Author's Introduction: Well, the urge has struck me to write something with them again. It will be part of a series of one-shots set before Mao of the Deliverance, memories from Mao and C.C.'s past together which may serve to shed light on their present, and possibly even future. They will be self-contained and not in any particular order, so feel free to read whatever you want. Updates will probably be sparing and whenever, but there will be more, some sweet, some sad. Depends on my mood.


PROLOGUE:

Under the canopy of emerald lights, Mao strode absently through the seemingly endless hall of floating portraits, watching the scenes which played out therein. Scenes from the life of his beloved C.C., the one whose mind he now lived in, that portion of space mysteriously partitioned off from the rest of C's World through some unknown power she possessed. He was dressed in a flowing white poet's shirt under a long silk coat now, his appearance clean and resplendent. He hadn't heard another's thoughts in what seemed like ages.

At length, he came once again to the stretch containing the years she had spent with him, pausing to look over the moments, displayed here as if they had been stolen from time itself. Hanging within these portraits, were some of his fondest memories. They were what had made him the man he was today, for better or worse.

He sighed wistfully.


Duck Hunt.

"I'm so hungry," little Mao grumbled, clutching his tiny stomach. It was one of the few instances he had been the one to complain first. This one time, of course, it was because C.C. could survive without food, though she certainly enjoyed it.

C.C. sighed wearily. It hadn't helped that it was one of those rare "nice" days in the city, shopping stands popping up all over the streets as throngs of people wandered about in search of a good deal to satisfy their appetites . The scent of fresh fruits and warm baked breads filled the air, collecting in the boy's nostrils and tantalizing his aching stomach.

"This stinks!" Mao said, kicking an empty stray can in frustration. Last night, though scour as they might, they had been unable to find anything decent to eat from the local dumpsters, C.C. being very careful what she fed him so he stayed as healthy as possible. After all, life was hard enough out here on the streets. And to make things worse, their pickpocket fund had run down to three measly coins.

An image of creamy cheese and garlic baked amidst a zesty tomato sauce flashed through C.C.'s mind and her eyes widened. It was sprinkled here and there with bits of prime sausage, all atop a thick crust of fluffy French bread. Shaking her head, she suppressed the beautiful vision sullenly.

"Hey," she heard Mao call up to her suddenly, pulling on the dingy fabric over her leg. He was pointing to a prominent stand ahead, a placard above it reading, "'The Great Ping', Suan ming-Yi Jing." In the shaded area behind it sat an elderly lady in front of a small table. A single pad of paper and a book filled with rows upon rows of characters arranged into inexplicable tables and formations rested upon its cheap surface, draped by a red cloth. She flashed a toothy grin at a steadily advancing line of clients, greeting each one warmly as her voice fell to a hushed tone.

"What is it?" C.C. asked Mao in a puzzled tone. She was sure he could not have learnt to read very well and her Chinese wasn't much better, so she could not help but wonder what about the scene had caught his attention.

"Maybe she can tell us where to find some food," Mao explained with growing fascination as he watched men and women leave the little old lady, bright smiles on their faces. "She can look into the future."

"Oh," C.C. nodded, her voice flat. "Mao, those kinds of people just make up stuff to make people feel better," she said dismissively. "Come on, let's go look somewhere else."

"Aww are you sure this one is like that?" Mao pressed, not yet fully convinced.

"Who will come forward next?" the Great Ping heckled out over the street. "You will be amazed at what fate has in store for you! One donation of three coins to learn the course you should take!"

"C'mon, just three coins, C.C.?" Mao pleaded.

C.C. frowned, shaking her head with an exasperated sigh. What they needed right now was to find a place to spend the night, not have a heart to heart with some charlatan. "Well, you told me where to get them, so there just as much yours as mine," she said, giving in as she drew the coins out of her pocket and dropped them in Mao's waiting hand.

"Ours," Mao corrected with an excited smile.

"Just don't get crushed if she doesn't say what you want to hear," C.C. warned, hunching down and placing her hands on his shoulders to lead him safely through the crowds to the stand. Why in the world do they all line up like this?

"Well hello there," the lady greeted with a broad smile. "What an adorable little boy!"

C.C. scowled, despite herself. If you make him cry, I swear I will kick a few more of those teeth out for you...

"Do you wish to know your future?" the woman baited

Mao nodded, tentatively placing the three coins into her wrinkled hand.

The lady spread open the worn book she carried with her and closed her eyes, throwing each coin up into the air and listening as it landed somewhere on its page.

