C.C. felt Lelouch approach before she looked up.
She was still inside the limo, looking through the files Euphemia had given them. Lelouch will not like this, she thought. She looked up and saw that he was frowning severely. Looks like he's pissed already.
He soon opened the door, took his seat, and closed it with more force than necessary. C.C. raised an eye at him. He instructed the driver to leave and went silent. The silence remained for five minutes after they had left the Stadtfelt residence.
C.C. wondered what could've caused this reaction, so she broke the quiet and said, "Okay. What happened?"
Lelouch pulled a slip of paper from his pocket and handed it to her. "This," he informed her curtly.
Her eyes shot up when she unfolded it to find the Geass Order's sigil. She then knew there was no time for teasing. "And Liliana?"
"Not likely to betray us," he admitted. He rested his chin on his hand while watching the Settlement through the window. "Her father was assassinated by the Order, it seems."
C.C. pocketed the paper. She could see that Lelouch was about to ramble, so she didn't interrupt his train of thought.
"But it makes no sense," Lelouch said. "Sir Wallace was never a political opponent of Charles'. Nor was he even remotely aware of Geass if I remember correctly. V.V. gains nothing from his death. If anything, he harms Charles' strength.
"Sir Wallace seemed an honorable man. One of the very few left in this world. Nothing I can think of could've led to such a drastic change either. The Butterfly Effect can only go so far, and the only changes we've made shouldn't have effected Pendragon yet."
Lelouch frowned. He continued, "The only scenario that could explain this change is—" His eyes it up. "It wasn't V.V. who ordered it." His gaze turned to her. "C.C., would the Order accept an order from anyone other than the Director?"
She thought for a moment. She answered, "The only way I could see that happening is if another Code Bearer came to the Order. There's always discontent, as it's too big. For instance, if I entered the Order again, quite a few members would gladly follow me over V.V."
"What of the others? You told me there were two others."
"There are," she nodded. "The only problem is that neither of them, to my knowledge, cared about the Order at all. Arthur was content to be alone, and L didn't like responsibility. So I doubt either of them would suddenly change their mind."
Lelouch gripped his chin thoughtfully. "Not impossible though," he countered. "It's been decades since you've seen either, so it could happen."
"But it didn't last time," she reminded him. "And we've changed nothing in regards to the Order yet. We haven't even been to Kamine Island."
Lelouch conceded her point. "Regardless, this wasn't done by V.V.," he reiterated, certain of it. "If it had been, he would've sent Rolo or another Geass assassin, and Liliana Wallace would not have survived. And someone had to have ordered it. The most likely reason is that there's been some sort of schism in the Order."
C.C. cautioned against concluding such. "We don't know that for certain. For all we know, the assassins were dressed like that to draw attention to the Order."
Lelouch nodded begrudgingly. "True. It is too soon to determine even if it was actually the Order." He sighed tiredly. "Our plans on the whole won't change in Area Eleven. However," he looked at her, "your trip to the Chinese Federation will be a bit longer than we had planned."
She nodded. "I can certainly accelerate the coup," she told him, predicting his modified plan. "And I can then locate the Order once more. But," she added, "I'll need a partner to help move thing along faster."
He pondered for a moment. He soon concluded, "Kaguya should be more than enough. It shouldn't prove hard to convince her. She and Tianzi became good friends if I remember correctly."
C.C. said, "They were. Their friendship was a big part of why they sheltered the Black Knights after Zero's capture."
"That should be more than enough," he said more to himself than her. "And that shouldn't hamper our plan here very much."
"It shouldn't," she agreed. "So Kaguya and I will leave once Mao is handled?"
Should be fun, she kept to herself. Kallen will be absolutely delighted, she thought with a small grin, to have you all to herself. She then asked, "So, if we run into trouble, get out of there?"
"Only if you can't handle it," he told her.
C.C. feigned shock. "And here I thought you wanted to keep me safe."
Lelouch didn't rise to the jape. "You're one of the few I know I don't need to worry about. You can more than handle yourself."
That one compliment sent a flutter through her. She chided herself for that. C.C. knew she wasn't some love struck teenage girl. She had found love, and there was no reason to think it should be foreign to her anymore.
She could tell though that he was truly in no mood for jokes, so she dropped her laughing mask. Instead, she asked, "So which do you want first? The Kyoto Report or what's on this disc your sister gave you?"
"Kyoto," he answered immediately.
In the mood for some good news then. She then thought back and started her report. Lelouch remained silent as she spoke aside from telling the driver to keep going rather than stop at Ashford Academy.
She had first gone after Hiroyosi Yoshino. The elderly man was publicly known for his company's Sakuradite refining techniques. He wasn't in the public eye much, but C.C. had been able to locate his secret accounts with ease. With a few properly worded emails, she'd cowed one of the most powerful and influential Japanese men and assured his absolute compliance with Zero's orders. He had little choice. C.C. could drain his accounts at any time.
While she had not seen the point of bringing Kyoto to heel, Lelouch was hesitant to use his Geass on those he didn't need to. He also wanted to use it as a show of Zero's ability to Kyoto, as it proved that he not only knew who they were but that he could take everything he wanted from them whenever he chose. When he'd put it like that, C.C. had smiled.
C.C. had wound up making it into a game with the others. The rules were simple, take control without getting noticed. She won the game, as losing had displeased her of late.
Lelouch had been explicit that she was not to attack Kirihara and Kaguya though. She knew why even without him explaining it. Those two were far too important to Japan's future to risk their enmity. Neither of them could harbor resentment of any kind towards Zero or the Black Knights.
