Edit: I've reread this until my eyes got blurry, so I think I'll just send it out as it is. Hope it's alright!
Not much too say today, just that this is very quickly becoming a main fic for me. On the other hand, I'm looking at Prince of Masks and thinking, "wow, I could have written that a LOT better" hopefully it's a good sign that I'm seeing flaws in my own work, but I just hope it doesn't happen to this fanfic (in a good way).
Quick note: Strangely enough, it seems like there are a number of real-war-veteran critics who are especially insulted by my lack of real warfare knowledge. So I'm just quickly saying that, yes, I've never been in the military before, so...sorry?
Italics for thought (or stress when just a word or two)
ReStage 6: First Stage
"So these are the Resistance's infamous M.A.T.T.'s?"
"Mobile Anti-Tank Turrets." Commander Hideki glanced briefly at the dull-brown pieces of machinery. "Yeah, they're infamous. Infamous for bad accuracy. But it's the best we got, any complaints?" The man was still disdainful of having to bow down to a stranger.
Behind his mask, Lelouch smiled. "Quite the opposite. Even if they're inaccurate, they can still serve their purpose." He looked at the twin barrels on each turret on wheels. If what Tohdoh told me years ago was correct, MATT's compensate for inaccuracy with firepower. "How many do you have? And how many people here know how to use them?"
Commander Hideki couldn't resist puffing his chest in pride. "68. Enough to cover all 68 entrances. And we have more than enough personnel on hand to man them all." He waved a hand at a flood of people running towards the MATT's.
Zero's voice rumbled through the interior of the abandoned mine. "Perfect." Carefully making sure his body explosive was hidden, he walked up to a metal stage, the makeshift center of operations for the terrorist group. Turning to face the assembled MATT's, as well as the pilots entering them, he whispered to Hideki, "Would you mind introducing me, Commander?"
Hideki didn't give Lelouch a response, but instead yelled at the top of his lungs. "A-ttention!"
Lelouch was pleased to see that all personnel in the area had stopped what they were doing and turn to the commander. Although he didn't know much about this 'Hideki', apparently he had his subordinates' respect, if not loyalty.
Commander Hideki shouted once again. "Everyone! Beside me is our leader for this battle, sent by our superiors. Due to confidential reasons, his identity is to remain a secret. Follow his orders as you would mine!"
Lelouch heard murmurs arise as people evaluated the masked man before them. As they rose, he murmured, amused, "Thank you."
Hideki grumbled back. "I'm not doing this for you. How would my men fight, knowing they were being held hostage by a lunatic in a mask?" Then he turned his attention to the 100-some MATT pilots. "Am I clear?"
Zero pulled his legs together, standing erect. "Japanese comrades! My name is Zero! As Commander Hideki mentioned, I cannot reveal my identity. However, I can guarantee that, should you follow my orders, we will win this battle!" Zero raised a hand imperiously. "In a moment, I will assign you all call signs. Once you have received your call sign, follow the railroads to your combat stations."
The moment he stepped off the stage, murmurs arose once again. However, Zero ignored them and walked towards the closest MATT. Inside were two pilots, a driver and a gunner. "You are MATT-1." He pointed towards a railroad path to his left. "Move out, but stop 50 meters from your regular position. Make sure to stay out of enemy view."
Then he moved onto the next machine. And the next after that.
Clovis resisted the urge to yawn. "Any sign of the enemy yet, Bradley?"
The obese general glanced at the mountain in view ahead. "Not yet, Your Highness. Our tanks are having trouble closing in on the mine without breaking the encirclement. We have reliable intel that the terrorists have anti-tank weaponry, so our forces are moving on the cautious side."
"That's the wrong approach, Bartley."
The general turned to Cornelia. "I-Is that so, Your Highness? I-I had no idea."
Cornelia sighed. "While taking caution might work in normal warfare, you cannot forget that, in this case, we're fighting terrorists. Given the limited organization and intelligence of standard guerilla forces, it's easy to guess that they had no idea we were coming. This is part of the reason why even our forces didn't know the operation target until the last minute."
"Your point, Cornelia?" Although he tried to sound as polite as possible, Clovis couldn't care less about tactics. What was more important was finishing the operation and getting back to the comfortable life of propaganda and politics.
Cornelia glowered slightly at the interruption. "The point, my dear brother, is that slowly approaching only weakens the surprise factor that we had. By now, the enemy terrorists have probably organized themselves and are ready to use the afore-mentioned anti-tank weaponry. The better choice would have been to send in a strike force of Knightmares to disrupt their base of operations. Done correctly and this battle could already be over."
