I do not own Code Geass.
The Wailing Prison, Kingdom of Zilkhstan, March 25th, 2020
C-Two left the morning after. There were no goodbyes or sad farewells. The situation was deteriorating rapidly, and she had no intention of being caught in the middle of it.
She had her own mission.
Beneath the Wailing Prison, she stood before the Aramu Gate, the Thought Elevator Shamna had been so desperate to activate.
Reentering the place had been easy. There were no guards, no prisoners. Massive battles were being fought all over the desert landscape between the Britannians and Zilkhstan forces. The Black Knights, and the UFN at large, were pointedly staying out.
C-Two raised her hand. The gate shimmered. She stepped through.
The World of C was a hellscape. The natural white plains were surfeited by fractured beams from what could only be the remains of the Sword of Akasha. Blood soaked the ground, the sky, the very air itself. Distorted memories walked back and forth, vertical and perpendicular, flowing through one another and away.
She set course for the center of the shattered maze.
The ghost of Euphemia li Britannia strode past her. Her gown was soaked in blood that flowed from the gunshot wound in her sternum. It was still flowing, staining the white ground beneath her.
"I, Euphemia li Britannia, hereby declare the formation of the Specially Administrated Zone of Japan in the area surrounding Mount Fuji!" The dead girl declared. "Within the Specially Administrated Zone of Japan, Elevens will be permitted to call themselves Japanese! Restrictions against Elevens, and special rights for Britannians, will no longer exist within this zone. It will be a place where Elevens and Britannians can live side by side as equals." Her eyes suddenly shimmered. "You're right, I have to kill all the Japanese…"
C-Two left the specter behind.
"And what shall we do now? Sing a few lively ballads? Or perhaps a nice game of chess?"
Clovis la Britannia sat atop a throne of corpses, their eyes gouged out, faces frozen forever in pain. There was a gaping hole in his forehead.
The image distorted. He was on his knees, the corpses ringing him.
"PLEASE YOU CAN'T! WE MAY HAVE DIFFERENT MOTHERS, BUT YOU AND I ARE STILL BLOOD!"
C-Two continued on.
High, mad laughter descended upon her.
"A massacre," the ghost of Suzaku Kururugi growled. "It's a big hit, Nina. The FLEIJA warhead has proven itself. Britannia can't lose now. ."
C-Two stepped past him.
She didn't bother looking at him.
She passed more ghosts, from the recent past, and those she had left behind. As she came closer to the center of the maze, she came upon those who were destined to die.
"Damn you for making me do this, Brother Schneizel," a tear-struck Nunnally cursed. Her body was covered in bullet holes. "Damn you for making me stand against another brother."
Then Nunnally was on the floor, and she was dying, her lips forming the words, 'Big Brother.'
Behind a tilted pillar, she found Gino, his face and body bloated.
"Take care of her, Kallen. Please get her out of there. Get her to safety."
Then he vanished in fire.
The last she found outside her destination.
Her body was burned beyond all recognition. Her skin oozed pus and blood, but her startling blue eyes formed a rock in C-Two's throat.
Kallen brushed at nonexistent hair. 'Would you mind how I look, Lelouch?' She asked, though her lips didn't move. 'Or would you think I'm being a little vain?'
A moment later, she turned to ash, and blew away in the wind.
C-Two looked up. There was a black mausoleum in the center of the maze. No markings adorned it, barring a single geass sigil upon the door. C-Two placed her hand on it, and entered.
The world behind her evaporated into a black void. White light glowed off of C-Two's body from no origin point.
"He isn't here," C-Two called out. "That means he's not truly dead."
Silence greeted her pronouncement.
"His body was destroyed," she continued, "but his soul remains, doesn't it?"
He rejected the Code.
"He didn't know what he was doing," C-Two retorted. "He didn't know what it meant!"
He knew and you know it.
It was his inmost desire to reject it.
"And yet it's still there, isn't it? Fragmented? Incomplete?"
What is your point?
"We can undo this," C-Two said. "We can restore the World of C! But not in this time!"
This time is all that matters.
"Don't play coy with me, Caretaker!" C-Two shouted. "There are other worlds than this! Shamna's power proves it!"
There was no response.
"She's time traveling, but she's not really changing the future, is she?" C-Two asked. "She creates other timelines, doesn't she? Again and again and again. That's why you're so angry when she does it. More worlds for you to Caretake. More Worlds of C to be destroyed."
What do you propose?
"To save one World is to save them all," C-Two said. "It is destined to be destroyed in all worlds. We will save the world. We will save C. And the World of C will be restored with them all."
Nothing can be proposed without sacrifice.
C-Two placed a hand to her chest. "I place my soul on the line, against Fate itself if need be."
Yours is not the soul to be risked.
C-Two swallowed. "Why not?"
You had no involvement. It was not you who demanded the march of time.
He must make the choice.
C-Two kneeled. "Then I offer the sanctity of my soul to help him on his quest."
If he fails his soul will be torn to shreds. That is the price, Code Bearer. That is the geass I offer.
"This is a geass I know he will accept."
Then do you forsake this world? Do you condemn it in your heart?
A door opened to C-Two's right. Beyond it, she could see the first day, the first hour, the first second, that she protected him.
"He mustn't die!"
