Wow, that's all I have to say about the level of views and reviews in the last chapter. I'm honestly amazed by all of you reading this story.
I honestly don't have much more to say for this chapter other than I'm sorry for the slight delay, I keep settling in and then something comes up that ruins everything that I've set up.
Anyways, extend a special thanks to Foxtrot Uniform Charlie Kilo for beta-ing this chapter, he will be my beta until he decides that he doesn't want to. I suggest you take the time to read his Code Geass fanfic if you haven't already.
I guess without further adieu, here's the next chapter.
Changing of the Guard
When I look back to those days I wonder to myself why I never saw it. Caedron had always been fair and up front with me. Then suddenly, it was like something changed, maybe if I wasn't so focused on what was going on with myself I could have done something more for him. Maybe, what would later happen could have been averted and he would be here today.
At least, that's what I think when I look at things now. I miss him, I honestly do. There are times when I find myself thinking about what would he think about what I've done. I would look to the side in askance and then realize that he isn't there.
If there are any regrets I have for what I've done, it's the fact that I spent a lot of the time angry at him for trying to protect me. Something that he had always been, even if I didn't want to see it that way.
- Kallen vi Britannia
It seemed that time had stilled for everyone in the room. However, the reasons were different for the two principal parties, neither aware of the others.
For Kallen, it was a mixture of horror and rage. She, of course, was aware that one of the objectives was the deposing of Clovis, via death or otherwise. But to witness it being executed in front of her on national television without the knowledge of any operation detailing such an event had her downright livid.
Lelouch, on the other hand, dealt with none of the emotional burdens and more of the actions he could now take. Already executable contingencies were being considered, decided upon, or discarded in a rapid-fire process necessary for someone of his status.
Grabbing his phone again, he already got to work, dialing up Villetta and getting an immediate response.
"Villetta, set Condition Delta. Set up containment protocols for the ghettos; I want the irregulars mobilized immediately and deployed throughout the area. Until further notice you are in command of all military forces in Area 11. I am calling an emergency meeting In twenty minutes and I expect you to be at the Viceroy's palace when that happens."
He didn't even await acknowledgement before hanging up, already dialing another number even as he looked to Jeremiah.
"I needed an aerial transport here five minutes ago," he stated, Jeremiah getting to work immediately as Lelouch continued the call, "Harrington. You saw it right? Alright, I want a full briefing package ready to go in twenty minutes at the Viceroy's palace. Good."
Hanging up the phone he then remembered he had a guest who was also witness to what had just occurred.
"Kallen," he started as he turned to meet her eyes, "I'm sorry about all of this but..."
"I understand," she assured, "your brother was just murdered..."
Those words were false, but they were meant in their own way of course. It was only proper that she understand. Of course, his response completely blew that out of the water.
"To be perfectly honest with you Kallen, Zero did me a favor in killing Clovis, especially if he was the one that tried to kill all of us, something I suspect to be truth. I may have wished for answers to a few questions, but I won't dwell on it. Now I have to focus on being the Viceroy."
Kallen found herself at a loss, not exactly sure as to what to say in light of what he had just said. On one hand she was struck by how blase Lelouch was about his now-deceased brother, but also worried by the fact that he seemed like 'Zero' was playing into his hands.
Her thoughts, however, were not allowed to percolate, as Lelouch's hand brushed over her forearm.
"I'm sorry. Hopefully I can make it up to you. How about tonight I come by and I cook you dinner or something?"
"That would be fine," she returned after a moment's deliberation, it would likely give her enough time for her own investigation after checking in with work. She needed to have a discussion with Rakshata if her worries were well-founded.
His smile made it evident he was happy with the outcome, but whatever else he wanted to say or do was cut off by Jeremiah as he interrupted the moment.
"Three Martlets with gunship escort are on their way, ETA ten minutes."
"Thank you, Jeremiah. If you would give me a minute."
He then left the two of them alone, the silence between the two of them oppressive, before finally it was broken by Kallen who had run through what she could say in this moment.
"Be careful, Lelouch. "
Offering a shrug and a roguish grin he scoffed, "It's just administrative duties. I doubt Zero is going to make another move today while riding so high. It would be completely opposite of how she operates."
It was at that point that the sound of rotors became loud enough to hear, Jeremiah's voice beckoning Lelouch to come along. He took one look at her before leaving.
Kallen was left standing there one thought ravaging her mind and leaving her frozen.
Lelouch vi Britannia had referred to Zero as female.
In spite of the air of professionalism that Ariadne gave off as she stood on the podium at the front of the room, she couldn't help but feel quite nervous. While the room was designed to comfortably seat the various command staffs of the Tokyo Settlement, right now there were only those who mattered to the Prince. Furthermore, on speakers were several generals in the Area that needed to hear what she had to say.
Then again she had expected this the moment that her breakfast had been interrupted by the televised execution of Clovis. The part of her ingrained with loyalty to the crown quailed at the fact that one had died, yet for the life of her she found his death...welcome. But that had stemmed from the fact that she had the opportunity to peruse the files on Code R that had been published by the Noppera-bō. She could safely say she was sickened by what her peers had done in the pursuit of science.