Clovis sighed. "Which is why you are a general and I'm a viceroy. I know I'm not as war-savvy as you, dear sister, but that's because I only need the basics." He motioned to a large group of tanks in front of him, accompanied by the occasional Sutherland. While the G-1 Command Center was staying in place, the force in front slowly closed in on the small mountain ahead. "As our attack force beats the enemy into submission, our encirclement will catch anybody who tries to flee. You can just sit here and watch, dear sister."
"Ohgi, are the charges planted?"
Ohgi's voice came back, slightly strained. "Partially. We've got 30 of the 68 entrances covered. We'll get the rest done soon enough." After a moment's hesitation, Ohgi asked, "…but, what's the point of this? I don't see why we need to place explosives where the turrets are going to be anyways."
Lelouch smiled. "You'll see soon enough. Make sure all the explosives are all wired to my computer."
"Minami's checking the transmitters. Also… you realize we're surrounded, right? And they're tanks are getting closer by the minute."
Lelouch smiled. "I've hacked into their IFF codes, so I'm well aware. Thanks for telling me, Ohgi. Contact me if anything else goes wrong."
A very different voice reached him from behind. "Do you really think we'll win?"
Lelouch turned to see Kallen looking over his shoulder at his laptop. "I don't think, Kallen. I know."
Kallen sighed. "I don't get why you can be so confident."
Lelouch smiled. "We will win because we must."
"That's all easy to say, isn't it? But, if you look at reality, we're completely surrounded. And it may not just be Clovis out there in that G-1, it could be Cornelia."
Lelouch smiled. "I sure hope so, Kallen." Then he turned to his laptop. "Either way, it's because we're surrounded that we will win."
A buzz on the radio prompted Lelouch to pick up his communicator. Holding it by his mask, he listened in.
"…Zero, the enemy tanks are now 500 meters away."
Lelouch smiled. "Then it's time to show the Britannian Empire our might." Switching the broadcast signal, he ordered. "Japanese soldiers! It's our time to shine; our time to pay Britannia for 7 years of occupation. Follow my orders and we shall win this! That I swear!"
"Your Highness! The terrorists have appeared!"
Clovis leaned forward in his throne. "Are you sure? I don't see anything."
General Bartley was leaning over a digital map in the center of the room. "My lord, it appears that several M.A.T.T.'s have appeared from the mine and opened fire on the encirclement. They're on the other side of the mine, out of the G-1's view."
Clovis frowned, "If I remember, Intel said the MATT's were low-accuracy artillery of some form. Not much of a threat. Whatever the case, send Jordon's squad from our reserves over there. It's possible that they're planning on breaking the encirclement. If our tanks haven't already, order them to fire at will."
"Yes, Your Highness."
Cornelia sighed. "You seem quite relaxed, Clovis. Even though your men are being fired upon as we speak." MATT…? I can swear I've heard that before…
Clovis smiled. "As I said, the artillery that the Elevens have is sub-standard. I'd be surprised if they managed to land a single shot, much less take down my subordinates." Then he rested his head on his hand. "Besides, tank units are readily expendable."
Meanwhile, General Bartley was holding his communicator. "What was that? Can you repeat that?"
Clovis raised his chin slightly at Bartley's tone. "What is it, Bartley?"
The general slowly lowered his headset, and then glanced at the map. "Your Highness, Tank Unit 6 requests further orders. Apparently they're being pinned down by the terrorists' artillery.
"Pinned down? That's ridiculous." With slow steps, Clovis, as well as Cornelia, walked to the table the map was displayed on. At the center were a series of red dots, the enemy force. Around them was a ring of blue tanks, with Knightmares interspersed. "Our tanks should still be outside their guns' effective range-"
In one part of the encirclement, opposite Clovis, a LOST sign appeared over a blue tank. Followed by another.
The LOST signs began at the 12 o'clock position and were gradually sweeping to the sides. It was a slow process, but the LOST signs were accumulating gradually.
Clovis, only mildly shocked, turned to look at Cornelia. "What did you say?"
Cornelia's eyes were still focused on the map. "You said they weren't that accurate, but it looks like the enemy has at least 30 MATT's on the other side of the encirclement. Focus all that firepower in one spot and casualties are inevitable. Then all the enemy commander has to do is move the point of focus along the encirclement." Then the princess moved her hands over the mountain on the map. "You said they don't have that kind of range? You forgot that we're fighting against forces on a mountain. The added height probably gives their artillery increased range."
Still, doing so exposes the artillery to attacks from the sides. "Clovis, send some of your Knightmare squads over to flank the enemy artillery. Do you have any more Intel on the terrorists, like how many of those MATT's they have? Or the weapon's specs?"
