Disclaimer: No copyright is mine, thus no copyrighted character is. If you recognize them from something that's not written by 'Pale Wolf', I have no legal claim to them.
Code Geass: The War Of Kings
By Pale Wolf
The Holy Grail War
"Give it back!"
Lelouch 'Lamperouge' looked towards the girl's voice with a bit of a frown, chin resting in his hand.
The voice's owner was no one he knew. Young, perhaps the same age as his younger sister Nunnally. Slim, lightly-built, with long dark hair and wide blue eyes. Short black dress, black stockings, with a bright-red oversized jacket and hat thrown over it all. Japanese, if he had to guess, based on the features, but not entirely, there was a fair amount of European influence in there.
What he presumed to be 'it' was a thin gold ring, rather plain, being tossed between the upraised hands of a much taller young man - somewhat older than Lelouch himself, athletic, red hair, blue eyes, dressed in the black uniform of a Britannian academy, perhaps the local university. Probably, in fact, given it was the only major Britannian civilian presence in this city.
The girl leapt up to grasp it, but the man threw the ring overhand to a similarly-dressed blonde man - presumably a friend, laughing. "Not until you ask nicely."
The girl pursed her lips, looking up at the blonde. "P... please... it's my mother's..."
"Mm..." He tapped a finger against his cheek. "Nicer." He chuckled, leaning back against what Lelouch presumed to be their car - a rather nice gleaming-silver recent-make Arawn sports car. Probably bought by the man's father, Lelouch doubted a student made enough money for that.
"Wha...?" The girl swallowed. "... What do you want me to say...?" She muttered something under her breath.
"Geeeeh," Rivalz muttered from behind Lelouch. "Don't university students have anything better to do with their time?"
Lelouch nodded absently, drumming his slim fingers against his cheek. There was certainly no way he or Rivalz - emphasis on he - could stop this through direct physical intervention. "Like their classes."
His voice was completely devoid of sarcasm, but Rivalz got it, the wince audible in his voice. "Okay sure, we're kilometers away from school and skipping a whole day, but come on. Viscount Semnan put up a ridiculously awesome bet on his chess skills and the guy doesn't leave Fuyuki."
"Of course, Rivalz. I found it in the first place, after all." His gaze, and attention, never wavered from the scene of the bullying. He just needed to twist the factors in his head until it all came together. Ethics of mauling the older students aside, Rivalz probably wouldn't be willing to ram them with the motorcycle even if it was a rental rather than his baby, so that was off the table. Hm.
Rivalz obviously had some experience with Lelouch, because after a short pause, he shook his head. "Oh no, Lelouch, seriously, no. I don't like this either, but we'd just get the crap beat out of us, and the old man's already starting the game with Semnan. We've gotta get in there to bail him out before we lose our shot at the cash. They're not gonna hurt her, she's a kid."
An angry response boiled up to Lelouch's lips, but with long experience, he bit it back, keeping his voice at its usual mellow, disinterested tone. "We don't need that long to deal with the Viscount, Rivalz. And beyond that, the day is free time. There's simply no physical possibility of making it back to school before classes have ended, so we're in equal amounts of trouble no matter when we make it." The train ride back to the Tokyo Settlement was about three hours. Hardly a distance to make in the lunch break.
"Except not beate-oh man..." Rivalz buried his face in his hands.
The latter part was, of course, because Lelouch had slipped his long legs out of the sidecar and stood up, walking across the park towards the girl and the two men. "Excuse me."
All three turned to look at him, and as Lelouch's eyes drifted onto the ring, they widened.
Plain? Hardly. It was almost achingly beautiful, carved with the finest, most delicate of touches, with thin, elegant lettering in an ancient Germanic alphabet writing out the word 'Gift' - something preceded it, but he couldn't see it, with the redheaded oaf's fingers blocking out his view.
With such a thing, it would be easy. To make what he sought, destroy all that stood in his way. He wanted it. That ring adorning his finger as he stood astride a knightmare, moments from riding into Pendragon and stopping Britannia once and for all...
... Which was a ridiculous flight of fancy. Lelouch shook his head, refocusing his gaze. The world didn't change, no matter how hard you tried. A ring wasn't going to change that. "Might I ask what you're doing?"
The girl looked rather surprised for a moment, before quickly whispering something under her breath. Lelouch had developed some skill at lip reading, so he was able to catch part of it - 'don't kill', which he admitted to be somewhat less than comforting.
The redhead looked away from the ring in his hands. "Just a little teasing. Nothing wrong with that, right?"
Lelouch folded his left arm over his chest, propping up his right arm and tapping his neck with the hand. "Not in principle, but this particular case is somewhat of an exception."
The blonde chuckled, grabbing the girl by her thin shoulders and shoving her around to in front of Lelouch. "Come on, lay off. It's just an Eleven."
"Actually, she's a Britannian citizen." The situation was a bit scarce on tools (he'd have liked to use the 'car towed' trick again, but it wouldn't sell with them so close to it), so he'd opted to focus on the European elements of her appearance. "Specifically, my half-sister. So you can understand my concern for this particular case." He casually reached into his pocket.
The blonde jolted a little, releasing the girl with a slight push towards Lelouch and backing away, waving his hands in front of him. "Hey, we don't want any trouble man. Don't go calling the cops on something minor like this, yeah?"
Fortunately, the girl was facing towards Lelouch, away from both the young men, so the expression on her face didn't give up the whole game as she twisted through confusion to understanding.
Lelouch smiled, pulling out his phone. "You raise an excellent point, don't you? The police might be rather slow to respond to an Eleven's report of assault, but a Britannian... well now, that's different. You could actually get in trouble for that."
The redhead snorted, crossing his arms over his chest. "Don't be an idiot, Caz. She's a halfbreed. Honorary Britannian, maybe. Citizen, no way."
The girl grinned, whispering a short phrase in German (something about 'fog' and 'trust'?) before whirling around to point at the redhead. "That may be true for commoners like you! But things are different for the nobility. What look like walls to you are doors to us." She looked back over her shoulder. "Thanks, big brother." Something felt... strange, for a moment. He knew it was a lie, yet for some reason the word echoed in his head for as long as she looked at him.
Lelouch refrained from blinking, though he admitted he felt like it. While it was good that the girl had figured the angle out and was playing along, if she got carried away and made the lie too big, there was no way it was going to be swallowed. Just the same, if he didn't play along, it certainly wasn't going to be. "I wasn't going to call the police, really. Far too difficult to get through the channels. Father would be able to cut the red tape, though."