But her personal opinion on the matter was unwanted in this case, what mattered here was the information she needed to dispense to the commanders that Prince Lelouch had selected. These men and women were likely to be the tip of the spear for whatever operations he chooses to pursue in the future.
"I have been in conference with the Emperor in regards to the incident this morning," Lelouch started from his seat at the head of the table in front of her, "as a result of the death of Prince Clovis, and with the Emperor's blessing, I will be assuming the Office of the Viceroy in Area 11, effective immediately."
He let that announcement hang heavily over the meeting, the death of a Viceroy was a significant event in any situation, made even worse with the fact that it was a Prince who was killed in the process. The question now on the mind of many was what the new Viceroy was going to do.
Of course, if she was right about the Prince, the likelihood of him doing nothing was incredibly high. The problem was that Zero had boxed them effectively in a corner at least in the eyes of the public. With the dissemination of Code R, she could already see that the popularity of Zero and the Noppera-bō was going to skyrocket in spite of their vigilantism. Too many people in the Area were fed up with the direction that Prince Clovis had been taking the area and now with the information contained in Code R, there was no way they could effectively retaliate at least in a public relations regard. Hell, she had a feeling that the death of Clovis would be welcomed in certain sects of the Britannian populace that leaned more radical in their regard for the system.
She couldn't help but have her eyes shift to the position where Princess Cornelia and Euphemia li Britannia were sitting. She had a good feeling what Cornelia would probably want in lieu of the assassination of her half-brother, but Euphemia had always been one of those queer reads even for her. At times the woman could be as soft as silk and at others she could be as firm as steel. It would be interesting to see how Prince Lelouch handled those two now.
"Before we begin upon deciding exactly how the Area as a whole is going to react to this latest development with the Noppera-bō, Lieutenant Colonel Harrington will provide a briefing as to both the events of today and what we do know of Zero and the Noppera-bō," he then glanced back towards her, "including our theories."
She knew exactly what he was referring to. He wanted her to provide the theories on the possible identity of Zero, even though, in review of the footage she had been repeatedly watching of the assassination in order to just try and get into the head of Zero, but for the life of her, every single time she watched it, a part of her screamed that the Zero she was watching could not be the Zero everyone had encountered before?
What would make her think this?
Because the woman moved and carried herself differently in comparison to every single video she had seen of Zero before. In fact, as stupid as it might sound, she could swear up and down that if she was right, the difference between the two Zero's was the fact that the newest Zero's bust was smaller based on that she seemed less discomfited by whatever binding they used on her chest.
"Colonel Harrington. The floor is yours."
"Thank you, Viceroy," she returned, settling herself as she took a deep, cleansing breath, staring down the gathering as she accessed the screen behind her, bringing up an image of Zero.
"The first warning that we received something was amiss at about sunrise this morning when it was discovered that Prince Clovis and the Purist unit placed under his command had disappeared. How this happened is still under investigation, but there is reason to believe that the cause is internal instead of external. Moving from there, at 0702 hours, explosions were reported in the Meiji Stadium vicinity of the Shinjuku Ghetto . Subsequent reconnaissance flights discovered the remnants of the Prince's G1 and escort along with several of the Knightmare variants encountered in the previous skirmish with the Noppera-bō in Yokosuka."
She paused allowing the various imagery to show behind her, including several black Akatsuki from an aerial perspective.
"Attempts by reconnaissance to record the retreat of the Noppera-bō were rebuffed by anti-aircraft defenses of the same type that was encountered during the Taitō Incident. General Nu ordered an immediate withdrawal after this discovery."
Taking a breath she then brought up the image of Zero's impromptu television crashing.
"At 0803 the Area 11 Communications Bureau detected a massive viral attack originating from within the networks' very own firewalls. By 0804 all civilian and military communications within the Area 11 Colonial Sector were infected, this includes all mobile and video sharing nodes and devices."
"Are you saying even our military networks are not secure?" came the voice of General Tremayne from the speaker phone. Tremayne served as the commander of all forces in the Hokkaido region, a still active hotbed of Former Japanese Army units, though they were slowly becoming pointless. He was also considered in the grand scheme of the force chart of Area 11 as third in line for command. If Lelouch had not become Viceroy, the position would have fallen to him.
He also had not been very liked by Clovis due to his insistence that the terrorist threat be taken more seriously, hence his assignment to the "ass end" of Area 11 with minimal forces.
"I'm still seeking an answer for that from Communications Bureau, General Tremayne. What is known is that this is the first occurrence where our military communications were compromised. As soon as I receive the final report I'll be able to provide you with a definitive answer on that. For now, it would be safe to assume that it is indeed compromised and act accordingly."
That dealt with, she continued as clinically as possible considering the circumstances
"At 0807, Zero began his broadcast, during that time all devices were taken over by this same virus. All attempts at ascertaining where this broadcast originated has failed. At the end of the broadcast, Zero executed Prince-Viceroy Clovis."
She let that hang In the air for a few moments, looking to Prince Lelouch who nodded, giving her the okay to continue onto the more controversial aspect of the briefing.