The other three though had proved a slightly more difficult challenge. Tatsunori Osakabe, Tousai Munakata, and Hidenobu Kubouin had thought it clever to comingle their funds together, making it difficult for anyone to accurately trace it source. C.C. found their secret soon enough, though she had to find their personal accountants to make it happen. All it had needed was a mystical talk with those four accountants and she had what she needed. Their minds had been shattered, so she had made certain that they could never sing their song to anyone else ever again afterward.
She then visited Taizo Kirihara personally. She had gone to extend an olive branch, but he had surprised her by praising her ability. He was sharp enough to deduce what her attack had truly been because Cornelia hadn't burst down his doors yet. He was greatly impressed with how fast she'd effectively neutered four of the six Houses of Kyoto, and her being Zero's agent and confidante had only made him laugh. He'd also been able to guess Zero's identity with a few of C.C.'s cryptic hints. That had been the final piece to seal his personal pledge to completely support the Black Knights.
C.C. finished her tale. Lelouch was smiling at the end. "You did well, C.C.," he said.
"But of course," she said with a haughty sniff. "One doesn't live as long as I have and not pick up a few tips along the way."
Lelouch asked her, "How useful can the other four be going forward?"
She shrugged. "They're not going to go against us for now, but I recommend removing them eventually. Old farts like them are not likely to forgive something like that."
He waved off her worries. "Kirihara will be able to keep them on a leash for a while yet. Besides, they know the tide here in Area Eleven is changing. The J.L.F. is on its last legs, and the Black Knights have a great deal of support from the masses. Tohdoh and his Swords will soon be mine anyway, and the good General Katase is toothless without them. Kyoto won't move against us until we've liberated Area Eleven."
"And by then we'll have the complete support from the people," she finished his thought. "So we have time."
"Precisely. And we will have already removed those fools by then."
C.C. saw no glaring flaw in his plot, so she let that topic die. She then reopened her laptop and said, "Ready for a little more bad news?"
Lelouch's mouth twisted to a frown. "Very well. Tell me about Charles' agent."
"Firstly," she began, "we don't know if he's truly Charles' or not." Lelouch perked up at that. "His name is Abaddon Drust, and he's the most recently appointed Knight of the Round."
"Let me guess," Lelouch interjected. "He's the new Knight of Five."
"Right in one," she nodded. She began scrolling down the info on the disc. "All that's really missing on here is a photo, though that shouldn't be hard to find."
"Charles did love making a spectacle of his Knights' appointments," Lelouch mused.
"From what I can tell, it appears that Drust and Sir Wallace were often at odds," C.C. recited. "Social events, private affairs, military history. They're such parallels to each other that you'd think they'd be friends. But they were not. Their fights got so bad that Charles forbade them from being in the Capital at the same time."
Lelouch thought aloud, "If you wish to know the culprit, see who benefited the most."
She looked up from her screen. "You think Drust had something to do with Liliana's father's death?"
"It's likely." He said, "It's a little too convenient that his promotion came with the other's death."
"Should we tell Liliana this?"
He shook his head. "She likely already knows. She doesn't look like an idiot to me, and it's only natural to suspect a known rival when something bad happens."
"True." C.C. returned to her screen. "He's a very good Knightmare pilot if you couldn't already guess. Knightmare is a modified Gloucester. Military records show random fits of anger, but he is able to harness it instead of it hindering him in battle."
Lelouch frowned again and then gestured for her to continue.
"Graduated in the same piloting class as Liliana's dad – second to him. Not great at managing a battlefield, so he prefers to leave the command center and fight with the vanguard. He has an impressive combat record though. In his past twenty deployments, he's dispatched at least one-hundred enemy tank or above class. He's been in command of the Fourth Brigade in Prince Schneizal's forces for the last three months in Europe."
"Known allies?" he asked.
"Schneizal and Charles, though I don't know how loyal they are to the man." She scrolled down a little more. "Just a few minor nobles aside from one – Crown Prince Odysseus."
That surprised Lelouch. "I didn't think my dear brother had the stomach for fighting."
"Apparently," C.C. informed him, "Odysseus' endorsement was very sudden. It surprised even Schneizal. As far as I can tell, the two of them weren't close, and now Odysseus is granting him nearly unlimited resources." She looked back to him, and it was obvious how unsettling this was to him.
"Why would a mediocre man like Odysseus even bother with something like this?" Lelouch pondered. "And he has always despised conflict. Nothing about this makes sense." He looked at her again. "Anything else of note?"
She shook her head. "Not really. At least, there's nothing in here." She closed her computer. "Aside from he's arriving when we're supposed to meet with Kyoto, no."
"Interesting." He grabbed his chin once more. "Then we need to find more information about this Abaddon Drust as well as why Odysseus is now getting involved. The only time we even encountered him before was when Schneizal told him to marry Tianzi."
"Unfortunately," she reminded him, "we don't have the resources right now to do all that. Not even Kyoto could get that kind of info for us."
He frowned but agreed. "Then, for now, we steady the current course. Mao should be arriving in Area Eleven soon anyway. We'll just keep our eyes and ears open for anything about this new Round."
Mao… Lelouch had kept whatever intentions he had for the mind reader to himself, so she had no idea what was to happen. But she was prepared for the worst. Losing the boy she considered a son was a price she was willing to pay for the chance at true happiness at last.
The limo at last came to a halt. "C.C.," Lelouch called. "I'll need you to act before Mao appears. Will you?"
She gave him a resolute nod. "Just do your part, and I will do mine."
Lelouch got out of the car and left for his bedroom. C.C. informed the driver to take her to the Black Knights' base.