The redhead frowned, arms lowering, ring dangling in his right hand. "... You're nobility? Seriously? Which family?"
"Bishop. Lynette Bishop." She performed a picture-perfect curtsy. "I'm sure you know the name."
"William," Lelouch added. "I know I'm the Second, but please don't call me that."
The redhead's mouth worked in a voiceless curse, before he held up the ring. "Okay. Okay. No need to drag politics into this. I'm sorry." He slowly, reluctantly handed it to Lelouch, fingers lingering over the gold, before quickly moving back to the blonde. The pair boarded the car and skulked off, at least as best as a car could sulk.
Lelouch waited until they were gone before looking down at the girl. "For future reference, the current Duke Bishop is nineteen years old. Better to pretend to be his siblings than his children."
'Lynette' flushed, looking up at him. "Ah... I just remembered the name from history class... not the details..."
Lelouch smiled, passing the ring down into her hands. "Also, when lying, try not to be too specific. Details add verisimilitude, but too many and you start being more detailed than the truth, and people can tell that. Not to mention when you give a detail they know is false, they catch you instantly."
'Lynette' nodded slowly, swallowing. "Th... thank you..." She clutched the ring to her chest, the jacket's wide sleeves almost swallowing her dainty hands.
"This one isn't a lie: my actual name is Lelouch." Since he'd just said it wouldn't be a lie, it sort of felt wrong to add the 'Lamperouge' to it.
The girl smiled faintly, ducking her head and whispering. "... Takara..."
"Oy! Lelouch!" Rivalz called from the motorcycle. "Running short on time!"
Lelouch chuckled, nodding. "Good luck and try to avoid that kind of punk in the future, eh, Takara?" No point hoping to meet again. She lived in an entirely separate city, and the meeting had hardly been earthshattering.
She nodded once. "Thank you, Lelouch." No whisper, no averted eyes. Looking straight at him. Not as shy as he'd thought.
Lelouch gave a short wave and returned to the motorcycle, hopping into the sidecar and slipping on his helmet.
"You just can't help yourself, huh Lelouch?" Rivalz gunned the engine, and they were off. "Remind you of Nunnally?"
Lelouch snorted. "Hardly." Age aside, there were really no similarities. If he'd had to pick someone he knew, it would probably be Nina. But then, even that wasn't close enough. Perhaps because people were themselves, not something to slot into his life experience and define from his preconceptions.
Tohsaka Takara still held her left hand over her heart, trying to slow it down and force the blush off her face. Her right hand was doing something a bit more important - slipping her mother's ring back into her jacket and out of sight. "S... see, Berserker? You didn't have to kill them."
Behind her - invisible and inaudible to everyone they may pass - a deep bass voice rumbled. "Perhaps not. But I despise such people."
"I'm no fan either, but those two weren't to blame. Andvarinaut compels you to want it. We bumped, it fell and they saw it..."
"I will bring to your attention that those... people... did not merely take your ring, but tormented you with it. Even under compulsion, there are a variety of ways to behave. Which was chosen is telling."
Takara nodded. That boy... he wasn't immune. She'd seen the need glittering in his eyes. He just forced it away, his raw willpower almost as strong as her prana-powered resistance against the effect.
"Oh...? That's quite an expression, Master."
"Which is a separate matter." It really was hard to take her eyes off the angle of his cheek, though. It was a face that didn't smile often, but meant it when it did. And eyes that-
She slapped herself. "Separate. Matter."
"You know, he's Britannian," Berserker noted as they settled back into walking across the city. Scouting the place for the upcoming... event.
"Given the status of your people..."
Takara pursed her lips, shaking her head. "... What some people do doesn't make it right to cast judgment on all of them. Being Japanese didn't really mean much to me before the past few weeks... It was like being a girl, my hair colour... just a given, not something to take any particular value in. But... it's different being looked down on for... looking different? My birth? I don't even know... but I don't like it." She turned to where he was - invisible, of course, presently in spirit form. "But looking down on all Britannians for how they treat the Japanese... is the same, isn't it? He didn't act like that. He didn't act like that at all. He doesn't deserve to be treated as if he does."
"Good answer," Berserker rumbled.
"... You were testing me."
"It is not enough to be strong, though you are, Master. I need to know I can tolerate the one whose orders I will take, and whose wish will be granted by my strength."
Takara's hand came up to her mouth to cover her giggle.
"I do not believe I said something humorous, Master."
"Hey, Berserker. Did you know I had a summoning catalyst?" A moment of silence encouraged her to continue. "Two, actually... the Servants Father and Mother used in the last War." She fiddled a little with the ring in her pocket. Hopefully they weren't disappointed by her choice...
A short moment, while Berserker accessed the records available to him. "The winner and runner-up of the last War? Those would seem to be... strong... choices... Well now. I see."
Takara nodded, putting it to words. "You're all strong. Unimaginably strong. And some may be stronger, but if we can't work together well, that strength doesn't mean anything. So I summoned without a catalyst... so someone would come who suited me."
"You used yourself as the catalyst," Berserker corrected. There seemed to be a smile in his voice. "It seems I have been called by the strongest Master of the War."
"You surely mean the stupidest," a voice sneered from behind.
Takara whirled to face him, Berserker snapping into physical form behind her with a great shaking as he slammed into the concrete of the street.
Before them stood a beautiful golden figure. A man who put the gleaming city around him to shame. Who looked down on the towers. "There are Servants, and there are Servants. It is a difference you should be taught." His hand raised, the air around him rippled, and a hundred shapes slid out of the sky. A sword, halberd, spear, axe, scythe, not even one was the same as the other...
"You can't be... in broad daylight?"
"The worms of this city are of no concern. Why would I put an ounce into avoiding them? If they see this short battle... no, this trifling swat... then they will die."
Takara gritted her teeth, the crest tattooed on her left arm lighting up as her circuits activated. "Berser-!"
The gray bear of a man was already leaping at the golden Servant without her command, hewing down with the absurdly small-looking sword gripped in his gloved right hand.
The golden Servant laughed, bringing up his arms, the sword deflecting off the golden armour without harm. To him or the armour, at least. The pavement underneath him cracked and buckled a meter downward, cratering around them. Even at that distance, the shaking earth almost rolled Takara off her feet.
