Yet We Will Have Cloven, Chapter Four
The silence in the audience chamber was deafening as the Emperor rose to his feet, fury written on his face. "You are dead."
The young boy fell back in terror, his earlier bluster lost in fear for himself and for his sister. He tried not to shake, tried to remember his dignity among his father's court, the whispering, sniveling, dishonorable multitude.
But he failed. He was as yet only a boy.
"You have been dead since the day you were born. Who gave you the clothes on your back, the food that you've eaten?" The voice thundered. His father towered over him, impossibly large.
"Even the death of my son Clovis proves this truth! Britannia evolves! Britannia grows stronger! Britannia will conquer! ALL HAIL BRITANNIA!" The crowd on the monitor rose along with the crowd watching it, replying in kind.
"All hail Britannia! All hail Britannia!"
"Lelouch! You are nothing! Nothing!"
Lelouch found himself unable to stand, unable even to crawl. "You are WEAK. For that sin, you will be killed, and in your death will be written the glory of this nation, of our way of life!"
He felt the weight of the emperor's disdain on him, the scorn of the courtiers, the utter certainty that he was alone, that Nunnally was alone, that they were both lost with no one to save them. Black spots swam into his vision as he fell, unable to move. "No! Nunnally! Nunnally! Nunnally!"
"Nunnally!" Lelouch screamed as he fell off of the couch. He was covered in sweat, eyes wide in panic. He stayed that way for a few minutes before a semblance of calm returned to him. Lelouch shuddered out a sigh.
"Nightmare, boy?" He heard the sardonic question coming from his bed. C.C. was leaning over the side, watching him intently with no emotion visible on her face.
Lelouch took a deep breath before responding. "I'm fine, C.C." I don't need anyone's help.
She quirked an eyebrow, then drew back out of sight. "Have it your way, then. But I imagine that your scream woke someone."
He glanced over at the clock. 4:45AM. It was going to be a long day. Lelouch stood up and sat back on the couch, placing his hands over his face. That monster, he thought viciously. Clovis's funeral and the emperor's speech yesterday had disturbed him more than he had thought. He had not had a nightmare about his banishment in a long time.
Then again, perhaps killing Clovis had something to do with it as well.
His musings were halted by the sound of a light tap at the door. "Lelouch-sama? Mistress Nunnally would like to know whether you are all right." Sayoko waited for a reply in respectful silence.
Lelouch shook his head walked over to the door. "I'll come to see her in a moment, Sayoko. Tell her I'm all right."
She said nothing in reply, undoubtedly already on her way to apprise Nunnally of the situation. Lelouch paused, reflecting on his sister. In the wake of his banishment she had been the only thing that had mattered. He had resolved never to trust another with her safety. He had trusted Suzaku, once; perhaps he could do so again.
Weakness. Was he yet weak, even with this strange power? According to his father, it was all in the results.
He would just have to see how the pieces arranged themselves. Lelouch left his room and walked down to begin his day by comforting his sister.
It was a rather gloomy day, Cornelia thought as she sat down to breakfast. Gloomy and altogether too quiet as she reviewed personnel files early in the morning, anticipation having won out over sleep. She was ready for battle; going over the facts she'd already gathered was just a way to kill time.
At least breakfast was good. She glanced up at Gilbert G. P. Guilford, who was standing at attention, not sitting in the presence of his charge. Cornelia smiled. There were gloomy days and early mornings, but Gilbert was there just the same; he never varied.
"Gilbert, sit down and eat. We've a long day ahead and I need you at your best." Cornelia stated with muted affection.
"Certainly, Princess," her knight replied. He sat down and carefully topped off her cup of coffee before pouring his own. She kept her eyes on the data pad, ignoring the look of concern on his face.
It was warranted this morning, she knew. Gilbert had been with her since her early academy days, and he was familiar with Cornelia's great obsessions: Lady Marianne, Euphemia, Schneizel, Lelouch, Nunnally. Now Clovis was gone, and Cornelia was determined to avenge herself on the terrorists who she blamed for three deaths in her family.
