Risks and Sacrifices

Chapter Two

Kallen rode through the open streets on a jet black motorcycle. After over a year piloting Knightmares, she thought that driving a motorcycle would be no problem, but racing through a warzone at over sixty miles per hour was different when you had a plastic helmet instead of a foot of steel to protect you.

Screams and gunfire filled the air, and the city burned. The sooner she got out of Utopia, the sooner she could return.

A Knightmare appeared on the road in front of her. She tried to swerve out of the way, but she hit the thing's landspinners, catapulting her out of her seat and into the air. She smacked the asphalt and rolled. When she opened her eyes, she wasn't aware of her scraped knees or elbows, she was aware only of the Knightmare's anti-infantry minigun pointed at her.

Unarmed and defenseless, she hadn't felt this helpless since…

An immaculate white Knightmare severed the first one in two with a crimson sword. It exploded and flooded the air with a sudden heat. It was the Lancelot. Suzaku! Kallen made a mental note to be nice to him some time.

If Suzaku saw or recognized her, he gave no sign. He raised his rifle and fired at another group of Knightmares flying overhead, felling two and drawing the attention of the rest. He seemed to be trying to take on the entire fleet singlehanded.

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Suzaku didn't keep track of how many Knightmares he had destroyed, but he knew he couldn't keep it up for much longer. They were a new model, seemingly based on his own Lancelot, but slightly cheaper. He could face one of them without a problem, but all together, they were whittling away at his defenses. He had a float device, but it drained his power core like nothing else. The other Knightmares didn't seem to have that problem.

"Finally, some resistance!"

Suzaku looked up and saw a floating Knightmare armed with a pair of scythes. Great, he thought. Just what I need. Some guy who models his Knightmare after Death.

"You one of Zero's guys?" the man asked. "Where are the rest of you?"

"What? Hold on. You're waging an unprovoked assault against unarmed civilians, and you're accusing me of terrorism?"

The man paused. "Wait, you're not one of Zero's. You're Lancelot, aren't you?"

Close enough. Suzaku didn't want to identify himself to avoid implicating Euphemia, but he knew he'd be recognized eventually.

"Are you in charge here?" Suzaku asked.

"Sort of. I'm Gino, the Knight of Ten. You may have heard of me." He hadn't. Gino took his two weapons and fused them into a single, double-bladed scythe. "I never liked fighting people who can't fight back. That kind of sucks for you right now."

He fell out of the air and swooped down at him. Suzaku jumped out of the way and activated his shield to block the passing blow. He fired a slash Harken, and when Gino dodged out of the way, the bolt landed in another Knightmare. A Vincent! He suddenly remembered Lloyd talking about them. He used the Vincent as an anchor to launch himself at Gino. Gino jumped out of the way. Suzaku flung the incapacitated Vincent at him, which he blocked with his scythe.

"You said you don't like fighting people who can't fight back," Suzaku said. "So what are you doing here?"

"Hey, it's nothing personal. I'm just following orders."

"But you decide to follow those orders, don't you?"

"Orders are orders," Gino said defensively. "If you tried to pick and chose which ones to follow, you'd find yourself committing treason. Or terrorism. Are you sure you're not a terrorist?"

"Do you think these people care why you're killing them?" Suzaku demanded. "Oh, look at that man burning our homes and slaughtering our children. What a loyal and obedient knight he is!"

"I don't like it either!" Gino protested. "But if I don't do it, someone else will."

"And if anyone's going to have a bloodbath, it might as well be you. Well, I don't think these people need to die, and they shouldn't have to. I will protect them if I can, and if that's what it means to be a terrorist, I'd be ashamed to be called anything else!"

Great. I'm starting to sound like Zero. He remembered when he first joined the military. He had been planning to work his way into Britannia, and change it from within. Back then there had been no hole he wouldn't crawl through, no hoop he wouldn't jump through to do what was expected of him. Then he had met Euphemia, and suddenly there was something in his life that he wouldn't compromise.

