero was under the mask, but duty came first; the results would be released soon enough. Besides, it wasn't like the rebel was going to be anyone he knew. "Probably just some filthy eleven. I mean, what else?"
"Help! Somebody, help me!"
The guard turned around to see a young green-haired woman in a surgeon's smock run towards him, still fresh with blood. She looked terrified out of her mind. She ran to him, and gripped his uniform. "Help! It was awful! I-"
"Slow down!" the soldier ordered as he gripped her shoulders. "Calm down and tell me exactly what's happening!"
"ZERO!" she suddenly screamed. "I don't know how, but he just…he just came alive!"
"Impossible!" he scoffed in disbelief.
"Then see for yourself!" she yelled, pointing to the morgue's entrance. "He's probably left by now, but when he rose, he overpowered us all! It was all I could do to flee!"
While the soldier still found the ordeal preposterous, he couldn't take the chance of a fugitive running on the base. Better to be safe than sorry. "Go to the safe room and wait. I'll deal with this." He then walked towards the scene of the crime and radioed his comrades. "Attention, everyone! We have a hostile on base, last seen assaulting the doctors of the morgue! Search the base, and report any unknowns and engage hostiles. I repeat: search base and report any unknowns. Engage hostiles. This is not a drill!"
CC, whom he left behind, only smiled slightly. Believing she was in the clear, she took off, but not to the safe room she was told to go to.
Lelouch sighed as the hot water rained down on him. "Oh man…I haven't been away from home that long, but even now, I can't remember the last time I had a hot bath." Finishing that sentence in his mind bothered him. It seemed not being able to remember anything important or trivial was going to plague him for a long, long time. "No point in dwelling on it now…at least now, I may have some clues."
Looking out of the tinted shower wall, Lelouch called "You know, if you just want to peak, you should just come in and get it over with!" he shouted sarcastically.
Kallen, who was leaning against a wall facing away from the shower just outside the bathroom, gasped in shock as her face turned red as her hair. "Wha-What kind of person do you take me for!?"
"Well, I don't need help washing myself-"
"I should hope not!" the Knightmare Ace shouted back.
"Okay; then why stick around?" Lelouch asked her directly.
Kallen huffed and tensed as she got her thoughts together. "Because, after that stunt you pulled, I'm making sure as hell you don't get out of my sight again! I oughtta slap you for putting us through that, but at the moment I don't have the energy!" Kallen breathed deeply, and calmed herself down. "Besides…I have to know."
"Why you came back. After the other night…I was convinced you didn't want anything to do with me or the other Knights. And quite frankly, I couldn't blame you back then."
Lelouch sighed. "Kallen…so much is happening. I don't even know what I'm doing. But I promise you I won't run away…there's no place left for me to go."
Kallen breathed a sigh of relief. "It looks like he's staying…but if I don't look out for him, he will be killed. Either by Britannia or…us." Kallen smiled slightly to herself. "I guess I'm back to my old job of protecting Zero-sama in a way."
Soon, Lelouch stepped of the shower in a bathrobe. While for the most part he looked pretty cleaned up, the shaggy goatee and long hair he had grown the last couple of weeks were still present. "You're still not going around like that, even with a mask." Kallen told him sternly upon inspecting his shaggy appearance.
"Don't intend to." Lelouch shot back. "However…I've never cut my hair on my own before." Holding up a pair of scissors, he gave her a cautious and pleading look. "Would it be alright…if I asked you to give me a hand?"
Kallen stared at him like she was thinking "Are you kidding me?". Then, she shook her head in disbelief. "I guess I'll be taking orders from you soon enough; might as well start with an easy one."
Lelouch was pulled to a chair with a mirror as a towel was placed over his front. "Don't make it too girly, okay?" Lelouch asked nervously.
Kallen only narrowed her eyes at him in disapproval. "I believe you should add a 'please' to that last sentence."
"A commander shouldn't have to, right?" Lelouch asked, smiling up at her.
Kallen only scoffed. "He's being playful." She thought, perplexed. "Playful around one of the two women who ruined the life he thought he had." Coming out of her thoughts, she replied "A commander also has earned the respect of his troops. That's something you'll have to work for." She shot back. "And for your information, I've had practice with cutting my own hair. I used to cut mine shorter and more tomboyish than this before my mother freaked out about it. Not to mention looking too much like a tomboy instead of a frail Britannian girl actually caused problems for me when I joined my brother's resistance."
Lelouch nodded slightly in agreement, and relaxed. Kallen began. "So…why did you come back?" she asked as she clipped a few strands.
Lelouch sighed. "Lots of reasons. But…mainly I want revenge for what Britannia did to me." Kallen silently urged him to go on. "My past…the one I remember….I accept that it's a lie now. Rolo was simply there to kill me if I stepped out of line. " Lelouch had to take a moment to collect his thoughts. "Quite frankly, I'm still skeptical about what you and CC are telling me. About being Zero in the past. But I know the Black Knights are the only key to my real past. If I have to become Zero to find the truth, I will."
Kallen didn't seem impressed. "Nice. But that doesn't comfort me in assuring you're staying."
"Well, I can't make any guarantees, I'll give you that." Lelouch thought for a moment. "But if I've been an enemy of the empire the whole time, I don't see what other choice I have."
Kallen brushed his hair. "Which reminds me…after you were captured, you should have been executed. Instead, you had your memories wiped. Why?"
Lelouch nodded in agreement. "Mercy, perhaps?"
"The only mercy an enemy of the empire gets is prison." Kallen said. "And that's usually an interlude before execution." She added. "It just doesn't make sense. Suzaku discovered your geass before I did. He was upset over the whole ordeal with Euphemia. I KNOW he would have reported it to the emperor, even if the two of you once were friends. There is no way you would be allowed to live."
"I agree." Lelouch said, touching his Geass eye. "Even if they were lead to believe this…thing…merely corrupted me, and that I deserved a second chance without it, most rational men would have deemed me too dangerous to live." Lelouch leaned back slightly, saying "There's something more to this." Then his eyes widened. "Wait…Suzaku is my enemy?"
Kallen did quick work with his hair and was almost finished. "First off, yes. Suzaku is your enemy; I don't know how, but he was the first to discover your identity. I'd imagine we'll be getting a visit from him very soon from now." Feeling the depression emanating from Lelouch, she quickly reassured him the best she could. "The memories you have about the two of you being friends, however, is true. I promise you that much. However, don't expect him to be your friend now. As for your past, I want to help you in any way I can…but you must understand, you're not my priority."
"The Black Knights." Lelouch replied.
