A/N: Aaaat laaaaaaaasstt...the Saitama battle is finally here. And it only took me eleven months to get to it...he-heh, eleven. Anyway I won't bore you guys with spoilers of what's to come, instead I'll just do my usual thing and let you get on with it.
(Oh and if you guys just hit the 'go straight to newest chapter button' you might want to jump back a bit...but you're not missing much, it's mostly filler
So deadly venom from a fully grown viper doesn't do a thing to Admins, huh? Well then we're just going to have to do this the old fashioned American way(even though I'm British).
Everyone meet Borac, he's my pet bruiser. Say hello Borac!
He's so cute. Also he hates Admins with a passion.
Hey Borac, look what I have tied to this chair in this locked room!
Borac: *sees Admin* BRAAAAAGH!
This should be enlightening.
Outskirts of Saitama Ghetto
The Masked Knight and the White Lady
The following morning, Lelouch and C.C left Ashford at 9:00am in the RV (Ruben had been good enough to store it away in his private garage) to their pre-planned meeting spot with Kallen and anyone else from her group who were motivated to do more. As it only took them about twenty minutes to arrive at Sasame Park which gave them enough time to change into costume as well as for Lelouch to add a few finishing touches to C.C's outfit, namely a white cloak with a hood that covered her entire head as well as a visor-like mask that was not dissimilar to the type the Glaston Knights wore except that instead of a 'T' shape, the indent was the Crane sigil of Geass. A nice little shout out to the people in the know.
Not surprisingly Kallen arrived on the scene at ten o' clock sharp, ready to get going the moment she stepped inside the vehicle. "Okay, so when do we move?" Her gaze glanced up slightly at the roll-away wall that separated them from the Gloucester Zero had acquired for her.
"Patience, Kallen." The masked knight cautioned, "We must wait until Cornelia makes her move, remember whilst Saitama is the most logical target she may choose on of the other areas we discussed. Until that time," he waved a hand over at the back seat where C.C was stretched out like a lazy feline, her new cloak enveloping her completely right up to her neck, "rest and recuperate. It could not have been easy to send word to all those people."
Not to mention that you and Ohgi were probably the only ones who actually did it. He groused internally with frustration, but he let it go easily enough. If all went well today, things should start to go a lot more smoothly for them in regards to regaining their old allies.
"N-no, it was fine." Kallen quickly replied, even though the bags under her eyes were telling as to how long she'd been out last night. "I mean yes it was difficult to tell all those people, and sure more than a few didn't believe me, but if it helps then..."
"Hush, please." C.C cut in, wrapping herself up further into her cloak "Some of us are trying to sleep."
The incredulous stare her comment elicited from Kallen almost resulted in Zero losing his cool decorum, however he saved himself at the last moment. Although behind the mask his lips did turn up in amusement.
"Don't mind her." He reassured the red head as he guided her gently to sit down on the seat before sitting down with her. "She was up late last night as well, as was Mr Lamperouge." He let that comment hang dry to let Kallen decide for herself what he meant by that.
The result was a very flustered, red faced ace pilot who stuttered her lack of understanding, "B-but I thought y-ou and her..."
She trailed off before she could finish, though she'd said enough to convey what she meant. Deciding to take pity on the poor girl, Zero gave her the explanation he and C.C had crafted when they realised something like this was going to come up. "C.C is first and foremost my partner in all things, however our partnership is not an exclusive one. As such there are times when she turns to others to sate certain...urges that she feels I simply cannot provide."
"And...you're just okay with that?"
It didn't surprise Zero really that Kallen seemed to be outraged on his behalf. As he understood it polygamy in Japan had been considered a criminal offence and fully outlawed before the Britannian invasion, so it made sense that his Queen was somewhat startled to learn of C.C's 'indecency' towards him.
Still he needed to nip this issue in the bud now, the last thing he needed was for Lelouch to get shanked by Kallen in the name of his honour later on today, and so he went on to placate her. "I am quite secure in her loyalty and devotion to me, even more so because she finds release in Mr Lamperouge."
"Yeah, that's the bit I don't get." She pointed out, "She chose Lelouch of all people? I mean, he's a stick!"
Kallen, your faith in my competency as a lover is truly staggering. Nevertheless, Zero knew exactly how to get her back. "I was unaware that you had experience in that field." He remarked, making sure to make the comment sound earnest.
"I...well..." and just like that Kallen was a spikey haired tomato again as she mumbled her response, "I, ah, actually haven't had any...experiences in...well I mean I haven't had...that is I'm-"
"You are still a virgin?" He finished for her, and watched with amusement as she dipped her head down trying her hardest to hide the burning red flush that he'd already spotted. But he wasn't finished yet as he cocked his masked head in curiosity. "I find that incredibly hard to believe."
"I...what...I mean, er..." Poor Kallen had even more blood rushing to her face, it was a wonder that she didn't pass out from it all. But then her embarrassed face changed to one of equal endearment to Zero, which was her angry face. "Hey! Are you calling me cheap?!"
He couldn't help it, a chuckle escaped his lips before he could stop himself which only made her angrier. "Of course not." He assured her, sitting himself down on her left, "I simply have difficulty believing that a stunning woman such as yourself could be lacking in admirers."
And it was back to the embarrassed blushing as Kallen tried (and once more failed) to summon up a response to his compliment. It was made even more difficult for her to answer when a ball of green hair landed on her lap, C.C's yellow eyes looking up at her teasingly. "My, my. Has my partner finally found someone other than myself who intrigues him?" She purred inquisitively, a mischievous little smile playing on her lips as her glance darted between the two of them. "That 'arrangement' between him and me? It goes both ways, you know."
"WHAT?!" Her high-pitched squeal could have put Shirley's to shame, though her tone was more on the lines of irritation rather than embarrassment. "I'm not some toy to be traded off with for someone else, you...you..!"
Her angered rebuttal only served to make C.C giggle however as she turned to Zero, "Lelouch was right. She is cute when she gets angry."
Oh boy, he thought to himself as he observed the lewd smile stretching across his partner's face, I've seen that look before. It was a look that usually precluded something either indecent or humiliating...or, more often than not, both. Better to nip it in the bud now. "Now, C.C, don't torture the poor girl too much. If she passes out now we'll lose a vital combatant and a valuable ally."
The reactions his statement got from both girls was equally endearing, C.C's pout made her look like the young woman she loved to pretend to be, whilst Kallen's attempt to reply turned into a garbled mess and her blush increased.
He could have kept doing this forever, however they were interrupted by the sound of the RV's door opening to admit Oghi in. Somehow Zero suspected the former schoolteacher wouldn't appreciate him, or C.C for that matter, hitting on his best friend's little sister, and so he immediately stood to greet the new arrival. "Welcome Oghi," he greeted offering his hand, "I am grateful that you chose to help us."
"It's not just me." The group leader replied, though he still took the offered hand to shake.
"The rest of your group chose to return to join us?" He asked rhetorically, though inside he breathed a sigh of relief. "That's good, then we can begin our preparations to counter Cornelia's operation."
"No, I mean, it's not just me." Oghi clarified, "Or rather not just our group."
What? Now his attention was caught, "What do you mean exactly?" Zero asked cautiously, though within his mind he was already running possible scenarios through his head. Had they been discovered? Was one of the resistance groups bought off? Had they...no, impossible! It couldn't be...could it?
"Well," Oghi began, "we spread the message around, like you asked, and we thought that would be it but...well last night I got some calls and..." sighing he trailed off and nodded outside. "It's probably better if I show you."
With that he stepped back out of the RV, indicating for Zero and the others to follow. Now very intrigued about what had happened, the masked knight followed after him, stepping out of the RV...and if his mask hadn't been on his jaw would have dropped.
Alongside his own vehicle other than the rest of the Kozuki group, were two more trucks, all of them carrying Japanese men and women armed to the teeth and looking up at his RV with wonder. Zero in turn was staring at all of them, before turning to the messenger. "Oghi...please explain."
"Well, like I said we spread the word and, well...the word spread." He shrugged, unable to find a better explanation. "These guys are the culmination of the resistance groups from the Akabane and Toda districts, and I've had calls from other groups. Kawaguchi, Jujo, and a few more. They seem to think I'm your executive officer or something."
Oh irony, how sweet a thing you are. Zero thought to himself as he listened to Oghi's explanation. On the other hand though, these people could be of use. Behind him he caught a small gasp, probably Kallen coming out of the RV, but he ignored it as he approached the nearest truck being driven by a young man who couldn't be much older than himself.
"You're the one in charge?"
"Yeah that's me." The youngster replied readily, "Tanaka Akira of the Akabane Eastern Dragons, here to kick some Brit ass."
Hmm...well he's certainly not lacking in confidence. He considered as the Akabane group cheered Akira's claim. However just looking at them told him they couldn't be all that old. It may be a bit hypocritical, especially considering Kallen's age as well as his own, but he wasn't sure he liked the idea of people this young fighting Britannians yet.
"I hope you're ready to do what needs to be done out there, Mr Tanaka." He cautioned, glancing over at the other trucks as well. "This isn't some raid on a Britannian food store, we'll be facing Cornelia's best. Chances are some of us won't be coming back."
"Hey, we know the risks." Tanaka replied, looking down at him fiercely, "That area there's a big one to cover, so you need all the help you can get. At the very least we can get some of the people out."
Yes, that's true. But to be honest, that was what he was going to have Oghi's group do once they'd collected the Knightmares. Nevertheless, more bodies meant a better chance of everyone getting out, and so against his better judgement he nodded up at the young man. "Very well, you may join us. However," he nodded over at Oghi, "you will follow his lead. Any instructions he gives you, I expect you to follow them to the letter."
"What?" The man in question asked, looking very nervous over having that many lives in his hands, "But...no, Zero I'm no leader. I barely kept my own group together, what good will I be to-"
"Oghi." Zero cut in, "You are a capable leader, you have it in you to be even more. I cannot lead these people as I will have my own hands full with Cornelia."
"Hey, Oghi," Kallen cut in to the man's protest, coming up beside him, "you are a good leader. How many scrapes did you get us out of before Zero came along?" She smiled up at him, resting a reassuring hand on his shoulder, "You can get them through this. I know you can."
Leave it to Kallen to figure out how to get through to him. He thought to himself ruefully as he watched the man's uncertainty lessen a little. That wasn't to say it was gone, and there was still a certain reluctance in his eyes, but it had been pushed back enough for him to nod in acceptance of the responsibility.
"Very well, now that that's settled-" He was cut off however as, suddenly all around them, the ground began to shake. Around him the different groups were looking about, trying to figure out where the noise was coming from.
"What the hell is this?" Kallen asked, "An earthquake?"
"No Q1," he replied, slipping into command mode. "Battle formations. Oghi!" He chucked the surprised man the keys to the RV. "You're driving. Hear me warriors of Japan!" He called out to the assembled groups, causing all eyes to turn to him. "Cornelia has chosen the district of Saitama as her next target in her campaign of subjugation. I call upon each and every one of you now to fight against that injustice! What say you? Will you lend me your strength?"
The three groups, Kozuki, Akabane and Toda, roared back their compliance.
"Very well then!" He declared, turning swiftly to face the direction of the Saitama ghetto causing his cape to fly out behind him, and pointed straight ahead. "To war!"
G-1 Command Center
The Goddess of Victory
They arrived at the remains of the Saitama district right on the dot and Cornelia immediately set about giving orders to her soldiers with Darlton coordinating the numerous teams around the area. The first step of the plan was simple: Encircle the entire ghetto and then start pushing inwards, the more ground they gained was ground that the terrorists lost, the Sutherland forces would only stop once one team came within shooting distance of another. Once that was achieved the initial sweeps would begin, in order to provoke an attack from the enemy's forces.
If Zero is here, he'll no doubt grab ahold of the Sutherlands we 'misplaced.' She considered, carefully watching as the perimeter was established. Granted this whole ploy depended on Zero judging her forces a threat to the populace. Which means we're going to have to get our hands dirty. While Cornelia fully admitted civilian casualties from either side was always a possibility in armed combat on this scale, it didn't mean she liked shedding innocent blood needlessly. Unfortunately this plan demanded it and she cursed both Clovis and Zero for forcing her to do this.