A group of Vincents enclosed around him, interrupting their duel. Suzaku sped away, hoping that their differences in speed would allow him to fight them one at a time. He swung his sword through an unsuspecting Vincent and remembered the last bit of bravado he had shown Euphie before he left, a promise that he had to keep.

Surrounded by over a hundred enemies with his energy nearly depleted, Suzaku found himself, for the first time in eight years, afraid to die.

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Zero strode down the hall of the Black Knights' headquarters, his black cape billowing behind him. It was a tribute to his men that after several months of waiting, they hadn't lost their efficiency and discipline. They were truly the finest men he could have hoped to have under him.

"Ah, that's sweet," Mao said, approaching him. "But I bet I'm not included in that. Anyway, Rakshata wants a flying monkey."

"What? Mao, I don't have time for your crazy. Either make sense or shut up."

"No, I'm serious. Old man Chuck released the flying monkeys, and your mad scientist wants you to bring her back one."

"Fine," he said. "When this is over, she can have all the flying monkeys she wants."

"Ha!" Mao said, pointing a triumphant finger at Tamaki, who was standing nearby, pretending not to be listening. "And you thought I couldn't make him say it."

"You let me down, Zero!" Tamaki scowled, pulling out his wallet and handing Mao a five dollar bill. "You let me down!"

Zero grimaced in frustration as Tamaki stormed off. Mao, get close enough to Princess Euphemia to know what's happening to her. If Schneizel is nearby, alert me if he takes command. Mao nodded and left. Zero saw Oghi and stopped him as he passed by. "Has Q-1 reported in yet?"

Oghi shook his head. "She didn't answer her phone when I called, so I left a message. If she arrived later, I haven't seen her yet."

"She's not here," Mao called over his shoulder. "Of course, I've been wrong before. Oh, wait, never mind."

Zero dismissed Oghi, pulled out his phone, and called her himself.

"Hey, Zero," she said. "Fancy hearing from you at a time like this." She sounded out of breath.

"Kallen. You wanted me to call you when I planned to do something substantial. Well, it's time."

"Great. Does your plan have anything to do with the massive invasion force of flying Knightmares destroying the Special Administration Zone?"

"Oh, have you heard about it?"

"I'm kind of in the middle of it," she said.

Zero stopped. "What? Where are you?"

"Under the rubble of a demolished building. I figure they won't destroy the same thing twice until they get bored."

"What on earth are you—never mind. How close are you to an exit?"

"I'm about a mile away from the east gate. I could get there in about five minutes, you know, if the people trying to kill me don't slow me down."

Zero thought quickly, and a plan began to form in his mind. There was a greater element of risk involved, but it also risked being more effective. And most of all, it was much more dramatic.

"Okay, at the east gate, you will find Oghi with a small force waiting for you. They'll bring the Guren with them, and you'll be briefed on the details of the mission. When I give you the signal, start running. I don't want to have to start this fight without you."

"What's the signal?"

"You'll know it when you see it," he said. "Good luck."

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"I've got forty-two already!" Luciano gloated. "What are you up to?"

Gino winced. His duty was Luciano's game. That was another difference between them. Besides their number of limbs and other anatomical features, they really had nothing in common. "I found someone in a Knightmare, and I've been focusing on him," Gino said. "Besides, I find basic demolition work beneath me."

"Snob," Luciano said, but his heart wasn't in the insult. He was feeling too giddy.

Gino could think of several words to describe his associate, but he kept them to himself, just like he kept to himself the real reason he had managed to avoid killing anyone during the entire massacre. Chasing after that Lancelot guy was just an excuse, but he had begun to realize that this job just wasn't for him. As soon as the mission was over, he'd resign from the Knights of the Round.

"Imperial butchers and children of slaughter," came a voice from the sky. The sun was red when they arrived, but now the sky was a midnight black. A solitary, black and gold Knightmare stood alone above the city. "Your time has ended."

The Knightmares rose to meet the newcomer, surrounding him like the arms of a hurricane. "I take it you're the infamous Zero," Luciano said. "It's about time you showed up. I was starting to run out of people to kill."