Berserker didn't let that discourage, continuing to lash out with the blade. He knew his job was just to keep that Servant distracted. For a moment, he was keeping Takara distracted, as she stared at Berserker's skill with the blade - she'd trained in martial arts herself, so she could recognize the way his body quickly shifted and settled to generate speed and power and maintain it until it hit the target... and she could recognize that he was in an entirely separate league. The sheer power in his blows... even the speed, he was a slug as Servants went but he still exceeded belief, his huge form didn't so much lumber as it danced...
But unable to penetrate the armour despite it all, and the golden Servant was able to keep his unarmoured head protected. His eyes flicked to her, a smile beautiful and yet repellent crossing his face.
Takara flooded prana into her legs and rolled left as a spear shot out, flying through her hair before she managed to get into the nearest alley (twenty meters away - would've been an impossible jump for her without the reinforcement she just put on her body), jacket protecting her from her skidding against the pavement before she rolled back up to her feet. It wasn't actually magecraft that kept her hat on, though it might look it to an observer. She ran down the alley as the sounds of battle erupted. Clashing metal, Berserker's roars, and the crumbling of concrete as Berserker hit the Servant...
Takara wanted to fight alongside Berserker. The Holy Grail War didn't mean a thing if she let Berserker do all the work for her. But right now, it was more important that she get a 'you have nothing to see here and more important things to do elsewhere' compulsion up and as wide-area as she could, before someone really did come, see, and get murdered by the enemy Servant for witnessing the secrets of the Association.
And she needed to focus on it, she was mediocre at best at mental interference spellcraft - she'd only barely managed to cloud a university student into believing her words, with support from Lelouch, after almost a minute's solid effort. Admittedly her lying obviously needed work, but the spells were really doing most of it.
She reached into her jacket. This would take a jewel... first day of the War and she was already running down her supplies.
Kouzuki Kallen noted that the day was going pretty well thus far, and then cursed herself for tempting fate. She glanced at Nagata, seated next to her in the cab of the truck. "No signs of pursuit?"
Her fellow resistance member shook his head. "Not yet. I'm not going to declare home clear until we're back in Tokyo and storing this damn thing in our headquarters, though." He leaned out the window to spit into the road. "Damn Britannians. What do they even need poison gas for? Are they getting bored of the old way of killing us?"
Kallen shook her head. "I don't know, but I can't believe they were working on something like this out in the Fuyuki University... this is a Japanese city!"
"That's exactly why I can believe it," Nagata noted. "If there's an accident, who cares? It's just a bunch of Elevens!" He punched the dashboard.
Kallen nodded, peeking out the window to give another check for pursuit. The theft didn't seem to have been noticed yet, but there was still plenty of time for something to go wrong. Like Tamaki trying to change the plan midway through.
Still, nothing yet. It should be simple. The theft only had to go unnoticed for a few hours. Once they got back to the Tokyo ghetto and linked up with the main group, they could get it under wrap and long gone by the time the Britannians came after it.
... Of course, if anyone really expected it to turn out that well, Kallen and her partner would only be here for loading the stupid thing into the truck. Nobody Japanese had gotten that lucky for seven years.
Then again, maybe they were due?
Kallen shook her head, and hopefully shaking the wool out with it. "Hey, you have any idea who was behind Osaka? I mean, it definitely wasn't us." Naoto's group wasn't even big enough to have splinter factions doing things the rest didn't approve of. And they'd been busy preparing for this one - Naoto'd bought the information with his life months ago, and it needed to be acted on, by them.
"Eight Britannians and what, fifty Japanese dead? I don't want to have anything to do with whoever it was supposed to be. This's for Japan, what's the point if they all die first?"
"Yeah..." Kallen relaxed slightly. She wasn't sure what she'd feel if he'd reacted with approval, but... Something she'd just had to check. She pulled up the map. "We're most of the way through Fuyuki. Train station should be coming up on the left soon." A contact would help them load the truck aboard a freight car, and they'd be bound for Tokyo.
Nagata nodded, turning the wheel to the right.
Kallen blinked, staring at him for a moment, then looking out the window and staring back. "Nagata! Other way!"
"This way's better."
Kallen came back to stare at Nagata again. "Wha..." ... That way did sound pretty good. Go near the river, take the roads back to Tokyo. Not stuck on the train's route. Or even better, go back north, to the coastline, load aboard a ship at the harbour and get this thing delivered all the way out of Britannian territo... "What the hell? Nagata, everything's set up for the train! Everyone's waiting for us there! If you had a better idea, you should've brought it up in the planning phase!"
Nagata shook his head. "I don't want to go that way."
Kallen's jaw dropped. "... Nagata, have you gone crazy?" She leaned over, grabbing the wheel. "If you won't turn us around, I will!"
And she did. Unfortunately, traffic laws existed for a reason, and one of those reasons was 'if you suddenly turn in the middle of the road, someone might be going the other way and slam into you'.
Both vehicles were big, heavy ones, travelling fairly slowly, so the collision wasn't really a major one. No one went flying, they both just sort of ground to a stop next to one another, probably some dings in the body but they should still be drivable.
Though as Kallen looked out the window again, her face went white. The vehicle they'd just crashed into had been a Britannian military transport.
She took a deep, slow, unsteady breath. "Theyhaven'tcaughtusyettheyhaven'tcaughtusyet..." She reached into the glove compartment, resting her hand on the pistol that lay within, and adding in some prayers for good measure. She wanted to be ready in her knightmare, but Nagata had just gone crazy two minutes ago...
It was a short enough wait before a large, bald, round man in a Britannian general's uniform stepped up, accompanied by a pair of armed soldiers - bodyguards, Kallen hoped, rather than a search detail, a general probably wouldn't be around without them, right?
"Exactly what were you thinking, turning in the road like that?" Surprisingly polite, given the circumstances. He even forewent the usual 'damned Eleven' slurs.
Kallen took a moment to compose a response, though it turned out to be pointless.
The man's gaze drifted to the left side of the truck, and his face paled, before he barked to his guards. "Shoot them!" Which was a pretty common end to Britannian politeness.
Kallen was quicker on the draw, pistol out the window and pulling the trigger as fast as she could.