"As per Viceroy vi Britannia's orders, I have made a cursory analysis of the files of the supposed Code R that Zero accused Viceroy la Britannia of spearheading for their veracit-"
That was when Mount Cornelia finally chose to erupt, shooting to her feet and slamming her hands against the desk.
"You're taking the word of terrorists that kill-"
"Sit down, General," Lelouch snapped.
"But Lelouch, you can't possibly believe-"
"Cornelia, I was tasked by the Emperor to investigate because of his suspicions that Clovis may be doing this. Last night, I received files from one of my spies that are the very same being distributed to the public by Zero. I am therefore left with only the conclusion that the previous Viceroy was guilty of what Zero is accusing him of. Continue, Colonel."
"I am left in agreement with the legitimacy of Zero's claims. It appears that Viceroy la Britannia did authorize human experimentation for the purpose of creating a new breed of soldiers."
Euphemia's soft gasp was the only reaction among everyone. But then again, it was to be expected that in a room filled with military officers, the one not fully exposed to the atrocities human beings were capable of would be the one to react.
"It's because of this," Lelouch spoke, looking around the room, "that a I have chosen to not pursue the Noppera-bō at this time. The reason is three-fold: First, because the likely public backlash against the government is going to cause our hands to be full as we institute damage control. Second, because it will look badly for us if we choose to attack the Noppera-bō now. In spite of what they have done, to the public-at-large this will only increase the Noppera-bō's worth as a vigilante group that at least tries to right the wrongs in society. Finally because we are not properly trained and equipped to fight the Noppera-bō on even grounds."
While Mount Cornelia remained dormant, perhaps because of Lelouch's unspoken admonition, the rest of the room wasn't, as murmurs and discussion created an uncomfortable din for all those in attendance.
"Colonel Harrington, you may continue."
"What we do know about the Noppera-bō is scant, sadly. Intelligence upon the organization was not a priority thanks to bureaucratic decisions by the previous administration. What we do have is that the Noppera-bō is a highly trained and organized unit on par with prescribed Britannian norm. While we are still unsure of how they receive their funding, it's readily apparent that its financial base rivals that of the JLF in depth and scope."
"So far we have identified at least three different Knightmare variants in their employ, dependent upon the operational circumstances. Their mainline unit, like the JLF, is the Gekka. Depending on the devicer, it is on par or superior to our Gloucester in overall performance. Unlike the JLF," she tapped her pad, bringing up imagery of several Gekkas with differing equipment, "the Noppera-bō has customized their units based upon devicer personal preference. Because of this, there is no general armament that we have been able to ascertain beyond the standard slash harkens and left-arm mounted autocannon."
She then brought up another image, this time from earlier this morning of the black Knightmare Frame that had been taken by the reconnaissance flight.
"This is the newest unit fielded by the Noppera-bō, for now we've codenamed it 'Shōki' based upon witness statements we have been able to glean. This is the second time this unit has been encountered and we have no information on its performance or specifications. It is, however, safe to estimate that it is on par with our Vincents, if the previous performance of the Gekka is any indicator."
"And this," she continued after a moment, bringing up an all-too-familiar Knightmare for her, "is the Guren Mark II, the personal Knightmare of Zero. Much like the "Shōki", the complete specifications of this unit is relatively unknown because we have seen it in a different configuration in every single one of our encounters with it. However, based upon observations of battle data, we can believable specify the Knightmare as a 7th Generation Frame. Which, combined with its devicer, provides a platform capable of Knight of the Round levels of performance."
She knew perfectly well this would garner no protest. Several people in the know had already seen some of the reports of the proficiency of the Guren's pilot thanks to Lelouch's quiet dissemination. There was no way she could disagree with her own assessment of the skill of Zero as a pilot and commander, though Zero most likely had assistance in controlling the battlefront considering how difficult it is for a regular general, let alone a pilot in the middle of a battle; without a doubt, there was someone else involved.
"We now come to Zero," she declared, bringing them to the core of the very issue, "As of this moment we still have few concrete clues as to who Zero is, but what we do know is this: Zero appears to have no quarrel with the empire per se. Rather it is to fight the corruption rampant in our system, that both Demosthenes and Zero both oppose; that seems to be the 'official' driving motivation behind the formation of the Noppera-bō. While we may not know the actual reason behind her actions we-"
"Excuse me," Euphemia spoke up, "'Her'? I was under the impression that Zero was a man."
"Previously we believed that was so, until careful analysis of Zero's body structure and carriage indicated that the belief that Zero was male was in actuality false."
"Not to sound misogynistic, Your Highnesses," came the voice of Admiral Giancarlo Lawrence, "but there can't be very many women out there who could fit the role of Zero. Surely we have some idea on the identity of Zero if he is, in fact, a she."
"We have some suspects," she returned, "based upon the characteristics and the tactics used by Zero, we have reason to believe that she is either European or Britannian trained, which lends credence to the idea that she is one of those two nationalities."
"The identity of Zero is immaterial at the-"
"Begging your pardon, Your Highness," she interrupted, "but there is a possibility that the Zero that we saw this morning is not the same one."