Her feelings about this were what had inspired her to choose Saitama as the target for this operation, where at least half the populace were hiding the terrorist group known as the Yamato Alliance. More than several bombings were attributed to them, all of which had resulted in the deaths of dozens of Britannian civilians as well as more than a handful of Elevens.
Killing my people is bad enough, but to be so low as to involve your own...Cornelia couldn't help but sneer, if Zero helps these cretins he's even more of a fool than I took him for. At the very least he killed Clovis on the battlefield. It wouldn't stop her from bringing him in but she could at least admit that he had some level of propriety.
Even Gottwald had approved of her choice, even if he was stationed on the G-1 reluctantly. He stood alongside the three of Clovis's commanders that she hadn't gotten rid of, dressed in his formal blue military uniform. Whilst the others grew nervous every time she glanced their way, he remained silent as a rock. He really doesn't like this plan. But then soldiers didn't have to like it as long as the effort brought results.
Besides she hardly required the input of a man who had thrown all his ideals away to begin with but Euphie had pleaded with her and so he had stayed, so he had better be worth her mercy. And if he even thought about stopping this operation she had Guilford at her side for just such an occasion...not that she needed him but her poor knight should be allowed to at least think he was useful.
"My Lady," said bespectacled knight suddenly spoke up, "I do not mean to question your decisions but is this a wise move? Given Zero's swaying of public opinion, this may be somewhat risky."
Always worrying about me, aren't you Gilbert? She allowed the small fond thought to fly for a moment before clamping down on it, returning her focus to the task at hand. "The people know that Shinjuku was a bloodbath orchestrated by my brother. Nothing can be done about that now but we can still use his actions to our advantage."
That said she turned her attention back to Darlton who was still leant over the tactical map. "On that note, where are we in terms of the blockade? I should think we're just about ready to proceed."
"Yes, Your Highness. We've just finished manoeuvres now." Right as the scarred general said that, a thin red line started to encircle the area that they had cordoned off. "The Saitama area is now completely surrounded, the Yamato Alliance's main base is located somewhere in here, however half the people in this neighbourhood are cooperating with them." Grimly he turned to face her, the look on his face, despite a professional mask, showing his thoughts on what that meant. "So if we proceed now..."
He didn't have to finish, she knew exactly where this was headed. Therefore she moved right along to the next subject: aftermath expectations. "What will be the effect on production?"
"Primary sector output should fall by about 0.2 percent."
"So then well within expectations. All right." With that she gave her full attention over to the shivering commanders to the side whom Gottwald was standing beside. "All of you participated in the Shinjuku disaster correct?"
All three commanders hurriedly bowed whilst Jeremiah gave a quick one before standing straight again. "Y-yes," the middle officer answered her question nervously, "and we're indebted to you for your mercy, Princess Cornelia."
Tch. Snivelling worms. But she stamped down her distaste for these man before clarifying. "That's not what I'm asking!" Seeing as these three were just as useless as the stupid stylised clothes they wore, she turned to Gottwald. "Well? Would you say the conditions are similar to those in Shinjuku?"
"Yes, Your Highness." Gottwald answered simply, his frown not shifting for a moment.
That was all she needed though as she returned her focus to the battlefront. "Very well then. Darlton?"
"We've got all the most popular news centres on hold." He reported, anticipating precisely what she was about to ask.
"Good, tell them to begin broadcasting and make sure that they give all the details."
"Right away." He turned and nodded to a couple of seated officers who quickly went to work, telling the news authorities to do exactly what she'd just told them.
A couple of minutes passed in silence, filled only with the chatter of the comm officers instructing the broadcasters. After a moment, one of Clovis's former commanders finally got up the nerve to open his mouth. "Your Highness..." he almost clammed up again when she turned to face him, "forgive me for asking this, but how exactly is this going to capture Zero?"
Well, at least he has the brains to ask. She considered after regarding the man for a moment. Seeing no harm in it she decided to tell him and anyone else in the class who didn't have it in them to just ask. "Zero is a criminal with a flare for the theatrical." She explained, "Therefore I have recreated the conditions that existed in Shinjuku in order to draw him out. If he is as prideful as I anticipate, and as my counsel" she glanced over at Gottwald for a moment "has assured, then I predict he'll come here to try and kill me."
"V-Viceroy!" The third commander spoke up in shock, "You'd really sacrifice your own life?"
To his side Gottwald's face shifted into one of utter disgust at the indirect display of cowardice, a feeling that Cornelia privately shared yet couldn't outwardly show. Nevertheless she could still educate this idiot who didn't deserve his rank. "What you seem to fail to understand, commander, is that war is a struggle between pride and life. And in this battle it will be Zero's pride that leads him to his downfall."
Before that she still had one piece of work to do, they had two hours before the initial assault began so now was as good a time as any to do it. Instructing a comm officer to connect her to an outward line, she fulfilled her word to Gottwald.
"Attention, citizens of the Saitama ghetto, this is your Viceroy speaking." Her voice reached across the entire encircled area, being broadcast not only from the G-1's speakerphones but every trailer that made up the blockade. "In two hours the Britannian military will be conducting a sweep of the cordoned area for terrorist elements. I therefore advise that all of the populace vacate from their dwellings and proceed to a location beyond the encirclement. Anyone who remains behind does so at their own peril. If you are unable to evacuate the area before the two hour time limit deadline then I advise you to cooperate with the military officials who come through."
Not a bad piece of acting, and it had the secondary effect of not painting her in the same light as her brother. It wouldn't completely counteract the effect of the Shinjuku massacre but it ought to slow it down somewhat. To her side, she noted that Gottwald released a very short sigh, he must have not fully believed that she would issue the warning she had promised. He should know that she never went back on her word.
There was still one bit left before they got started however. "Members of the Yamato Alliance, I now speak directly to you: Surrender yourselves now and obtain the chance to defend your actions in a court of law, or resist and be annihilated."
There, that should do it. Cornelia nodded over at the comm officer who had put her on speaker and the man quickly terminated the connection. Now then, Zero, what sort of response will this get from you?
The answer, if there was one to be had, would arrive in two hours. With that said. "Darlton, begin the countdown."
Student Council Building
The Heiress, the Reason and the(freaking)Ninja(!)
"Oh wow!" Milly exclaimed as she examined all of the origami figures surrounding Nunnally's crafts table, "You've gotten really good at this Nunnally. I remember when Sayoko tried to show me how to do this." She smiled up at her old bodyguard who returned it though there was the brief pained expression that quickly vanished in memory of that enterprise.
Safe to say, Milly had never been allowed near a piece of coloured paper again.
Nunnally on the other hand had excelled, making animal after animal, though the most common seemed to be a bird – a crane, she remembered the sweet little thing telling her – which was rumoured to have mystical powers. And here she went on her seventh one today, the radio playing cheery music in the background.
"It's really fun, Milly." She told the older girl as she began folding. "I know it seems silly, but lately I feel like there's too much sadness in the world, you know?"
The smile the blonde wore diminished just a little bit at Nunnally's words. She'd definitely hit the nail on the head with that remark, the world was a very sad place at the moment what with terrorism in the settlement, a prince being murdered and now a new revolutionary showing up that actually seemed to be making some headway despite only having his lack of a face once. Yes there was a lot of sadness going around lately, hardly the sort of place an adorable girl like Nunnally should have to grow up in.
So it was quite the testament that the girl in question was still so gentle, maybe it was one of the advantages of being blind.
"So I was thinking," Nunnally continued as she went about her work, "if I make enough of these crane origami, I can make a wish for a better world without sadness. That way the fighting would come to a stop and Lelouch wouldn't have to worry about me all the time."
Oh Nunnally...sometimes Milly really wished she could have the girl's faith in people, but the sad truth was that, even if people were happy with their lot, there would still be conflict. It was just the nature of humanity, she knew it and Lelouch sure as hell knew it. And speaking of her favourite pin cushion...
"Where is your brother?" She asked, looking up at Sayoko also in case she might know something but she just shook her head. It wasn't as if he hadn't been around lately, but you'd think he'd want to reconnect with Suzaku a bit. While the two of them had hung out a lot and had seemlessly included Nunnally without any trouble, it seemed odd that Lelouch would then just disappear to do who knows what.
Nunnally too seemed troubled by her brother's disappearance. "I don't know. He said yesterday that he was probably going to be out for a while today but..." her young face crinkled into worried frown, "he sounded preoccupied, as if whatever he's doing today is very important."
That caused Milly to frown again as she absorbed this information. He's up to something again. And whilst she was usually willing to let Lelouch do his own thing, if what he was doing was what she thought it was he was doing, she would rather have him back here at school with the rest of them. If he was tied up with Zero then she suspected they were going to hear about it very soon. However the last thing she wanted to do was scare Nunnally with her suspicions, and so she buried them down and plastered on a silly smile. "He's probably found himself some big time game who's actually good at playing chess."
Her remark got a giggle out of Nunnally, "Yeah, he's been so bored playing against nobles all the time. Maybe this new player will actually be a challenge."
Yeah, so long as the challenger's name isn't Cornelia. She thought to herself silently, still praying to any god that existed that her intuition was wrong and Lelouch really was playing chess with some smug earl. Then he'd come back to school, the teachers would rag on him for not attending class enough (well actually probably just Shirley, all the teachers seemed to have given up), her granddad would give him a brief lecture before patting him on the back for a job well done, and he wouldn't be in any danger.
"Milly?" Nunnally's voice called her back to earth, "Are you sure you want to spend the day in here with me?" Oh the concern in that voice of hers was enough to break Milly's heart. "I mean if you have plans then I'd understand..."
"Oh Nunnally!" She had the little girl in a hug before either she or Sayoko could react, Milly just couldn't help it, this little thing was sometimes way too selfless for her own good...no wonder she and Suzaku got on so well. "Of course I have plans! I plan to spend the whole day with my favouritest person in the world!"
To that end she plonked herself down in the chair beside Nunnally and picked up a clean piece of coloured paper. "Now, how about you show me how to make all these cool animals. I'm sure Sayoko would agree right?" She pointedly ignored the maid's alarmed headshake.
However Nunnally was ecstatic, "Oh that would be wonderful! Wouldn't it miss Sayoko?"
"Yes, Lady Nunnally." Let it never be said that Sayoko couldn't at least sound encouraging, even if the looks she was shooting her former employer promised death and mutilation for what was about to happen. "I'm sure it will be."
Well that sealed it as far as Milly was concerned as she suddenly leapt back out of her seat in determination. "All right then! Let's get this show on the road! But first," she vacated the table and made her way over to the radio, "we need the right music to jam to."
She picked it up and was about to fiddle with the dial to find something more to her taste when the music cut out, replaced by a formal announcement. "We interrupt this broadcast to bring you this important update. As of eleven o' clock this morning, military officials have surrounded the Saitama ghetto, a known hideout for terrorists. Viceroy Cornelia has assumed command of this operation, intending to begin the operation within an hour."
That was as much as they all heard before Milly shut the damned thing off. What was up with the world lately? It was as if everyone was trying to tell her that Area 11 was about to implode and that her friend was right in the middle of it. It was obvious what that alert was, a ploy to draw in Zero, and if the man was half as prideful as she expected him to be, then he would doubtless show up there. And then what? Will he try to kill her? I mean I get Prince Clovis, he asked for it. But Cornelia...she remembered the woman for goodness sake, always doting on her younger sister and, only to a slightly lesser extent, Lelouch and Nunnally. If Lelouch really was involved in all this, was he simply going to allow Zero to kill his sister?
No answers promoted themselves however and Milly was left with that uneasy sinking feeling growing inside again. However, glancing over at the girl who was waiting patiently for her to return, she realised she was just going to have to bear it as she had all those other things put upon her. I just never thought Lelouch would be one of those people.
Sighing to herself, she turned the radio back on, twisting it to a random channel, and returned to her seat, plastering on as happy a smile as she could manage. "Right then Nunnally, let's get to it!"
"At once, Madame President." She responded, smiling cheekily before doing just that, "We'll have a whole herd ready for when big brother gets back."