Her aim could use some (a lot of) work, she emptied the magazine and only scored one hit that mattered - right into the meat of the portly general's left thigh as he was running back to his transport for cover, though he showed himself to be surprisingly tough, turning his fall into a roll and getting his considerable bulk behind protection.
Maybe a few hits on the soldiers too, but they apparently deflected off the grey plates of armour. Didn't seem to bother them much, as they opened fire, though Kallen managed to duck back into the truck's cab and the glass was tough enough to withstand it for a bit.
Nagata must have hit the accelerator, because the truck surged forward, rolling over the Britannian soldiers, before he managed to get the truck turned around and heading back east. "Damnit damnit damnit... he must be on the poison gas project, there's a hole in the cargo compartment and he recognized the container!"
Kallen cursed, standing up and stepping towards the back. "You better be sane again Nagata, because I'm going to have to operate the knightmare if we're going to have any hope of getting out of here!"
"Sorry, Kallen! I don't know what I was thinking!"
"Just don't think it again and I'll do the rest of the yelling at you later!"
Clovis la Britannia didn't honestly know whether he enjoyed these parties or dealing with these people. To be sure, he received plenty of praise, adulation, and - he saluted a pretty young woman across the room with his wineglass - companionship.
But Britannia was filled with vipers. One mistake and he'd go the way his dear little brother Lelouch had - discarded, used as a hostage, and then executed by the locals when Father demonstrated he didn't actually consider hostages a constraint on his behaviour.
He took a slight sip, looking around with a brilliant, and completely false, smile. It wasn't actually wine - as an Imperial Prince, he had his own sources of food and drink (had to avoid any poisoning after all), and he always had his wine replaced with a grape juice that looked like it. This was a battlefield, and he needed what wits he had about him.
"Ah, Countess Germaine," Clovis smiled, elegantly maneuvering up to the woman. "I'm so glad to see you could grace my little party. Your conversation is always fascinating." He traditionally complimented a female guest's looks, they tended to glow at it, but he made a policy of not saying anything he was obviously lying about, and the woman had a face like a horse.
The Countess returned the smile, laying a hand on his arm. "I wouldn't miss it for the world, Prince Clovis. You're wonderful company."
They probably meant the praise. For the moment. Whether or not it was true, they wanted him to feel flattered. Because he was Third Prince. Only four or five people stood between him and the Imperial Throne, not including the Emperor himself. He was a powerful ally, or a powerful enemy. Someone whose favour was to be curried, and whose displeasure was to be feared.
Of course, how much of that they'd keep saying if he weren't... Well, that was why he wasn't entirely sure how much he actually enjoyed all this and how much was faked.
"I regret to inform you that I will have to step out in three hours. I must make an address regarding that terrible incident in Osaka yesterday, but this party couldn't be rescheduled, so..."
She nodded. "Of course, I understand. Your duties as Viceroy take priority over our entertainment."
Clovis smiled - the smile turning into a frown as a military officer stepped up to whisper into his ear. "... I apologize, milady, but it seems some of those duties call me."
The Countess nodded, gracefully stepping aside. "I will be here if you find yourself able to return, Your Highness."
Clovis marched off the dance floor after the officer, stalking up to the phone held out by one of the guards. He took it to his ear, and growled, "What is so important that you had to send a messenger to get me, Bartley?" He dismissed the soldiers with a sharp wave of his hand.
A shaky breath sounded on the other side of the line. And General Bartley Aspirius spoke up in a pained voice. "My... my apologies, Your Highness. I am in Fuyuki, and the business is urgent."
Clovis frowned. Was he... injured? "Is this a terrorist attack?" Well, Fuyuki wasn't a major issue, other than the university the only things there were Elevens. Bartley shouldn't need to call to arrange a defensive cordon around the university and shoot anything that came too close.
"Yes... Your Highness." He pulled in another breath. "Code R... stolen..."
Clovis paled. "One of the..."
"I'm sorry. I don't know which. I only got a glance at it... it was... pure luck that I found it."
"Then recapture it! What are you waiting for?"
The general shuddered in another breath. "Issued... what orders I could... told them it was medical research..." He hissed in pain, and suddenly seemed to be breathing easier.
Almost against his will, Clovis asked, "... Did you just pull a bullet out?"
"Yes... Your Highness. My apologies for the rudeness."
Somewhat disturbed, Clovis shook his head. "Never mind. You now have my permission to deploy the military in full to find and recapture it! Do whatever it takes! I don't care if you level the city! They're just Elevens!"
"Y... Yes, Your Highness!"
Clovis hung up, and buried his face in his hands. Not now... not after he'd come so far... He shook himself, running through some quick calculations. Fuyuki was one of the non-priority areas. It had a garrison, but it wasn't the closest place to the EU or the Chinese Federation, nor was it a really major part of the Area 11 government, so the garrison was fairly light.
Clovis would deploy the Tokyo garrison to Fuyuki as well... easy enough to wrap it up as a 'vigorous response' thanks to the mess yesterday in Osaka. It should take them three hours to get there. Two hours for him and his personal guard to travel by air - a proper Britannian ruler was supposed to command directly, and even aside from acting the proper Prince, he didn't want to trust something this important to anyone else.
And have forces from outside blockade the city and prevent anything from leaving. He hoped it would all be resolved before he arrived, but he doubted he was that lucky.
It was probably around when the truck careened around the corner, with a red knightmare standing on top of it and shooting backwards, that Rivalz Cardemond realized the day had just been tanked.
The purple-painted knightmares that followed it around the corner helped him confirm his theory. Shooting, naturally. The image wouldn't be complete without it.
Oh, right. Way. Out of. Rivalz veered the motorcycle aside sharply to the right, trying to get off the road that the freaking battle was taking place on before a stray bullet, or a few dozen, hit him or Lelouch.
The whole vehicle jolted as it jumped up onto the sidewalk, shaking Rivalz's teeth together as he fought to keep the bike under control...
Lelouch noticed a moment before he did, and called out, pointing ahead. "Get off the sidewalk! There's someone there!"
Many someones, actually, but most had spotted the incoming bike and battle and scattered in one direction or another. One in particular must have tripped over something in the middle of the attempt, and was crouched in the sidewalk clutching painfully at her chest. Maybe around their age, Eleven obviously, fairly well-built, long lavender hair falling to her hips, with glasses perched over her nose and an open book fallen on the ground beside her. Rivalz would probably consider her pretty cute, if he weren't about to be responsible for her death.