Kallen grunted affirmatively as she picked up a spray bottle. "I thank you for rescuing us…but if you're thinking about using us as pawns, whether it's revenge or finding your real memories, you can forget about it! If you want to be Zero, your first responsibility is to the people of Japan!"
Lelouch was stunned by her sudden outburst. "I manipulated all of you before?"
Kallen couldn't answer him definitively. "Your identity was hidden from us is all. Even after you disclosed you were not Japanese, there were still suspicions amongst us. And, when I discovered who you were…I had my doubts as well."
"And me cutting and running during the Black Rebellion didn't help either." Kallen looked down at Lelouch in surprise. "Hey, don't look at me like that! I read the news too!" Lelouch frowned. "Well, at least I REMEMBER reading it."
Kallen nodded. "If it helps, you didn't 'abandon' us. Not out of cowardice anyway. That much I found out."
"You went to rescue your sister."
Lelouch thought back to the photograph. "Her…" "I still have the picture." Lelouch told her. "Please remind me to put it someplace safe."
Kallen was shocked and temporarily ceased all activity on the teen's hair. "You're remembering?"
Lelouch sighed. "No. I've been trying to remember, but every time the only one I can remember is Rolo. However, I feel like I can't get rid of that picture. I tried a couple of times, but something inside won't let me."
Kallen really had to pity Lelouch's situation. His memories told him one thing, but current events were telling him another. Cutting away the last stray hair, Kallen had managed to get Lelouch's appearance close to what it was before. "Done."
Lelouch stood, shaking off the towel and looking in the mirror. "I think this is the best haircut I've ever had…thanks."
Kallen smiled slightly. "You're welcome." was her only reply.
Lelouch nodded in agreement. "I'm going to go shave now." He said, picking up a razor and heading back to the main bathroom.
Just then, a knock came at the door. Kallen quickly signaled for Lelouch to stay put. "Who is it?" she asked.
"Pizza Hut." A taciturn voice called back.
Kallen held her head in irritation. "C2!"
CC walked inside…carrying a box of pizza of course. "Sorry it took me so long. Pizza Hut was about to close in 15 minutes by the time I got there. I had to beg the manager to turn on the kitchen again."
Kallen's face soured. "You know that's not what I meant. Where have YOU been ever since that disaster with Lelouch?"
CC looked at her coldly as she took a seat by a table. "I recall telling you that we were only allies of convenience. So long as Lelouch is with the Black Knights, so will I. If not, then I won't be taking part in group activities anytime soon. My contract is with him, not you."
Kallen folded her arms. While she wasn't happy that CC dodged the question, she was able to guess what she had been doing ever since that day. "Thank you for looking after Lelouch. But you should have at least called us!"
"And you would have done what?" CC asked as she opened her box. "Keep him locked up? Get him caught up in your problems? Sorry; your intentions may have been good, but in Lelouch's mental state at the time, he wasn't ready. Even now, his mind is still fragile; one wrong move may leave him broken again."
Kallen sheepishly nodded in agreement. "And what about you? You forced him back into the role of Zero! You just said you know the consequences of doing such a thing!"
CC only smiled coyly. "Making such assumptions of me. No, you need not worry. I only kept an eye on him until he was ready. He wanted this. And I made sure to warn him of everything that came with the name. It's because I understand the consequences that I'm prepared and will make sure it doesn't come to that." She paused to take a bite of her pizza.
Kallen still had a hard time swallowing it, but then again, she always had a hard time getting anything out of the witch. Still, she had to know about Lelouch's true motives, not from today, but from back then. Back when he really was Zero underneath the mask. "CC, I know Lelouch's secrets are important to you. But I need to know the truth from you. About those questions I asked back then."
"My reply is the same as before." CC said as she grabbed another slice. "Let him tell you."
"You don't get it, do you CC!?" Kallen yelled. "He's got amnesia! What can you expect for me to get out of him!? He doesn't have the answers now, you do!"
"My answer still stands." CC replied curtly, this time with a hint of irritation. "Lelouch's secrets are not mine to give, no matter the circumstances, so all you can do now is work with what you've got, and hope for the best. Maybe doing a little detective work of your own would help too. Now, if you'll excuse me, my pizza is getting cold." Kallen only growled at the answer she was given.
"I take it you weren't followed?" Lelouch stepped in, revealing the clean-shaven face that normally adorned his features.
"I gave them the slip." CC replied as she took a bite.
"I see…" Kallen noted. "Sometime during the battle, you took his place." Kallen didn't know whether to be pleased or frightened. "Sounds like something the Zero I knew would do."
"And he came up with the plan himself." CC said, as if a mother was proudly talking of their child's grades. "Of course, I had to coax him to use me. Before, that wasn't much of a problem…although he never did wish to cause his allies harm."
Lelouch chuckled sheepishly. "I just hope I don't have to use anybody like that again. Or, at least, not use anyone mortal."
Kallen looked away from Lelouch for a moment. "Lelouch…I need to hear you say it." Lelouch looked at her confused. "I need to hear you say that you're in." She took a deep breath to prepare what she had to say next. "If you are the least bit uncertain, if you're thinking about running away…now's the time to leave. I will not stop you, I will not look for you." She said.
An uncomfortable silence settled between the two. "Kallen…there's nothing for me out there. My brother…well, the one I remember as my brother…is out there to kill me. I'm blamed for Shirley's murder. I understand your doubts about me as Zero. I'm uncertain, I have been thinking about ditching you guys, if only because I know that I can never really be him. But now I've got no choice but to assume the role…and I need your help." Lelouch said. Kallen only stared at him, wanting to believe him. "Please; it's the only way for me to find the truth. And I promise, I will help you and your people get their home back. "He said, walking over to clasp her hand.
Kallen looked at him hesitantly, then seemed to relent. "Okay. I believe you. Now, we've got a lot of things to go over. The other Black Knights…they don't trust you."
"Some seemed pretty happy to see me." Lelouch smirked.
"I mean the high ranking ones." Kallen clarified. "Todoh, Ohgi…ever since Zero suddenly left the battle field, many of them were not looking forward to seeing you return." she warned him. "I bet Todoh right now is thinking of a way to find an excuse to make you commit seppuku."
Lelouch sighed. "I see. We need an excuse."
"Not an excuse; a STORY." Kallen corrected him. "Had I been as lost as the rest of the crowd, I would expect Zero to explain his reasons and take responsibility. I couldn't trust someone who tried to ask for forgiveness after abandoning all of us."
Lelouch nodded. "We've got a lot of work to do."
"Before that…" CC said as she devoured two slices at once… "We need to get you appropriately dressed; it wouldn't do for a commander to go about as if he's asking for change."
Pressing the intercom, the other side asked "How may we help you?"
"Bring up the case; we're ready."