She still had things to take care of.
The door hissed shut as Lelouch left his apartment.
He was finally finished with the fallout from the Narita operation. Or rather, the matters he could address immediately. The Order business he'd uncovered would have to wait for now, as well as digging into this new Round. He'd considered asking Liliana about her history with him, but her rage at the man would undoubtedly cloud her judgment, so he decided not to. The formal summons from Kyoto had arrived the night before, and C.C. shared it with the whole of the Black Knights. Everyone was thrilled, but he was already plotting for afterwards.
However, he had to face Shirley today. She had left him thirteen voicemails, mostly consisting of asking where he was, and at least seventy texts that reflected a similar message. She was understandably hysterical about her father. Most of her messages consisted of her talking through her sobs.
For all of Lelouch's foreknowledge, he was uncertain about what would happen today. Whereas Shirley had kissed him last time, there were differences between now and then. The most noticeable was that her father was still alive. The other was there had been time between the incident and when Shirley would face him, and those made it impossible to predict how different her reaction would be.
Lelouch looked to his left and saw Milly approaching as he exited the building. She was less than pleased, based on how her brow furrowed. Any student who saw her was quick to get out of her way.
"Lulu." Her voice cut like ice. "Just where have you been?"
He suppressed a sigh. I expected something like this. No doubt Milly was trying to comfort Shirley. "I've been away," he answered, curt. He respected Milly's protectiveness, but he wasn't willing to be her punching bag.
The blonde showed surprised at his tone, though her righteous fury soon returned. "Away where?" she demanded.
"The mountains," he said. "I had some business to take care of, and there's no cell service out there."
His answer did little to calm her. "Do you have any idea what's happened?" Her eyes sliced into him with surgical sharpness.
He nodded stonily. "Nunnally told me this morning. I didn't get back until late last night."
Her nostrils flared. "Then why didn't you go to her?" Her fury was palpable in the air around her.
Milly's rage was getting too heavy, so Lelouch curtailed it with a half-truth. "I did. But Shirley was with her mother last night." Shirley was indeed with her mother, but he did not attempt to find them last night. He had ordered a Geassed servant to watch them, report on them, and keep them from doing anything too drastic.
His answer stole her thunder. "Oh." The rage gradually drained from her face, replacing it with a solemnity that was rarely shown. She seemed to be thinking.
"Will that be all then?" he asked shortly. He then turned to walk away, but Milly stopped him by grabbing his shoulder.
Her grip was soft yet firm, like that of a caring elder sister. "Lulu," she said gently. She squeezed. "She really needed you."
Lelouch paid attention to the fact she spoke in the past tense. He kept his eyes ahead, not daring to look at her. "I know," he answered and pulled away. He turned and walked towards the female dorms.
He let out the breath he had been holding, the tension bleeding from his shoulders. Milly hadn't told him anything he didn't already know. But he couldn't be there for Shirley. Too much rested on his shoulders right now. Besides, he mused, a dreary smile on his face, I'm the reason she's in pain. It would be even worse if I comforted her after ordering her father's abduction. He returned his face to neutral and walked.
A gaggle of girls were leaving the dorm as he approached. He ignored the hushed whispers and gossips as he looked for Shirley. She didn't show, but her roommate, Sophie, soon came through the door. He called out to her, and she walked over to him.
She didn't seem pleased to see him either – not unexpected considering. "Sophie," he greeted, a little nervous. The only real interaction he'd had with her last time was Geassing her so that he and C.C. could find if Shirley knew about Zero or not. Other than that, he only knew her as a classmate and swimming teammate of Shirley's. "Have you seen Shirley?"
Her eyes narrowed. "She's asleep," she informed him sharply. "Don't bother." She turned her nose up at him and walked away.
So she's in her room then. He thanked Sophie and entered the dorm.
Since most of the residents had left for class, he didn't meet anyone inside. Shirley's room was on the second floor, so it took him a few minutes to get there.
He could see a shadow from underneath the door. He held back from knocking to listen for any movement. Hearing nothing, he knocked softly and waited for a reaction. There was none.
He knocked one more time, this time calling, "Shirley." The shadow moved, but there was no other reaction. Sensing the futility, he said through the door, "I wanted to say sorry. But I understand if you don't want to see me."
Lelouch pulled out a slip of paper. He wrote a simple message, asking her to meet him on the room of the Student Council building. He slipped the note under her door but left it visible from the outside.
He waited a few minutes to see if Shirley would take the note. He was disappointed, as the note remained there all the while. He turned and walked away, not saying another word. Once he reached the end of the hall, he looked back one last time. He smiled. The note was not there.
He left the dorm then. Lelouch turned away from the main school building, not caring to attend class today, and went back to the Student Council building. He spied a few late stragglers sprinting to class, but he paid them no mind. He stopped by the Student Council's office and grabbed a pair of binoculars on his way to the roof. Sayoko had accompanied Nunnally to class, so the entire building was empty aside from him.
The trip up the few stories of stairs was taxing on him, but the cool breeze that met him when he opened the door helped heal his fatigue. He strode across the roof to the railing and looked for a head of orange. He was uncertain whether she would accept his request, but he watched for her nonetheless.
He closed his eyes and exhaled through his nose, the mid-morning winter sun falling upon him. Strange, he thought. Even with the constant wars around me, Ashford is still peaceful. If only… Even with the emotional weight upon him from Joseph's abduction, he longed for a respite like this, however brief it was.