"The indicators are subtle Your Highness, but in our previous discussion I noted based upon observations that Zero used bindings on the chest to hide her true sex created a subtle carriage. I noticed in review both a decreased amount of restraint and discomfort, but also this," she brought up a pair of videos, one of Zero at Taitō and then from this morning. She then let them play, commenting for everyone to pay attention to Zero's walk.
"They're different," Villetta noted after a minute, "but that doesn't mean that they are different people. People can change how they walk."
"With practice and training, but you can't drill out the effect military training has on posture, General. Still, I would argue that there is a likelihood that either this is a copycat, or Zero has a body-double that can fill in for roles that she may be disinclined to do due to possible scheduling conflicts."
"Scheduling conflicts," Cornelia snapped, "what kind of commander would be absent of their role?!"
"One that is trying to operate an entire military organization," Lelouch spoke quietly, his face concentrated into a mask and for a moment, Ariadne wondered exactly what was going through his mind, before he then looked around the table, "we are getting off topic. Right now, I have to decide on how to handle this threat. It is evident that standard Britannian doctrine is not going to work against the Noppera-bō."
Knowing that her role was over, she stood down from the podium and proceeded to take a seat along the wall beside, curiously, Suzaku Kururugi, the Knight for Princess Euphemia.
"What I suggest, instead, is a review of our available tactics and the retraining of existing forces in anti-guerilla tactics."
"You do realize how long that will take, Your Highness," came the voice of Villetta.
"I know, which is why I have had you training the irregulars. Time and again, it has been proven that the Britannian style is ill-suited against an enemy that refuses to organize like a standard army. We've so focused on frontal combat that we haven't thought of an insurgent threat that plays upon the disgust of our own nationals in the system. In fact, I had to look back into our history books for a threat like this. A threat that runs parallel to Washington's Rebellion."
This caused a nervous shift in the room as eyes shifted to another member in the room, a general who had just arrived this morning with the first elements of Army Group vi Britannia, General Quentin Greene. The reason for this was because his ancestor had been General Nathanael Greene, a man who had fought long and hard against the Empire even after the death of Washington. After the fall of the homeland Greene had surrendered himself and his army, providing a badly depleted Empire with combat-ready forces that were used to completely drive the French out of the Americas. Even though Greene died in service to the Empire, he and his family had never been able to remove the black mark that Nathanael has left. Though, it didn't stop Lelouch from recognizing the man's talent.
"Our tactics are thus; for the time being we will only operate in trying to contain the Noppera-bō from striking critical points in our infrastructure. At the same time, we need to be working to make the Noppera-bō's stated mission objective irrelevant. The more we undermine them, the less likely they are going to attract popular support if the system works. That means a complete review and revamp; corruption, favoritism, bigotry, I don't care what it is, if it gives points to Zero then it needs to go. Princess Euphemia," he looked to his sister, "I would like for you to be my sub-vicereine."
"Absolutely not," Cornelia interrupted.
"I wasn't asking for your opinion, Cornelia," Lelouch retorted pointedly, "Euphemia is perfectly old enough to make this decision for herself. Not only that, but I think she would welcome this opportunity, considering this would provide her with a platform that she has always wanted."
"I'll take it," Euphemia spoke up.
"No, Lelouch is right," the pink-haired princess spoke, "Clovis made a mistake in what he did here with too many people suffering because of his short-sightedness. If Clovis had paid attention then this meeting would never be taking place."
"Thank you, Euphemia," her older half-brother offered with a smile, getting something he needed, "moving on, I am placing General Nu in charge of all military elements within Area 11."
He let that hang in the air for a moment, knowing that it was probably not exactly popular what he was suggesting, "Don't take this as a reflection of your skills, General Tremayne and Mason, but I would prefer it that you remain at your posts to where you will be more effective since you know the lay of the land better than any of your possible replacements. In addition, I will be shifting you forces from Army Group vi Britannia as it arrives to provide you with additional support. They have received necessary training in anti-guerrilla operations and can quickly get your forces up to spec if you need them. In the event General Nu is incapacitated or otherwise indisposed, General Tremayne, you will be in charge. I will still have final say on major deployments, but I am giving you full authority to take action for yourself, you won't have to worry about me second-guessing you at every turn as my predecessor did."
"Thank you Viceroy," they both said in unison.
"Now, moving on to other things…-"
The drive back to the mansion was one in which Caedron Harrington dealt with the remainder of his affliction, somewhat diminishing his accomplishment today.
It was only a matter of time, no matter what he did, before the cancer got to him or the medication he was taking took him out. While he was not yet to the point of the latter, it was becoming obvious with the headache that sooner or later he would have to resort to it or suffer through the pain.
Time, it was the one thing he no longer had on his side. When he had started training Kallen he had believed he had enough time to see both of their dreams come to fruition. Now he was left with a future unfulfilled and a protégé/daughter-figure with none of what he imagined completed. That was his driving factor now, his goal was to leave enough for Kallen to achieve her dream.
Which was why as he was being stared down by her right now he did not regret his actions in betraying her trust and would gladly do so again if it achieved their goals, no matter the costs.