"Yeah," and Milly couldn't help but shoot a worried glance Sayoko's way, the maid returning it with a calm uncertainty. "And when he does we can give him a piece of our minds."
The Masked Knight and The White Lady
"I have to admit." Zero commented as they watched Cornelia's forces begin to sweep the ghetto, "I wasn't expecting her to do something like that."
At his side C.C hummed in agreement. "Yes, a very uncharacteristically shrewd action on her part." She noted, even as two Sutherlands swept past their hiding spot and darted around a corner. "This might be a bit more difficult than we intended."
"Not necessarily." The masked knight commented, standing straight and heading off into the dark alleyway, "Even if some of the civilians have left this area, that still leaves the ones too stubborn to abandon their homes."
"Who Oghi and our new friends will see to." She finished up his summation once again, falling into step beside him.
That had been a stroke of luck, getting so many allies from the surrounding areas as opposed to last time when it had just been himself and the Yamato Alliance, and both knew just how well that had fared. Just goes to show how much they're hated if the guys next door don't want to give them a hand. Zero considered to himself as they darted through alleys and empty buildings. On that note...
He brought C.C to a halt, redirecting them both into an abandoned building, and pulled out his phone. Hitting the speed dial he called Oghi. "P-1, this is Zero, what's the status of the cargo?"
"P-1 here," Oghi replied promptly, "we found the cargo exactly where you said they'd be." Nevertheless he still sounded unsure, "But Zero, are you sure this is a good idea just giving all these Sutherlands to the Yamatos? I mean we have guys from Toda and Akabane now, wouldn't they be better choices?"
"The Yamato Alliance are all we need, P-1." Zero assured him, "For the overall plan to succeed it must be them who pilot the Sutherlands."
The only one of this little impromptu alliance who knew the entirety of their plan was Kallen and that was because she would be playing an integral part later on. For the whole scenario to play out as he and C.C had devised they needed the rest to stay in the dark, any foreknowledge could tip off the wrong people and they couldn't have that.
On the other end of their communication, he heard Oghi sigh before responding. "Okay, Zero. I'll trust your judgement."
Thank you Oghi...you honestly don't know what that means to me. Outwardly however he just told him, "Stay put and have those Knightmares ready. I'll call you again when we need you." And with that he ended the call. He was immediately brought back to the world around him as the rat-tat-tat of gunfire filled the air not too far away, accompanied by angry and scared protests.
"It would seem they've begun sweeping away the collaborators." C.C noted calmly, watching out for any Britannian troops that might come their way. "If we're going to mount a counter attack then we should get moving."
"Agreed, my lady." He conceded, and with that they left their impromptu hiding spot and pushed forward, heading to the place where he remembered spotting the sentry for the Yamato Alliance the last time he was here.
Sure enough the same guard was on patrol, looking around nervously as more and more claps of gunfire went off in the distance. He was shaking in his boots as he wandered about his outcropping, looking about ready to soil himself the moment anything so much as a toothpick was dropped in front of him.
So when a snow white figure suddenly appeared before him, it can easily be imagined the disgusted look on C.C's face as the poor man relieved his bowels. It was only made worse when he turned tail in full readiness to flee for his life, only to run straight in to the black encased frame of a demon. He didn't even get two words outs before Zero's visor slid open and the red crane of Geass took flight.
"Now then," Zero intoned, "I would like you to take me to the Yamato Alliance's hideout."
"Yes, Your Majesty." The man intoned, standing to crisp attention, "At once, please follow me sire."
Well, that was a bit more...formal than last time. However Zero waved it off and indicated an amused C.C to come along.
Once more they found themselves within the neglected ruins of an old building, what might have been a suite of offices going by the layout of the place. The further deeper they went, the more he could pick up the series of terrified whispers coming from ahead of them. Seeing as they would soon be coming face to face with people he knew couldn't be trusted, Zero tapped C.C's shoulder. "You'd better get your mask on."
"Must I?" She asked petulantly, taking the aforementioned object out from underneath her cloak. "It's nice, don't get me wrong about that, but must I seriously partake in this masquerade ball as well?"
"We can't trust these people," he stated bluntly, before adding on in a more humorous tone, "also today is your debut so I'd like your reception to be suitably impressed."
His comment earned an eyeroll from his partner as well as a snort. "Always so theatrical, my knight?"
"But of course my lady." He replied just as easily. "I am the leading man in this little play of ours, but where am I without my leading lady?"
She just scoffed at his labelling her as such, however she finally acquiesced and placed the crane-styled visor over her eyes and pulled her cloak's white hood over her head, making sure that all of her hair was tucked inside as well. "You had better make this worth my while when we get back." She told him shortly.
"How does a full body massage and a twelve inch vegetarian sound?" He asked, even as the voices ahead of them started to reveal the faces and bodies issuing the whispers that had heralded their approach. With her whole head now encased by her costume he couldn't see what her response was to that, though he could probably guess really and as such he turned his attention to the frantic conversations of the terrorists huddled around a desk with a map of the area spread out before them.
"It's hopeless." Declared of them, his body hunched over with his elbows on the table, his head buried in his hands.
"Can't we break through along the Saikyo line?" Asked the man with waist length black hair, glasses and a bandana over his head.
"They've got armour blocking it." Another one of the terrorists shot that suggestion to hell "We can't use backroads either."
The bespectacled man let out a short curse before taking another look at the map "Where are those idiots from Akabane and Jujo? Why haven't they sent help?"
And that's our cue. Zero thought to himself, coming to a halt and rewrapping his cape around him before speaking. "Jujo will not be sending aid your way this day." His introduction to the conversation could not have had a better reaction as the entire terrorist group suddenly spun round to look his way. Tch. Pathetic. He glanced around at the members of the group who were supposed to be standing guard and were also staring at him and C.C in shock. What the hell was I thinking allying myself with this bunch the first time round? They didn't even know we were here. What if we had been Britannian infantry?
However now that he had revealed their presence, every person with a gun (so everybody who wasn't himself, C.C, or their Geass'd accomplice) had now turned their weapons on him. However the man with the bandana was the first to recognise him for who he was.
"Zero?!" The way he said it was if he was looking upon a divine spirit. "What're you doing here?"
Just his title alone started up awed whispers around him, and if it were any other group Zero would have welcomed it. As such he just remained still and silent, giving the doomed men and women around him a moment of hope before he stamped it out of them forever.
"I have come to lend my sword to Saitama." He began after he'd deemed enough time had passed. "Do as I say and the people here will be saved."
"Like hell!" One of the terrorists off to the side suddenly yelled. "You must've forgotten to put airholes in that stupid helmet of yours! That's the Witch of Britannia out there! There's no way we can win against her!"
"Then you should have used your brain and fled." C.C retorted, and he could hear the disdain in her tone as she cut into the man, likely questioning his own sanity for ever working with this bunch as much as he was. "Did you not hear the ultimatum she offered your group? Or failing that, you could have left with the people who evacuated before she began. That you are still here proves one of two things: Either you are hard of hearing, or most likely, you are simply a fool."
"What?!" said fool screamed, glaring at her, "You calling me dumb? How 'bout you take off that hood and say it to my face bitch!" And then he made the stupidest, and last, move that he could have made: he raised his gun and pointed it at C.C's head.
The response from the duo was instantaneous. Zero's cape unravelled and his arm came out, his hand gripping a Britannian make handgun. Already aware of what he was going to do, C.C ducked down out of his line of fire. There was a short snap as the weapon discharged, and a moment later the Yamato Alliance was one terrorist less.
"Let that be a warning," Zero declared to the stunned and horrified faces of the remaining members, "to those of you who would speak ill of my partner." With that his arms immediately retracted back to his side and his cape swallowed his body back up again. His demonstration over, he turned to the man with the bandana who seemed to be the group's leader. "Your name?"
"I-Izumi." He answered shakily.
"Very well then Izumi." Zero began, "As of this moment, your group has two choices: You may accept my help, and maybe you will survive to see another day. Or you may decline it, in which case you will most certainly perish when the Britannians discover you."
Not like he really was giving them much of a choice one way or the other. If they said yes, all the better for him, if no then he'd simply use his Geass on them and stick them in the Sutherlands anyway. Not that they needed to know that.
It didn't take long for Izumi to make up his mind though, as he nodded only a few seconds after his ultimatum was handed to him. "All right Zero, if you can get us out of here we'll follow your lead."
"Very good." That was all he said before turning to C.C "Call Oghi, tell him we have our pilots."
"Oghi?" It wasn't difficult to catch the surprise, as well as the condescension, in Izumi's tone. "That schoolteacher? What's his mashed up mess of a resistance group doing here?"
More than you. He wanted to shoot back, but held his tongue and gave the reply that was expected of Zero, "I have organised a temporary alliance between the Kozuki clan as well as the resistance fighters from the Toda and Akabane districts."
Once again his words set off a flurry of stunned murmurs amongst the members of the Yamato Alliance. It almost made him feel sorry for them considering what he had planned for their group...almost. Anyway, seeing as he had them now tight in his grip, whether out of fear due to his calm execution of their comrade or hope at the chance of getting out of this alive, he turned on his tail and began back the way he came. "Follow me if you wish to live."
And naturally, the whole group immediately fell over themselves to catch up with him and C.C. The green haired witch at his side however couldn't resist a wry chuckle as she fell in beside him. "To give them so much hope..." she commented, looking back at the terrorists' more relieved expressions. "When really what you are going to do to them...sometimes you can be very cruel."
"It's all necessary." Zero replied simply, however he too couldn't resist a small smirk beneath his mask. "I suppose even in the fight for peace there is still room for a demon."
G-1 Command Center
The Orange Knight
To remove those who would bring suffering to our people is truly an admirable goal. Orange considered to himself silently as he watched the opening stages of the operation commence alongside the other commanders spared from Cornelia's wrath. And the princess has made every effort to stem collateral damage. But still...he balked as another report came in with regards to yet another group of civilians who had refused to cooperate with them having been promptly done away with. Isn't this a bit bloody, all just to bring in one man?
He had of course considered the possibility that he could stop her actions, force her to stop at gunpoint or something, but he knew better than to think he'd be able to get within three feet of her before sir Guilford shot him dead, and that was if Cornelia didn't shoot him first. Besides such actions would only do to further disgrace his name and title as knight, not to mention that he too could then be tried for treason. If Zero's words would just stop running through his head he would probably be able to think objectively again, however as it stood he was having trouble just watching as another sector on the map switched from black to red.
Presently General Darlton turned away from the tactical overlay to address the Viceroy. "We're done sweeping away the ones in charge." He informed her dutifully, "All that's left in the area must be the terrorists and any civilians cooperating with our forces."
The princess nodded in understanding from her throne, "Then its nearly time to set the plan into motion." She declared, "Let's not waste any time about it."
"Yes Your Highness." Darlton, understanding her words for the order they were, turned back to the map and activated the comm linked to all the Britannian units. "Attention all forces, initiate phase two. Commence the destruction of the Saitama Ghetto."
The destruction of what little they have left. Orange thought to himself morosely as, through the G-1's observation window, he observed a flock of VTOL and supporting aircraft fly towards the battlezone. This will doubtless get Zero's blood boiling if he isn't here already, but...he couldn't help but wonder what sort of consequences this order would have for Cornelia and her ilk. Granted she had given the Elevens of the area a chance to escape, but that might as well be defunct now that she was destroying their homes. In the end...we might have given Zero more fuel to burn us alive with.
Not like his actions were much better at Shinjuku though.
"Bartley has command staff for that! I haven't had this much fun on the frontlines in ages!"
Fun...he'd been having fun destroying those people's lives. Regardless of their designation the Elevens were still a part of the empire now...and he had toyed with their lives if they were nothing. Have you sunk so low...? Orange had no choice but to conclude that he very much had.
And yet, despite the similarities of then and now there had yet to be anyone reporting in an attack.
"B12," another report came in, "suppression complete."
"F7, no sign of the enemy."
"D4, suppression seventy-seven percent complete."
"Palaven team." One of the commanders around the central map ordered, "Change course to five-one-six."