"I come to offer you a deal," Zero said. "You will leave this place immediately and never seek to harm them again."

"And I suppose you're offering that in exchange for your life?" Gino presumed. He could respect that, though if Zero was willing to give himself up, why wait until now to show up?

"No. I do it in exchange for yours. Refuse my offer, and none of you will leave here alive."

There was a moment of stupefied silence. "Do you have any idea who we are?" Luciano demanded. "We are the elite force employed by the Emperor himself, and I am one of his personal knights. And if you haven't noticed, we outnumber you five hundred to one. So unless you have an army somewhere that you're not telling us about, you must have a very clever plan."

"I know who you are," Zero said with contempt. "And I'm offering you a chance to run."

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The people below did not cheer when they saw Zero arrive, they were too busy hiding. But they heard, and they knew they're savior. They heard, and knew they had no hope but Zero.

The Britannian forces had surrounded him, but only on two dimensions. Float devices were relatively new, and they didn't have Zero's experience in aerial warfare.

"I'm going to have to decline your offer," Luciano replied. Zero remembered the last time he had encountered the man. He was a skilled pilot, not that Zero cared for a rematch. Or needed one. "I've never passed up a battle before if you have a hidden army, and if you have a clever plan, then I am really curious."

"Indeed. Then on the way down, ask yourself if you believe in a God of miracles." Without warning, Zero deactivated the float device and plummeted out of the air. C.C. took over immediately and flew the Gawain to the ground as fast as it could go.

"You know," she said, "I think you enjoy this sort of thing far too much." Enemy fire fell around them like rain. This was the element of risk.

"What's not to enjoy?" Zero asked, operating the defense system. While not the Shinkiro, Rakshata had equipped the Gawain with a similar defense system which blocked most of the enemy attacks. Surrounded by an entire army, the shields would break down in seconds. However, the Britannian army didn't have seconds.

"I told you this before, but I can't have you dying on me."

"Don't worry," he said. "There is hardly any risk involved at all. This is just planning, strategy, and most of all, preparation."

The underground subway system was undamaged, fortunately. Zero had someone check before he walked into the lion's den. Apparently it wasn't on the Britannians' list of things to destroy. C.C. landed on the tallest remaining, and Zero activated the trap that Rakshata had been working on nearly exclusively for months.

The Gefjun disturber had never before been used in battle in this timeline. No one had even thought of designing countermeasures to it. Everything in Utopia blacked out, and all the Knightmares came crashing down.

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Kallen smiled with satisfaction. Once again, Zero had taken an impossible situation and flipped it over on its head. Ohgi had explained some of what had happened, but Kallen didn't understand, and she suspected that Ohgi didn't either.

She thought about how it would be like to be flying, the world small beneath her, and then to suddenly start to fall. It had to have been terrifying for them. Kallen couldn't find them any pity. They shouldn't have come here in the first place. How dare they attack Utopia? How dare they attack her home?

Not all of the Knightmares got destroyed, but the survivors were damaged and disorganized. Kallen touched one, and it exploded. She had the touch of Midas, only instead of gold, she turned things into fire. She didn't have time to relish the mayhem that she was, though. She had a job to do.

"There you are!" she said, spotting her target. She found Suzaku doing what he'd been doing since the start of the fight. "Zero said you'd be low on energy."

"Yeah, well he's right. I'm down to five percent."

"Well, I'm not a delivery girl, but Zero told me to give you this," she said, handing him an extra energy filler. "Consider it payback for saving my life earlier."

"When did I save your life?"

Kallen grimaced. "Stop rubbing it in and take your dumb battery already!"

"Right," Suzaku said. He loaded the energy filler into his Knightmare. "You know, we haven't been on the battleground like this since Narita."

"Yeah, I remember that," Kallen said nostalgically. "I remember beating you."

"I call interference on that one," Suzaku said. "Your boss was talking to me. It was very distracting."

"Oh, you poor boy. If you want, we could have a rematch. Let's say, first person to thirty kills?"