Mao held his breath as the woman squinted her eyes at the faded figures, calculating them together and determining their corresponding verse

"Seven. Hmm...that's interesting," she muttered for effect, her eyes still closed as she waggled her fingers and motioned the stale air from its pages up to her nostrils.

C.C. rolled her eyes impatiently.

"What?" Mao breathed, his eyes wide.

Suddenly, however upon setting her gaze back down on the book, her eyes went wide, paling as the blood seemed to drain out of her face. She looked back at the pair crazed. "The Abysmal repeated. If you are sincere, you have success in your heart, and whatever you do succeeds."

Mao smiled, nodding eagely.

"But," she wailed. "Beware the six at the top. Bound with cords and ropes, shut in between thorn-hedged prison walls. For three years one does not find the way. Misfortune!"

Mao's smile fell as he took a step backward, his world seeming to spin.

C.C. raised an eyebrow, suddenly taking charge. "Forget it, you can keep the change," she said firmly, taking Mao's limp hand and pulling him away. He looked up at her in confusion as if dazed, saying nothing.

At last looking down at her charge once more, C.C. cocked her head to the side. "Mao, what's wrong?" she asked. "Don't tell me your upset about that fr-"

"-C.C.!" Mao exclaimed, throwing his arms around her legs and holding on tight. His face looked terrified.

"Mao, did you...use your Geass?" C.C. asked, eyeing him carefully.

The boy shook his head.

"Well...you have to understand, it's all made up, alright? It doesn't mean anything really. It's like a game that adults find fun," she assured him, smoothing his greasy hair down with her hands.

"C.C., she...our fortune...something bad's gonna happen to us," Mao whispered fearfully.

C.C.'s fist tightened as she forced a smile onto her face for his sake. "Mao, I have an idea," she said suddenly, eager to distract him. "A way for us to eat well tonight. What would you say to feasting on duck?"

"Woah, no way!" Mao scoffed, his fear evaporating.

"But I'll need your help," C.C. goaded. "I think, that with your powers, you could be a much better fortune teller than her."

"How?" Mao asked in confusion.

C.C. knelt down, bringing her lips near his ear. He giggled on reflex, her breath ticking the soft flesh. "All you have to do is use your Geass on them. Amaze them with a few things from their life, stuff nobody else would know. After that, you can tell them something they want to hear, like, that they'll succeed at their task or have good fortune with whatever they're doing. Just make something up for that. Charge them a few yuan each and will be eating duck in no time," she explained.

"Make something up?" Mao asked doubtfully. "But isn't that like...lying?"

C.C.'s smile fell. "No, it's different," she managed.

"But how?" Mao pressed.

C.C. shook her head in exasperation. "Because...I said so," she said sharply. "Do it for me?" she asked, her voice falling to a tender note.

Mao's tiny heart melted. "Alright," he nodded vigorously. "I'd do anything for C.C.!"

C.C. smiled at her small victory. "Let's go over here," she said, leading him over to a vacant spot in between some of the stands. Having him sit crosslegged on the sidewalk, she snatched up a stray piece of windswept cardboard. Cutting out the Chinese characters as best she could, largely copying the fortune teller just across the way, she held the sign aloft to greet each passerby.

"Come see the amazing boy who told me everything I ever did," C.C. called out in her best cheesy voice, drawing a few puzzled looks from the surrounding shoppers. "Let him prove his power and tell you what fortune shall befall ye."

While quite a few rolled their eyes and continued on their way, after a bit a few men came over, more intrigued by C.C.'s shapely body than any divination. Paying the paltry yuan asked for by the pair, their faces soon changed from that of a pitying man who buys a flower from an orphan to the bewildered delight of witnessing a miracle . C.C. nodded to Mao proudly. The details the boy could easily come up with were astounding, of course, and it was not long before word spread like fire among the simple and superstitious folks gathered there.

"It's incredible!"

"How does he do it!"

"No book or coins?"

"Where did this kid come from?"

"It's like a magic show!"

"Could even the Great Ping know this?"

Soon a sizable crowd had gathered around, clapping in awe at every startling revelation Mao uttered, while others turn red faced and bowed in shame, their fellows applauding them. C.C. and Mao soon found their pockets stuffed with bills as the ecstatic throng demanded more. They were starved for anything to break up the mundane of their lives.

"She's gonna marry me!"

"My farm is gonna reap a double profit!"

"Grandpa will live!"

"I'm gonna be rich!"