He opened his eyes and glanced around the campus grounds. Movement to his left caught his eye, so he turned toward it. A car, that was of obvious wealth, pulled up and parked, its engine still purring. He raised an eye when no one left the vehicle.
Must be picking someone up. He pressed the binoculars to his eyes and studied the vehicle. Lelouch frowned when he saw the rear windows were impossible to see through. They don't want to be seen, whoever it is. He memorized the sigil on the car's door and removed the binoculars. I'll check the Noble houses for that later.
He returned to looking for Shirley. His patience was soon rewarded. A bright orange head of hair exited the female dorms, and only one person at Ashford had that particular hair color. She exited the dorm, her hand clutching something to her chest. Lelouch couldn't tell what it was due to the distance, so he looked through his binoculars again.
Shirley was wearing her crimson, sleeveless shirt with a silver skirt that went to her knees. She had on a thick gray jacket and long socks to protect against the slight chill in the air. She had deep, pronounced bags beneath her eyes, proving just how little sleep she'd been getting since her father's abduction. She was crushing a piece of paper against her chest, her hand shivering. Lelouch couldn't directly see what was on it, but he assumed it was his note.
Shirley looked around nervously, like a panicked animal. Oddly enough, she never even looked towards the Student Council building, setting off alarms in Lelouch's mind. She took a few shaky steps forward and found what she was searching for: the parked vehicle. She started walking toward it.
Lelouch's heart sunk once he realized what was happening. He had known it would come to this. He had even set things into motion to guarantee it. But he still hated the necessity. He did not wish to watch, even though he had to confirm with his own eyes what it was.
His eyes stayed on her.
She crept across the grounds, her grip on the paper tightening. Even with no one else there, she looked paranoid and afraid of discovery. She stopped next to a trashcan halfway between the car and the dorm. She held out the paper and read it over, though Lelouch couldn't see its contents from his angle.
A single tear fell from her eye. She wiped it with her off hand. She looked back to her dorm. Then to the car. Her eyes briefly flickered to the Student Council building. But her head did not turn. She closed her eyes and inhaled. Her eyes opened. She pulled the paper to her chest and walked to the car.
The rear door opened and unveiled its occupant—Viletta Nu. She said something to Shirley and closed the door behind her. The car drove off.
Lelouch closed his eyes, letting his binoculars fall to his chest. He breathed in and out, trying to keep his head clear. Remember, he reminded himself. Stick to the plan. It's not much longer.
Seeing Viletta with Shirley could only mean one thing. The thought of Shirley hating him almost made him call her himself, but he could not risk it. He knew that. The next part was too important to abandon – even if Shirley may come to hate him.
He pulled out his phone and texted C.C.. His message read: Viletta has made contact. He put away his phone. C.C. knew what was to come and didn't need him to say.
Lelouch turned away from Ashford and went back to his domain. He used the utility tunnels to sneak away undetected.
The limo was moving, though Kallen heard no turning tires.
Kallen and the other core members of the Black Knights sat in the vehicle's spacious rear. Everyone aside from Zero was dressed in their uniforms. Kallen and Ohgi sat on either side of their leader, with Tamaki, Inoue, and Minami opposite them.
Tamaki was grumbling about the secrecy of their meeting with Kyoto. Ohgi was talking with Inoue about what he thought would happen. Minami had tried to ask Zero what he knew about the meeting, but Zero didn't respond if he'd heard. Kallen set her elbow on the car door and her chin in her palm.
All six of them had met close to an hour ago in a destroyed ghetto. Kyoto's driver met them at the precise specified time and drove them in circles for a solid forty-five minutes. Kallen had been unable to gauge the exact time because the driver had confiscated all their phones and other electronic devices. After their trip to nowhere, the car had stopped. It then lurched forward and began to rise like it was in an elevator.
Which wouldn't surprise me, she thought. She peeked behind the curtains covering the car's windows. Blackness greeted her. She looked to Zero from the corner of her eye. He hadn't said a word since they'd met earlier, and it was beginning to worry her. What's going on, Lelouch? she wanted to ask. You said there was nothing to worry about.
The car lurched one more time. Everyone else realized what that meant, as they went silent. They had at last reached their destination. They were about to meet Kyoto. They were going to be face to face with quite possibly the most powerful Japanese people in all of Area Eleven.
Lelouch had promised her that it would go off without a hitch, yet Kallen couldn't help but feel a tad anxious. These were the people who had sent her the Guren. These were the people bankrolling nearly every major resistance movement in Japan. And they were presumably going to meet the head of Kyoto. To her, it was like meeting the Japanese Shoguns of old.
So this is how those lords must've felt when they got summoned. Kallen's hand shook. She closed her eye and took in a deep breath. Her nerves calm now, she opened them once more. Her heart was racing like it did in battle. She glanced at Zero again. Her determination steeled. We're ready.
Light trickled through the curtains at last. The limo started driving forward again. The stream of light got thicker until the vehicle came to a stop. The driver then knocked on the separating window three times—the signal to get out. Both doors were opened by outside attendants, and the Black Knights climbed out.
They were in a grand room now. The sheer size of it was intimidating even without the men in suits everywhere. It was larger than most cathedrals, with a ceiling over a hundred feet high and length no less than that. The far wall was one solid window, granting them a view of just where they were.
Tamaki moved to the window and choked. "You guys know where we are!?" he shouted.
Kallen already knew. She looked at Zero. Lelouch had informed her of everything that'd happened up to this point, and he hadn't been wrong yet. She too walked over in order to take in the sights.