"Yes my lord," Sir Palaven responded, "moving to five-one-six."
Looking around Orange could see more than one operator starting to grow frustrated with this fruitless search, and he'd be remiss to say that he wasn't a bit vexed himself. Had Zero really decided not to come? Had he just abandoned the Saitama region to it's fate? Was everything he said to me that day just smoke and mirrors?
Despite his growing misgivings as well as those of the staff around him, he noted that three in particular were still maintaining a cool visage. General Darlton's battleworn frown never faltered from its observation of the movements on the map, briefly breaking vigil to give Knightmare pilots a new set of orders before restoring his set look. Lord Sir Guilford stood steadfast beside his Lady, watching as the operation went by. And finally Cornelia herself sat cool and ready, her icy attention not wavering for a moment as second after agonisingly long second passed by, and Zero still didn't show up.
Nevertheless, Palaven seemed to share the operators' opinion of this mission as he reported his initial findings. "No response at all. This guy Zero might be a no-show." The cavalier way he reported it grated on Orange's nerves, although he had to admit the thought had crossed his mind.
"Guess he's just another run-of-the-mill terrori-aggh!" The comm was suddenly filled with static as Sir Palaven's unit, as well as the rest of his team, suddenly disappeared from the screen.
All misgivings suddenly went out of the window and the entire staff of the G-1 were suddenly on task. They needn't have bothered though, as Orange already knew what was about to happen: A systematic cutting apart of their forces, which could mean only one thing. He's finally made his move.
"Do we have a visual?" Darlton asked one of his commanders, "If not then get someone out there to have a look."
"Jester team, Contact lost!"
Even as the report came in another one came flooding in. "Enemy spotted in district G47."
"Kusunsky team engaging," another operator reported, "they were ambushed from behind."
And then what he had a feeling they were all waiting for was confirmed, "The enemy appears to be using Sutherlands captured from our own forces."
Just like she predicted. Orange thought to himself, glancing over at the Viceroy who had yet to react to a word anyone had said, her cool exterior not shaken in the least. And why should she? Everything's going according to plan.
Even as he thought that, the report came in of another team being wiped out from the renegade Sutherlands. So, what will she do now then? The disgraced knight wondered as he watched the battle play out, We can't see them because the IFFs aren't active, so we don't know where they're going to come from...does Zero intend to masquerade as one of our own to get close to the Viceroy? Of course! He could have hit himself. That's how Zero was able to reach Prince Clovis! With all of our forces engaging the frontlines at Shinjuku, we forgot to pay attention to our rear!
Cornelia had to know that though because she showed no concern whatsoever as another operator reported another team lost. Clovis's old commanders, however, were far more vocal. "Exactly the same as Shinjuku." One whispered fearfully.
"Point one-seven has fallen!" Reported an operator, in tandem with the overhead screen of the battlefield wiping off a whole chunk of their forces to replace them with that dreaded [LOST] icon. "Palley team, contact lost!"
"That's enough." The stark contrast between the operators' frantic tones and Cornelia's icy firmness was absolute, enough to bring everyone to a halt in their work and listen in. "Order all forces to fall back beyond the perimeter. Further damage and casualties will only serve to hamper us."
"Fall back?!" The three officers suddenly launched forwards in shock, rushing to stand before her and cutting of her view of the battlefield. "With all due respect," one of the commanders said, "we can still fight them!"
Idiot! Orange wanted to snarl at them, If you want to keep your job to do just that, then get out of our commanding officer's way!
It would seem she shared his opinion as she glared at each officer in turn before turning to address him. "Is there anything you would like to add, Sir Gottwald?"
"No, Your Highness." He replied stiffly, because anything more would translate how much he wanted to throttle those bumbling fools. "As you have stated, we cannot fight an enemy we cannot see. The wise thing to do now would be to regroup and assess the situation."
Whether or not his words had any influence on her was unknown, as she kept her cool appraisal on him a moment longer. Once again though, the commanders were not so quiet. "Your Highness, surely you're not going to take the advice of someone like Orange?!"
"He's barely a knight any more, he doesn't know what he's saying."
"Silence!" The princess's glare returned tenfold on them as she snapped her command, causing all three to clam up. "You failures are lucky I let you in my command station after your incompetence killed my brother! Now get out of my way so I can work this battlefield!"
Her comment was likely directed at him too, but to be honest Orange was still glad someone smacked those little tantrum throwers on their pale arses at last. As such, for the first time since Zero showed up, he allowed himself a small barely visible smirk. Win or lose, at least he had that little bit of solace.
The Masked Knight and the White Lady
So far, so the same. Zero noted to himself as he repeated his orders to the Sutherlands piloted by the Yamato Alliance from his own unit. It has to be said he didn't appreciate the attitude Izumi showed towards Oghi and the other resistance groups who had secured the units for his people to operate, acting all high and mighty seeing as he now had a Knightmare to use whilst the Kozuki group had none.
"Guess that means Zero just needs us more, huh schoolboy?" Were the words he'd used.
Seeing as I actually trust him and his people with my secrets, I would have to contest that. He thought to himself silently as he ordered the S-group to move up and support K-3. The battle should be reaching its halfway point soon though, at which point Cornelia would call for her units to withdraw. Just like last time, except after that the battle will go in a decidedly different direction.
All the same though, he had other tasks at hand to clear first before that and so he chimed up Oghi and the others. "P-1, what's the status of the evacuation?"
"We're nearly done here, but there are still some people who refuse to leave their homes." He could hear the frustration in the man's voice at that, however it wasn't anything he hadn't expected. "I don't know if we can get them to leave. I hate to say it, but that Geass of yours would be pretty handy right now."
"No." He struck that suggestion down quickly, even though he knew it was coming up – it was what he had planned after all, "If we cannot convince them to leave then we have no choice but to save who we can and leave the others behind."
"I know what you're going to say, P-1." He cut over Oghi's attempt to protest, "But you must consider what will happen if you stay. If you do not leave now then the lives of the people you have convinced will be in danger."
"I..." he had him, it was just a matter of the resistance leader accepting it. Though it didn't take long as he heard a sigh on his radio before Oghi responded. "Very well Zero, we'll wait three more minutes and then bug out. The Akabane and Toda groups will follow our lead."
That could come in handy later. He thought to himself as he acknowledged Oghi's transmission before cutting the connection. And not a moment too soon as another voice suddenly blared over the speakers, and this time it most certainly wasn't an ally. "Attention all forces, fall back behind ghetto perimeter at once. Formation doesn't matter. Fall back behind ghetto perimeter at once." It was Andreas Darlton, another ghost from his past.
Not wasting any time he too made a call to the Yamato Alliance groups. "This is Zero, all units regroup to point G30." That would put them right between him and Cornelia, as well as unwittingly drawing fire away from his people on the ground who were making their way to the sewer systems. Never let it be said defeat isn't a learning experience. I wouldn't know the underground of this area quite so well had I not been trounced so easily last time. If they were able to buy enough time, the Kozuki, Akabane and Toda teams would be free and clear with the remaining civilians by the time he'd scheduled Kallen to make her appearance.
"Well," C.C commented beneath him, sitting once again in his lap and peering up at his featureless face, "I guess that brings us up to half time, wouldn't you?"
"Indeed." He agreed, cutting off the general's transmission as well as disabling the Sutherland's IFF. "All we need to do now is arrange the dominoes just right."
"And it will all fall into your hands." She finished, smiling guilefully at him and picking up her mask, "Now then, I suppose we should get the show on the road."
"Agreed." He acknowledged, opening up the cockpit's hatch while at the same time picking up the laptop he'd stored in the Sutherland as well as the stand and lead which was hooked into the Knightmare's communication system. If they'd set it up correctly then the next phase of the operation should go smoothly and if not...then Cornelia was going to be treated to the sight of Zero and his partner trying and failing to work a webcam. With that oh-so-funny consideration in mind, he extended the pilot's seat and hopped down to the ground, C.C following closely behind and pulling up her hood as she did so.
Immediately he set to work putting the stand up and then fixing the laptop upon it, making sure the camera met his face and had was zoomed out enough so he could include C.C in this little piece of theatre. Meanwhile his partner got to work connecting the lead to the laptop. A moment later the screen lit up with the map of the battlefield that was showing the Britannian units forming up around the G-1.
"Right then, so far so good." He murmured to himself, before looking down at the actual battlefield, or more accurately the Sutherlands that were forming up at the base of the building his machine was kneeling on the roof of. Perfect, they're all in position as well.Glancing back at C.C he saw that she was ready to go also, mask firmly in place.
He was about to get going when suddenly he felt a vibration against his hip. Frowning at the interruption to his monologue he reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone, seeing the caller I.D. listed as the Student Council. Huh, Arthur hasn't been caught yet so this can't be about a cat festival...unless Milly's found one and wants one anyway. Glancing up he noted that the Britannians were still sorting themselves out, they wouldn't be sending the Royal Guard out for a while. And besides, I never did find out what this was about.
So before it could cut off for whatever reason like it had last time, he ducked down out of sight and pulled off his mask. Accepting the call, Lelouch put the phone to his ear. "Hello?"
"Hey, Lelouch." Suzaku's voice came in from the other end, "Are you busy right now?"
Busy? He glanced up at his surroundings before replying casually, "No Suzaku, not busy at all. Just playing a new game."
"So in Lelouch-speak, that would translate out as gambling right?"
Rolling his eyes at who he obviously must have been chatting with lately, Lelouch allowed himself another half-truth. "Yeah, you caught me. And I don't mind saying this girl is good."
"Oh..." Was it just him or did Suzaku sound a little bit nervous at his admission. "You're...playing with a woman?"
"WHAT?!" Wait, was that Shirley?
Better play it cool. "Is that our resident gymnast I hear?"
"Uh, yeah." Yep, definitely nervous for some reason. "Well I just called because I heard something about you and Kallen."
Wait, what? "Me and Kallen?" He repeated. Granted he'd been much more forward in his behaviour around her this time around but he'd thought the school knew their situation: He was interested in her and she wouldn't give him the time...of...day...oh shit! "Suzaku, please tell me you haven't bought into those rumours. What are you even basing this on?"
"Well there's your change in behaviour for starters," that was a good point, "and then there's the fact that the two of you seem to have these secret eye-signals."
"We have those!" He pointed out, before a sly smirk took over. "Is there something you'd like to tell me Suzaku? 'Cos I'm afraid I don't swing that way."
"And," Suzaku steamed right along, "Shirley says she saw Kallen try to kiss you a little while back."
What the...? When did that hap...oh yeah. Now he remembered, when Kallen had wanted to know more about his Geass and had leaned over him to stop him from bolting. Guess I forgot to do damage control on that front...well better take care of it now. "Look Suzaku, tell Shirley that there is nothing going on with Kallen and me. I think she looks cute when she gets mad and she threatens me with bodily harm, it's our thing, but that's as far as it goes."
For now at least, a little suggestive voice in his head whispered.
The sound of someone clearing their throat caught his attention and he glanced up to see C.C nodding over at the battlefield, looks like he was out of time. "All right, I've got to get going, if I don't make my move in..." she held up two fingers, "twenty seconds then I forfeit the game. Tell Shirley I'll talk to her later, okay?"
"Okay," the tone his friend used suggested that he didn't fully believe him but he'd pass the message along anyway, and he was about to hang up when something caught his attention. "Oh hey Nunnally, Milly. I'm just on the phone with Lelouch...huh?...A cat?...Wait, that's the same cat that-! Agh!"
Huh...I guess Arthur strolled in again. Chuckling to himself at the pain Suzaku was about to go through, Lelouch hung up and grabbed his mask, sliding it back on.
"Is that all?" C.C asked, her arms folded beneath her cloak "Because I can go for a pizza if you want one."
Amused at the idea that she was actually offering to go and get pizza, Zero just shook his head and put his phone away. "That won't be necessary, my Lady." He assured her as he stood back up, dusting himself off also once he was upright. "Now then, shall we begin the second act?"
"But of course." She replied easily, "Let's give Cornelia a show."