Within a few minutes, one of the consulate's servants came in with a silver briefcase. CC took it, and signaled for him to leave. Walking over to Kallen and Lelouch, she placed the case on the floor in front of them and opened it. " Before the events of the Black Rebellion, you made preparations for this as a safe house for Zero. And I'm sure you'll find this preferable to what I got you earlier on the street."
Lelouch leaned down, and in a sense of both awe and horror, raised Zero's true mask. Stroking the glass surface with his hand, he murmured "So this is it. The mask of Zero."
"Once you put it on…you cannot be the true you. You will be an ideal." CC told him. "Unrelenting. Charismatic. Wise. Fearless. These are the traits you will need to express as Zero. To convince the Black Knights, if not Britannia. Until the mask comes off, none of your human flaws must show."
Lelouch only stared at the mask. And he knew CC was right: a whole new chapter in his life was about to begin. Even if he found the truth, he could never go back to what he once was or believed himself to be.
The Black Knights were called to attention. "Zero-sama requests the floor." Kallen announced as they walked in.
The Black Knights were immediately dead silent. Zero, this time dressed in his appropriate costume, appeared in the doorway, with Kallen and CC by his side. Everyone was apprehensive; they wondered what Zero would say. Especially his skeptics. "I owe you all an explanation." Zero said. "Because of me, you were left in the battlefield without a commander, captured, and many more killed. And for that, I am truly sorry."
Silence remained. And Lelouch didn't know which was killing him more; the silence, or the heat inside the mask. He could see the Black Knights were getting agitated waiting for the answer that plagued them all for a year. "I have…had…a little brother." Whispers erupted from the audience of the majority of them; others, like Todoh, were not impressed. "During the Black Rebellion, the enemy discovered my true identity and took him hostage. Somehow they discovered my communication line, and threatened me with his life. Without thinking, without considering my responsibilities to you all, I abandoned the battlefield and left you all to your own devices. Though I had intended to return…as you can probably tell, things didn't go very well for me. The enemy had captured me, and that is why I stand before you now."
Everyone whispered amongst themselves about Zero's story. "Sounds likely."
"I would've done the same had Britannia put my immediate family in danger too…"
Others were not impressed. Todoh stood and spoke up, after giving him a skeptical, if not threatening stare. "May I ask what became of your brother?"
There seemed to be a moment of hesitation in Zero's response. Kallen almost interrupted, but Zero held her at bay. "Dead. He was shot in front of me as soon as I was captured."
Todoh's eyebrow quirked in surprise. "And yet, you do not seem disturbed by it."
"I've had a long time to mourn, Todoh. The emperor himself had me imprisoned, and, feeling death was too merciful a punishment for me, replayed footage of that atrocity in my cell!" His voice raised in anger, convincing most in the room his rage was real.
"How did you escape?" one asked.
"C2 found me." He stated. "It took time on her part, but it was only a month ago that she broke me free, in the place we would least expect; here, in Japan. As soon as we heard about the challenge, and your execution, we made a haphazard strategy on the fly and came for you. That was the reason for my…unusual attire at the time."
Most everyone in the Black Knights seemed convinced. But those who weren't objected quite loudly. "I don't believe a word you say!" Chiba suddenly shouted, giving the masked man a death glare. "After all that's happened, after all we've been through, you just expect us to believe you abandoned us for a loved one!?"
Zero replied "And none of you would have done the same?" None protested against that. "I am responsible for our loss last year. I do not deny that. But if you believe I will apologize for trying to save someone dear to my heart, then what you're asking for is not a leader of justice, but a madman of wanton destruction! I won't apologize for standing up to injustice, whether it is committed against the Japanese or myself!"
Inside the mask, Lelouch breathed deeply. "This is a lot harder than we planned." He thought. He, Kallen, and CC concocted and went over this story several times, but against an audience that could only get you so far. "I'm practically being crucified here." He thought. "I've got to be careful about every word I say."
"If what you say is true, I can forgive you." Ohgi finally spoke up, surprising both Chiba and Todoh. "But after what happened, I don't believe any of us can accept you back into the Black Knights, or trust you."
"And why is that?" Zero asked challengingly. "You dare usurp your own founder?"
"Ever since you came into our lives, things have been too good to be true up until the SAZ massacre!" Ohgi protested. "You never trusted us; if you had you would have told us who you were, and how you preformed your so-called miracles, and why you couldn't stop that madwoman from killing our people!"
A murmur of agreement was beginning to rise, when Kallen stepped forward. "He trusts me." She said, effectively silencing the hushed discussion going on amongst them . "A year ago, I had my doubts about him as well. I went up to his room one night, contemplating knocking and demanding to know his true identity. I hesitated, and was about to leave, but somehow he seemed to know I was there. He already deduced what I wanted. He didn't even try to redirect my curiosity; he simply asked me directly if I wanted to know."
"Did you find out?" Tamaki asked, himself curious to know.
"No. At the time, I had turned down his offer. I guess I was afraid of what I would see. But I knew he would not have refused if I requested it." Kallen continued "But now I know who and what he is. And it's as imperative as ever that we do everything in our power to help him."
Todoh asked "Just who is he?"
"I can't answer that." Kallen replied. "As you all know, Zero has revealed he is not Japanese. That is the only important thing you need to know about him; anything more would be meaningless. However, I can tell you why Zero has chosen to help us…"
"That's enough, Kallen. Thank you." Zero interrupted her as he stepped forward.
Kallen nearly smacked herself when she realized what she nearly did. "Zero's the one on trial here; not me." In this situation, Zero had to speak up for himself.
"My identity is irrelevant; if my mask were to be removed, none of you would recognize me, nor is it relevant to the empire anymore. I now wear this mask as a symbol. What's more, I would not wish for anyone to see my face; I was tortured physically as well as mentally during my captivity." Zero placed his hand on the visor of his helmet, appearing deep in thought.
Truth be told, though, underneath the mask, Lelouch was anxious. "I fear we just dug ourselves into a deeper grave." he worried.
Saving face, he continued. "I had originally intended to keep you in the dark about my intentions. I had never imagined we would be in the situation we are today, or that I would be the one responsible for it. Make no mistake…I do have a self-interest in the outcome of this war. But I had no intention of throwing you all away like trash. Not then, not now. You are my responsibility, and words cannot express my regret of forgetting that."
"Perhaps you can explain at least this much, then." Todoh said. "The fact you're not Japanese is already an established fact among us. As you can imagine, that raised questions among us, why some foreigner would care about us. The good word from the Japanese Liberation Front was enough to silence us then. But now, I believe those answers are long overdue."