She was not being entirely objective, and Gilbert was loathe to confront her about it. She knew this; he knew this. There was simply nothing to be said. It was a family matter.
Setting the data pad aside, Cornelia turned to breakfast. She was also concerned about Euphemia, and ASEECS, and about the young man she had promoted there. He was an Eleven, albeit an Honorary Britannian, and his skill was admirable. His deference, too, was admirable.
Yet she was more than a little irritated by Euphemia's opinion of him. No fault of his, none that she could see. She was not being objective.
She frowned a bit as she ate. Was all this clear lack of objectivity hindering her? Would it prove her undoing in battle? Was she making irrational decisions?
Then again, Cornelia reflected, rationality did not always win the day. For now, for today, she would stick by her plan and call out the terrorist who flaunted a death in her family. It was the honorable thing to do. The noble thing to do.
She inadvertently caught Gilbert's eye as she looked up. He saw her furrowed brow, but again remained silent. Cornelia looked away and forced herself to eat.
A gloomy day indeed.
Lelouch walked the quiet hallways of Ashford, glad to have a break. Ohgi's phone call moments before had soured his mood yet further; he had placated the man as best he could, but ultimately Lelouch was running out of excuses. The resistance group would want to move before he was prepared; his options were either to lose momentum by inaction or by an underwhelming show of planning.
Weak. He shook his head to discard the voice, but it hardly helped. It was as though his father's shadow were on his back today.
It had been so natural to take the initiative at Shinjuku. Even in the hurry to liberate Suzaku, he had not found himself lacking time. He had felt ready. Now, though, he felt as though time was being managed by someone else, and he was in the middle of playing their game.
He needed to regain control of the situation.
Lelouch was still distracted a few hours later when the announcement came over the news stations; a planned restructuring of the Saitama Ghetto. He swore under his breath. No time to prepare, and he had to respond. This was Cornelia pushing Zero, and he had to push back. Was he up for it?
Somehow, he did not feel the same as he had in Shinjuku.
"I'm telling you, there is nothing going on between us! Shirley, we're just friends." Kallen did her utmost to keep the irritation out of her voice and retain her soft-spoken persona, but it was wearing thin. She had been accosted by Shirley only moments after receiving notice of the forthcoming "urban renewal" in Saitama; she was in no mood to be confronted over her supposed feelings for Lelouch.
Particularly since she was quite uncertain about them herself.
"Kallen, are you sure?" Shirley asked, disbelief plain on her features.
"Yes, I'm sure we're really just friends. Really."
"Well, all right. I'm sorry to have gotten upset about it, Kallen. I don't know why I'm so emotional about it," Shirley sounded genuinely apologetic. Kallen was rather inclined to forgive her, save for her desire to talk to Lelouch.
"Certainly, Shirley. Don't even worry about it." She tried to smile.
"I suppose I should get ready for practice. Kallen, please don't mention this to Lelouch! I'm sure he'd misunderstand!"
I'm sure he would, Kallen reflected. "Of course! I'll be discreet."
Shirley nodded and waved goodbye as she jogged off. Kallen waited until she was out of sight, then sent a text message to Lelouch.
Impatient, she turned toward his living quarters. Hopefully he had a plan.
Kallen was approaching the clubhouse from the courtyard when she spotted a familiar figure walking toward the street. In contrast with her usual aloof stroll, C.C. seemed irritated. Kallen elected to follow her; she rarely went anywhere without Lelouch, so he was likely ahead of her or soon to follow. She caught up to the green-haired girl a moment later.
"C.C.! Where's Lelouch?" The other girl halted and turned to face her.
She was angry, or at least frustrated; Kallen could see it in her expression. Still, she looked around before responding. "He's gone to Saitama."
"Saitama? He has a plan then? When is he contacting us?" Kallen felt a momentary burst of purpose. She could be of help, maybe prevent the tragedy that had occurred in Shinjuku!
"He's gone alone, girl. He doesn't want any help, it seems." C.C. sounded a little bitter.
"That's, that's crazy! Why wouldn't he get us to help him?" She tried to keep her voice under control.
C.C. turned away and began walking again. "Because he's a little fool."