He twisted the handlebars around, stomping on the brakes. Trying to get pointed away from the Eleven girl and stopped before he hit her, ideally without heading right into the road where the gunfight was taking place.
The screeching of rubber was terrible, and a glance at the road told him that he was leaving chunks of the tires behind, but on the plus side, as he wheeled around, he was slowing down... maybe even fast enough.
The nature of the day, of course, meant that the next thing he saw was one of the rearmost wheels of the truck bearing down on them... shattering under gunfire from the purple knightmares, causing the truck to veer left, jumping up onto the sidewalk. The sidewalk they were on, naturally.
In about the time it took for their motorbike to come to a stop, the truck turned further leftward, away from them. Its movement, however, was still towards them, and it quickly rolled over onto its side, still skidding in their direction.
The red knightmare fell off the top as it fell towards them, but landed on its feet and quickly pushed back against the truck in an attempt to slow it down. A failed attempt, at least as far as they were concerned - wasn't gonna make it.
A glance over at Lelouch showed him leaning out of the sidecar, reaching out... "I've got her! Rivalz, go!"
A long habit of trust in Lelouch mixed well with Rivalz's survival instinct, so before he even processed what was said, he gunned the engine in a pure Pavlovian response, accelerating them forward, away from the truck.
They didn't have to go that far, of course. It was skidding, it would run out of energy before too long, they were just well in the danger zone. It came to a halt barely five meters after passing their former position, probably helped in that early stop by the red knightmare.
Not like Rivalz was going to stop, though.
"Stop!" Lelouch commanded, voice serious for one of the very few times in his life. That whole Pavlovian response thing kicked in again, and the bike quickly came to a stop - they hadn't built up a whole lot of speed.
As Rivalz actually processed it, he turned left, about to complain to Lelouch, before seeing the reason for the command.
It was hard to tell which was less fit than the other - Lelouch and the girl were both panting for breath, hands sweaty, and had almost lost hold of one another. The girl fell to the sidewalk, clutching her chest, which probably would have hurt a great deal more if the bike had been at speed when their grip gave out.
Rivalz bit back his complaint. As usual, Lelouch was right. Though heaving for breath and not exactly in a position to comment on it.
He got off the bike, planning to pick up the girl and dump her more properly in the sidecar before resuming the 'get far far away from the battle' thing. As it turned out, by the time he reached her, the battle resolved that for them.
With about the level of subtlety he was coming to expect, the red knightmare punched a hole in the cab of the truck, reaching in to pull out the driver, before directing its... he didn't actually remember what they were called, the integrated grappling hook things... up at the nearest building's roof. A quick reel, and it was off the sidewalk, on the roof, and continuing away. The purple knightmares were moments behind.
Leaving the street ruined, people shell-shocked and staring after them, a hydrant that must've been hit by a stray shell pumping water up into the sky...
"What... are the Forces... doing?" Lelouch panted out, as he regained control of his breath. "Fighting a battle... in the middle of a city...?"
As his mind had time to catch up and process the recent events, Rivalz realized what Lelouch meant - the purple paint scheme was for the Britannian Forces knightmares. "... Maybe the local garrison chasing terrorists?"
"In a... crowded street?"
Rivalz turned to Lelouch, holding up his hands. "Hey, I don't know! Don't ask me."
A slim hand reached up onto the motorbike's side, shakily pulling up the rest of its body. The lavender-haired girl, who looked between them red-faced, before looking down and whispering "... Thank you. I..." In fairly good Britannian, actually.
Rivalz chuckled nervously, looking away.
There was a moment of silence. A little awkward.
Then Lelouch spoke up. "Rivalz, does this thing still work? We can get her home before we go to the train station." He turned to the girl. "Is that all right?"
Rivalz hopped to checking, agreeing with Lelouch here. They had the time and he'd like to get some extra distance from the knightmare battle, not to mention that he'd sort of like to finish the whole 'saving the girl' thing and get her to somewhere that was hopefully safer than the street.
The Eleven girl looked up slightly. "I... guess I should..." A slight frown crossed her face. "But... um... the train station is closed down right now.. Probably related to..." She pointed wordlessly in the direction the knightmares had run.
Rivalz slapped his forehead with his hand. "Ack, really? Shirley's gonna tear us apart by the time we get home at this rate... Well, the bike works, at least. Hopefully the rental company has terrorist insurance, or this's gonna eat up most of my savings repairing..." At least Lelouch had managed to take the fifteen minutes it took to demolish Viscount Semnan before this and the nobleman had paid up, or he'd have to be borrowing from Lelouch's share of their collection of winnings.
The girl swallowed. "Um... if you don't have any place to stay, you could rest at my house until the train is running again."
Rivalz blinked. "Ah? Wait, that'd be-"
"I owe you," the Eleven cut him off. "You two saved my life, and you're offering to take me home too. It'd be poor of me not to at least let you rest there."
"We'll accept gladly," Lelouch smoothly interrupted, stepping out of the sidecar. "Sit here, I'll hang on behind Rivalz."
The girl looked to Rivalz.
Rivalz, for his part, frowned slightly, waiting until Lelouch stepped up to him before whispering. "You can't be serious? Staying at a girl's house is-"
"For a few hours, Rivalz," Lelouch whispered back. "She's not going to do anything inappropriate, I'm not, and I highly doubt you are."
Rivalz sighed, dropping his head. What was he supposed to say? 'Yes, I will!'? "... All right, fine." He waved to the sidecar. "Go on and get in before the battle gets back around here." It probably wouldn't, except knowing how the day was going...
The girl gave a faint smile. "I don't have a whole lot, but... it's yours while you're in Fuyuki." She stood straight, and bowed first to Lelouch, then to Rivalz. "My name is Kokoro."
The boys introduced themselves, and in a short enough time, they were off.
Sorin Decebal exhaled with a sigh, lowering the binoculars. "What the hell is Assassin doing? I send him to scout and he starts a brawl in public." With a casual reinforcement to survive it, he dropped down a few stories next to the white car in the otherwise-empty street, opening the rear door and slipping in. "Isabelle, take us west across the bridge. Fairly fast, and hang as far south as you can."
Isabelle von Einzbern nodded sharply, the gesture sending her long white hair ruffling forward as she started the car, quickly accelerating down the street. He'd had to teach her how to drive, but she wasn't half-bad at it. At least, he'd take advantage of the extra pair of hands while it was there - easier to fight his own part that way.