Inside his mask, Lelouch panicked. "We didn't anticipate this! What should I say!?" He knew he had to answer, and quickly. "I can't just tell them I'm seeking revenge because Britannia has ruined my…" He stopped himself. Despite the situation, he smiled slightly. "Actually, I can. I just can't tell them the whole truth." Those were the best kinds of lies.
"I used to be an ordinary civilian of the European Union." He began as Zero. "A student, really. I had very much enjoyed traveling abroad with my friends, and we eventually found ourselves in Japan. That was about a month before Britannia attacked your nation."
Lelouch had to keep in a morbid stifle. "Of course, I would have only been around ten years old then."
"In the chaos a friend of mine was killed; a stray round from a Glasgow managed to hit her." Zero breathed deeply. It seemed he was reliving the moment, based on his trembling fists. And in a way, he was, but not with the imaginary character he was telling the Knights about. He was thinking of Shirley. "The rest of us were arguably treated better than the native Japanese, but our affiliation with the European Union still put us under discrimination; the military concocted ridiculous stories of us being spies and thus kept in the colony. I don't know whether it was pride back then or a sense of right and wrong that began to drive me…but when another of my best friends joined the Britannian military as an Honorary Britannian, in spite of the loss of our friends, that was the last straw. I vowed to take a stand against them, but I couldn't do it alone. I studied military strategy on my own, swindled a wealthy Britannian for his fortune, and eventually, I found all of you. The rest, as they say, is history."
Everyone else looked to one another, asking the other's opinion if they found the story true or not. Kallen, however, felt a little unnerved after hearing Zero's fable. "Even though he's making it up…it sounds so similar to his real life. Both the one CC and I pulled him from…and the one he once lived."
"That is my story." Zero continued on. "With the death of my brother taken into account, I have sought revenge against Britannia! I'm just the same as you! They've taken my friends, my family, and they could take my country at any day now! We have all been fighting Britannia for the same reasons!"
Slowly, Zero received applause from his audience and some cheers. But his detractors seemed unmoved. "So, we were all just pawns for your revenge!" Todoh suddenly yelled. "I should've known from the start you didn't have our best interests in mind!"
"That's where you are wrong, Kyoshiro-san. True, my reasons for forming the rebellion may not have been out of responsibility or pity to you all. I'll even admit it was selfish on my part. But my revenge is about more than obliterating the empire by mere force. Your country's Sakuradite supply is a strategic place to free first; should Britannia lose control, their power supply will drop dramatically, and their hold on the world will crumble. And what's sweeter revenge then freeing the countries Britannia has taken and build them up?"
"So…" Ohgi began to ask skeptically. "…you intend to free the whole world from Britannia?"
"Precisely." Zero said. "We cannot hope to fight this war alone. If Britannia is to truly be defeated, we must unite the world. And we will be the center of that rebellion." Zero paused a moment to gather his thoughts. "I admit, when this rebellion first began, I viewed you all as nothing more than soldiers. But, overtime, I have come to trust and care for you all. My biggest regret was the Black Rebellion. In addition to everything else I have endured the past year, what tormented me the most was wondering if you all survived. I accept full responsibility for my actions."
It seemed that everyone had their fill of answers and explanations. Lelouch decided that now was a good time to end this, before he could be grilled even further. "I have said all I had to. All I have to answer for. I understand if you all have doubts. The decision of whether or not I stay will be yours; that is your right. But, decide quickly. We only have so long before Britannia finds us."
Looking at the projector in front of him, which was muted, he watched the media slander Zero. "Hmph. As nerve racking as this whole ordeal is, THIS part I'm looking forward to…assuming these guys will let me."
"Make a decision. And make it soon. You have until 8'o clock." With that, he simply turned around and left, Kallen and C2 trailing behind him. The Black Knights suddenly erupted into a roar of debate amongst themselves.
As soon as the three were out of sight and in another room, Lelouch collapsed onto the biggest chair he could find. "Ohboy!" he exclaimed as he took off the helmet and pulled down his face-cloth. "I can't believe I went ahead and actually did that!"
"No kidding." Kallen sighed, letting out a breath she didn't realize she was holding. "I knew that things wouldn't go exactly as practiced, but you-! That was amazing! It was almost like you never…" Kallen stopped herself. "It was almost as if you had never left." Lelouch would not want to hear that.
"Of course, I had complete faith in him." CC bragged, as she hugged her cheese-kun doll close to her. "He has a natural talent for it. Not to mention a whole year's worth of experience." Lelouch and Kallen only stared at her for so bluntly stating the obvious. Taking a seat with her doll, she moved on to more important matters. "Anyway, what shall you do if they choose to expel you?"
Lelouch certainly hadn't thought of that. "…I don't know. I don't think I'd be able to accomplish anything without them. I…I don't know where to go from here if things don't work out."
CC didn't react with any kind of anger, disappointment or sympathy. As always, she was seemingly uncaring. "Well, you'll have to consider it as a possibility, and a strong one at that; you've got nowhere else to turn to, no one to confide in. You'll either have to either start an entirely new rebellion…and even I doubt you could…or give up on everything."
Lelouch felt his heart sink at the brutal truth. "What do you think, Kallen?" he asked. "You think they'll take Zero back…or was whatever he did last year beyond redemption?"
Kallen tightened her grip on her chair. "I don't know." Kallen answered truthfully. "Many were glad to see you back, that's for sure. But Ohgi and Todoh have been our most influential members besides you. Had I not known the truth, even I probably would have sided with them." Kallen clenched her fists as she thought about what to say next. "But, at the same time, you saved all of our lives. Except for maybe Chiba, none of them can deny that."
Lelouch leaned back, rubbing his face. "Comforting." He groaned.
Seeing Lelouch's nervous state, Kallen knew she couldn't just idly stand by. Walking over to him, she clasped his hand. "Lelouch. I know because of me, your whole world has become topsy turvy. I don't know how I could ever hope to make it up to you. And, by extension, I feel responsible for Shirley as well." Lelouch's hand clenched the chair briefly, but Kallen saw no sign of him holding a grudge. "We were responsible for her father's death last year. And now, she's with him. I cannot tell you how sorry I am for her…" Tears were welling up in her eyes, but she held them in. "But despite that, I can at least honor her dying wish: to protect you. I will not allow her to have died for nothing. Lelouch, I promise you: whatever you decide, I will protect you. I will follow you to wherever you go."
Lelouch looked at her, surprised. "Just a while ago, you said your loyalty was to the Black Knights. Now, you're swearing it to me."
Kallen nodded. "They don't have to be antithetical to one another. If worse comes to worse, we'll find a way to make this all work out. I promise."