"Wait! Where are you going?"
She sighed before responding, "To save him, obviously. I can't have him dying here."
"Well, I'm coming with you. I can't believe he would do that. Doesn't he trust us?"
"Hmph. Apparently not enough." C.C. paused a moment and looked over her shoulder as they neared the street. "What are you going to do, girl?"
Kallen glared back at her, obviously irritated. "I'll come with you. He needed us in Shinjuku; I can help him here too."
The frustration left C.C.'s features then, replaced by a soft smile. "Aren't you the devoted one? Let's see what we can do then."
They went off together, hurrying now. There was not very much time before the planned assault would begin.
Lelouch was not having a particularly good day. When Suzaku had confirmed that he would not be taking part in any operations, and therefore that the Lancelot would be indisposed, Lelouch had thought himself as good as victorious, despite his limited time for preparation.
After all, hadn't he won in Shunjuku, with no preparation at all, even with the Lancelot in place?
This was different, however. His makeshift army was different. Perhaps Ohgi's group were a cut above the rest; perhaps Kallen had just been that good; perhaps he had just been lucky...
No, it had not just been luck. Just like it was not luck now. Lelouch was being outplayed, and he knew it.
Part of it was Cornelia. She was practiced, brave, and competent; Clovis had been none of those. Lelouch suspected he was her better in the latter category, but he could in no way make up for the other two. And her troops, well... He looked over his display and saw that the last of the R group had ceased responding. The transponders for two of them were still active, meaning that the terrorists in them had fled. His lip curled in disgust.
He heard a mortar impact no less than a hundred meters from his concealed position. Not concealed for long, he reflected bitterly. He fought to quell the sense of panic.
Ohgi had not run. Kallen had not run. Even that idiot Tamaki, with all his complaining, had held the line. It wasn't just Cornelia and her troops making the difference. It was his own.
Lelouch clenched his fist in frustrated rage. Was this it, then? Even with his geass, with his earlier victory, he could not stand up and win against a strong opponent? Was this going to be the end? Was he weak?
Two more knightmares down.
Panicked shouting across the ranks.
Disorder. Chaos. Defeat.
Nunnally, I'm sorry.
He looked down at the tactical display, resolving to try to sneak in inside Cornelia's G1. It was the only way now; there would be no general victory here. If he could do that much.
For a moment, he considered running. He could get away, surely, leaving the knightmare frame behind. But he would lose. Lose, and be weak, and embrace that weakness by running. Panic warred with his personal pride. Trembling, Lelouch began to check his readout for a way to the G1. He could do it.
Even as he watched, though, he saw two Britannian IFFs go offline; Cornelia's men, not his own. He looked again; another fell. Then another. Who could be doing this? From tactical, it looked like one unit fighting forward. He paused and looked again. No, it was two of them- one former R unit and one of the P group. One hanging back and the other engaging close. Who could-
"Zero! ZERO! Where the hell are you?" The enraged voice broke over the communicator, clearly female. "What the hell are you doing? Answer me!" She sounded angry, very angry. Lelouch felt a small smile on his lips. Very angry, but more than a little fearful. Not of the Britannians, either.
Fearful for him. Worried for him.
Here was a soldier he could use!
"Q-1, I'm pleased to hear your voice," Lelouch hoped that the static and background noise disguised the relief and happiness in his tone.
"You have some explaining to do, Zero," Kallen's voice came back, still angry but definitely relieved.
Lelouch sat up straight and took stock of the situation. It was ugly, to be sure. Ugly, but a great deal better than before. There were possibilities now, paths to an honorable retreat. Options.
"Don't worry, Q-1," he said, confidence coming back into his voice, "just trust me for now."
"Oh, she will, Zero," came another voice, and Lelouch choked for a moment before recovering. He glanced at tactical again; yes, that behavior fit quite well. "Q-2, thank you. Hold your positions momentarily, both of you. Everyone on the ground, continue the evacuation effort. P-group, I want you to advance to the following positions, then wait for further instructions. Cornelia will not escape this battle unbloodied!"