She didn't ask for an explanation, but Sorin provided one anyway. "Our Servant started a fight already. And there's another battle going on in the city, looks like the Britannians against some local resistance. Knightmares to the northwest end of the newer part of town. I'd rather avoid that one."
"I understand, Sorin."
Sorin rolled down the window, grabbing a long-barreled rifle from the seat next to him, and aimed to the southwest, angled high. A simple squeeze of the trigger quietly sent a subsonic projectile flying across the city, over the river in the middle and into the older part of town.
He came back in, dropping the 'someone else's business' compulsion as he hid the rifle and reached for a PDA. The round hadn't been an attacking one - he could make a shot at that range, but he wasn't dumb enough to try it when he couldn't even see the target from here. It was a camera, and would be floating up there for a while on a thin parachute. Now he could see where his targets were.
There was a hissing sound as he sucked in air between his barely-parted lips. Total bad habit, never got around to shaking it. "It's the Tohsaka Master. Has to be. Seems they sent their daughter after all." Of course, Tohsaka Takara was the only Master they actually had information on yet. They had some prospectives, but Tohsaka was the only confirmed.
... Damn it, this job was already wearing on him. She was his wife for now but he still could barely deal with her - she just didn't talk. Not enough 'human' in the three-year-old homunculus, and from him that was saying something. Still... the Einzberns had fronted a lot of cash for this one. "I'd rather not start a fight this early and show our hand, but since Assassin's made the choice for us, we're going to have to knock her out of the fight."
Sorin waved a hand, searching the image on his PDA for the battle. He knew where it was, shouldn't take too much longer. "If it comes to it. I'd rather deal with the Servant and let her take refuge with the Directorate's mediator."
"That will be much more difficult."
"Like I said, if it comes to it. I'll do what's necessary, but if it's not necessary, it's just bad tradecraft." At some point in his career, that had become his opinion on killing a fourteen-year-old girl for money. And damnit, this job had him getting way too introspective, probably because his Servant was a jackass and his 'wife' didn't talk unless he dragged it out of her - no talking apparently led to thinking, and when the useful topics were exhausted... He shook himself, returning to scanning the camera feed
Naturally, Isabelle didn't say anything. They drove up onto the bridge, behind a few kids on a motorcycle - there really weren't a lot of cars on the road, probably because this amounted to a ghetto. Doubtful many of the Japanese had the cash to run them anyway.
Ah, there they were. South of the bridge, towards the much less densely-packed residential areas. The area was empty, and if he zoomed out just a little, he could see a ragged sphere of people turning away from the battle long before it came in sight. Tohsaka must have put up a 'go away from me' compulsion.
At least one of them was being responsible. The Association would tear him a new asshole if there were witnesses to magecraft on the level of a Servant battle, and any cleanup of something that big would create its own anomaly to draw further attention...
He whistled, zooming back in on the battle. "Her Servant is tough, Assassin's slamming him with his thousand and one Noble Phantasms but the guy just keeps on trucking." The girl - seated on her Servant's shoulder - turned around and pointed a finger at the golden Assassin that pursued them, held like a pistol, and a jolt of... something... crossed the space between them, though Assassin rolled aside with his usual contemptuous ease. "Whoa, Gandr. Didn't think that was in the Tohsaka arsenal."
"They captured an Edelfelt last War," Isabelle noted.
Sorin nodded. "Yeah, guess they grabbed some goodies off her. Hm... she's heading towards the Tohsaka manor."
"If she gets into her stronghold, this will get much more difficult."
"Nah, don't forget, the Tohsaka bailed out of the country with the invasion seven years ago. They've been living in Italy. The manor's defences would've degraded a hell of a lot in the time since, and she's only been back here a weekish. Seven days isn't going to make up for seven years." He hummed, slipping a 'don't look at me' spell on his rifle.
He leaned out the window, holding the rifle out and hoping the spell kept anyone on the bridge from noticing it. "Just the same, I don't like letting an enemy complete their plan." He peered into the scope, looking southwest, towards the battle... got it.
He centered the sights on the girl's red jacket. No way he'd make a shot at this distance from a moving car no matter how steady Isabelle's hands were on the wheel. But if he could at least rattle her...
There was a loud crack as the bullet broke the sound barrier - he loved variable-acceleration electromagnetic rails, the things were so useful - and tore across the river towards the girl.
Nerves. Of. Steel. Girl didn't even flinch as the bullet whipped past her ear over her shoulder, rolling forward and probably landing in her Servant's hands - he couldn't really see, given the hulking Servant's back blocked his view.
And his angle of fire. With a tsk, he pulled the rifle back in, switching to much less attention-grabbing binoculars. Yeah, given Assassin's Noble Phantasms were embedding themselves in the Servant's leather-clad greyish flesh without him even hesitating, Sorin really didn't think his rifle would do a whole lot. Maybe his pocket arti...
Never mind. He caught the kids on the motorcycle out of the corner of his eye. Both the passengers were looking back wide-eyed at his car, apparently resistant enough to the 'nothing to see here' effect to, well, see a man trying to snipe a fourteen-year-old girl in broad daylight. The cycle accelerated away.
Isabelle frowned, perfect lips twisting. "Pursue them?"
Sorin waved a hand. "Don't bother. They didn't see any spellcraft, just terrorism, and that's hardly rare in this country. By the time the cops get here we'll be long-gone, ditch the car, get a new one, and we're clean as roses." Normally his mindfuck spells were more reliable than that. Downright embarrassing.
"Can we keep up the battle?"
"Mm... no. My no-notice spells were resisted, and I'm starting to worry about the reliability of Tohsaka's. We're going to have to prosecute this War the old-fashioned way - in secret. Give me a prana flood, I'm about to use a Command Seal."
The pale-haired homunculus nodded, and the air between them wavered, almost like it'd suddenly heated up - it wasn't actually temperature, but human eyes really didn't work quite right trying to focus on raw prana.
Sorin extended his right arm, the red tattoo of three circles, one inside the next, visible on his palm. "Assassin." The innermost circle flared. "Come when I call you!"
The air tore apart in the front passenger seat, rudely dumping the golden figure in the car.
"What is a mongrel like you thinking, interrupting my battle?" His first words were essentially as expected.