Lelouch, slowly processing what she said, placed his hand over hers. "Kallen…thank you. It's nice to know I'll have at least one friend with me on this debacle of a journey." Kallen smiled slightly, accepting his gratitude with the utmost sincerity.
CC, while still not expressing any emotion, did squeeze her Cheese-kun doll a bit tighter than usual.
Before anymore could be said, a knock came at the door. "Who is it?" Kallen called while Lelouch quickly put his mask back on.
"Zero-sama, good news!" Tamaki from the other side called. "We held a vote, and the majority ruled! You won!"
Everyone in the room looked at each other in shock. "That was quick." A flabbergasted Lelouch whimpered. "Truthfully, a part of me hoped they wouldn't accept me."
"I must say, I'm surprised that you've made your decision so quickly." Zero said as he and his associates followed Tamaki down the hallway. "With Todoh and Ohgi grilling me like that, I'd expect you all to be arguing for HOURS amongst yourselves."
Tamaki only gave him a stupid grin in response. "True. But…except for Chiba… we agreed that we needed you. Even they couldn't deny that. Although…" Tamaki seemed to struggle with his words.
"Is there a problem, major?" Zero questioned him.
"Todoh demanded you agree to some terms first." Tamaki gritted. Suddenly, he yelled to no one in particular "What a load of bullshit! After all that's happened, after everything you've done, he questions you now!? I oughta knock some sense into him…"
"That won't be necessary." Zero interrupted him, sounding as confident as he could. "And he's right too. I owe all of you more than I could ever give for my actions last year."
"Aw, don't talk like that Zero! I would've done the same thing in your shoes!" Tamaki exclaimed, playfully slapping Zero on the back as they reached the lounge.
Zero had to wince; despite Tamaki's friendly manner towards him, it was intimidating being in his presence. Not to mention the brute didn't know his own strength, if the stinging on his back was any sign. "I appreciate your sympathy, Tamaki. But while I may be the leader again, everyone has a say in what must be done. Don't worry; I'm sure it will be fine."
Lelouch had to suppress a nervous laugh. "Who am I kidding?"
Kallen opened the door to the main hall, where everyone parted ways for Zero. At the end of the path, Todoh stood with his arms crossed. Ohgi and Chiba were at each of his sides. "Tamaki has informed me you're willing to accept me as leader again…on specific conditions." Zero addressed him suspiciously.
"For my country, I will put myself through anything." Todoh began to explain. "Despite our best efforts, it wasn't until you showed up that we were able to truly take a stand against Britannia. To do so again, I'm willing to cast away my pride if it means obtaining freedom. But not my comrades. If you wish to have our strength by your side while you wage war, you must follow 3 conditions."
"Let's hear them then." Zero replied.
"One: I will allow any secrets you held in the past to slide. Even your identity. But if anymore come up that are relevant, you will share them with us. Family, background the whole gist."
Zero nodded, which Todoh took as an agreement. However, Zero was nervous about where this was headed. Despite Lelouch's better judgment, he decided to lie…at least, partially. "Hopefully the details of my Geass never have to come up."
"Two: Next time a miracle is performed, you tell us how you did it. It would be beneficial to both of us if we took the time to understand your tactics, not to mention our own independence when the day comes. Besides, if you die, that will leave us in a tight spot."
Zero replied "Okay." Truthfully though, that one worried him more than the last. "I'll have to use my Geass sparingly from now on; I'll have to be more subtle with my powers."
"And third: Your motivations for helping us may be selfish. I can live with that. But, in exchange for our strength, you must promise us this! Promise that you will do everything in your power to free our country! We'll get your army to attack Britannia head on! We'll even travel the world to do it! BUT! You must promise that under your leadership, this country will one day be free!"
Zero seemed stunned into silence. "Of course." Zero replied. "But how do you plan on holding me to it?"
"Until that day comes, I will not die." Todoh suddenly declared. This shocked everyone, as the samurai philosophy emphasized accepting death at any time. "No matter the odds, or the situation, I will stay alive. And I will be sure you keep your promise, no matter what."
Many guessed that Zero would have smiled smugly if his mask would allow it. "And I suppose you will challenge my authority at every turn?"
"If I feel my comrades are put in needless danger, yes." Todoh replied curtly. "And I dare you to try and shoot me for saying that. We'll be your allies…but not your puppets"
Instead of some form of outrage, to everyone's surprise, Zero laughed as if it was the most trivial demand. "That is why I had chosen you personally, General Kyoshiro! You may consider yourself a samurai, but the master you've chosen is your country, not any one man!" Zero paused and flapped open his cape, announcing "Very well! I accept your terms! Should you have any qualms with my decisions, I will rely both on you and Captain Kozuki to address me! All criticisms will be welcome!"
Looking at the muted projection screen behind the Black Knights, he saw a wonderful opportunity. "I see they are beginning to celebrate my untimely…demise." Zero noted sarcastically.
"We should announce to the world how you fooled them all!" Tamaki yelled, beginning to laugh at how they were all played for fools.
"Why…yes, Tamaki." Zero said, stroking the chin of his helmet. "I think we should."
Tamaki stopped his laughter as he realized Zero actually agreed with him. "What? You serious?" he asked skeptically.
"Yes. Yes I am." Was Zero's only reply. "Is there a way we can send a broadcast from here?" Zero suddenly asked.
"There is a surveillance room in the basement of the mansion." Gao answered, suddenly appearing in the doorway with Xing Ke. "We have rigged it with a special satellite signal to broadcast to any network, private or public. This entire embassy, after all, was a front to allow China to spy on Britannia. Unfortunately, we'll have to rely on the security cameras if you're planning on making a broadcast."
Xing Ke was about to shout at the High Eunuch for suggesting it, but Zero interrupted, asking "Can the signal be traced?"
"Possibly. We'll need special equipment." Gao answered thoughtfully.
"Diethard." Kallen answered. "Diethard knows media and electronics like no one else. We'll get him; he'll gladly set us up."
"I haven't seen Diethard here at all." Zero noted.
"After the Black Knights were disbanded…" Kallen began to tell him, "….Diethard went on his own into hiding. With you seemingly out of the picture, he just went up and left. In the event of your return, however, he stayed in touch."
Zero nodded as if he understood the situation, and thanked Kallen for being subtle in bringing him up to speed in more ways than one. "Gao, by any chance do you have a car with tinted windows? One that wouldn't be too conspicuous in a rough neighborhood?"
"I'll get one ready right away." Gao announced as he left, Xing Ke trailing him in confusion.
"Ohgi, I would like you to ride and retrieve Diethard." Zero ordered the general.
"What!?" Ohgi exclaimed. "Why me!?"
"Is there any reason you don't want to go that I should know about?" Zero asked. "Or do you just not want to take orders from me?"