They were high up – that was her first thought. Even clouds were below them now. They were inside a mountain that had once been one of the world's most beautiful places: Mount Fuji. Kallen remembered its beauty still. Now, mining structures enveloped it from base to summit. Mount Fuji was like a leper who'd once been the world's most gorgeous woman. It was enraging to see what Britannia had done to one of Japan's most iconic landmarks.
Ohgi, Minami, Inoue, and Tamaki crowded at the window. They were in awe of just how influential Kyoto had to be in order to arrange a meeting here. Kallen, her fist at her side, turned away. Knowing beforehand had stolen her shock. All this showing did was make her yearn for the battlefield once again.
Someone behind them cleared their throat, getting everyone's attention. They all turned towards the source of the noise. A curtain, flanked on either side by visually armed guards, separated them from one person. The shadows prevented them from seeing a figure through it, so everyone assumed it was the Kyoto representative they were to meet.
Kallen had expected a booming, powerful voice that matched the strength of the showing, but that wasn't what she heard. This voice sounded decidedly feminine, and it was more squeaky than anything. She was almost disappointed, but the scenery around them was enough to remind her of this girl's power.
The girl behind the curtain listed blandly, "And you must be Kaname Ohgi, Naomi Inoue, Yoshitaka Minami, Shinichiro Tamaki, and Kallen Kozuki. And Zero of course."
Everyone but Zero gasped, shocked. Ohgi stuttered, "You…You know our names?"
"Of course I do." Her childish voice was laced with a sense of high-born self-entitlement that couldn't be faked. "The five of you were on my list."
Kallen blinked, surprised that Kyoto had been tracking them so well. You didn't tell me about that, Lelouch, she thought with a glance at Zero. She then asked, "What list?"
The guards didn't like her tone, as they reached for their guns. The Black Knights flinched, but the girl ordered her guards down sharply. They followed their orders. The guards' stares were now like a promise of pain, but Kallen wasn't intimidated in the slightest.
"Sorry," the girl apologized for her men. "They're used to Ji-san, and he doesn't like being questioned."
When Kallen realized she was waiting for a response, she hurriedly said, "It's no problem."
"The list I mentioned is one I keep of all Zero-sama's closest friends and allies. You see…I've been…intrigued by him ever since you revealed yourselves. I only wanted to ensure Zero-sama was keeping trustworthy friends." The last sentence was said like she was hiding her real intentions.
Kallen quickly concluded that this girl was actually enamored with Zero. Zero looked at her as she instinctively took a step closer to him. She glared daggers at the curtain. You don't even know a thing about Lelouch, little girl.
Zero didn't let on if he picked up on the hidden meaning or not. His silence was beginning to irritate Kallen.
The hidden girl clapped her hands. "Let's get down to business now, okay?" No one objected. "Good. I'll go ahead and let all of you in on a little secret. Kyoto has already decided to completely support the Black Knights. We'll provide funds, weapons, and intelligence."
That sent a murmur through the rest of the gathered Black Knights. Ohgi stepped forward when Zero didn't. He asked, "Then, might I ask why we even needed this meeting?"
The girl giggled. "Because we do have one condition, and it's the one thing we need from you."
Kallen stepped between Zero and the girl. She demanded, eyeing the guards carefully, "What is it?"
There was a small pause from the curtain. "Oh. I see now," the girl said, realization in her voice. She giggled once more, though it now made Kallen's skin crawl. "We need to know just who Zero is."
No one needed further explanation. They all knew what she meant. Everyone looked to Zero's silent form, still absent reaction. Tamaki in particular was eager to see beneath the mask, as he was nearly salivating at the chance to finally see Lelouch's face. Minami and Inoue failed to conceal their similar desire, though they at least tried. Ohgi was frowning, clearly displeased by this development, but he offered no protest either. Kallen looked from person to person, feeling betrayed by her friends.
"Of course," the girl continued, her voice sickly sweet, "you needn't worry about anyone here revealing your identity. Every person here would die before being captured by our enemies. So you, girl." Kallen could picture the smirk on the little devil-child's face. "Would you kindly remove Zero-sama's helmet?
Kallen wanted to strangle the little witch. But she knew she was in a bind. Lelouch had instructed her to follow every order Kyoto gave them, but she had some severe reservations about this. She eyed everyone in the room suspiciously. She knew how important Lelouch's secret really was, and she didn't want his identity revealed like this. Anyone who knew about Prince Lelouch would doubt his legitimacy as Zero.
The girl gave off an impatient cough. The guards reached for their weapons.
Kallen was at a loss. She pleaded with her eyes to Zero. Her fist shook near her hip. If I must, she told herself, I'll get his permission first. She looked directly into the mask, her reflection staring back at her.
She nodded too. She took a few seconds more to compose herself. She at last walked to him. She held her wrist anxiously. Each step felt like he got further away. She watched her reflection get larger.
She soon stood before Zero. She ignored the dozens of curious stares. Her hands shivered as they rose. She gripped both sides of his helmet. She pressed the release switch and closed her eyes. She lifted the helmet from its wearer. She dropped it to the floor, a dull thud echoing through the silent room.
She kept her eyes shut. She couldn't bear to see the betrayal she knew was on his face. Seeing something like that would make her sick to her stomach. She waited for everyone's reaction to discovering Zero's true identity.
Yet there was nothing but stunned silence. Not even Lelouch said a word. It soon began to unnerve her.
The Kyoto girl broke the quiet. "Well that's…unexpected."
Kallen at last had the strength to look for herself. Her eyes opened and she froze, shocked. Her mouth fell open as she stared, incredulous at this discovery.
It wasn't Lelouch's mesmerizing violet eyes that met her. Instead, it was C.C.'s annoying smirk.