Clovis bit his lip. He looked like he wanted to speak, but he chose to remain silent. After a moment of thought, he sighed. "Alright, that may be best… Bartley, you heard what Cornelia said! Send part of our reserves over to flank the turrets."
After a moment, another officer brought a file. Clovis took it and handed it to Cornelia. "This is what we have on the MATT."
He glanced at Cornelia for complaints. Getting none, he added, "Also, what is our main force doing? Send them in already!"
"Zero, the Britannian forces have begun to close in!"
Lelouch seemed unfazed. "Are any Gloucesters among the attackers?"
"Not that I can see."
Lelouch smiled. Cornelia's still underestimating us. I suppose something as basic as this won't interest her. "Thank you for the info, Hideki. Ohgi, are the charges planted yet?"
"...Just finished, Zero."
Lelouch closed his laptop. "Got it. Get ready to move out."
As long as I can keep the Britannians following my rhythm, everything should work just fine. Changing frequencies, Lelouch began to bark orders. "MATT-1 through 36, move into firing position. Focus fire on the spot exactly 450 meters south of Point A. MATT-37 and on, continue your barrage. Make sure to focus your fire 450 meters out, 18 degrees east of north. Don't fire even a degree off target!"
"Viceroy Clovis, 36 new hostiles have appear-!"
The officer's shout was cut off by a volley of artillery shells no more than 100 meters away.
Landing right on Clovis's attack force. Tanks and Sutherlands alike scattered amid the flurry of fatal artillery fire.
Clovis turned to see Cornelia frowning. "Tell me, Clovis. Do your men always scatter like flies when faced with actual combat? And since when did you concentrate all your forces so closely together, if you knew the terrorists had access to artillery?"
Clovis couldn't respond. Eventually, he shook his head. "Bartley! What are you standing around there for? Command all units to attack at once!"
Bartley was slow to respond. "Our tanks, especially in the encirclement, have already opened fire, but the turrets are outside the range of our Sutherlands."
As Clovis watched, he realized that a few of the red dots had indeed disappeared. But not nearly as fast as his attack force was. "What are you waiting for, an invitation? Order all units to charge, Bartley."
The general moved to do so, but was stopped by a cold, firm hand. "Stop." Cornelia ordered, "Order all forces to retreat to a distance of 550 meters from the target. Have the reserve forces continue their flanking of the enemy forces."
Clovis and Bartley stood, frozen. "Pardon, Sister?" Clovis said, "Are you saying that we should retreat? Retreat from these Elevens?"
Cornelia sighed. "Were you always this foolish, Clovis?" Cornelia turned her head towards Bartley. "Order the withdrawal. This is an order as Chief General of the Imperial Army!"
With a glance at Clovis, Bartley complied. "Yes, Your Highness."
After a long minute of artillery fire right in front of the G-1, the attack force had fully retreated. At least, the remnants of it did. Of the sixty-so tanks and Sutherlands, only a third remained.
"It's not as bad as it looks." reminded Cornelia.
A look at the map surprised Clovis. Even if the attack force had been hurt, the encirclement was relatively untouched.
"49 lost tanks and 19 lost Sutherlands, including the ones in the rear encirclement." Cornelia remarked. "Not very impressive, younger brother. Now, if only you had your forces spread out a bit more…"
Clovis made as if to say something, but Cornelia stopped him. "Now it's your turn to be the observer. Watch what a real attack force can do."
Looking on the map, Clovis saw that blue icons remained on the mountain's far side. "Aren't those…"
"The reserve forces you sent to flank the turrets." Cornelia, bending over the map, looked at Clovis. "Do you know what is most effective against artillery? Close combat."
Clovis only watched as the blue forces, indicated as Sutherlands, wreaked havoc on the far side of the mountain. Although a small percentage of the Sutherlands were marked LOST, soon more than 75% of the far red dots on that half of the mountain had disappeared.
"I swear, sometimes I wonder if I should force you to redo your education in the Royal Academy. How don't you know the most basic of battle tactics?"
Clovis cringed. He might have retorted, but he was interrupted by Bartley. "Your Highness, the enemy forces facing us have withdrawn."
Clovis tried to smile. "They're finally retreating, huh, Cornelia?"
"Retreating into a mountain?" Cornelia practically snorted. "That's like digging your own grave. It's more likely that they're planning on reinforcing their rear. Which leaves their front completely open." The enemy is finally dancing to our rhythm.