When she said nothing as she continued to attempt burning a hole in him with her eyes, he walked towards the kitchen, intent on getting tea to go with some painkillers to hopefully alleviate some of his headache. Kallen remained silent throughout, even as he finished sitting down at the table, steaming cup of green tea in hand.
It was as he sipped his tea that he realized that Kallen would continue her childish antics further and internally sighed at the frivolity of it. Where did her Interrogation training go.
"How was Lelouch?"
"He was fine up until you had C.C. kill his brother on national television!"
"Ohhh? And how did he take it?"
"That's not the point," she snapped angrily, "What in the hell are you doing?"
"I would think you of all people would be happy with the outcome, Kallen, even if the measures weren't controlled by you. Clovis has been killed, we've shown our resolve, and after this, those who had believed us as terrorists will see us in a different light."
"By using a project even I wasn't aware of," she slammed her left hand down on the table, causing the tea cup to clatter on its saucer, "a project you've obviously been hiding from me since Morgan Industries! Now we have to throw away the entire plan of C.C. being Zero because of your-"
"C.C.'s identity as Subject 001 is protected. I personally had the files digitally altered in order to prevent that possibility. I doubt people are going to dig so much into the subject due to the inhumanity of the project. I specifically left out the mentions of immortality for that reason. All the public knows is that the Prince approved of human experimentation and that's all they will know as long as all parties agree to let the issue die there."
"That still doesn't excuse you from hijacking my command without at least alerting me!"
He merely arched an eyebrow towards her in response, silently challenging her for a point as to why she would be demanding that out of him now after all that had taken place. When she didn't rise to the challenge, he instead decided that it was about time to take the kid gloves off for her.
"The last time I checked, you had given me the autonomy to accomplish what needed to be accomplished. If you had actually paid attention to some of the reports we've received, you would know that the first elements of Lelouch's personal army group arrived this morning. How long do you think until the Prince would be ready to make a move against his brother?"
"And how would you know he was going to make a move against his brother," she demanded, though a part of her already knew the answer. She had seen it at the dinner with the Viceroy how Lelouch was refusing to step down from what was legitimately not his, an event that in retrospect could have likely, if it was to be believed, cause Clovis to attempt to kill him.
"The writing was on the wall, Kallen. You don't move forces loyal to yourself unless you are planning something. It's likely the Emperor sent him here to deal with Clovis once enough was found out on what he was working on. Either way, we were on a limited timetable and I made the choice-"
"Without even deigning to inform me. When we started this it was with the intention that you would be supporting my agenda, not doing things on your own like you've done."
"Your agenda? And where isn't the elimination of Prince Clovis not on your agenda," he asked in calm, measured tones, he knew perfectly well the only reason she was raising hell with him, "face it Kallen, the only reason you are here throwing a fit like a spoiled child is because you didn't get to manage me in this endeavor. How many times have I told you you cannot micromanage the actions of your subordinates. An opportunity was presented and I took it."
"Last time I checked, my subordinates didn't have their own private army at their beck and call to use how they pleased. When were you going to tell me you were withholding Knightmares from me?"
"I didn't see how it concerned you. And you are forgetting your place, this organization is just as much my own as yours."
"That may be Caedron, but I am Zero,not you."
What was next said Caedron would later blame both the pain in his head and the fact that the young woman before him was so caught up in her self-importance, but that did not take away from the damage they did.
"You're not Zero," he snarled, "you're just a narcissistic girl wearing a mask that just so happens to belong to Zero. Zero is not a person, he's an ideology incarnate. And if it wasn't for me, you would be praying that they had killed you afterwards. You most certainly wouldn't be where you are if it wasn't for me. I raised you and taught you. I trained your army. I am Demosthenes. Everything you take for granted, I built! So how about a little bit of gratitude, girl."
The room was silent as Kallen stared at him with wide eyes even as his pain-addled processes recognized exactly what he had said.
But it was already too as she had whirled away and left him alone in the kitchen with his thoughts on how much of an idiot he was.
At least that was what he thought it would be before he sensed another presence.
"I told you she wouldn't appreciate it," C.C. stated with her tone dripping in I-told-you-so.
"Yet you didn't protest too much about it, witch."
"And why would I," she retorted with a smug look on her face, coming to a seat across the table from him, "it's not every day that you get the opportunity of getting back at one of the people who sentenced you to years of torture."
"That's not what I meant."
The woman shrugged in response, just staring at him as he looked back to his tea for a moment, the quiet din between them interrupted by a notification on Caedron's phone alerting him that Kallen has left the mansion grounds.
"Aren't you supposed to be worried about your contractor," he deadpanned.
"She's a big girl, she can take care of herself. I want my pizza."
"You have your priorities and I have my own. Pizza. Now. Please."
Honestly, he would have preferred to avoid the security arrangements of his new position, but unfortunately he had been overruled by both his siblings and his generals. They had already lost one Prince today, no one wanted to risk losing another.