He smiled. This was not going to be any sort of overwhelming success. No grand defeat of Cornelia's forces. But he - they, rather, were not going to resign here. "Prepare yourself for this, sister," he whispered to himself.
"My lord, it appears that the terrorists are fighting back once again. We've lost four units in this sector in the last three minutes."
Cornelia frowned at her display. Zero, if indeed it was Zero, had stumbled, but he appeared to have some fight left yet. Still, with his reduced numbers, Cornelia expected that another round by some of her elites would break his momentum.
Terrorists, she reflected, were not soldiers.
"My knight! Report."
Gilbert's face came over the display, concentration evident on his features. "Resistance has fallen off here, Princess. I am proceeding to the location where Jarvis Team was defeated."
"Good, Guilford. Report if you see anything unusual. Gervais is approaching the position ahead of you."
"Yes, My lord!"
Cornelia paged over to the readout from Gervais' frame next, wrinkled her brow, then contacted him. "Gervais, what do you make of that?"
"My lord, there appear to be two of our units behind cover. They appear to be inactive. They did not attempt to evade when I fired."
"Abandoned untouched? What cowards!" Cornelia looked on in disgust. If this was the best Zero could come up with, these terrorists would not last long.
"Gervais, this is Guilford. I am approaching your position from the Northwest. Once I arrive you will circle the cover and we will check the status of those KMFs."
Cornelia refrained from comment. She knew that destroying two (if not more) knightmares was an unnecessary waste, in addition to being unproductive; they might find some clue as to how Zero had gained control of them. Guilford was correct in this decision; observe, confirm, and then proceed. Based on her assessment of losses, Zero could not have more than eight active frames at the outside; from what they had seen so far, none of them were a match for her soldiers.
She and the rest of the command staff watched as Guilford rendezvoused and began to circle the silent frames. There was no active resistance elsewhere, only civilians fleeing the ghetto.
"My lord," Gervais began, "both frames are open. The pilots are not in the machines at this time. I see nothing around them."
Cornelia processed this news silently. Was this it then? Had the pilots abandoned their machines after a brief rally? She was on the point of ordering Gervais to hold and have more units scout the area when one of the machines exploded.
To his credit, Gervais reacted quickly and did not panic, but he was still off-balance. A burst of KMF rifle fire decimated first his factsphere, then the center gyro of his frame. "Dammit! Ejecting!" He called out before punching the eject.
Guilford had already taken cover, out of the only possible line of fire from the sniper that had taken out Gervais. He was scanning the area, contemplating his next move, when a warning rang out over the communicator. He sidestepped quickly, luckily just avoiding the blow that had been aimed at his factsphere from above.
Instead, the terrorist Sutherland took out his left arm from the elbow joint down. Guilford pulled back quickly, careful not to enter the sniper's line of fire.
"Guilford! We have multiple reinforcements coming your way." He heard the princess's voice over his communicator.
"Yes, my lord!" He called out, and struck toward the Sutherland.
He noted curiously that the Sutherland did not back away, or even seem hesitant as he charged. The pilot had moved very smoothly, he knew, to leap from the building behind him and strike him unnoticed. Whoever was piloting that frame was good.
"Friendlies incoming your position in one-hundred twenty seconds, Lord Guilford." He dismissed the update, focused on his charge. Astonishingly, the Sutherland stayed still. He was less than thirty meters away when it suddenly leapt forward.
And then, unbelievably, the Sutherland rolled 180 degrees off the partly collapsed building to his right, and ripped the lance out of his grasp, flinging it to the side. Guilford recovered quickly, trying to ascertain how the hell that had happened. The pilot was not stopping though; the terrorist was almost behind him now, tearing through the environment with its landspinners, using them to redirect its momentum off the damaged buildings.
Whoever the hell that pilot is, he's good, Guilford thought as he spun around to meet the charge.
"Ninety-five seconds, my lord!"
He grimaced and charged. The Sutherland once again evaded him, however, pulling back and catching his knightmare's knee joint with a beautifully timed kick. He felt the gyro collapse at the same time that his system readout started showing red. Now he was hampered in his movement, and without his lance. He did his best to turn the Gloucester to meet the ghostly Sutherland again.