G-1 Command Centre
The Goddess of Victory
"So, we can't push any further in and they can't force their way out." Cornelia summarised to herself as she observed the map. "And without the activation of an IFF to draw us in for an ambush we have no idea where they are." She had to hand it to Zero, if that indeed was who they were dealing with, he knew what he was doing, prideful he may be but he knew when not to push it. "Stalemate."
"It would appear so, Your Highness." Darlton agreed, "If we sent out the Royal Guard we might be able to flush him out."
"But it would also open a hole in our ranks that he'd be sure to take advantage of." It was after all what she would do if she was provided with an opening like that, and if Zero had melded into the crowd of Sutherlands at the G-1's base then that would be the perfect opening he'd need to slip into the command centre and claim victory.
Damn it, she couldn't help feeling a little predatory smile tug at her lips, who would have thought that I'd actually find a challenge here? At this rate she was going to have to stop playing around and get rough, even better she had a feeling Zero was only getting warmed up as well.
The first one to break the stalemate would be the one to dictate the terms of the next battle, Cornelia knew this and she was quite sure her opponent knew it as well. On paper she had the advantage, greater numbers, better discipline, experienced pilots. However Zero had a knack for leadership, getting people who knew nothing of him to follow him without question. Such a skill was dangerous in the right hands, and deadly if the mind those hands were connected to was a good strategist. Additionally, there were all those ruined buildings he could use to his advantage to stage an ambush on an unsuspecting Knightmare team. Blitzkrieg barrages like that would keep her forces pinned down until the cows came home.
All of which would eventually end in another stalemate. Once again, Cornelia smiled. He's really, really good.
"Viceroy!" The sharp call from one of the operators brought her out of her reverie and she snapped to face the officer. "We've got an incoming transmission from the field!"
"What?!" Darlton snapped, glaring at the map, "All forces were ordered to retreat! Who's calling?"
"I-I don't know sir. I can't get a read on their IFF or their unit designation."
So begins the next engagement. "Well we might as well see what he has to say." She decided, "Put it on screen."
"But Your Highness!" Surprise, surprise, the dandies were protesting again. "We don't even know who's calling."
Snorting at their inability to read into the painstakingly obvious, Cornelia didn't even bother with an explanation and focussed on the screen. There could only be one person on this battlefield with the balls to try something like this, and she was admittedly curious to see what he intended to do next. The large screen directly ahead of her that had been displaying the Saitama area suddenly switched to a mass of fuzzy noise, which then became a distorted arrangement of colours and finally cleared out into a view of the ghetto along with a very familiar black figure staring back at them all. Or rather that was the perception Cornelia suspected everyone else had, but she had the eerie inkling that Zero was looking directly at her.
And then he spoke. "The Second Princess of the Holy Britannian Empire and so-called Goddess of Victory, Cornelia li Britannia." He gave her a courteous bow, "It is my honour to welcome you to Japan."
So a comedian as well as a dramatist...She'd come across the first type more than once, usually right before she crushed them. It would be interesting to see where this went, and so she decided to play ball. "You must have missed the memo, Zero." She responded with equal casualty in her tone. "I've been in Area 11 for nearly a week now."
"And for my absence, I express my sincerest apologies." He offered as he returned to a full standing position, his whole body vanishing again underneath that huge cape of his. "If it had been in my power, I would have greeted you in person upon your arrival."
The ironic thing is I probably would have preferred his company. However she refused to give him the satisfaction of knowing that and pressed forward. "Well then maybe you could make up for your tardiness by surrendering yourself to me."
"Ah, my lady, were it so easy. But what is this?" The masked head turned slightly to her right, and after a moment of looking at whatever it was had caught his attention he chuckled lightly. "My, my. I didn't think I'd see you here. Cornelia must be getting soft if she's allowed you to keep your job, Orange boy."
Despite the jab at Gottwald, Cornelia was too busy reeling from the indirect slight to her own person. Soft?! Her?! He definitely needs a lesson in humility! She was aware her mask had cracked somewhat, but only a little bit – a mere tightening of her right eye which she quickly flattened out again. This was the next step of the battle then. Both sides had contacted each other, and now it would be the first to lose their cool to the other who would lose.
However she was far from ruffled, even as her borrowed subordinate started to gnash his teeth at his degrading title. If that was all Zero had in his arsenal then he was going to lose this bout very quickly. "If I were going soft, Zero, I would have granted you a chance to defend yourself in court for your crime of regicide." She shot back at him, "As it stands however, once I get my hands on you rest assured they will be wringing your neck."
"Careful there, princess." The vigilante returned, "You might make your knight jealous."
The spluttering of indignation from her knight was matched only by her equal fury and amazement, she didn't actually think Zero would go there but there he went. For years she'd been hounded by the rumours that she and Guilford had some sort of tryst between them on the side, and while she was more than aware that her knight was the kind of gentleman any woman would be proud to call her own, the man was her friend and confidante – not to mention her most trusted sword – before anything else. And here I thought this one had some level of decorum!
She was half a second away from ordering the Gloucesters out before she caught on to what he was doing. He was trying to get her to make a mistake, and he'd gone straight for the jugular right away. But knowing that gave her strength and very gradually, Cornelia regained her composure. With one last breath she let it go and relaxed back into her seat. "It is unwise to impugn a lady's honour, Zero." She warned. "Especially when she has a knight as competent and trusted as the one at my side."
"Oh I understand precisely, your highness." Zero returned, placing a gloved hand over his chest, "It so happens that I had to demonstrate the consequences of such an action not too long ago. But where are my manners? Allow me to introduce you to my lady." With one final bow and a dramatic flourish, he swept away out of the shot to reveal another figure.
She was slightly shorter than Zero, clad head to toe in a white hooded cloak that obscured her features. However Cornelia could just see into the shadowy confines of the hood to make out the beginnings of a face, but only her chin and mouth. The rest was hidden by a visor-like mask with a dark red indent that reminded her of the kind worn by Darlton's adopted sons, however rather than a 'T' shape the indent was cut in the style of some sort of bird.
Unlike her predecessor though, when she spoke there was no mechanical overtone...or for that matter much in the way of formality. "Let's get this over with, Zero, you owe me a massage for wearing this getup."
There were many ways Cornelia was used to starting a conversation...but this was a new one for her, as well as a little bit more than she had wanted to know about this new player's relation to Zero. At the same time though it galled her that she was being slighted like this, especially considering Zero's formality with her so far. Nevertheless this was just another tactic they were employing and so she refused to be drawn in. Instead she went on the attack, "So you are Zero's partner. I don't believe I caught your name..."
"Call me whatever you want." She returned bluntly, though she barely seemed to be paying attention to the conversation, "It makes no difference to me what you name me. Just as it makes no difference what I call you..." from within her hood her mouth turned up in a small smile, "Nelly."
The silence that permeated through the command centre was so absolute that if just a feather touched the floor it would make noise. Wide eyes were the order of the day for Darlton and Guilford, the only ones present who should have any inkling of that accursed nickname. But that was nothing on Cornelia, who's jaw was stuck between dropping open or smashing her teeth together.
"How the hell" she asked as politely as she could manage, "do you know that name?"
"Oh come now, how is that any fun Nelly?" The woman in white asked again, her damned smirk growing as she spoke. "If you want to get answers, why not come out here and take them from me?"
Do not make an offer like that to someone like me, you...Words could not describe the sudden outrage accompanied with embarrassment that was running through her system right now. Who the hell was this woman to goad her? Did she not see the situation she and her partner were in? The only way out was through the G-1, and Cornelia was not about to let any one of those terrorists through until she learned how, in all the hells conceived by man, that name fell into Zero's circles!
"How about a wager?" Oh thank the devil for small mercies, Zero took over again, only rather than cover up his infuriating partner he came to stand just behind her, the black of his cape contrasting sharply with her white cloak. "You want answers to that name and we would rather go home before nightfall."
Despite the bubbling emotions that threatened to spill over, Cornelia managed to retain her senses and mull over his over. What's he up to? That's not a surrender he's offering, rather an exchange...a wry grin made its way up her lips despite her vexation, he's very good with those after all. With all the shifts in her state of control the proposition the masked man offered was somewhat grounding and so she allowed a nod, "I'm listening."
"I propose a duel." Zero declared, "Your best knight against my best. In the event that your champion should win, I will give you two gifts. In the event that mine wins, I will give you only one."
"A bit short changed in your direction." She noted suspiciously, cursing the fact that the two opponents she was dealing with had covered their faces and as such negated her the ability to read their features for uncertainty or arrogance. "What's more who would champion you? All you have is a bunch of barely capable terrorists who are only still alive because you're holding their hands."
"Did your combat instructor never tell you?" The woman asked, sounding disappointed in her response, "Things are not always what they seem."
Before Cornelia could interrogate them on the meaning behind that, an operator suddenly broke into the conversation. "Viceroy, another unit's just appeared on our radar!"
What? "Which idiot broke formation?" She demanded, Zero and his nameless accomplice becoming a secondary issue. The last thing she needed now was some glory-minded fool going off on his own. She was not prepared for the answer she was given – if it had been a regular armoured division, or those idiot purebloods she could understand it, but not this.
"It's a Gloucester, your highness!" The operator sounded just as disbelieving as the recipients all looked.
"Impossible!" Darlton barked, glaring at the man for daring to suggest one of Cornelia's royal guard was so stupid. "Get a visual on that Knightmare now!"
That didn't prove too much of a problem though, seeing as the machine's IFF was active they were able to find it pretty quickly. A moment later the image of the rebelling duo was switched out to be replaced by an image of the newcomer. It was definitely a Gloucester, the frame had been repainted red instead of the usual grey and it lacked the cape or lance that her royal guard's models displayed but Cornelia would recognise her preferred Knightmare model anywhere. The main difference she noted was the weapon it carried, rather than a lance this Gloucester was fitted with a two-hand edgeless sword with a cruciform hilt.
An Estoc. Derived from the French word for 'thrust,' the weapon was a type of longsword developed in the mid-fourteenth century, specifically designed to pierce armour and reach the soft flesh underneath. Were the situation less serious, Cornelia might have chuckled at the pains Zero had gone to sort out every last fine detail. They really had returned to those days again, hadn't they?
The machine rolled along to come to a halt in front of a squad of Sutherlands, doubtless the ones captured by the terrorists. Upon its arrival it took the sword in both hands and held it at the ready.
"Your Highness?" Darlton's voice snapped her back to the situation at hand, "What should we do about this?"
For a moment she was silent, giving her decision one last bit of thought before standing from her throne and approaching the map. "Put him back on."
The operators did just that and sure enough Zero and his partner stood waiting for her. "Am I to assume you have made your decision?" He asked her. "What say you, Princess Cornelia li Britannia?"
"I won't bother asking how you got your hands on one of my guard's machines," though when she was done here there was going to be a thorough sweep as well as redrilling on the importance of security, "but in regards to your wager, I accept."
Whether Zero was happy or worried about her choice was impossible to say, however he did straighten up somewhat before replying. "Very good. Well then, send out your champion and we shall see you there."
"Heck, bring a whole audience if you like." The woman suggested (or was she hinting something?) "The more to see the show, the better." And with that the transmission cut out.
For a brief second Cornelia stayed silent, before turning to face her most trusted subordinate, "Sir Guilford, with you champion my cause in this matter?"
The bespectacled knight immediately snapped to, offering her a bow. "It would be my honour to represent you on the battlefield, Your Highness."
Hmm, if you had your way you'd never let me on the battlefield, Gil. Again the fond thought came and went, and she nodded her assent. "Very well then, make your preparations and head out to," she looked back at the map "point G30."
Her knight nodded dutifully and gave her another bow in farewell before making his way to the exit. "And Guilford," Cornelia's voice stopped him short and he glanced over his shoulder at her, "You do not have my leave to die. Understand?"
He responded by offering her a small half-smile as well as a slightly straighter (if that was possible for him) posture, before returning with his half of their little code. "Yes, Your Highness, I will return."
It was a simple phrase that the two had devised after his knighting to remind each other that they were a team. After all, how many times had it taken both of them to stop Euphy going off and doing her own thing?