Cornelia turned. "Tell all forces to completely withdraw to 550 meters, before our attack force is taken by surprise. Make sure that our flanking forces spread out: let the Elevens waste more of their ammunition, then we'll charge."
"Where are you going, Your Highness?"
Cornelia smiled. "I'm going to lead the attack. I'd like to see the face of the guy who so blatantly treated my brother like a fool." Before I kill him. Then she reached for her communicator. "Guilford, get your Gloucester ready. We're going to move out."
"Zero! 29 of our own have been wiped out!"
Lelouch smiled. "Is that so?"
"You don't seem that concerned." noted Hideki.
"That's because it's about time to move into Stage 2." Lelouch turned on his headset. "All forces, head to extraction point A. Immediately." With that, he walked into a cargo elevator. "Ohgi, how's your team?"
The noise that came back was scratchy, filled with noise. "We're ready by the exit. We brought all the equipment you asked for."
"Good. I'll be there shortly."
"Cornelia, all the terrorist forces are withdrawing into the mountain."
"Is that so, Guilford? Including the ones on the other side of the mountain?"
"Yes, Your Highness."
Cornelia smiled. She mused, "The cornered rats are going to give their last stand in their headquarters? Figures. If they'd stayed out, they'd just end up leaving holes in their defenses." Pushing the ignition, Cornelia shot out of her Knightmare transport, kicking a wave of dust behind her. "All Knightmare units, attack!"
After winding her path across trees and brush, the ground began to slope up towards the mountain's peak. At the first empty entrance, Cornelia jumped onto the railroad lines. Gun at the ready, she quickly scanned the interior tunnel.
Empty as far as her Gloucester could see.
Jumping to align her landspinners with the railroad tracks, she sped inside. As she did, Sutherlands followed in the other 67 entrances, some over destroyed Japanese turrets.
After only a moment, she could see light at the end of the tunnel. Light that was faintly obstructed by a shadow at the end's center. Lifting her oversized rifle, Cornelia fired a short burst. She smiled as her bullets were met with a small explosion. Not dropping speed, she rushed through the smoke. She jumped over the obstruction, turning around, gun raised.
As I thought.
The 'obstruction' that she had earlier seen from the tunnel was now burning at her feet. Looking around, she found that a number of other turrets had faced similar fates at the hands of her subordinates.
Those stupid Elevens thought they could surprise us by using these turrets in an ambush inside their own base. It would have been amazingly effective, if not for that fact that it was idiotically predictable.
Turning on her machine's mic, Cornelia taunted, "Come out, wretched Elevens! Your last effort has failed. This is checkmate for you all."
Despite her words, not a single soul was to be seen in the abandoned mine, expect for her subordinates, who were piling into the rebel base.
Looking back at the turret smoldering below, she froze.
There wasn't anyone in the turret. Not even a corpse.
Sitting beside a large boulder, Zero smiled. "No, Cornelia. This time, it's checkmate for you." Open laptop in his arms, he stood and turned toward the towering vehicle that was a G-1 Command Center.
Walking over a Britannian corpse, Lelouch twisted his head towards a certain Japanese commander. "Commander Hideki. I expect that you and your men will be capable of escaping now. The majority of the Britannian Knightmares have been taken care of, so I hope you will be able to keep the encirclement unaware. I would prefer if the other Britannians did disturb my work here until the last possible second." With the word 'work', he jerked his head slightly towards the humming G-1. Then he turned his attention to his laptop.
"Unfortunately, it seems like you'll need to find a new headquarters."
With that, he pressed a key on his laptop.
Cornelia felt a chill run down her spine. It was a feeling she had not felt for a long time. "All units, evacuate the mine immediately!"
As she spoke, she felt tremors from down below. Without looking down, she turned back towards her tunnel. As she rammed her foot on the accelerator, she cringed as she began to hear the sound she most dreaded.
The dying screams of her comrades.
Old electric lights, already at the end of their lifespans, went out first. The darkness that ensued was only slightly ameliorated by the sunlight at the end of the tunnel entrances. However, that was only for the lucky ones who managed to retreat to a tunnel. Others were trapped in the black pit that had once been a terrorist base.
Rickety wooden supports, long abandoned, began to buckle and snap like twigs. With them fell the very roof of the mountain, twisting the mine inside out. Those who weren't fast enough fell next, trapped by large blocks of stone larger than any Knightmare. Some Sutherlands lost their landspinners to stray rocks, causing them to fall and crash. For those who survived, the sunlight at the end of the tunnels beckoned.
Finally, a few extremely skilled - or lucky - Knights, such as Cornelia, grew close to the tunnel entrances. It was then, when safety was almost in their grasp, that explosives at each entrance triggered. Cornelia's Gloucester just barely managed to speed past them. However, the older Sutherlands weren't quite able to achieve the same velocity.