Ohgi tried to come up with a good defense, but none came to mind. "…no." he sighed.
"Very well. Get going, and be quick about it. We may have an hour, hour and a half tops." Ohgi walked out of the room as he prepared for being under Zero's thumb again. Even if he agreed to the terms they decided on, it was still uncomfortable. Turning to his green-haired partner, Zero said "C2, you have a way with words that rivals mine. Make a speech, and give me some flashcards. We've got work to do."
Diethard waited outside his hideaway in the Britannian slums anxiously, squeezing his briefcase to his chest. If he was found now, it would be all over for him. "Those cannon fodder better be telling the truth." He thought anxiously.
Then, an old car pulled up in front of him. "Get in." Diethard got in the passenger seat next to Ohgi, and quickly, the car took off.
"Is it true!?" Diethard asked excitedly, clutching his briefcase so hard Ohgi would have worried it would shatter. "Is Zero really back?"
Ohgi sighed; he figured he would never understand this man's obsession with Zero, so he would just have to live with it. "As far as we can tell, yes. He's back." he said, less than enthused.
"Wonderful!" Diethard cried, flailing his arms out in joy. "You have no idea how the end of the Black Rebellion put me on a never-ending spiral of despair! I was supposed to document Zero's life, his conquest! I thought God himself had denied me that right!" Diethard paused, only to shout in joy again much to Ohgi's displeasure. "But now, this hiatus will make his story even more glorious! Ohoho, I can't wait to get the cameras running again!"
"Pipe it down, will ya!?" Ohgi hissed at him. "This car isn't exactly soundproof!"
"My apologies." Diethard chuckled, holding back maniacal laughter. "I can barely contain myself. It's just too much."
"Well, hold it in until we get back to the embassy." Ohgi ordered him, while restraining himself from tossing the madman out into the street. "Although, to be honest, I don't approve of Zero leading us again. Or letting you back in, for that matter." he said honestly
"But you had no choice, right?" Diethard grinned. "If you didn't obey Zero, you would be out of the Black Knights, correct?" Ohgi didn't respond to that. "Struck a nerve, didn't I?" Diethard smirked.
"Whatever. We need your tech expertise to send a message."
"Consider it done." Diethard replied happily. "Who do you intend to send it to?"
Ohgi had to pause before answering. "The whole world."
"I'm delighted to hear that Zero has returned." Rakshata said, taking a puff from her pipe. "It has been sooo boring to just lie in hiding."
"My apologies, Rakshata." CC said over the computer connection. "We ran into some complications in getting him back. But I can assure you we're back on schedule."
"Excellent." Rakshata exclaimed, twirling her pipe. "I have been just DYING to show off my new knightmares."
"Before we get to that, we need to know about the status of the Shiitora." Kallen interrupted. "The diplomatic status with the consulate, as well as Britannia's latest dealings with the Chinese will keep us safe for now, but this is the first place they will look once they get a chance, especially if Zero is about to do what I think he will. We need to leave tonight."
"We're close by and fully stocked. We are ready to pick you guys up anytime." Rakshata said merrily.
"Be ready in about an hour. Zero needs to prepare a speech for his enemies. This is C2, over and out."
CC shut off the connection, and walked over towards the blank flash cards to begin writing the speech. "I can't believe you left this until the last minute." Kallen muttered dryly.
"I've had this in my head for at least 3 days now. I know what I'm doing." was her reply.
Kallen sighed at the witch's procrastinating antics. "Fair enough."
Turning to Lelouch, who was taking a break from the helmet, asked "You ready?"
Lelouch chuckled slightly. "What do you think?" He looked down to briefly stare at the mask. "After all I've done, am I really ready for anything?"
"Sorry; it was a stupid question." Kallen said. "I guess he really has made up his mind." Kallen then told him "Listen, Dietrich is a mad man."
Lelouch noted the lack of a detailed description like 'kind of' or 'something of a'. Which probably meant he really was mad. "Great." He muttered.
Kallen continued "He's very eccentric, and is only with us to document your life. Despite this, he doesn't know who you are…nor do I think he particularly cares…so don't be intimidated by him. Just act calm and collected when addressing him." Lelouch nodded, still intimidated by the prospect of what kind of man Dietrich was. "On to more important matters, just read whatever it is CC has on the cards. Remember to be commanding, and express yourself with your arms." Lelouch tried to take it all in, but it clearly didn't seem to help with his oncoming stage fright. "Listen, I saw you right before you fought Guilford. You were perfect back there." Kallen assured him. "And you didn't need notes or anything of the sort."
Lelouch just waved her off. "I believe you. I'm sure everything will be alright."
"It's finished." CC said. "Now, we just have to wait for Diethard…"
The intercom buzzed. CC was about to answer, but Lelouch got up and blocked her. "At this point, I think it is best that I handle this." Pulling his cloth-mask up, he said "This is Zero speaking."
"I did as you asked." Ohgi on the other end said, albeit unenthused. "Diethard's here."
"Excellent. I will see you all in the telecommunications room in a few minutes." Signing off, he went over to put on his other mask.
"By the way, why DID you suggest sending this message?" Kallen asked.
"What better time to announce my survival and triumph than when they believe they have won?" Lelouch replied as he looked at his helmet.
"No, I mean…why?" Kallen clarified. "Why did you just so easily suggest this? Up until now, someone had to prompt you to do anything even remotely Zero-like. And you just came up with this on your own; what changed?"
Lelouch had to pause before answering. "I honestly don't know. It just…felt right. Besides, if I'm to be Zero…" Lelouch paused to place the mask on properly. "…I might as well act as expected of him."
With that, Zero exited the room and went down to the communications room. As expected, he saw any soldier who was a qualified technician hard at work. Among them, which briefly surprised him, was a Britannian man with blond hair in a ponytail. "Diethard."
As if hearing the name spoken aloud, Diethard turned to see him. "Zero! Anyone could put on a costume, but I can tell it's really you!" he shouted with joy.
Just due to the creepy atmosphere he exuded, Lelouch was tempted to disappoint him so that he would be on his merry way. "Diethard. I'm glad you could make it." was his answer instead. "How soon until the broadcast will be ready?"
"We'll have it ready right at the start of the celebration, 9 pm…which should be right about now." Diethard announced proudly. "I look forward to personally recording it."
"Of that I have no doubt." Zero replied dryly. "I expect to this day, you have no regrets?"
"When YOU are the subject, how could I?" he asked as if it were rhetorical.
That answer only made him even creepier in Lelouch's eyes. "Very well then. In return, I expect great things from you."
"Zero-sama." One of the technicians interrupted. "We're ready."