Tamaki was the first Black Knight to regain their voice. "Huh!?" He sounded both shocked and annoyed. "Zero's a girl!?"
Kallen didn't pay attention. She didn't see anything but C.C. at the moment. She shouted, pointing, "What the hell are you doing here!?"
Ohgi immediately realized something was amiss. He said, "Wait. Kallen, do you know this woman?"
"You bet your ass I do!" She was livid. She had been deceived. By both Lelouch and C.C.. And that thought made her chest hurt. Kallen turned from the imposter and declared for all to hear, "She's not Zero! She's his partner!"
Tamaki squawked in disbelief. He loudly proclaimed Zero didn't trust them enough to tell them he had a partner. Inoue quieted him by pointing out that Kallen had known. Minami showed discomfort but he didn't say anything about this revelation. Ohgi's eyes revealed his surprise, but he was able to mask it.
A relieved sigh came from behind the curtain. The girl then asked C.C., "Is Kozuki-san correct, miss?"
C.C. turned her eyes on the Kyoto representative. Her smile looked predatory. "Indeed it is, Lady Sumeragi," she unveiled the girl's identity.
The majority of the Black Knights present were confused, as no one named Sumeragi was publicly powerful in Area Eleven. Only Kallen knew the strength of that name. Her father had always done business with the Sumeragi Clan's multi-national Conglomerate. Their influence could be felt through every nation to the point that the Emperor couldn't dissolve it without risking severe economic repercussions.
Now that I think about it, Kallen turned toward the Sumeragi girl, there were only six Corporations that were allowed to rule themselves after the occupation, and the Sumeragi Conglomerate was one of them.
After the occupation, every adult in the Sumeragi household had been executed as a show of force. However, the business leaders of the Conglomerate had refused to work under anyone without the Sumeragi name, so the Emperor had allowed the only living one, a child no older than seven at the time, to be appointed its leader. That child's name was Kaguya Sumeragi.
Knowing the girl's identity had lessened Kallen's anxiety greatly. She now eyed the guards around them, all reaching for their weapons. Kallen glanced at C.C.. Her mouth twitched. Not bad, C.C.. Almost as dramatic as Lelouch.
The guards halted when Kaguya fiercely demanded silence. The men protested, but she quickly put an end to their disagreement. The curtain then shifted and Kaguya Sumeragi stepped into the light.
The young girl dressed like a combination of traditional and modern Ladies. Her long, silky black hair fell loose to her hips. She wore a conservative pink dress with a purple sash across her waist. A set of white, baggy sleeves that resembled a traditional hime-miko were clasped together with a red bow across her chest. A golden circlet with a shining ruby sat upon her head and ran through her hair. Her eyes were a shining green, rare in any full-blooded Japanese, and her face seemed to reflect a sense of childish innocence. However, one with a keen eye could see through all of that and spy the young woman daring enough to defy Britannia with all her ability.
Kallen could almost respect her. The girl had been just a child when her parents were murdered and the pressure of leading a multi-national business was placed on her shoulders. Yet here she now stood, one of the people fighting the hardest to free Japan from Britannian control.
Kaguya walked across the room to them. The room was deathly silent. Her dress whispered across the cold metallic floor. She smiled politely at C.C.
Kaguya at last stood before Zero's confidante. She clasped her hands together. "So you were the one Ji-san warned me about!" she declared brightly.
Kallen's head tilted in curiosity. She wondered what she was referring to.
C.C., smirk still present, nodded. She told the girl, "That I am."
Sumeragi giggled. "I must say, I loved your work. Ji-san and I had to deal with them of course, but it made us both laugh."
C.C. bowed, stunning Kallen. "I am glad I could make you happy, Lady Sumeragi."
Kaguya clapped energetically. "So," she chirped, "will Zero-sama be joining us, miss…"
"He will," C.C. answered, deliberately avoiding her unasked question.
The far wall hissed, drawing everyone's attention. It soon opened like an automatic door, two halves being pulled in opposite directions. As it opened, the 'clang' of boots on metal echoed throughout the chamber.
Kallen almost laughed. You'd think you rehearsed it, Lelouch. She shook her head and mumbled under her breath, "Must he make it so dramatic?"
The darkness behind the wall soon gave way to Zero. He entered the chamber and was immediately faced by dozens of firearms. Zero paid the Kyoto guards no mind. He walked right past them all, each weapon following his path step for step.
Every guard's fingers seemed frozen, Kallen noticed. She briefly wondered why, but she knew the answer immediately. Geass. There was a sickening twist in her gut. She almost turned away.
The real Zero at last reached everyone gathered. He observed each and every person there, his gaze lingering on Kallen the longest. What was his face saying behind that mask? She couldn't guess. His mask then arrived at their diminutive host.
Zero bowed. "A pleasure it is to see you again, Lady Kaguya."
Kaguya seemed downright delighted by it, but Kallen bristled at his familiar tone. She had to force herself down from the urge to strangle the little girl. C.C.'s hand rested on her shoulder. She turned to her, and C.C.'s eyes told her to calm down.
The fact she was so easily read disappointed her. Kallen's shoulders sagged. Lily's right, she thought. She looked to Zero from afar. I'm too easy to see through. She could only wonder how many others saw through her too.
Kaguya giggled. She held out her hand and Zero took it. "Have we met before, Zero-sama?"
"Indeed we have." He stood straight again.
"Then would you mind showing me your face?"
Kallen was amazed at how quickly Kaguya converted into a giggling schoolgirl. It was as sickening to watch as all of Lelouch's fangirls at school. Not to mention how much they pestered her in the locker room about her relationship with him.