C.C. began to rack her brains to find a way to put an end to it. The fortune teller across the street, however, her stand practically abandoned by now, could not have agreed more. Rolling up her sleeves, she angrily stormed over and pushed her way through to the pair.

"Stop this act at once!" the lady spat. "You two are nothing but frauds."

The crowd bent around her, cowering and shying away. Whispers and gasps broke out amongst the them. Some fell silent while others booed loudly.

"We've got just as much right to be here as you," Mao countered.

"What rubbish is that? I have been on these streets for years. I am the oracle of this town, the great Ping! You two are filthy back alley cats!" Grabbing hold of the cardboard sign gripped between C.C.'s hands, the lady preceded to tear it to pieces, casting it away in disgust.

"The 'Great Ping' hmm?" Mao remarked as he stood to his feet, the mocking tone sounding odd from such a childlike voice. His left eye burned brightly as he penetrated her mind with his Geass. "But you're really the fraud aren't you."

"You brat! How dare you!" she hissed. "I am a respected member of this community."

"I will now read your fortune too," Mao taunted, the crowd watching the two in silence, mouths agape. "You've made these people believe that if they don't come to you first before they make a decision, bad stuff will happen to them. Sometimes to get them to believe you though, you have to carry it out. Just like...with those all those kids. You made them sick to get their parents to obey. You ruined crops, burnt down houses, spread gossip."

Gasps erupted throughout the throng as they turned toward the fortune teller warily. C.C. bit her lip. There was no way Mao could just make this kind of stuff up, but that meant that things could soon turn worse.

The great Ping's eyes went wide with horror. "You can't possibly..." she stammered, looking frantically from one angry face to the next.

"You handpick the words you read them out of the book, you don't leave anything to chance," Mao continued. "When they obey, you give them good fortune. But when they displease you, its the curses. The people give all kinds of gifts to you. You rule their lives. This whole town even. It's so stupid," he managed. "Hey everyone," he announced, turning towards the crowd. "She's not the mistress of fate or anything. She's just a lazy fraud."

"So that's what happened to my daughter? My damn daughter!"

"You're the reason I can never get out of debt?"

"And for what?"

"Yeah!"

"Get her!"

"Get this hag off our streets!"

"Now, wait a moment..." the woman pleaded, backing away fearfully from the mob who advanced towards her as if possessed. "I made your lives better, now didn't I? I told you good things. I'm warning you, if you lay a finger on me, a terrible misfortune shall befall ye all!"

"Shut up, bitch!" a man shouted, swinging a massive metal rod at her back. There was a sickening crunch and she collapsed to the pavement, howling in pain as she rubbed her back.

Set off in a frenzy, the throng rushed forward, surrounding her as they began to kick and stomp on her. Some picked up whatever they could find, wooden beams or stones, cracking them down against her body as she writhed in agony.

Her swollen eyes locked onto those of Mao who stared ahead, regarding it all blankly.

"Your fortune was true!" she shouted hoarsely, coughing blood. "Don't forget. Great misfortune awaits you both! Aaah!" she cried out as someone found a pitchfork and began impaling her repeatedly, bringing it down and twisting it inside her stomach before tearing it free once more.

Up ahead, a group of police officers had heard the commotion and come running, drawing clubs to cut through the mob.

"Mao," C.C. urged, taking his hand. "We have to get out of here. Now."

Mao nodded, tearing his eyes away from the grisly sight as he and C.C. slipped away through a series of alleys.

The ran in silence for a while, at last coming to a stop near a restaurant they had loitered around before, gasping as they caught their breath.

"What an evil lady," Mao said, shaking his head. "But that was so gross."

C.C. said nothing, drawing out her share of the money from her pockets and counting the wrinkled bills carefully.

"But...that book, the Yi Ching. Our fortune," Mao lamented, looking down. "Now we're cursed for sure."

C.C. stopped, calmly returning the bills to her pocket as she knelt down and placed her hands upon the boy's shoulders. "Mao, somebody wrote that book a long time ago to lead people on. It can give you information that you want to hear, or expect to hear, or seems reasonable or profound. But that only lasts up to a point. Once it has your belief and you trust it, it will heap the most malevolent and wrong kind of information upon you. It sets you up. The more important the decision, the more it will give you an answer to bring tragedy to your life. People like that are liars who speak with forked tongues. Do you understand?"

Mao nodded weakly, unable to shake the dread away.

"You are a very important boy, that is why it tried to ruin your life," C.C. finished. "Now, how about some of that fried duck?"

"Yeah," Mao said, taking her hand into his.