Sorin brandished the Command Seals as a minor reminder. "A mongrel like me is thinking 'what the hell?' You dropped the comm unit I gave you. And then you kicked off the Holy Grail War in a public place and dragged the fight halfway across the city."
"No, I threw it away. I have no need for your advice."
"Like it or not, Assassin, I'm your Master right now - and believe me, I don't like it either. But you pull this kind of stunt and the Association is going to peel us alive. Maybe they won't manage you, but Isabelle and I peel well enough, and once we go, you drop right back to the Throne of Heroes."
The perfectly-sculpted brows twitched. "I will extract a heavy price for your insolence, Dacian."
"When the Command Seals run out," Sorin corrected. "Until then, you're going to do things like a professional. My way."
Assassin smiled. Anticipation. "A heavy price indeed." The Command Seals didn't have him cowed, but they at least had him controlled for now.
Sorin leaned back, sighing and rubbing his temples. The Einzbern had picked the Servant too - the strongest one whose catalyst they could get a hold of in the time since the Grail had started off the selection. And he was strong as hell, but Sorin would've sold that and half the paycheck for a C-lister who fought with half a brain. He was starting to regret his 'always fulfill the contract' policy already.
General Bartley Aspirius didn't think he was going to be a general much longer. He held himself up on a crutch, his other hand holding a phone. "Your Highness, I'm sorry."
"I do not appreciate hearing those words in a situation such as this," the Third Prince's voice came back.
"We've recovered the capsule," Bartley began.
"That's wonderful. But it does not mesh with your apology."
"... It's empty."
Bartley bit his lip, looking over the torn open truck and the scattered equipment. "The rebels abandoned the truck. The Forces chased after them, and it was a little while before the retrieval team arrived. Given the situation, it's possible the rebels absconded with the sample, or it's possible they left it and it left on its own. I have men tracking both possibilities."
"... You're telling me the sample is gone, and you don't know where?"
Bartley winced. "I'm sorry, Your Highness. The surveillance slipped. I take full responsibility."
"You will, will you? And what's my father going to say when he finds out Code R was compromised? Do you have any idea what's going to happen to me, Bartley?"
Bartley swallowed. "We're tracking them now. Nothing's going to be getting out of this city without our consent, and once we catch the rebels, we can find out whether they have the sample or just abandoned it. Beyond that, there really aren't any witnesses, the capsule was hidden from view by the truck... nobody could see where she came from if she came out."
"You must be joking! A room-to-room search of an entire Eleven city to find a sample who we have to hide from our soldiers in the process? There aren't enough soldiers in all the Area!" Clovis took a long, calming breath. "Burn it."
Bartley blinked. "Your High-"
"Burn it to the ground. Destroy it all so there's no evidence left. And then root through the rubble until you find the sample. Am I clear, Bartley?"
Bartley swallowed. "... Very clear, Your Highness. But the mainland will notice-"
"We'll tell them we're rezoning the area for industry. It's just an Eleven ghetto, it's not a major concern."
"... Yes, Your Highness. I'll issue the appropriate orders."
"Good. Make preparations. It will begin upon my arrival." The Prince hung up.
Bartley lowered the phone. ... He was going to have to get into the G-1 mobile command base up north, evacuate the few relevant personnel, before he set the Forces to levelling this city.
Disobedience hadn't even crossed his mind. Even if he could get away with it, he obeyed the orders of his Prince. That was what separated Britannians from the barbarians of the EU.
Lelouch looked out at the house as he stepped off the bike. It was a nice building, probably fairly old. European in style, actually, and quite respectably sized. But it hadn't been cared for well for some time - the outside was darkened, a little dingy, with moss climbing up the walls and barely kept away from the windows. Not that surprising, though. Given the economic situation of the ghettoes, it was unlikely Kokoro's family had the funds to properly care for the place.
Kokoro stepped off the sidecar as well, slipping her glasses off. At Lelouch's raised eyebrow, she explained "Reading glasses. I'm farsighted, not nearsighted."
"Ah. Well then." He gestured. "Ladies first. Besides, you have the keys."
She covered her mouth and giggled slightly, stepping up the stone walkway towards the front door.
Rivalz leaned in beside Lelouch. "... You sure? The place doesn't look all that... I mean, I'm not trying to be snobby here, but how much hospitality do you think she can really spare?" Whispered, of course.
Lelouch whispered back. "It's because she doesn't have much that she offers it. Pride's one of the few things she has." Or at least, that was how it was with him. "Besides, do you really want to head back across the bridge? I have no idea where the rebels are in the city." He stepped up after her.
With a sigh, Rivalz followed.
The girl smiled as they arrived, pushing open the door and stepping in. The place was dark. Very dark. It was possible to see, but only with effort. "I'm sorry about the lighting... Grandfather really doesn't like too much light."
"Or noise," a voice rasped from deeper within. The figure of a small man stepped forward, the darkness rolling off him like foul water. He hadn't always been small, but age had clearly taken much - he was deeply withered, almost mummified, bent and hairless, standing only with the aid of a cane, wrapped in a kimono. But the years hadn't taken away the spirit and the light in his eyes. He was as sharp as he'd been at Lelouch's age. Maybe more so. For a moment, he reminded Lelouch of old Kirihara... but this man was different. Kirihara was dangerous... but this man felt wrong.
Kokoro whirled around, fear in her voice - fear that hadn't even been there when she'd almost been crushed by an out-of-control battle. "G... Grandfather! I thought you were sleeping..."
"I was," the man spat out, eyes skipping over Rivalz without a second glance, and settling on Lelouch. His face twisted into a terrifying smile. "But then, it seems you brought me something useful after all.
Kokoro followed his gaze, and then shook her head wildly. "No! Grandfather, they helped me! I was just going to let them-"
"Shut up." Her jaw snapped shut, face taut with fright.
He slowly stepped towards Lelouch, cane tapping against the carpet, the wild light in his eyes roving over the young Britannian.
Lelouch licked his lips. "I'm 'useful', hm? I cannot say I am very interested." He tried to catch Kokoro's eye.
"Oh... you will be, boy."
"It's not that I won't take a deal with the devil. I just don't think you're going to offer me anything of interest." If he could catch Kokoro's attention, he could get her out of here... he had no intention of staying, and he'd rather not leave anyone else either.
The old man barked out a laugh. "You have the look about you." He stepped closer. "Of a man who wants something so badly he would gladly sell his life."