As he left to suit up however, Cornelia couldn't shake the dark sense of foreboding that crept up her spine. Somehow, in some way, she was afraid that everything they had just done was exactly what Zero had wanted.
The Red Queen
When Zero had explained her role in the battle, Kallen had been ecstatic. Oh she was still annoyed as hell, as well as more than a little concerned, that the Yamatos were getting the Sutherlands but the fact that she had the better frame, as well as a chance to stick it to one of Cornelia's knights more than made up for it. The confirmation of the Viceroy's accepting Zero's challenge was the news of the day and now all she was doing was waiting for her chosen knight to come and face her.
This is it, she thought to herself as the Knightmare's tactical screen picked up an incoming unit, this is where we make the Britannians pay. Naoto...watch over me. Thinking about her brother caused her grip to tighten on her controls a little bit, and it might have been her imagination but she could've sworn her Gloucester's grip tightened around its sword.
The Knightmare that arrived was another Gloucester, alone with only a lance as its weapon. That didn't mean Kallen was going to take it easy on this one, for two reasons: First, it wore the dark blue cape of Cornelia's royal guard unit, and second the machine itself was painted a deep purple instead of the usual grey signifying that this was one of her absolute best. In some ways it sort of flattered her that Cornelia had sent out her elite to take her down. Doesn't mean I'm not gonna flatten him though.
"Q1." Zero's voice suddenly came through the comm, stood high above them all on the building behind her. "I felt I should wish you good luck."
"Thank you, Zero." She replied gratefully, "But I'll be okay, this baby's far better than that old Glasgow. This guy's going down."
"Do not underestimate your opponent, Q1." The masked man chastised, "There are only two Gloucesters under Cornelia's command who boast that colour scheme. General Andreas Darlton and Lord Sir Gilbert G.P. Guilford." If she didn't know better, Kallen would have to say that Zero actually sounded a little worried as he told her all of this. "Sir Guilford is the Viceroy's personal knight of honour, and as such must be capable of defending his already very deadly charge."
Now I get it. She realised as she observed the Gloucester across from her, If that is this Guilford guy then it'll be like taking on Cornelia herself. That meant she couldn't afford to be flippant with this one, she'd have to hit him hard and fast right from the start.
As she ruminated though, the comm blared again, except this time the man who spoke was older and came from the opposing Knightmare. "So, you are my opponent?" There was no scorn or mocking in his tone, just a simple question.
"Yeah, that's right."
"Hm?" The Britannian's unconscious surprise at him squaring off against a woman came out loud and clear, and it was enough that she almost snapped at him for it. However before she could she was interrupted by a chuckle from the knight. "It would seem Zero is aware that the fairer sex is also the deadlier one."
"Got experience with that?"
"More than you can imagine." He confirmed, though he said it with a fondness in his tone. "However, we did not come to debate the strength of women. We came to do battle, did we not?" That was exactly what she had come for, and there was no way she was going to let the faith Zero had shown in her go to waste, and at the Britannian's words she maneouvred her Knightmare into a ready position, her sword held horizontal, the tip pointed straight at the enemy Gloucester's chest.
"Before we begin though I would have your name." The knight stated, "Mine is Gilbert G.P. Guilford."
"Kallen Kozuki." She bit out, making sure he got the last name loud and clear.
If he had any inkling as to what she meant by that he made no mention, "An honour, Miss Kozuki." He replied, before his own Knightmare shifted into its own prepared stance, side-on, right leg forward with the left hand gripping the back of the lance's staff whilst the right held it at the top, the tip aimed directly at her. "May we each serve our charges well."
And without further ado, Gulford's Knightmare launched forward, a trail of dust following it as it crossed the distance between them in a few seconds. Caught off guard by his vicious entrance, Kallen was forced to dodge the attack using her sword to redirect the lance away from her cockpit. Shit! He's going straight for the kill as well!
However the head-on attack gave her a chance to back up before beginning her counter attack, lunging straight at him and thrusting her sword forward. Guilford was quick to block the move however with his lance and the two Knightmares became locked in a pushing contest, landspinners screaming like banshees as each tried to force the other back.
It quickly became clear to Kallen that she needed a different tactic, and Zero wasn't going to help her with this one, so she started to think as quickly as she could before Guilford found one first.
The idea suddenly came to her when she remembered the weapon that all Knightmares were armed with. Not letting up on her advance, Kallen activated her slash harkens and swivelled them around to face away from her opponent. If she'd done this right then she ought to be out of Guilford's reach in a few seconds. Not waiting for him to catch on, she fired her harkens back and up, the thick blades digging into the building behind her.
Got it! Now here's hoping they hold. Allowing a small smirk, Kallen hit the recall button and immediately her Gloucester was dragged away from the Britannian unit and up the side of the building.
That's more like it, I have the high ground now. Intent on capitulating on her advantage, she sent her Gloucester gliding off the building again, reversing the grip on her sword so that it was pointed straight down, and went straight back for Guilford. "Dodge this!"
"I think not." The Britannian replied, as his Knightmare stayed exactly where it was, "You've just handed me my victory."
If I was going to stab you, yeah I would've. However it would seem her feint had worked, Guilford thought she was going for a killing strike. But instead she again took aim with her slash harkens, this time pointed straight at him, and fired. Her gambit paid off and he immediately moved away as the harkens smashed into the ground before him. Now I've got you. She reeled herself in and charged forward once again, and this time it was her opponent who was off-balance.
However not off-balance enough as he quickly brought his lance up to deflect the attack, extending the side blades and catching the sword's blade as it passed by, once again returning them to a blade lock.
"Impressive," Guilford admitted, "you're using the environment around us as well as fighting with all your options. But this duel is far from over."
"Well look at that," She replied with fake surprise, "a Britannian and me actually agreeing on something."
Pushing against him would serve no purpose, their Knightmares were statistically equal in strength, speed and dexterity. It's all gonna come down to the pilot.
Gulping down a breath, she hit her landspinners into reverse and pulled away from the purple machine, weapon at the ready as she came to a halt. Whatever happens I can't let him charge me, that first one almost took me out. But if she could just think of a way to turn that against him then maybe she could win this...Wait...could that work?
She would soon find out as Guilford's Gloucester came rushing at her again, lance down, at full speed. The only way to see if something worked was to test it, and so Kallen went for it. There's a beat up old building just to the left, if I can just get close enough...once more she retreated back and away, Guilford following close behind not letting up on his assault.
"You can't run forever, Kozuki!" he called out to her, "Eventually you're going to run out of power."
"Who said I was running?" She shot back, diverting her course and pulling to the left. Once more the purple machine followed her, just as she planned. As the Britannian Knightmare came at her again, she fired her left harken at a ruined outcropping just ahead of her opponent. The weakened structure barely required any force at all and the weapon cut right through it, dropping half a floor of old office space directly on top of Guilford's machine. Once more caught by surprise, the knight pulled back.
That was the opening Kallen was looking for as she circled around and came charging at him from behind. "As I was saying, dodge this!"
"Hn." The small chuckle on his end was all the warning she got before Guilford came about, and for the first time fired his own harkens. One smacked right into her forward arm, the other colliding with her Gloucester's sword, knocking it clear out of her machine's hand.
The hell?! She didn't manage to voice her shock as Guilford's knightmare suddenly came rushing at her before his harkens had even returned. His lance came straight at her and all she could do was dodge away.
A shuddering at her side caught her attention for a moment and she cursed her rotten luck as she saw what the problem was. The left arm – the one Guilford's slash harken had hit – was busted all the way from the wrist to the elbow joint. He knew right where to hit it.
"As I said before," Guilford commented, "you have an impressive grasp of tactics. However..." the purple frame lunged at her again, lance dangerously close to her cockpit that time "your inexperience is the factor that will cost you this duel."
His thrusts became more frequent, right and then immediately left, boxing her in. Every time she tried to escape he cut her off, forcing her Gloucester to retreat backwards lest she get skewered. However the fact of the matter was she couldn't retreat forever, eventually she was going to run out of space, it was just a matter of time.
Damn it, how do I turn this around? He was pushing her back towards the Yamato Alliance Sutherlands, any closer and Guilford's thrusts would start taking them out. Not that it would be a great loss but Zero had urged that they not die until the correct time. I've got to get out of this...but with only the harkens and a lame arm, that's not going to be easy...wait...another idea hit her...a lame arm...that might just be crazy enough to work.
Guilford's lance pulled back for another strike, this one aimed for her left side. Got to time this just right...with the same speed he'd been showing in all of his thrusts he lunged forward again...Now!
Just as the lance came forward, Kallen hit the emergency detach button for her left arm. The appendage separated right afterwards, getting skewered on the Britannian blade. Seeing the red arm stuck on his weapon gave the knight pause and that was all the opening she needed. Siezing her chance she fired her slash harkens again, they went straight for Guilford only to sail underneath his Knightmare's arms where they dug into the earth behind him. Bracing herself, Kallen hit the landspinners into full ahead, ramming Guilford's Gloucester head on.
The collision shook both pilots to their bones, though Guilford took the worst of it forcing his machine to fall back on retreat. Shaken herself, it took Kallen a moment to realise she'd gotten the freedom she was looking for which she then immediately took, breaking off from the purple machine and recalling her harkens.
For a moment neither made a move, both still recovering from the latest scuffle. But as Kallen saw it, a little headache was worth it because now Guilford had lost his lance, even if it had come at the loss of an arm.
"Not bad, Kozuki." The knight commended, sounding a bit ruffled. "I was certain that I had won our little bout back there. Were you not my foe I would have recommended you for military training."
"Please don't insult me." She snapped back, "I'm Japanese, why the hell would I serve Britannia?!"
Her outburst elicited a chuckle from her opponent, "Yes, I should have known you would decline the offer. But then if you offered me a place beside Zero I likely would respond the same." He paused for a moment, taking another breath before continuing, "So here we stand, you have one arm and lost your sword, and my lance is useless to me. Shall we continue, or are you ready to concede?"
He's kidding right? "As long as I'm still breathing, I'll never give up!" She shot back at him, getting ready to charge again, preparing her harkens for another volley. "So come on, Britannian! Show me what you've got!"
For a moment there was silence on the comm as her opponent absorbed her words. Around her it felt as if the whole audience, Japanese pilots and Britannian commanders alike, was holding their breath, waiting to see what the next move would be. The wind whipped between the two combatants, licking at the ends of the purple Gloucester's cape.
When Guilford spoke, there was no jovial manner in his tone, just a set cool readiness devoid of emotion. "So be it."
The next second his harkens fired directly at her, which she avoided quickly and returned fire with her own. Guilford seemed barely aware of them however as he charged right at her, almost mimicking her last move. However when he came within range of her his Gloucester's right fist jabbed forward at her exposed left flank, making contact and shaking her whole frame off balance. Nearly knocked off her feet, Kallen barely managed to right herself before the next blow fell, this time coming from his left. The strike sent her spinning again and it was all she had in her not to fall out of her seat and slam against the tight walls of her cockpit.
All the shaking about was doing terrible things to her stomach, and she had to swallow back bile more than once as her head span about her, those two vicious strikes had done more to shake her up than anything else since the start of this fight. Desperately she tried to shake it off, only to be struck again, this one carrying a lot more force than the two before it, enough to send her Gloucester to the ground.
Damn it, damn it, damn it! The chant carried on in her head as she tried to get back up, only to be forced back down as something hard and heavy slammed into her Knightmare's back, breaking something important because her screen showed her that there wasn't any power flowing to the legs now. Red alert warnings were blaring on every screen now, the emergency eject sequence being strongly advised. No! Not now! Kallen frantically moved the controls, urging the Gloucester to get back up, but the only thing that moved was her right arm that pushed her up somewhat. It was enough though for her screen to display her lost sword, embedded in the ground only half a meter away.
A moment later though Guilford's purple machine came into view behind the weapon, pulling it out of the ground and pointing the blade directly at her. "Concede Kozuki." He repeated, sternly this time, "Your Knightmare has been completely immobilised, your arm is the only working appendage left, and by now the onboard system must be urging you to eject. I advise that you do so."
She had just one thing to say to that. "Go to hell."