Which was why as his car pulled up to the Stadtfeld mansion, he was surrounded by no less than the six Vincents that made up his current royal guard. He had no doubt that many people would be intimidated by this, which was exactly what he didn't want. In a war of public relations, the belief that the Viceroy, let alone a decorated general, needed to surround him with the tools of his trade to protect him would not reflect well.
But for now he would bide his time, he guessed, at least humor the will of his subordinates for the time being.
It was at the door of the mansion, ingredients in hand for what he wanted to cook for her that he found something that he wasn't expecting.
"Kallen's not here," came the simple statement from Caedron who looked unusually subdued.
Something's going on, he thought to himself even as he asked his next question.
"Do you know where she is?"
The man shook his head.
"Thanks," Lelouch then turned away, hand already going for his phone. A few moments later he was already calling Kallen, only to go straight to her voicemail.
"Kallen, it's Lelouch. Where are you at? I was just at your home and you weren't there. Call me back, please."
He then hung up, stepping back inside the open door of the car and settled in.
"Drive," he commanded, leaning back in the plush interior even as he analyzed the information he had been presented.
Something had gone on between Kallen and Harrington of that he was sure. There was no reason for Kallen not to be here when he promised. Which meant that she had shut her phone off so as not to be bothered, or she was off doing something emotional and likely foolish.
Frowning, he tapped his knee in silent contemplation as to what his course of action should be. The question to be asked was whether he was worried enough about her that he would willingly abuse his position.
After a few moments of stern thought he made his choice, phone dialing who he needed.
"Harrington, I need you to run a trace for me on Lady Stadtfeld's phone...Right. I'll wait."
Yet the waiting only made him more tense, both in the acknowledgement that he was abusing his position for the first time, but also over a girl. He had an inkling that if Milly found this out he would never hear the end of it.
"She's at the Asakusa Shrine, Your Highness."
"Thank you," he then hung up, lost again in thought as to why Kallen would be at the Asakusa Shrine, none of the ideas available with the limited information he had leading to a good conclusion.
It hadn't been like he had forgotten the possibility that Kallen could be Zero, well, at first he had dismissed the idea when the redhead had been aside him when Clovis had been killed. But Colonel Harrington had returned that feeling back to the forefront when she had admitted a theory that the Zero that had been seen was a body double.
But that didn't explain why, even if his theories were bunk, she would be at the Asakusa Shrine. If she had been kidnapped they would not keep her at a public place like that, nor would Zero have a gathering there. So why was she there?
And what should he do?
After sitting there for several minutes as the car grew closer to the Ashford Academy, and Nunnally, he made his decision.
While the shrine monks who populated and maintained the Asakusa Shrine would never admit it to anyone, the events that had transpired in the last month had served to increase the pilgrimages to the shrine far more than any event in its history. The attack on the shrine by Britannia had created an impetus in those who had previously forgotten over the years of strife and suffering to revisit that which had been so dominant in their history.
Still, it was with a raised eyebrow when the monks had recognized in their midst among the larger-than-normal amount of worshippers was a Britannian, and not just any Britannian, but a well-recognized Britannian noble.
At first, it was worried that the presence of Britannian in such a holy place during these difficult times would draw the ire of those who had lost loved ones and held such contempt for people of her status. And if not for the head monk, it would have likely ended up with her being approached and asked to leave.
But the head monk had been there long enough to remember a young girl with red hair and puffy eyes of an equal shade of red who had been here almost eight years ago. He remembered how that young girl had knelt in this very shrine silently with tears silently streaming down her eyes as she prayed and an older man looked on her. It was the very same girl now all grown up that was before them now that had visited the shrine several times over the years.
It also helped to remind some of the younger firebrands that this was the same woman who had people assisting in repairing the damage to the Ghetto, with this very shrine intended to be restored from its damage at no cost to them.
And so it went without incident that Kallen Stadtfeld was allowed to silently pray on her knees in the haiden without any animosity, as no one wanted to assail her in such a holy place, regardless of whether she should be there or not.
For Kallen though, it was the painful reminder of her past, but also served in providing her in that way to where she could talk with her family in much the same way one would make a graveside visit for a loved ones. She was never one for spirituality, but she viewed it as a way to connect with them in a way she no longer had the opportunity to experience.
It was also why she came here, to maybe seek answers to the problems which plagued her, from her dual identity to the confrontation she had just had with Caedron.
Yet, in the three hours she had been here, the answers she had sought were proving to be just as elusive as if she had not come here, so instead she had spent the time in silent prayer for her family. She would be lying if she didn't say that it was also to avoid dealing with Caedron for the time being.
So lost in her own thoughts she almost missed the murmur that broke the solemn silence that permeated in this hallowed ground. Almost immediately her senses kicked in even as she maintained her position, so it was with shock that Lelouch vi Britannia of all people knelt down beside her and bowed his head in prayer.
It was only after a short while that he finally spoke in a very soft murmur.
"I never took you for the rebellious teen type," he said in jest.
She chose not to answer that question a and instead asked her own.
"How did you find me," she demanded equally as quietly.
"Does it really matter? I was worried about you after Caedron said you were not at home, and he looked terrible, as if he'd been in a fight."