The quickest of them got caught in the explosions at the entrance, which caused some cockpits to be automatically ejected back into the dismal, collapsing tunnels. Slightly slower were the machines that got caught in the rockslides that followed. They got battered down by boulders, quickly trapped under piles of rubble. The slowest of the 'lucky' Sutherland pilots were only able to stop, trapped by the piles of rubble blocking the entrances. If they didn't crash into more rubble, they were quickly disposed of by the collapsing tunnel, which finally caught up with them.
"We're ready, Zero."
Lelouch smiled, turning his eyes away from the collapsing mountain in front of him. The demolition gave Lelouch a surprising feeling of comfort. It reminded him, more than anything so far, that Zero was indeed back. The Zero who gave birth to miracles, who rose the hearts of the just, and who ruthlessly killed the corrupt.
"...Ah, Zero, whenever you're ready."
Lelouch turned back to look at Ohgi. The terrorist leader was standing next to a cheap-looking camera. It'll do. "I suppose it's time that I made my debut." For the third time. Lelouch couldn't hide his smile, so he had to lift his hands to remind himself that his mask did the hiding for him.
Cornelia tore her eyes away from the collapsed mountain entrance in front of her. "Guilford! Are you alright?"
To her left, a Gloucester drew closer. Kneeling the machine spoke with her Knight's voice. "Yes, Your Highness." Then the machine rose. "I should be asking you the same, Princess."
For a long while, Cornelia was silent. She looked back at the blocked tunnel entrance. A purple Sutherland arm stuck out of the rocks filling up the entrance, like a silent plea for help. "I'm gonna kill him."
Guilford was silent.
Cornelia turned back to Guilford's machine. "Guildford, tell Clovis right now to identify the enemy commander that was behind this. And if the idiot hasn't called for rescue support, remind him!"
Her commands were met with silence. After a long pause, Guilford spoke again, slightly hesitant. "Your Highness… Prince Clovis isn't responding."
Cornelia froze, then slowly turned to look back at the G-1 in the distance. Don't tell me that the terrorists… "Guilford, follow me!"
As Cornelia's Gloucester turned around, she began to mutter a mix of curses and prayers under her breath. Not a single unit sounded the alarm. "God damnit. Is there anything that Clovis's troops can do right?"
Please be safe, little brother.
"No. No… no…"
Guilford didn't say anything. He couldn't.
Cornelia fell to her knees, ignoring the military officials nearby, tied up by rope and silenced by tied gags made of tattered cloth.
In front of her was a body that took up all of the Chief General's attention. Leaking from the side of its forehead was crimson blood.
Guilford bent down to pick something up. Small, thin, and silver, it looked like a small pen. Pressing a button, it began to make some sound. Guilford brought it to his ear.
As the sound died down, Guilford slowly looked over at his princess. "Princess Cornelia... you may want to hear this." He gently passed the recorder down to her ears. Cornelia barely reacted.
As Guilford held it for Cornelia, he realized that he could see tears falling down her face. Slowly, he turned his head the other way.
Cornelia slowly made sense of the words coming out of the machine held by her ear.
"The M.A.T.T. ... The Mobile Anti-Tank Turret. Barely mobile without the help of railroads, this piece of artillery was half-forgotten during the Britannian invasion due to its unreliable accuracy. What few realized is that the M.A.T.T. has firepower suitable to blow a Sutherland off the map. You may remember that the MATT was made temporarily famous for its use in what became known as Tohdoh's Miracle of Itsukushima. Does that ring a bell, Cornelia?"
Cornelia was silent, but the voice kept talking. "If you are hearing this, I suppose this means my trap was only partly successful. I would expect nothing less from the Witch of Britannia. However, I believe that this check. I look forward to seeing your next move."
As tears fell onto the cold floor, Cornelia's open hands changed to clenched fists. "I'll kill you, damnit!"
The voice had finally stopped, but Cornelia barely noticed.
"I'll kill you, even if it's the last thing I do!"
Cornelia isn't gonna take this insult lightly xD Lelouch has won the battle, but who will win the war? Sooner or later, Lelouch's risk-taking is gonna catch up with him :D
Some may feel like Cornelia was a bit incompetent in this chap, but remember that she started out as a spectator (and she placed a tad too much confidence on Clovis's forces). Considering she had no reason to expect much from terrorists, Lelouch had the advantage in that regard.
I'm sorry, but I can't guarantee when's the next time I'll update :/ I'll just say that I'll try to write when I can.