There was a sigh on the comm, before Guilford's Gloucester raised the sword above her, reversing its hold on the weapon, and plunged it straight down. In that moment, Kallen closed her eyes tight. This was it, she was about to die before achieving anything, she'd failed everyone, Oghi, her friends, Zero...
Naoto...I'm so sorry.
And then the lights went out. Not that she'd lost consciousness, all the visuals of the outside world had just suddenly vanished. Her whole world was plunged into darkness, save for the system's repetitive suggestion to eject. "What?"
"Your machine is now completely inoperable." Guilford's voice on the comm cut through the darkness, "As you are no longer able to continue I claim this victory in the name of Princess Cornelia."
He...spared me? "But why?!"
"Talent like yours is not one that should be wasted." He stated, "I thought your name was familiar, Kozuki. You wouldn't happen to have any relation to Naoto Kozuki?"
"My brother." Her response was barely a whisper as she struggled to hold back furious tears over yet another failure.
The knight who was doubtless still stood above her let out a soft hum. "I see. So you took up the flag in his stead?" He asked...gently? "I understand the wish to carry on the dreams of a loved one. However, living only for the past will eventually bring about your downfall."
"Shut up!" That was going too far, how dare this Britannian, this-this scum, claim to understand what she'd lost?! "What do you know about loss?! He was my brother! He was all I had, and you killed him! If it wasn't for you he'd still be here, we'd all still be together! What do I have if not this?!"
"You have your comrades!" Guilford cut through her screams, "They are not just our fellow swords, but the ones with whom we trust our lives! Do you believe your brother's death effected only yourself? If so then you are far less than the man who led your group." His words stung her into silence, in which he pushed on. "In the wars with the EU, I have lost four brothers, my father was killed on the field of battle in service to the Emperor, half the people I trained beside in basic have already gone back to the earth. But I must live on. For my comrades and, above all, the woman I swore my sword as well as my life to. So tell me Kozuki, what do you have to live for?"
Something to live for? That had never crossed her mind at all. Ever since she'd joined up with Oghi and the rest of her brother's old group it had just been battle after battle, sometimes with her barely coming out of it alive. As long as she could fight though, she had insisted on coming back to fight the Britannians. It didn't matter the situation, as long as she could fight and avenge her brother then that was all right with her.
But what about afterwards? A new voice asked her. You avenge Naoto but what then? Britannia will still hold Japan firm in its grasp, nothing will have changed.
Unbidden, Zero's words from the train crept into her mind. "If you wish to end the suffering of Japan, then you must discard your petty hatred and fight for justice!"
That's all easy to say...but what is justice?
"Kallen!" The voice of the masked man suddenly echoed through the cockpit, dragging her back to the present. "Are you all right? Can you eject?" He sounded worried...scared even.
"It would seem your leader has contacted mine." Guilford spoke on a separate channel. "I leave you now, Kallen Kozuki, to decide for yourself which path you will take. Though you may not wish it, I hope our next meeting will be one less confrontational." With that he cut the communication and outside somewhere just beyond her, Kallen could hear the screech of landspinners as the elite knight's Gloucester turned around and headed for home.
That wasn't to say she was alone however, Zero was still calling her. "Kallen, can you hear me?"
Steeling herself as much as she could, not wanting him to know just how much of a wreck she was right now, Kallen responded. "I'm okay Zero," she told him, cursing her voice for cracking half way through her reply, "just got knocked about a bit. Nothing broken, 'cept my pride."
She heard a sigh of relief on the other end before he continued, sounding also more in control of himself. "Very well then, Q1. Eject and head to your escape rout. You've done enough for today."
"Yes sir." That was all she could manage without collapsing into a sobbing mess as she pulled the eject levers and felt her cockpit disengage from the destroyed frame. The boosters kicked in and blasted her away from the battlefield, and it was only then that Kallen allowed herself to break down and cry.
The White Lady and the Masked Knight
They had watched the whole thing from atop the building, having chosen the area to command the battle for exactly that reason. To say C.C was shocked at Guilford's brutality in that final exchange was and understatement, though she hardly showed it. Granted she hadn't had much, if any, contact with Cornelia's personal knight, but still she hadn't expected him to finish Kallen so...finally as he had. Then again, considering who his charge was, it would make sense that he needed some level of ruthlessness in him.
To be honest though, she'd been more concerned about Lelouch. More than once she'd thought she would need to step in to stop him from doing something stupid. Though Zero's mask covered his face, she could see plain as day that watching Kallen be beaten on like that had been a taxing experience that only his great self-control prevented him from grabbing their Sutherland and joining her down there.
Nevertheless though, the duel was over and she was all right, and as Oghi had reported just before Guilford had begun his final assault on Kallen, they'd bought the remaining civilians enough time to escape. All that was left was to finish up here.
Tapping his shoulder gently to get his attention, she nodded at the laptop. "We did make a deal after all." She reminded him. "It would be a bit remiss of you to go back on it."
He didn't respond verbally, merely took a deep breath to regain his composure, and made his way back to stand in front of the computer's webcam. From within the Sutherland they could hear the members of the Yamato Alliance asking frantically what to do now, some of them down below having already started to go off in their own directions, whilst others were abandoning their Knightmares in surrender.
Tch, cowardly fools. C.C wasn't one to really throw stones all that much, so it had to be Lelouch's influence on her that was making her think such things as she watched them scurry around below. They deserve what's coming to them.
Shaking her head at their idiocy, for trusting her and her partner or for running around like headless chickens she wasn't sure, she put them out of her mind and joined Lelouch as the screen cleared out to show the visage of a very triumphant looking Cornelia.
G-1 Command Centre
The Goddess of Victory
"Well Zero." She tried not to sound smug when he and his partner's figures appeared on the screen again, she really did. "I would say that I was the victor of our little wager."
For a moment he remained silent, and Cornelia had to wonder if Guilford's duel against the red Gloucester had shaken him up a bit. But then he was suddenly himself again as he offered her a small bow in concession. "It would seem so, Your Highness," he agreed, "and as I am not a man to go back on my word I shall honour the terms of that wager."
"Yes, as my knight won you said you would give me two 'gifts.'" She recalled easily, though her arms folded over her chest, "I'm curious as to what these gifts of yours could pertain."
"I knew you would be." He replied knowingly. "The first gift I give to you is the one you would have been granted whether you won or lost. The second is something you have been seeking for quite some time."
A weapon to strike down my monster of a father? Somehow, Cornelia doubted the second gift could be that, and besides that wouldn't explain how Zero knew that ridiculous nickname Nonette had thought up. However, seeing as it was the 'gift' her knight had won instead of the default prize, it was likely far more valuable...or at least Zero believed it to be. Well we'll just have to see about that.
"I'll hear the contents of the second gift first." She decided.
The two figures on the screen regarded each other for a moment, sharing some form of silent communication, before shrugging and returning to face her. "As you wish, your highness." Zero conceded, "You wish to know how we came about that...interesting alias of yours."
"Among a few other things," she confirmed, "yes, I would like to know how that got out."
"How does anything get out?" The woman in white asked lazily, "Someone told us."
"And who," she stressed, doing her best not to let the nameless woman get to her again, "exactly is this elusive character?"
"Why, the Fourth Princess." The white woman responded, "Who else?"
Total silence, even more-so than the one following the last bombshell, enveloped the room. The operators clearly weren't sure what Zero's partner was eluding to and the commanders, both the 'advisers' and the ones doing the actual commanding, glanced at each other with unsure expressions. However, Darlton had caught on to the meaning behind the indirect answer and was wearing a look of disbelief. Beside Clovis's commanders, Jeremiah Gottwald's expression had suddenly turned to a mix of shock, hope and, above all, joy. But Cornelia barely noted these reactions around her, the answer hitting something close to her heart, and while some were either shocked or jubilant to hear this news, all the white lady's answer had done was make her angry.
"You had better give me the right answer right now," she hissed, doing everything in her power to keep herself from yelling. "You dare to use her as the butt of your joke?!"
"I must speak on my lady's behalf." Zero stepped in, "She does not speak false, the one who informed us of that name was indeed the daughter of the late Marianne vi Britannia."
Impossible...this couldn't be the truth. It couldn't be...but she had to ask. "When did she supposedly tell you?"
"It must be...two years now." The masked man answered, looking somewhat thoughtful, and so he couldn't have seen the effect those words had on his audience.
Cornelia suddenly felt as if her legs were going to give out beneath her at those words, she had to lean on the desk and use her hands to support her. Two years ago...then that would mean...but it couldn't be. If so why hadn't she just come home? And that was factoring in the point that the girl was blind and crippled, she couldn't have gotten anywhere.
Yes, a lie. She concluded, crushing the hopeful thought that was beginning to rise up in her. It has to be a lie. She couldn't have made it alone unless...but as that thought crossed her mind, it was suddenly invaded by the image of a pair of strong defiant violet eyes holding a strength that she could never match. If he was alive as well...then even the devil himself couldn't have stopped him from protecting her.
"Your Highness!" One of her commanders was at her side looking at her with concern, "Are you all right, Princess? Should we send a team to...?"
"No!" She caught herself and took another breath, standing up straight again and resetting her calm visage, "No, we will let them speak." With that she directed a sharp glare at the pair on screen. "I call your bluff, Zero, there's no way she could have told you. She was reported dead, murdered by Japanese terrorists at the end of the war, her brother also."
"And yet no bodies were ever recovered." The white woman pointed out, "Quite the oversight considering that they were royalty and all."
"Indeed, my lady." Zero concurred before addressing Cornelia again, "The records are mistaken, princess. Your sister, the fourth princess, as well as your brother, the eleventh prince, are both alive and well."
"The prince and princess yet live?!" The inclusion of Gottwald from the side caught her off guard as he rushed over to her side, though his eyes remained on Zero. "Where?! Tell me, Zero, where are my young lord and lady?! What have you done with them?!"
"Jeremiah Gottwald!" Darlton's voice boomed over his demands, "Control yourself!" However his words may as well have been mute as Gottwald barely halted in his questioning the two masked figures. Cornelia didn't even try to stop him though, as he had voiced every question that had been growing in her mind but she had dared not ask for fear of hope taking over reason.
The two figures regarded Gottwald for a moment, before Zero spoke up disdainfully, "And what use does the eleventh prince have of a man who betrayed his oaths, Orange Boy?" His harsh words shut the former Margrave up straight away, causing him clench his teeth in a mix of shame and frustration.
The masked man however barely even seemed to acknowledge his discomfort and instead addressed Cornelia. "For your information, princess, your brother and sister were in my care for a short time after Britannia invaded and nearly got them killed. Once they were fit enough to go on their way, the eleventh prince took his leave of us, taking his sister with him."
"Two years ago we came across them again." The white lady picked up his story, "They had both settled down into a new life of obscurity that neither wish to leave, nor do we intend to make them."
They really didn't know the effect this was having on the princess. Once again she felt weak in the knees but she forced herself to stay upright, she'd already shown enough weakness as it was. And besides, there was no guarantee that anything they were telling her was the truth. She had to hold onto that train of thought in order to keep herself from recalling every soldier she had in the field and redirect them to commence a manhunt for two of the dearest people in her life.
Maintaining that thought she asked them straight out, "If what you're saying is true, if they did survive, then why did they not simply return home?"
"Come now, Princess, don't play yourself a fool." The woman chastised lightly, "You know full well what would have happened to the fourth princess the moment the two arrived back at Pendragon."
Wincing, Cornelia had to concede that she had a point, she knew exactly what her father would have done the moment the two of them would have been brought before him. Her sister would have been married off to some noble and her brother would then probably be threatened into joining the military, or used as another bargaining chip. And if he refused...it wouldn't be him who paid the price.
"Then please," she was on the verge of begging, she knew it, before her entire commanding staff but she was passed caring. If these two knew where they were she'd go on hand and knee to know, this was her family dammit! "Tell me! Just tell me where they are!"
She couldn't be sure, but she thought Zero's figure shook a bit before he responded, "We cannot do that, Cornelia. Barring certain promises we made to them, when we first told them we would be starting a rebellion against Britannia, your brother asked us to relay this message to any Royal Family member." The words he spoke could not have stung more: "Lelouch vi Britannia, Eleventh Prince and seventeenth in line to the throne of Britannia, is dead."