She said nothing in return to him, deciding to drop the subject altogether, already having an inkling as to how he found her. Instead she focused on what she had been doing in the first place.
Therefore, it was to neither party's surprise that the head priest eventually came to where they were and stood in a silent demand for attention from the pair.
To Kallen's surprise Lelouch bowed from his kneeling position towards the hinder before getting up to his feet and bowing respectfully towards the priest.
" Gūji-sama," he greeted the older man, then he only added further surprise in his next action.
"My deepest apologies," he offered to the priest in perfect Japanese, "it was not my intention to bring upheaval to your shrine with my inflammatory presence."
The priest looked at him for a few moments before answering in Lelouch's native tongue.
"I am curious as to why someone of your status would be here in the first place, considering the actions of your predecessor."
"Ill-advised and monstrous actions, Gūji-sama. You will find that I am cut from a quite different cloth. As for my presence upon such sacred ground, it is for the young woman behind me. However, I felt I should also offer my respects to all those who have come to pass before me and ask for guidance and protection in such tumultuous times."
She could not help but pay attention to the exchange now as she got to her feet, troubles momentarily forgotten as she watched the exchange.
The priest just stared at him as if trying to decipher the puzzle before him, and stayed that way for a short while before giving a small nod.
"I wish you luck in your endeavors, Prince vi Britannia."
Then with that the man stepped back and turned away, intent on calming the nerves of the occupants of the shrine.
It was then the raven-haired prince turned back to her and offered a wan smile.
"I'm sorry you had to experience that, but if you want to continue then I wouldn't mind."
"No," she returned, shaking her head slowly, keeping her voice down still, "I think I'm done here."
He nodded in response, before leading her out. They had just exited the haiden and were out in the main courtyard of the shrine, the lanterns providing a subdued light to the structure.
"I was surprised when I found out you were here, Kallen. I didn't take you for a Shinto," he finally said, causing her to come to a stop in front of one of the komainu that flanked the main path to the shrine.
"I'm not," she finally declared, turning towards him, "I'm a deist. I come here to pray to my family."
When he didn't respond, she decided to go further in explaining it to him, remembering that while he may know a bit about her, he probably didn't know all of her sources of sorrow. One of them was incredibly personal for her considering it dealt with her family.
"You know what this shrine represents, right?"
"Yes. It houses the ashes of the previous prime ministers of Japan and contains the deities of the millions that have died in Japanese wars."
She let that hang in the air for a moment, trying to make herself comfortable for the reveal, in spite of the time the last question had bought her she still found it difficult to even discuss this. It was still an ongoing problem even though she had the rights to her title.
"My mother and brother were never buried," she began, "in the eyes of the Church of Britannia they were viewed as abominations and were not allowed on consecrated grounds. Even my father had to receive a special dispensation for the 'lapse' in his faith. But mother and Naoto... their remains were dumped in an unmarked grave."
Her eyes slid close as she remembered that day she had found that out. She had cried for what seemed like forever before coming to the realization that her so-called family was just as monstrous as Britannia. It had taken her a year to finally track down their bodies and was able to give them a proper ceremony.
"Both my parents loved this country," she continued after her reflection, "so much so that they died in it. The shrine here had always been their favorite and I come here to pray to be close to them and maybe, just maybe, they'll give me guidance when I need it."
"I'm sorry. I didn't know," which was the truth, he hadn't looked too far into the internal politics of her family, he had a basic overview of her life outside of the information on the incident that had taken place.
"It's fine," she returned, "it's not exactly something I like publicizing. It's enough that my so-called family are still fighting to take back the title of nobility from me. The reason why I was here was because of a disagreement between Caedron and I on the running of our company," she lied, "I don't like how he's been running certain black segments without my overview and he insists that he should run it because he can run it better than I can."
"I see. It sounds like we both have overbearing figures in our lives that believe that they can do a better job than us."
She gave a soft laugh in response, even as she shook her head in dismissal. She found it relieving that she wasn't the only one that seemed to have the problem with the burden of responsibility, though they were entirely different burdens to be considered.
And burdens that would bring them in conflict with one another very soon.
"How's your arm doing?"
She gave a small shrug, "It's there. Other than the occasional pain, I would just rather I had the ability to use-," she trailed off for a moment, losing her self in thought.
"What is it," he asked, curious as to what would cause her to become silent.
"I'm sorry for standing you up, but I just remembered I need to see to something. Thank you for being worried about me."
Before she could turn away, his hand wrapped around her uninjured arm, stopping her turn and causing her to look back at him.
"How about we do it together," he asked, having a good idea that whatever it was she was going to go to, it was going to be about her arm, even if he didn't know what it would specifically be, "I would love to spend time with you even if it is for something you wouldn't want to waste my time with. It's going to be hard for us to have any time together in the coming days."
She stared at the arm for a moment, then back to him. To be honest, she was going to go and see Rakshata about her arm, since she had almost forgotten about it. She knew the Indian would probably be knee deep in working on Narayanastra. The question was whether she should take Lelouch there. It was unlikely he would recognize Rakshata considering her background, but he would be able to see all of the Knightmares that were on their way to becoming the sword for the Noppera-bō.