Zero chuckled. "Soon, my Lady. Soon." He silenced her petulant whine with a finger over her lips. "In private. Only you may see."
Kaguya squealed. Squealed! It drove Kallen mad! How can someone so powerful act like this!? she wanted to howl. Even the girl's guards were clearly uncomfortable seeing their leader act this way. Most of them were looking at one another like they didn't know how to react.
But that atmosphere vanished once Kaguya turned from her crush and addressed everyone once more. Her childish gaze was replaced by one sharpened with tempered steel. "Everyone out," she demanded. "Everyone," she repeated once none made to move. Her guards hesitated, but they dutifully followed her orders.
Zero held out his hand, stopping his followers. "I want Ohgi, Kallen, and my partner to remain. That is all!" he cut off Tamaki's outburst. Ohgi was surprised to be named, but he gladly accepted Zero's decision. Everyone else filed out until only Kaguya, Ohgi, Kallen, C.C., and Zero himself were left.
Ohgi glanced at everyone, both confused and anxious about what was about to happen. He gave Kallen a meaningful look. He didn't like how she'd been keeping things from him – she guessed about C.C.'s existence. Kallen just averted her eyes.
"Well," C.C. broke the slightly awkward silence. "Shall we just get it over then, Zero?" She put deliberate emphasis on his title.
"Oh!" Kaguya almost jumped. Her eyes hadn't left Zero since her order. "Zero-sama, if you'd please?"
Zero looked to Ohgi. "Ohgi," he said, "I am letting you see who I am because I know your loyalty is true and absolute. You also will understand one of the greater reasons I must wear this." He reached his hand to the mask. "However, you cannot yet reveal my true identity to the rest of the Black Knights. Understood?"
Ohgi gulped and nodded. He asked, though he seemed to know the answer already, "And Kallen?"
She answered, "I already know." It was better she be the one to tell him.
Kaguya glared at her, though she quickly returned to watching Zero. Ohgi's betrayal was in his eyes. She turned away from him. It wasn't her secret to tell, and she would die before betraying Lelouch's trust like that.
Ohgi mumbled under his breath, "You could have told me you knew at least."
And have to deal with everyone bugging me to know? She almost scoffed. No thanks. I get enough of that from Lily as it is.
C.C. looked between the pair of Black Knights curiously. She was oddly silent for once. Kallen was grateful for that.
Lelouch's helmet hissed as it unlocked. He pulled it from his head and pulled his under-mask down as well, revealing himself to all present. He tossed the helmet to C.C.. She caught it and held it under her arm.
Kaguya was so shocked that her mouth hung open and her eyes were wide as saucers. She clearly understood just who Lelouch really was. Ohgi was surprised too, though to a lesser degree. His stemmed mostly from Lelouch's youth and nationality.
Ohgi stammered, "You-You're—"
"Lelouch!" Kaguya screamed, her voice emotional. She leapt in to his arms like a lover who'd not seen their better half for years. "I knew you were still alive! I knew it, I knew it, I knew it!"
Kallen frowned as Lelouch returned the embrace. She took some comfort in how he was nowhere near as enthusiastic as the girl in his arms. She looked to Ohgi now to see if it had clicked.
Ohgi's mouth now hung open as well. It appeared he was able to piece together Lelouch's true identity too. His mouth moved but no words came out. He then looked to Kallen and speech returned to him. "How long have you known!?" he nearly shouted.
Lelouch responded before she could. "She's known since I knew I could trust her, Ohgi." His sharp tone made the former teacher wince and duck his head in shame. "Kallen, and now you, was under strict orders to never reveal who I am. There are many reasons I keep my identity secret. Do you now understand further?"
Kallen looked at him curiously. I don't remember you giving me that order… she thought. She hadn't needed it.
Ohgi looked away, ashamed at his outburst. "I…uh…yeah, Zero. I get it. I won't tell anyone either."
Lelouch pet Kaguya's head, irking Kallen and making the girl purr. He predicted Ohgi's worry and allowed them, "You may tell everyone that I am Britannian though. And, when they react, you will remind them that no one may choose their parents."
Kaguya chimed in, "I can personally attest to how much he despises Brittania." Everyone looked to her curiously. "My cousin, Lelouch's best friend growing up, told me all about his vow to, quote, 'obliterate Britannia', end-quote." She looked up at him again. "Speaking of, how is my favoritest cousin faring? Last I heard, he'd joined the military as an Honorary Britannian."
He stopped her questions. "We can talk about him later." He glanced at Kallen. "For now, I would like to watch our newest enemy's arrival."
Kaguya whined but peeled herself off him. She walked toward her curtain and gestured for them to follow. "I have a monitor hooked to the network back here," she told them.
Ohgi didn't follow. "I, uh…should get back to everyone. You," he said to Lelouch, "I didn't expect, but who you are doesn't matter as much as your results and intentions do. I'll be sure to remind everyone."
Lelouch inclined his head respectfully. "Tell everyone we will join them momentarily. We must see this first."
Ohgi left with a final nod. Kallen watched him go, unsure how Zero's identity was really affecting him. She didn't doubt the man's loyalty to the cause, but finding out a presumed-dead foreign prince was leading your resistance against his own father would shake even the most zealous. She could only pray he wouldn't resent them for this secret.
Kallen walked to Lelouch's side. "So," she asked, "just who is this new arrival to Area Eleven?"
His frown was more serious than she'd ever seen, surprising her, as very little seemed to get to him like that. "A new player in our little theater," he responded bitterly. "An unexpected one at that."