It was gone, three quarters behind him before he found it with his good arm. He did a number on its arm, too, but gave worse than he got; the actuator was gone, another perfectly timed strike had disabled it.
This is bad, he thought to himself. But he did not panic; even as he heard eighty seconds incoming, and Cornelia's worried tone over the communicator. He did not panic.
But then he saw his factsphere go dark, and felt his knightmare losing its footing. The damned sniper. He'd wandered into its range. He could see the Sutherland, almost untouched, before him; the pilot was waiting for him to eject. Waiting for him, an elite knight, to eject! He cursed under his breath, even as he felt a bit of respect for his foe. No ordinary terrorist, to be sure.
He heard Cornelia ordering him to eject. Before he did, he called out over an open channel, "Pilot of the Sutherland! Next time we meet, I will not lose!"
To his shock, he received an answer, an angry woman's voice, "Next time? I'm only letting you go here by Zero's orders, Britannian!"
He pulled the eject lever, hearing even as he did another explosion and cursing from the command center.
"Guilford! Are you all right?" Cornelia shouted over the communicator. Two more explosions had torn through the street by her reserve forces. Even had Guilford fared better against the Eleven pilot, his reinforcements had been effectively removed from combat.
She made a small sigh of relief when she heard Guilford's affirmative reply, immediately cut off when a familiar face appeared on the G-1's display.
"Zero," she cursed.
"Good afternoon, Viceroy. It seems that we have come to the end of today's game."
"What the hell are you talking about, terrorist? Are you running away?" Cornelia asked angrily.
"I've achieved my objective here, Cornelia. The residents of Saitama have mostly escaped, and your knight has fallen to mine. I have no further need to stay here."
"You coward!" She growled angrily. Cornelia knew from her readout that even if they knew where he was, Zero would likely get away before her forces could intercept him.
"We'll meet again, Cornelia. Next time, I hope it will be more decisive."
Cornelia turned her attention to the tactical display as the image vanished from the monitor. Damn Zero! Damn him!
Kallen approached Lelouch with a set expression on her face. The drainage tunnels weren't the most fun place for this discussion, but she needed to get it over with. She hoped that C.C. would back her up.
"Kallen, I-" Whatever words he was about to start with were cut off as she slapped him across the face. Lelouch stumbled back against the concrete and shook his head. Kallen was not a weakling, after all. That had hurt.
C.C. glanced at her, a little amusement coloring her features. "I think your Q-1 is a little angry, Lelouch."
"Lelouch," Kallen began, "what the hell were you thinking? Why didn't you ask me for help? Why didn't you ask anybody for help?"
He sighed and stood up again, rubbing his reddened cheek. "I'm sorry, Kallen." He looked at her, and for a moment she saw the same relief that she had heard in his voice during the battle. "You as well, C.C. I realized something out there, today."
They both glanced at him, curious.
"I can't do this alone. To beat them, to beat Britannia, I need an army. I need soldiers I can trust." He smiled, and Kallen could see that half of it was the bravura of Zero, calculated to impress; the other half, though, that looked genuine, even grateful. "I need people I can trust."
"I'm not going anywhere, boy," C.C. commented airily.
"Lelouch," Kallen took a deep breath. "You can count on me, so don't ever pull anything like that again. I'll protect you, all right?" She bit her lip at that, and blushed. C.C. snorted in amusement.
"Thank you, Kallen," Lelouch replied, a little more confidently this time. "You were amazing out there, you know, everything I could have asked for." She blushed a little more, making Lelouch look a little awkward as well.
"OK, enough. I'm for a shower and pizza. You two lovebirds coming?" C.C. asked over her shoulder as she walked away.
Lelouch frowned, but then gestured for Kallen to follow him. "Let's go. By the way, since you're still in your uniform, I think we should probably call this a date." He looked down at the rumpled blazer, missing the conflicting irritation and embarrassment in her eyes.
"You're hopeless, Lelouch." Kallen shook her head sadly. They turned to follow the witch home.
The Sutherland spun over itself, propelled by its landspinners. The giant machine reached out and grabbed the lance, ripping it away and hurling it from the Gloucester with the force of the spin. The image froze.