Lelouch's eyes narrowed, and he knew the man had caught it.
The man's lip curled. "But of a man who sees no way even his life could buy it. It's left you listless. Disinterested. There is nothing that matters for you but what you cannot affect."
Hit, and hit. Lelouch didn't let his bored facade slip this time, but the old man surely knew he'd hit the mark.
The man came to a stop. "What would you do if I told you...? Of a game where you can gamble your life, and win anything your heart desired?"
And miss. Lelouch's eyebrow rose. Not entirely disinterested, but... "... I think I would say that you're exaggerating your game, underestimating my heart's desire, or insane."
The man's gaze shifted a bit to Kokoro. "Girl, demonstrate. Something flashy."
Instantly obedient, Kokoro's fist lashed out at the brick wall beside her... and tore a hole through it.
"... You're fixing that."
"Yes, Grandfather," she meekly agreed.
Lelouch stared at the inhuman display of strength from a girl... barely his size. That was... they had something. Something he hadn't considered. Something he could use. Something Britannia wasn't prepared for.
The old man's gaze shifted to Rivalz - who was pretty much staring petrified, and looked about ready to run. "Boy, I'll be having you forget this conversation. Step back outside and wait."
Rivalz's expression calmed, and he nodded cheerfully. "Okay, sure. Hey Lelouch, I'll be out by the bike, okay?"
Lelouch swallowed, nodding slowly as his eyes returned to the old man. That hadn't been conversation. That had been another ability... if he could use anything like that, his dreams had just come years closer. Maybe even, finally, within reach.
Rivalz stepped out.
The old man smiled, slowly. He really was the devil, and Lelouch really was going to make a deal with him. And the man knew he had him. "Permit me to introduce myself." He slowly, elegantly, bowed. "I am Matou Zouken. Magus."
Wise Up - The Holy Britannian Empire
As I understand it, you are from a different timeline. Quite radically different in fact, though the similarities are truly impressive.
Though, not as impressive as they seem at first glance! You may have noted terms such as 'Pavlov', 'firearm', and for that matter, 'empire'. This is me, translating it so you can comprehend. The name of the man who performed the closest analogue to Pavlov's experiments in this timeline - Willem Bussard, if you must know - is not one that you would respond to naturally, after all.
Except for Pizza Hut. I don't understand that one either.
But, proceeding back to the topic. This particular timeline diverged from yours around two thousand years ago. I believe you mark time by the birth of Jesus Christ?
This particular timeline - or at least Britannia - marks its years according to the Ascension Throne Britannia calendar, whose initial date is set in 55 BC, when the Roman general Julius Caesar first made landing in the British Isles. So while the year is listed as 2017, by the Anno Domini calendar, it is 1962.
Specifically, it marks his defeat. Of course, while Britannia's education system would have you believe that's the end of it, he was defeated in 55 BC in your timeline too. He came back the next year. And won, in both histories.
The difference lies in what happened afterward. Because Caesar never conquered Britannia - he won the battles, but all he received was hostages, and established trade relationships with the various kingdoms of the island. The true conquest came nearly a century later, under Claudius - in your history, that is.
In our world, those trade relationships did not expand. A king of the Catuvellauni, Eowyn, brought the tribes of Britannia together, uniting them under a single King of Kings and forging them into a force strong enough to defend itself against the might of Rome.
And thus history took on a new course. Barely a century and a half later, with a crashing economy due to an inability to expand, the Roman Empire fell. I could chart the twists and turns of history, but to be honest, the relevance to modernity is... limited.
What you do need to know is that revolutions came up - the people were growing tired of monarchy, and sought to rule for themselves. First one in Britannia's North American colonies, but it was unsuccessful. And then one in France... but this one worked much better. In fact, it expanded all across Europe, driven by the military genius of one French artilleryman.
And then it expanded across the British Channel, forcing Britannia's government into exile in its colonies.
Britannia was shamed by this. A nation that had stood for two thousand years, and then lost its own homeland, its beautiful cities, forced out to a rough and rude existence in its own colonies by - as they saw it - a mere peasant rabble.
A nation that declared to itself that it would not lose again. That it would take back all it had lost, and more. A new national crest - the lion representing the Emperor (or Empress - it's worth noting that gender was never much of an issue in Britannia) became accompanied by a serpent, representing rebirth.
And they proceeded to make a fair bid at conquering the world - forcing the borders back, and back, and further back, never to be crossed and shamed again. They had been pushed to the brink of oblivion, and come to see international politics - life itself - as a war for survival. If others did not allow them to live, they saw no reason to allow others to live.
As time went by, they came to see their conquests as natural. Proof of their superiourity, and of their right to conquer more - to conquer all.
Not all of them, of course. There were doves, even in Britannia. Even on Britannia's throne. But the broad trends continued to push them this way. And they kept winning, despite having the smallest military of the three great superpowers of the world.
By 2010, Britannia sat astride the world like a colossus. The Americas, both North and South, were theirs, as was Greenland. And then in 2010, they added Japan to their list of conquests, as usual stripping it of everything - freedom, rights, even the pride of its own name. Area 11.
The expansion has since continued, largely across the islands of East Asia. It doesn't look like a great deal more on the map, but that is still seven years and as many countries losing the right of self-determination and becoming a simple part of Britannia. At present, Britannia's making gains again - Second Princess Cornelia is pushing the Middle Eastern Federation rapidly towards its breaking point.
Once that falls, the next target - the obvious target from the positioning of the Middle Eastern Federation - is Britannia's great enemy, the democratic Euro Universe.
Please do not ask me about the name, Archer.
First thing's first - thanks go out to prereaders - the list being Sunshine Temple, DCG, Ellf, and Belgarion213.
Unfortunately, while FSN readers will probably recognize most of the Servants, the Masters are going to be new faces, except for the ones (yes, plural) from Code Geass. It's 1962, after all. This is the Fourth Grail War, but it's sort of 35 years early for reasons that will come up. The only canonical Master for this one who's even born yet is Kayneth, and he's certainly not HGW material just yet. The others, well... Rin's grandmother is 14, let alone Tokiomi and Rin herself.
This was mostly the equivalent of the first episode of Code Geass, though obviously with different events, with the robber rebels not making it out of the city they made the initial theft from.
As always, reviews, comments, corrections, and etcetera are appreciated whether for good or ill, and my email's always open (PaleWLF gmail com).