She tilted her head. "How so?"
Lelouch pulled the curtain aside. He said, "He's a Round."
Kallen didn't move. A Round!? She hurried through the curtain too. "Wait. Like a Knight of the Round?"
He nodded gravely. "Yes. And one your sister," emphasized, "is likely familiar with."
Kallen took a seat on the floor next to C.C. as Kaguya activated the monitor.
Euphy, Cornelia, and her two Knights stood together to greet Sir Drust. The new Knight of Five arrived by ship, so they were at the docks. All four of them were dressed formally to receive their guest.
Euphy glanced at her sister's Knights. I wonder what kind of person Sir Drust is? She'd been able to gather some information about him, but all of it was second or third-hand. That made it less than trustworthy for her. She knew that her father's elite Knights were all a peculiar sort, as not everyone could handle the stress of such a position.
The private battleship of Prince Odysseus, the Odyssey, had docked a few minutes earlier. Now, the ship's crew were offloading the cargo. The report Euphy had read told that it consisted of military supplies mostly. Sir Drust's Knightmare was nowhere to be seen, so Euphy assumed it was either below deck or on a separate ship to arrive later.
Euphy's hands shook with nerves, so she hid them behind her back. She looked at her sister, worried. Does Father suspect Sister of treason? She had been asking herself that the past few days. He'd never before sent a Round to help Cornelia regardless of the status of her conquest, and Darlton and Cornelia were certain that the Emperor was sending this new Round to watch them. She felt partially responsible, though she knew Lelouch intended to eventually turn Cornelia from Britannia. Even still, it wasn't a pleasant thought.
At last, Sir Abaddon Drust exited the ship himself. He was a large, well-built man. A few streaks of grey tinged his red beard and hair, showing his age. A pair of scars from prior battles ran across his blinded right eye. His mouth was frozen in a perpetual scowl that sent shivers of terror down Euphy's back. He wore the traditional white military uniform of the Knights of the Round, though his cape was yellow with a topaz adorning the clasp. He was as intimidating as the Knight of One, but Sir Bismark Waldstein always had a certain calmness to him that Abaddon lacked. Drust looked to be locked in a constant war that only he could see.
Cornelia stepped forward to greet him. "Welcome to Area Eleven, Sir Drust. I am Viceroy Cornelia li Britannia, Second Princess of the Holy Britannian Empire.
The imposing man towered over them all. Even Darlton, a large man in his own right, was dwarfed by Abaddon. The Round observed them all with his lone eye. "A pleasure, Viceroy," he grunted. "As I'm certain you know, His Majesty dispatched me to help clean out the rats you're having issues with."
Guilford's hands clenched at his side. He took issue with Drust's implication, though he was wise enough to keep his thoughts to himself.
Abaddon didn't comment if he noticed. Instead, he addressed the elder Knight. "I hear you've been commanding the sods you call soldiers here."
Darlton crossed his arm over his chest with a respectful bow. "I am, Sir Drust. The previous Viceroy before her highness was…untrained in military matters. My priority was ensuring our men were properly prepared."
"They must've been truly incompetent then," Abaddon said. He turned back to Cornelia. "My trip has been tiring. Do you object to a quick rest, Viceroy?"
Cornelia shook her head. "No. If you'll follow us, we shall show you to your quarters." She and her two Knights then led their new guest from the docks, leaving Euphy behind.
Euphy sighed. She knew an intentional slight when she saw one. Abaddon hadn't even acknowledged her existence. It hadn't been surprising, but she still didn't appreciate it. Her first impression of the Knight of Five was that he was very Britannian. It was too soon to say if he was truly that shallow of a person, but she had met many in the warrior mold who were just that.
Movement from the ship caught her eye. Another person, not a crew member, had disembarked. This new man's most noticeable trait was his shining golden hair. It was pulled back into a tight ponytail that kept all of his hair out of his face. He was clean shaven, and his sun-tanned skin looked smooth as silk. He wore a pressed blue suit with white pinstripes down to his dark shoes. His gentle smile and soft expression gave off a sense of congeniality that was rare to see in Britannians.
There was no denying he was handsome. He no doubt had many women pining for his attention. Euphy considered him far too old for her, but she wondered how she'd not heard of this man before. It was not like her elder half-sister, Guinevere, to keep such news to herself.
She let curiosity drive her. She walked over to the kindly gentleman. "Hello," she greeted politely. "Welcome to Area Eleven. Are you traveling with Sir Drust?"
He turned his smile to her. "That I am, Princess Euphemia. I guess you could call me his personal aide." His voice was smooth, but it was coated in an accent that she couldn't place. All she could be certain of is that he wasn't from Pendragon.
She noted too that he refrained from bowing or kneeling to her. She believed it was from ignorance of customs, so she didn't address it. Besides, she hated the formalities her birth required of others.
She stepped to the side and gestured to the vehicle waiting for them. "Sir Drust and the Viceroy have already gone ahead. You can ride with me to the Viceroy's Palace."
"Why thank you." He followed her to the waiting limo. He opened the door and held it for her. "Ladies first, your highness."
She gave a nod to accept his actions. She sat down and he closed the door behind him. Euphy instructed the driver to take them to their destination, and they slowly began to move.
Euphemia regarded her companion carefully. She didn't know yet what to make of Abaddon's compatriot. Sure, he seemed kindly enough, but she knew that few were as he looked to be. She said, "I never got your name, sir."
He waved her off. "I'm no Knight, my Lady." His smile seemed to grow as he met her gaze. "But you can call me Arthur."