"Zero was bad enough, but he explicitly referred to his 'knight,' did he not?" Andreas Dalton kept his eyes on the Sutherland.
"Yes," Guilford replied. He was not excited to be reviewing this footage so soon after his defeat, but it was imperative that they discover the identity of this pilot. "I hate to admit it, but this Eleven pilot was amazing. Also," he paused before continuing, looking down at his report, "also, I am convinced it was a woman, based on her voice when she returned my greeting."
Cornelia's eyebrow went up at that. It was a possibility, certainly, and an interesting one at that. Was Zero a woman as well? She sighed audibly. Guilford had survived, and she was pleased by that, but this pilot he had faced had been amazing. Taking out a Gloucester with a Sutherland was no mean feat between two pilots of roughly equal skill; the precision Zero's soldier had displayed in taking out her own knight of honor was remarkable. She knew of almost no one who could have accomplished the feat, or even made the Sutherland display that kind of mobility.
Was this woman pilot an aberration, or did Zero have other, similar resources?
"Guilford, we will stay on the alert for this pilot. We know nothing yet, but Zero cannot have many such individuals in his employ. If we can remove them, they may well prove crucial to stopping Zero."
"Yes, my lord," Dalton assented. "However, I do think that the sniper was no amateur either. Whoever it was was clearly trusted by the pilot of the Sutherland, to make such close shots. This is more than just Zero's tactical planning; execution like this takes trust."
Cornelia frowned. Dalton was right. Zero's forces in the early part of the battle had been unreliable; they had folded when the pressure was on. These two, though - and she did not discount the notion that Zero was the sniper - they were good.
"For now, we can focus on locating them along with the other known terrorist organizations. If we bring one to light, the others will likely follow." Cornelia turned to her knight. "Guilford, you will have your chance for revenge."
"As your highness wishes," Guilford replied fervently.
On the screen, the Sutherland was silent.
"Onii-sama, are you all right?" Nunnally took her brother's hand, a worried expression on her face. Lelouch had just put her to bed after an interesting diner. Kallen and C.C. had both been in attendance.
Honestly, Nunnally had had a great deal of fun. Initially everyone had been a little awkward, but she had managed to get Kallen to open up a little, and the other two had followed shortly thereafter. And Lelouch had sounded happy.
Now that they were gone, though, he had gone silent, and she was worried. Had she done something wrong? Was Lelouch depressed to only have her for company?
"I'm sorry Nunnally, I'm just a little distracted. It was a long day." He was being honest there, at least. Physically and emotionally, it had been quite trying. Seeing Kallen and C.C. getting along with Nunnally had pleased him more than he had suspected though; Lelouch wondered whether she was lonely.
"Lelouch-" "Nunnally-" They began at once.
Nunnally laughed. "I'm sorry, onii-sama. I guess I was worried that you were bored with only me, since the girls have left." He heard a little trepidation in her voice.
"Of course not!" He stated flatly. "I love you, Nunnally. I never get tired of being with you. I was just wondering if you were lonely. You seemed to enjoy having company at dinner." He frowned a little guiltily. He never encouraged anyone to spend time with them.
"Well, it was fun, Lelouch." She smiled. "But I'm never lonely as long as you're around." Her free and simple declaration warmed him.
"I love you, Nunnally. Too bad we worried each other. I'll try to have Kallen come by again, all right?"
"All right, Lelouch. But you had better decide which girl you're dating. I think they'll both be pretty angry otherwise." She remarked tactfully.
Lelouch started. "Nunnally! I'm, ah, well..." he floundered, trying to come up with an excuse.
"It's fine, onii-sama. Just don't make those girls unhappy, that would be mean." She leaned over to touch her cheek to his hand. "And I know you're not a mean person."
AN: Well, it's good to be back! I'm sorry I have not updated in a while, but things have been rather busy for the last few months. With any luck, I'll be able to get some more work done on this story in the near future ^^ Thank you to all who have reviewed, favorited, or set alerts for this story. I can only hope that you enjoy it! Please review and let me know what you think!