Seeing that the breath had been knocked out of her for the third time that day, his partner lifted a hand out of her cloak to rest on his caped chest. "That should be enough for you to get started with, Nelly. If we see you again, we might tell you more."
"NO!" Again, Gottwald forgot himself, glaring straight at the screen completely ignorant of the scene he was creating. "Tell me where they are! They are my sworn duty! My life! The whole reason I came to Area 11 was to find and protect the young lord Lelouch and lady Nunnally!"
"Lord Gottwald!" Darlton again tried to silence him, and again he went ignored.
"I will not be denied!" The disgraced, and quite possibly deranged man screamed at the two of them. "Take me to them! Let me fulfil my vows! ZERO!" His yelling continued even after he was forcibly removed from the command centre, his voice reverberating off of the walls as he was dragged down to the cells.
The pair on the screen just watched impassively before the woman snorted. "I'll say this for Orange, he certainly doesn't lack drive."
Zero just hummed to himself before clearing his throat, "Now then, about that other gift."
Who cares about that?! Cornelia wanted to demand, though logically she suspected she wasn't going to get any more out of the duo about Lelouch or Nunnally. So with a heavy heart, the answers she'd wanted for seven years were put to the side, and she sighed a bitter acknowledgement. "Go on."
"As of now, the Saitama district has been fully evacuated of its civilians save the incredibly stubborn." He delivered this piece of news as if he were giving her a field report. "We have you to thank, Cornelia, for making that job simpler." As he said all this he'd pulled out a switch from under his cape. "I therefore leave the Yamato Alliance to your personal guard."
What? "You're giving up your own allies?"
Her question was met by a derogatory snort from the cloaked woman, "Please do not insult us Cornelia, our allies were the people evacuating the civilians." She chided, "The Alliance was nothing more than a tool to draw Britannia's fire, and now their usefulness is at an end we see no point in protecting them further."
"Remember this for the future, your highness." Zero added, "Though our paths may cast us as enemies, I refuse to harbour terrorists and murderers. When we came upon them they were desperately trying to run from the battlefield, even as the people they had coerced were gunned down by your men."
Scum of the worst kind then. She found herself thinking, finding herself somewhat impressed that Zero would not protect simply anyone, as well as admiring his manipulation of those cowards by bringing them out into the open. "While I appreciate your 'help,'" Cornelia began, "it won't be that easy to track them down without their IFFs."
"Oh yes," the woman murmured, taking the switch out of Zero's hand daintily "I thought we were forgetting something." And with that she pressed the button.
The results of her action soon came through as the operators in the command centre were suddenly in a flurry of action. "Viceroy! We have confirmed IFF signals in sector F12!"
"Two more in H8!"
"I've got one in G9!"
And so on and so on. Once again Cornelia was stunned as she looked down at the tactical map, seeing all the new contacts suddenly light up. Guilford had reported just as he'd arrived at the battleground for the duel that there had been a line of Sutherlands behind the red Gloucester, though now it would seem that they were all running around the place after seeing their best pilot get brought down. Hmm, not a lick of discipline whatsoever. Nothing but craven children given large toys, I can see why Zero would abandon these fools.
And speaking of the masked individual, he was giving her one final bow. "And with that Cornelia, I believe our time has come to an end. I hope you enjoyed this performance and that we see you again soon." His closing line delivered, the screen switched off and returned to the normal view of the tactical situation at hand.
If he's that confident then they probably already have a preplanned escape route. She considered to herself before glancing at her general. "The possibility of it being a trap?"
"As high as it always is." He agreed with her unspoken conclusion. "And seeing as we don't know anything about this man, or his accomplice other than they seem to be just as prideful as was predicted, it would be unwise to follow them."
"Then we're agreed." She finished, doing her best to remain as professional as possible as she returned to her throne and removed her cape. "Relay the tactical information to Guilford and deploy the royal guard." She ordered as she made her way to the exit, "I'll be sortieing as well. Darlton, you have command."
"Yes, Your Highness!" The command staff chorused, not daring to question her decision to take to the field. It was quite clear to all present that the day had suddenly turned stressful for their commander and that she needed to blow off steam. If she was able to work it out by tearing apart the enemy's machines then far be it for them to question her.
As the old saying goes, 'Better them than us.'
The Masked Knight, the White Lady and the Red Queen
"I say again, Lelouch." C.C commented lightly as they made their way through the underground pipelines, "You take me to all the most exotic places."
Zero didn't grace her with a response, nor did he bother to tell her to put her mask back on. They were well out of the reach of Cornelia's forces now, besides they would be too busy dealing with the Yamato Alliance. A heavy rumble above them backed up his certainty and he had to smirk at how predictable his sister's temper could be, they'd spotted her custom Gloucester running through the ghetto piercing the cockpits of the idiot terrorists as they made their escape.
"I still say what you did was rather cruel." C.C continued, pulling down her hood and shaking her hair free of the confines, "The Yamatos were betting on you to save them and you just abandoned them to their deaths."
"If I wanted unconscionable murderers to make up the ranks of the Black Knights I would have hired Luciano Bradley." Zero countered, grimacing even at the thought of that psychopathic Knight of the Rounds. "How he became Knight of Ten is still a mystery to me."
"Just goes to show how little Charles cares about his kingdom." She said, before shaking her head and pressing herself up against him. "Anyway, why don't we head home? I would like that massage now."
"Really?" He asked, genuinely surprised. "You don't want the pizza first?"
"I can get pizza any time I want." She pointed out, "But you offering me a free backrub? Now that is something valuable."
So there is more to her than just 'pizza, pizza, help out, pizza, pizza, annoy Lelouch, pizza, pizza.' Well he had said he never wanted her to stop surprising him so why should she stop now? He was about to voice his thoughts on her willingness to forego pizza again, when a muffled sound ahead brought them to a halt. Shit! Did someone actually come down here?
Pulling out his pistol, he moved ahead slowly, barrel pointed directly ahead of him as they came around a corner. Seeing who was sat there however drained the tension from his body and he reholstered his weapon.
Kallen was sitting against the wall of the sewers, curled up in an upright foetal position, her head propped against her knees. Going by the occasional shuddering accompanied by the odd hitched breath, it was obvious that she was crying. Guilford must have really gotten to her. Zero thought to himself silently as he indicated to C.C to stay by his side, though she seemed to have no intention of doing anything else for the moment.
Deciding he'd observed her long enough, he stepped around the corner, making sure his footfall was loud enough to get his Queen's attention. Her reaction was immediate, though she didn't get up her head spun around in direction of the sound.
"Who's there?!" And though her shout was supposed to sound tough, it rather failed due to her wracked tone and puffy eyes. When she saw who it was though she immediately jumped to her feet, though her eyes didn't reach up to meet him staying firmly directed at her feet. "Zero. Forgive me. I lost the duel, and I wrecked the only Knightmare you had. I'm so sorry."
Is that what she's so upset about? Something told him that wasn't the case, however it gave him an entrance. "I'm just glad to see you alive, Kallen." He told her, and when she still didn't look at him he snaked out a hand from his cape and cupped her chin, pushing it up gently. "You fought bravely against one of the strongest knights in Britannia. Regardless of whether you won or lost, that is an accomplishment not many can boast."
"But I-" She tried to protest, her teary eyes saying all the words of self-recrimination.
He cut her off though with his hand, his thumb coming around to press tenderly against her lips. "You did not fail me today Kallen." He told her firmly, making sure she actually heard his words before continuing, "Yes the Gloucester is lost with no hope of recovery, but Knightmare Frames can be replaced. You however cannot."
Her eyes widened slightly at his words and he had a feeling he was getting through to her. However she seemed insistent on blaming herself for the way the duel had gone. "But if I had just moved a little faster I would have -"
"How could you have moved faster?" C.C's blunt question was the entire opposite of his gentle approach, "Both of you were using Gloucesters that were running perfectly, the only difference being the weapons you used. Even if you had wanted to go faster, the machine can only go at a certain speed."
"I...well I could've-"
"Kallen," Zero cut in again, "you are better than Guilford." He saw the disbelief cross her face at his words and so he quickly soldiered on. "I assume you had an open frequency with him? Did he say anything to you during the duel?" If Guilford was the man he thought he was, then the knight must have had quite a few things to say about her brilliant performance today.
It seemed so as she told him, "He said he was impressed...that I had a great grasp of tactics," here her expression soured somewhat as she carried on, "he said, if we weren't enemies, that he would have suggested I join the military. As if!"
There's our Kallen. He thought to himself fondly, "It's rare that a Britannian gives out a compliment like that." He told her, "For him to say such things is to acknowledge you as not only a worthy opponent, but that you have it in you to be better. I for one agree with him." Memories of watching her pilot the Guren in all its incarnations surfaced, how she had danced across the battlefield to the melody of gunfire and the symphony of artillery shells. Yes, my Queen, you most certainly have it in you to best Guilford.
"Do you know why you lost today?" He asked her gently, "It's not because of his own skill, in that area you have him beat. The only reason he won is that he has had years of experience on the frontlines, fighting battle after battle alongside Cornelia who is by far a greater pilot than him."
"It also should be noted," C.C pointed out, "that you were using a machine he's learned everything about, inside and out. So..." she handed the question over to Kallen, "what would happen if you had a better Knightmare, one that he knows nothing of?"
The pair of them watched as the cogs worked inside her head, and Kallen's visage slowly became a touch more confident. "I...I could win..." she said slowly, and then repeated more confidently as everything they'd told her took root, "I could win!"
That's more like it. Zero allowed himself to smile at her fondly, before retracting his hand back into his cape. To his pleasure, her gaze remained upright and directly focussed on him. "Precisely. Give us time and we will find you a suitable steed, so that next time you meet Sir Guilford he can truly lament that you chose your Japanese heritage over Britannia. Until then though you must promise me something," at his words she stood straight to attention, awaiting his request, "you must not die. Fight and lose as many Knightmares as you wish Kallen, but understand that you are not permitted to die."
Her look said it all, she was utterly astounded at his faith in her. Probably because it was the first time anyone outside of Oghi and the others had ever shown her this sort of faith since her brother died. However the amazement was quickly cooled down to a determined expression and she nodded, "Understood Zero, I've got your back."
"Good, good." C.C spoke up again, looking thoroughly bored with the pair of them now, "Well if we're done here, maybe we should leave? Cornelia might start looking for us on foot and I'd rather not get this new cloak shot."
Rolling his eyes at her, Zero nodded and indicated for Kallen to come with them. "If we follow these tunnels we should come out at Sasame Park." He told them as they navigated the sewers, "Oghi should be waiting there for us. Kallen?" He turned to her, taking out his pistol and offering it to her, "Will you take point?"
She responded immediately, taking the weapon in hand and stepping in front of him and C.C. "Of course, Zero."
As she was now in front, she missed C.C's smile as well as Zero's own behind the mask. Oh yes, they most certainly had their Red Queen back.
A/N: Over 20,000 words! Why do I do this to myself?! Oh yeah, because I was gone so long that if I didn't you guys would probably hunt me down and murder me in my sleep. Well here you sick creatures go. My blood, sweat and tears went into this so you guys had better be grateful! Borac, give them the chair again!
Okay, now that I'm done beating up the Admins for a while, allow me to say this. Never again. If I ever let myself write this much again I will hit burn out like I did last time. However I still think I did a somewhat decent job with this as well as the other two chapters that marked my return.
As some of you might have guessed, the duel between Kallen and Guilford, as well as the aftermath, was inspired by dripley11's Once More, with Feeling. It's a pretty good read so give it a shot. Also the reasons stated for why Kallen lost (dripley's) make a sort of sense and so I wanted to give my own take on that approach. Hope you guys liked it. An aftermath chapter is next, where we'll be getting some more Euphy, Milly and Nunnally give Lelouch that piece of their minds they were discussing, and...meh, just wait for the chapter.
I will now conclude this A/N by stating the obvious: They need to put more yellow ones in the Skittles packs, I'm sick of the red ones. (Take that, One!)