"I already got thirty."

"You had a head start. Start over."

"Whatever you say," he said in a tone that implied that he didn't really care. When he was really in the mood, he could rival a milk cow for competitive spirit. "So what's the plan, anyway?"

"Well, all our friends are on the outside of the city, and they're going to drive the filthy Brits into the middle, no offense."

"I'm not Britannian."

"We're already in the middle, so our job is to wreck havoc and prevent them from forming an organized defense."

"Makes sense," Suzaku said. "But, correct me if I'm wrong, but won't the sheer bulk of the Britannian military be shoved on top of us?

"Like butter to a hot knife," Kallen replied with a grin. "We're the cliff that they're going to be driven off of. Let's go."

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Calares entered Schneizel's office, bearing ill news.

"Your Highness," he said. "You have been requested to take over command of the battle." He was a duke, and was competent in his own respect. Whenever the Emperor sent is personal forces into established Areas, he often included an official to mediate between his army and the local government.

"Yes, I know," Schneizel said dismissively. "I declined yesterday. I did not approve of the…tactics involved."

"Yes, I know you couldn't stomach them, but it's different now."

"Stomach them?" Schneizel repeated. "No, no, I've killed thousands before when I had to, and tens of thousands, but the moral high ground is a very real advantage, and to throw it away like that? It seemed foolish. It would only create martyrs, and martyrs are more potent dead than alive." His eyes fell on one of the paintings that adorned his office. "Like the work of an artist, perhaps."

He didn't mention that the battle served no apparent purpose. Zero was already neutralized, his Black Knights dwindling. Why did his father care so much that he had to be captured instead of incapacitated? And why kill thousands of people to do it? The Emperor never cared much for the lives of his conquered enemies, or for the lives of his own people for that matter, and he was never known to be a subtle man when bold, powerful statements could be made, but he was not foolish. He was after something, something more than a clever terrorist who played the world like a chess game. If Schneizel understood what, he'd understand his father a little better.

"Yes, I understand," Calares said, even though he didn't. "But things are different now. Zero has returned, and we need someone of your military genius to direct the men."

Schneizel perked up at that. "And what of the man who was granted the charge? That charming Luciano character, what happened to him?"

"We don't know," Calares said. "We cannot contact him, and we assume he has been destroyed."

"And his second?"

"The entire line of command had been terminated."

Schneizel's eyes widened. This Zero was more impressive than he thought. "I see. In that case, I will need you to brief me on what happened.

Calares looked at him incredulously. "You mean you haven't been watching the battle?"

"Forgive me," he said. "My mind had been occupied by…other things."

Calares loaded a map of the Special Administration Zone onto the big screen. Allied Knightmares were marked by white triangle, enemies by black ones. There were hundreds of white triangles, but only one black.

"The battle was as you see here. The only enemy present was Euphemia's knight, Suzaku." He moved the scenario forward to where all the white triangles formed a circle around the middle of the map, Suzaku all but forgotten. "At this point, our units abandoned their posts to gather around this point. And then this happened." All the units disappeared from the map. "And then this." The units reappeared, but there were much less of them, nearly half. "Now the map looks like this." Only a quarter of the Britannian Knightmares remained, disorganized but surrounding a pair of black units, but were also surrounded by another small force.

"Fascinating," Schneizel said. "Do you have any idea what caused the black out?"

"None, sir. However, some of the men reported that their Knightmares deactivated in midair."

"Indeed. In that case, there is little I can do except order a retreat."

"Retreat?" Calares repeated. "But sir! You're supposed to be a tactical genius, and we still outnumber them more than two to one!"

"And our men are frightened, confused, and disorganized, and our enemies have weapons that we do not understand. Any plan I make would be limited by what I do not know. Retreat, research, and return, in that order. And we will retreat…" He scanned the map for weaknesses in the enemy's defenses. "Feign an attack here, and when the Black Knights regroup to counter that, they should leave us an opening here. That is all."

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The Black Knights remained on the field of victory. The people would remember this day, the day that fifty of their defenders sent five hundred tyrants scurrying away in defeat. But not for long, for this day would be overshadowed by even greater victories.