Running through the possible ramifications for her actions she found that she honestly didn't care at the moment to her surprise.
"Sure," she finally said.
He still couldn't shake off the surprise even as the elevator took them down into the bowels of the Stadtfeld Consortium. He had honestly not thought that Kallen's trip would take them here of all places, but then again, she was full of surprises so he really shouldn't have been taken aback.
Still, as the elevator came to a stop with Kallen, himself, Liliana, Marika, and Sancia. Kallen had been a little distrustful of those three, but Sancia's stubbornness won through when she pointedly reminded him that she had bent backwards enough to get her ass chewed by Jeremiah for the shrine, she was not going to have her head put on a spike by Jeremiah any further.
Before opening the door, Kallen turned back towards them.
"I don't need to remind you that what you will see in here is proprietary Stadtfeld Consortium systems…"
"Relax, Kallen," Lelouch interrupted, knowing where the redhead was going"they won't divulge what they see here with anyone. I promise you that."
She relaxed, allowing his words to get her to calm herself before she placed her hand on the scanpad.
"Kallen Stadtfeld and guests," she declared.
"Welcome Lady Stadtfeld," it greeted before the doors opened, causing Lelouch to raise an eyebrow. Not even the Dallas Institute had a system and it was considered one of the best. All the more interesting.
He then refocused on the gigantic room itself and could not help admire the design of it. Instead of being what you would expect of a research and development facility with individual rooms and bays, it was one gigantic bay that stretched several fields' length, where all the work could be observed by everyone equally. Of course, there was no doubt there would probably be separate testing facilities, but in terms of the actual design it was ingenious in his estimation.
Yet right now it was the lights were dimmed to reflect the time of the evening, the dull hum of electronics, generators, and computers creating a welcome and warm atmosphere to what should be a cold and scientific facility.
Yet the crowning piece of focus was was the lights along the wall where several Knightmares sat in various states of assembly in their docking cradles. Even Lelouch was surprised by the fact that there was not one as he had expected for a fledgling attempt at joining the Knightmare production club, but ten different Knightmares.
"What is this," he found himself asking, even as they walked towards it.
"We call it Project Narayanasta," a voice interposed, as a woman walked out from behind several displays showing the blueprints, "after the personal weapon of Vishnu that fired a million missiles. Your official papers refer to it as the Southampton Project. Of course, that's just the designation for the perceived competing Knightmare for the A-KMFX Program. We decided to go further in designing several different custom designs in order to prove a point that our modular design would be superior in the long run in providing a diverse series of customizations to fit each pilot. As a result," she motioned a cigarette holder with a lit cigarette towards the ten Knightmares, "this is what you get."
"I see," Lelouch returned, staring at the woman. If it wasn't for the labcoat she wore, he would have viewed this newcomers presence as curious. The woman looked to be in her late-twenties to mid-thirties and of Indian descent, though the blond hair was distinctly Britannian. The eyes were sharp and inquisitive turquoise, but she had a laid back aura that meshed with her choice of clothing, which accentuated her bust and toned stomach. If anything, she reminded him somewhat of Lloyd.
"This is our director of research and development, Mayura Das," Kallen introduced, "she's been the project lead of Narayanastra since it's inception and has been a credit to how we've been able to make several breakthroughs in the systems and designs."
"A pleasure, Prince Lelouch," the woman offered warmly, extending a hand which he took in a firm shake, "so what brings you and your guests down here, Lady Stadtfeld."
"I wanted your medical knowledge," she returned, "you've had an opportunity to look over my charts?"
Why would she be interested in a Knightmare scientist's input on medical charts, he wondered to himself, but kept silent as the woman took a small inhalation from the cigarette holder, her eyes flicking over him again and for a moment, he had a feeling that he was in a place he shouldn't be, but that quickly disappeared as the woman turned back over to a display and tapped it, bringing up imagery that he knew was Kallen's.
"I did," she responded, "Then I had an opportunity to peruse the information that Zero posted on the net earlier today. How badly would you like to have the use of that arm back?"
"What do you think," Kallen deadpanned.
"I was just curious," the woman returned, trying to defuse the situation as she waved the cigarette around, "I can probably cut your recovery time down in half if some of the stuff that Zero has released is proven to be true."
"It is," he spoke, causing both women to look towards him, "I've already confirmed it."
"Well then, it's your lucky day,. I won't be able to get your arm back into action today, but there's a brace I can put together that will remove your cast. Of course, it will be painful since the bone still has to repair," Kallen snorted, interrupting the blond, but she continued anyway, a predatory smile on the Indian's face that caused a chill to run down Lelouch's spine that he didn't exactly like, "but in a week or so you can be back to doing whatever it is you do in your fun time."
And there you have it, the next chapter is done. I know many of you are like "Where's the battles?!" Well, they are getting close to taking place, I plan to have some more buildup next chapter, but after that, start expecting some fireworks, at least that is the hope.
I swear, if you guys break me on the 720 mark, I will be blown away, but you guys have been blowing away my expectations almost every chapter with your reviews and input.
Anyways, I'll stop wasting your time and until next chapter.