With that, Zero stood behind the insignia of the Black Knights. Noticing CC holding up the flashcards, Diethard looked at Zero curiously. "I've never seen you use cards for your speeches before."
"I've been through a lot, Diethard." Zero replied. "I fear it will be a while before I can make grandiose speeches on my own consistently once more."
Leaving him be for now, Diethard went to the camera to make sure everything was in order. "Alright. All systems are go. 3, 2, 1, action!" Diethard signaled.
Without even looking at what CC had written on the cards, Lelouch raised his fists to his shoulders and shouted "Britannia! I am Zero! And I have returned!"
All of Britannia, both commoner and noble alike, only looked on in shock at their television screens. At first, most doubted it was the real deal; anyone can put on a mask and act. But, almost all would soon come to believe that the man on the TV was the genuine article.
"I suppose you have all believed me to have perished during my fight with Sir Guilford. But, as you can all see, Britannia's hubris has proved to be their undoing that afternoon…and will continue to be their undoing in the future!" Zero paused to spread his arms and have his cape flap for dramatic effect. "So much has changed since the Black Rebellion, and yet so little. Britannia's oppression of the numbers has only worsened, believing they could prevent rebellion with an iron fist. But they've only made us, the people of Japan, stronger! And they will soon see so has the rest of those under their foot!"
Civilians all around whispered at each other, wondering what that could have meant. "Anything short of total annihilation of the different people of earth will not guarantee this bloodthirsty empire's safety! Before, they experienced Japan's anguished cries! Now, they will feel that of the whole world!"
"Impossible!" Guilford almost under his breath as he observed the TV and dropped his remote.
"It was my mistake to liberate just Japan!" Zero on the TV said. "Even if we had regained our freedom last year, Britannia would have enough resources to recuperate and take back our homeland! In order to ensure our safety, we must not only help ourselves, but the world as well! We will have allies we can trust! Tools at our disposal! And most important, the power to show Britannia we are not inferior! The world is not inferior!"
"Not only will we free the world from Britannia; we will utterly force the nation of Britannia to transform itself if it is to survive in the new world which we shall create." Zero paused for a brief moment to let it sink in with his audience. "Yes, you heard me. I do not wish to destroy Britannia outright, although like many of you I have been tempted to do so many times, especially after the SAZ massacre. But, if we are to uphold true justice, we must behave as a just nation. In order to truly secure peace we must not become our enemy. If Japan is to truly save the world, it must set an example, no matter how hard it may be for all of us. We shall build a nation where race, creed nor status shall determine one's standing in life. The only requirement will be to be just!"
One particular TV was suddenly paused. The owner of the said television wasn't afraid of missing anything; even if it was a pirated broadcast, his DVR would record it. "Yeah, Gino. I see it." Suzaku stared at the screen, observing the true clothes of Zero.
"So, you think it's really him?" Gino asked over the phone.
Suzaku, at first, hesitated. "Yeah. It sure looks like it." He finally replied. "Listen, I'll call you back. But be ready. I have a strong feeling we'll be deployed to Area 11 real soon." He hung up and continued to play the TV.
"We will fight with all of our being. But we cannot do this alone. Therefore, I call upon the people of Japan to join our cause! Do not be afraid; for together, we are strong! And, I call upon the world! Britannia may have conquered you as it has us! But so long as we live and breathe, none of us will stop fighting!"
Suzaku scowled at the TV screen, his palm nearly crushing the remote in his hand. "Lelouch…how many more of my people do you intend to murder in the name of your vendetta?" he choked in a harsh whisper.
"Never again will I allow a tragedy like the SAZ massacre to occur! And I will not stand idly by while oppression and genocide is happening before our eyes!"
The rest of the Black Knights looked on as Zero preformed for the camera. Though CC was sure to hold up each flashcard promptly when needed, his ability to deliver the speech was uncanny. Not once did he slip up; some began to suspect that the flashcards were there more for assurance than anything else. Even some of his detractors had to admit they were impressed.
"It looks like we're really back to the way things were." Chiba said to Todoh, her tone neutral.
"Hardly." Todoh replied back, though understanding what she meant. "If anything, by announcing his return to our enemy, the war will only become more dangerous and brutal."
Kallen clenched a fist nervously, but thankfully, despite his amnesia, Lelouch seemed perfectly at home in the Zero suit. "So far, so good…" Kallen also felt her heart flutter, and a warm feeling grow in her stomach as she watched him. Kallen then forced herself to calm down. "Face it, Kallen. You should have never thought about those fantasies in the first place." Even back then, she knew it was foolish. Zero's miracles, his speeches and charisma…Kallen fell for Zero a long time ago. She knew nothing could ever conspire between them; how could something happen and not end in disaster? She was the captain of his personal squadron, he the leader of the rebels. A relationship would only complicate things. Not to mention her own misgivings on Zero's identity back then. She wondered if he was a handsome hero underneath, or a poor soul whose face was as scared as his heart. Seeing him with CC for the first time and learning he himself was not Japanese further unnerved her. But somewhere along the way, she found out she didn't care. She cared deeply about him, and would do anything to uphold his ideals. Until she found out the truth, that is. "It doesn't matter now…" she told herself. "The Black Knights need Zero. Even if it wasn't the one I wanted. And, I must fulfill my duty like never before…" She trailed off somewhere along Zero's tirade. But at least she got to listen to the end of it.
"But most of all, I'd like to offer Britannia a choice. Step down. Release all of the numbers you have enslaved, reform your country, and all will be forgiven. If there is a way we can avoid further bloodshed, we should pursue it. But, if you refuse…steel yourselves. You will not be safe. You will know no rest. For every Black Knight that falls, we will return ten times over. I promise you, Britannia, you will realize the wrongs you have done…and be forever shamed by it." Everyone allowed the last part to sink in. "This is Zero to the world: Rise!" he called.
"And…cut!" Diethard declared as the camera man shut the camera off.
As if relieved to get it all out of the way, Zero gently touched his mask. "Wow. That was…exhilarating." He thought.
Many of the Black Knights erupted into cheers. "Yeah! Zero's back, baby!" Tamaki shouted, enthusiastic as ever.
"Alright, people!" Kallen suddenly shouted. "We need to prepare to leave! The Shiitora is coming to pick us up, and I don't want to be here when the Britannians find a way to storm this place!"
"I can buy you some time." Gao assured her. "Prince Odysseus's wedding to the empress is an important political agreement if Britannia is to even touch our Sakuradite supply. I'm sure the 1st Prince will do everything he can to delay any hostilities."