"What do you mean, you lost count?" Kallen demanded, sitting atop her Guren.

"I had more important things to worry about," Suzaku said defensively from his Lancelot.

"Yeah right," she said. "You just don't want to admit that I'm better than you."

"Well, if we're on the same side, does it matter?"

Kallen rolled her eyes. "You're hopeless, Suzaku, just hopeless. I'll see you at school tomorrow."

"Right. That reminds me, I have to get going." He reentered the Lancelot and drove it over to where Zero was administrating. "Hey, Zero, I just have to say, thanks for showing up when you did. I'd be dead if you didn't. And, I think I'm starting to understand you better." Zero doubted that, but said nothing. Suzaku paused awkwardly for a response, and continued. "Anyway, I have to report back."

"Is that wise?" Zero asked. "I doubt the government would smile upon your actions this night."

"No, but if I'm in trouble, then Euphie probably is too. If I go back, I can say that I acted on my own. Besides, I have promises to keep. I'm sure you can understand that."

"I'm afraid I can't allow that," Zero said. "You are too valuable to be returned to my enemies like a lamb to the slaughter."

"Well, if you think it's dangerous and you're not too tired, you can come with me," he suggested.

"No, I think I'd rather just capture you."

Suzaku forced a laugh. "Ha ha, you're joking, right?"

"This is not my joking face," Zero said. "Todoh, take him with the other prisoners. Rakshata said she wanted to study his Knightmare."

Suzaku drew his sword. "Okay, this whole getting surrounded by enemies thing is getting old! What's your problem, Zero? We don't have to be enemies in this!"

"No, but us working with you is not the same thing as you working with us," Zero said. "And unlike you, I do not make compromises."

"If you think for one moment that I'm going to just lie down and let you—"

"Yes, I do." From his Gawain, Zero typed in the commands to deactivate Suzaku's energy filler. The Lancelot shut down and the Black Knights took him away without a fight.

I'm sorry, my friend, Zero thought to himself. Euphie has already been arrested for treason. There is nothing you can do, but I will do what I can. I promise.

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After her duties were completed, Kallen took her Guren speeding through the ruins of Utopia, looking for her mother. Their plan worked, but it was more than that. Zero could come up with a good plan in nothing flat, but setting up the Gefjun Disturbers would have taken a week at least to set up. This wasn't a surprise attack for everyone. He knew about it. He knew.

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a/n I just want to clarify something. The excerpt from the end of my last story was from the story that I intended not to write, at least not now, in part because I liked Mao and didn't want to come up with my own Geass Directorate, but also because I prefer happy endings to the realistic alternative. By the way, has anyone read a story where Zero forms his own Geass Directorate? Oh well. I probably wouldn't have time to read it anyway. A lot of people mentioned the numbers involved with the Knights of the Round. I looked it up recently, and I found out that there are twelve spots instead of ten, but it's too late to change that now. The Knight of One gets extra special privileges, but since there is no evidence that the other numbers are only to differentiate, I am free to assume that the lower your number is, the more authority you have, which they never specified in the anime, because they figured that you'd rather watch them blow stuff up and kill each other instead of learn about imaginary politics. I also assume that a number of factors, and not just skill, play into rank. Also, I know that the Gefjun Disturber couldn't cover an entire city until the end of the second season, but the Gefjun Disturber was one of the few technologies that Lelouch took an active interest in. Bigger guns are one thing, but traps? That's the sort of thing you can come up with strategies for. Also, he had Rakshata work on it at the expense of constructing flying Knightmares of their own.

On a side note, I just want to say thank you for all the people who reviewed. I always get a thrill when I log in and see that I got another review. You can imagine my surprise when I came by the day after posting the previous chapter, and found more reviews than I ever got for any chapter since I started writing.

On another side note, why did Zero offer them a chance to run? One, because he was stalling, two, because it was impressive, and three, because that's what the Doctor would do, and I'm a Doctor Who fan.