"Still, Kallen's right." Ohgi said. "We can't take any chances. We have to leave and make sure no traces can be found of our presence here. At least then, we can use this place as a hideout in case of an emergency." Ohgi quickly glanced at Zero. "And, if Zero-sama expects to recruit people from all over the world, it will complicate things if we are to find help in China." Ohgi, though he didn't tell anyone about it, was skeptical about that last part, considering the history between the two nations. But that was for another time.
"You speak the truth." Zero agreed. "Everyone, gather any supplies we may need that our generous host can provide. How long until the submarine arrives, Kozuki?"
"In about 30 minutes, sir. I wanted to give you plenty of time to send your message, Zero-sama."
Zero nodded in understanding and turned to the Black Knights' unexpected ally. "Gao, just in case, do you have any firearms we could use to defend ourselves?"
"A few." The Eunich answered. "But it will not be enough to face off against a whole battalion armed with assault weapons."
"As soon as our ride arrives, we'll return them. Thank you, Gao." Zero said.
"A pleasure, as always." Gao smiled back.
Little more than an hour later, Gao was confronted by a whole squadron of Britannian soldiers. "You are entitled to your opinion if you think the Black Knights are here. But unless Prince Odysseus plans on calling the wedding off, I don't have to let you in if I don't want to." He told them calmly.
Xing Ke planted himself behind the wall, his hand on the hilt of his jian, just in case their interrogators became aggressors. "Why!? Why are you doing this!?" he thought towards his master.
Suddenly, an expensive private car pulled up. And out stepped Sir Guilford. "Why, Sir Gilford, if I'm not mistaken." Gao said. "This is quite unexpected."
Guilford showed no emotion, but inside he was seething with anger. "Step aside. We have business inside."
"As I told your men…" Gao began.
"I know the agreement with the treaty and Odysseus's…marriage." Guilford hoped he was able to hide the disgust in his voice. Granted, the emperor was old enough to be the father of many of his consorts, but at least he waited until they were consenting adults. But, that was neither here nor there right now. What mattered now was apprehending Zero. "But I have received orders from the emperor himself to investigate the embassy, no matter the consequences to our deal. Remember, Mr. Gao, you need us; not the other way around. We have ample sakuradite in this colony; yours is just insurance." Gao looked at him nervously. "Either you let us in and keep the treaty, or you defy us and we'll leave your country to rot, and your compatriots will not get an ounce of the power promised. The choice is yours." Guilford said.
Gao glared at him like he would murder the man…then he took a deep breath and seemingly calmed himself down. Turning back to the embassy, he waved for the Britannians to come in.
As soon as they entered, soldiers began to point their rifles into every room, expecting a shootout at any moment. After a tense 15 minutes, one of the soldiers called "Place is clean. There's nobody here."
Guilford sighed in disappointment, though he was not surprised. "Either they were never here in the first place, or they left before we could even get here." Guilford collected himself and ordered "Make one final sweep, just in case! After that, we'll be heading out!"
"Yes, my lord!" the soldiers shouted in unison.
Guilford temporarily forgot about protocol and leaned against the wall as he contemplated what to do with this current headache of his. Then, he heard his phone ring. "Sir Guilford speaking." He answered.
"My lord, we have interrogated the guards from today's duel like you asked…rather extensively I might add."
Guilford was so mentally exhausted from his fight earlier in the day that he forgot about the whole ordeal with his soldiers helping Zero. "Well, why has it taken so long for you to get answers!?"
"That's just it, sir: The men could not remember anything of the events that transpired this afternoon! All they could remember was that knight, Madame Cheshire, coming in, and they also testified to seeing some homeless man somehow infiltrating the base."
Guilford's eyes widened in shock. He remembered being told about the knight coming in, but was so focused on his duel he paid it no heed. "She…she was his ticket in!"
"Also, we have received word from the morgue. It's…it's even crazier than…"
"After today, nothing will surprise me! So just tell me!" Guilford yelled.
"According to the doctors, Zero just came to life!" Guilford was too shocked to reply now. "I told you it was crazy." The messenger said.
"Y-yes." Guilford stuttered. "Is that all you could get out of them?"
"More or less. However, upon reviewing the security footage, I noticed something peculiar. The soldiers were first alerted to Zero's…resurrection, you may call it…by a woman doctor."
"She was not registered on any army medical center! In fact, her description closely matched that of this so-called 'Madam Cheshire' I mentioned earlier."
Guilford nearly let the phone drop from his grasp. "What does this all mean?" The best Guilford could think of was a decoy…but that didn't change the fact that whoever it was he shot, all three bullets to the head would have been fatal. His mind was swimming with possibilities, all of them preposterous.
"Sir? Sir!" Guilford snapped out of his gaze to address one of the SWAT members. "We've checked the entire grounds. We can't find a trace of those rebels anywhere, sir."
Guilford massaged his temples, and walked menacingly towards Gao. "The Black Knights aren't here." He hissed dangerously close to his face.
"Yes. I told your subordinates that." Gao said, seemingly unafraid of how the knight invaded his personal space, looking like he was about to snap.
"Then WHY were you so resistant to permitting us entry!?" Guilford demanded.
Gao slowly smiled. "I was just having too much fun."
Gilford looked as if he would murder the man right there on the spot. But quickly, he restrained himself and let out a growl as he headed for the exit. "Damn eunuchs." He muttered. That half-man deserved a swift cross across the eyes and then some. But if he was going to upset diplomatic relations, it was best if it was in the name of national security.
Quickly, he helped himself inside of his car. But for the longest time, he did not move. Instead, he gripped the wheel so tight it looked like he would pull it off, until finally he yelled "AARRRGGGHHH!" Slamming the wheel, he let out a few ragged breaths. "I swear to you Zero…I will make you pay most dearly for this humiliation!"
The Black Knights, in the meantime, were rallying together, celebrating their rebirth. With all immediate danger passed, it seemed like there was no better opportunity.
However, one was not among them. Zero stood above them on the railing, observing the soldiers and knightmares under his command. Even with all that has happened, Lelouch's heart was racing in this relative calm. Ever since his power awakened, his life had gone topsy-turvy, most often for the worse. And he knew, despite this being the only path he could take, it would only get more twisted from here. Gripping the rail, he thought "It begins."
I know this chapter was rather slow, but I hope you all were able to get SOME enjoyment out of this.
Since the Black Knights will be doing something of a world tour, where do you all think I should start first? I'd like to separate myself from R2 right now, and go somewhere other than China for now (we'll get to that eventually!).
Also, I was a bit unclear on why Britannia wanted to conquer China (other than for the sake of conquering it), so I decided to give China it's own Sakuradite supply. But if someone can give me better insight into the matter, I gladly change it.
Thanks again, and I'll hear from you all again next time! Next, the Knights of the Round are deployed! And Suzaku is taking someone with him!