Dungeon of the Forbidden City, Beijing, Chinese Federation, March 2018
V-Two strained against the restraints. They had him trussed up in a straightjacket and bound to a hospital bed. He was in a concrete box, where he didn't know, and he was covered in his own blood. Uncountable numbers of teeth were all over the floor. His face was caked in dried blood.
Marianne's git knew he was immortal; knew he would regenerate; knew he could do whatever he wanted to the Director of the Geass Order.
"How much did you tell him, Marianne?" he wondered aloud. He breathed heavily. "How much could you fit in one letter?"
They didn't even bother feeding him anything. It was inhuman.
The door across from opened, revealing the boy himself in that absurd costume.
"Good to see you, V-Two," that grating metallic voice rang out. "I hope you are enjoying the finest hospitality the Black Knights can offer."
V-Two hocked a wad bloody spit at him. He yelled in a fury when it just drooled down his chin.
A gunshot rang out, and V-Two's shin exploded. He screamed in pain.
"That was for the comrades you killed in Rajasthan," Zero said, his voice cold, merciless.
V-Two heaved great gasps. "You BASTARD! Do you have any conception of-"
Zero shot him in the other shin. V-Two screamed again. Fat tears rolled down his cheeks. "No one gave you permission to speak."
V-Two gasped. "If you..if you think-" he growled at the pain roaring through his legs. "If you think I...I will...help you defeat...Charles...you-"
Zero shot him in the stomach. V-Two curled in on himself, coughing and crying in pain.
"I don't need your help to defeat him, Uncle," Zero retorted. "The Emperor will die by mine own hand, by mine own will. You are, and have always been, nothing."
V-Two glared at him. Hate burned the pain away. "I AM-"
Zero shot him in the chest. The bullet punctured a lung. V-Two drowned on his own blood.
"Nothing," Zero said. "You are nothing. But for what you did to Shirley, I am going to make you suffer."
He blasted off one of V-Two's ears.
"Her father told me everything. Everything, you piece of shit. Every last detail. I'll never forgive you."
He shot off V-Two's right hand.
"But that's OK. Joseph Fenette is with her right now. He's going to make sure she makes a full recovery."
He shot off V-Two's crotch.
"I don't need anything from you. C-Two told me everything, a long time ago. You have nothing that I want."
V-Two shuddered, tried sucking on air.
"Taste that, V-Two. Taste that free air for the last time. When next you wake, your entire body will be placed in concrete. Your head will remain outside, unencumbered, so that you may drown over, and over, and over again, in the deepest, darkest pits of the Mariana Trench."
V-Two gave one last glare of pure, diabolical hatred. The barrel of the gun was pressed against his head.
He didn't hear the gun's roar.
Tours Val de Loire Airport, Tours, Occupied France
Milly and Rivalz sat across from one another at the airport lunch table. Britannians with carry on bags were debarking all around them, talking animatedly with one another about various properties or business opportunities in what was soon to be designated Area 27.
"The Renoir Consortium's sold its rights to the steel plants in Lorraine. My father bought them up, for quite the tidy sum."
"I'm heading off to inspect the Macron Shipping Company out of Dunkirk. We're going to see if any of their passenger liners are salvageable. The designs on those monstrosities are, frankly, gauche."
Milly tried to ignore them, her fists clenched before her.
"They'll never let us broadcast it," she said. "They'll never put it on TV."
"Yeah," Rivalz agreed quietly.
"And if we put it on the net, they'll kill our families."
"We need protection if we're to publish."
"But who would protect us?" Rivalz asked. "Neither one of us have those kind of connections."
They fell silent. Around them the festive air continued unabated. Entire families were coming off now, the children playing while the parents discussed the new homes they'd just purchased in Marseille.
"I can't believe the price we got on it! 67,000 quid for a four bedroom maison de maitre? What a steal!"
"Now, now, dear, the advertisement did say it would need some work. Wonder if we can fit a jacuzzi on the terrace?"
Milly ground her teeth.
"What about your grandpa?" Rivalz asked.
"What about him? He doesn't have any political power."
"Isn't he in real close with Princess Euphemia?"
Milly thought about it for a minute. "Yeah," she said hesitantly. "But the li Britannia's, such as they are, are disgraced."
"But Royal Protection is Royal Protection, right?" Rivalz retorted. "I mean, where else can we go?"
Milly sighed. "You got me there," she admitted.
A crowd of college students passed them by.
"I can't wait to visit the Eiffel Tower," one of them said.
"The Eiffel Tower? That's so passe! I want to go see the city of Verdun! Where those noble Kaiserreach made their final stand!"
"I think I'll just visit a cafe in Paris-"
Milly shot to her feet. "FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, SHUT UP!" she shrieked.
The students jumped back, shocked. The area around them completely silenced. Everyone stared at them.
Rivalz took Milly by the arm and guided her towards their flight.
"Come on, babe," he whispered, "let's go."
She didn't say anything back.
Office of the General Secretary, EU Command Center, Frankfurt, Federal Republic of Germany
Leila stood at parade rest, her arms clenched behind her back tight enough to draw blood. Her mouth was awash in copper from where she'd been biting down. Every instinct in her body was crying out to be by her man's side. She had left him still in critical condition, and only state orders had forced her to leave him. That, and the surgeon's promise that he would be alright.
I should have listened to him, she knew. I should have stood down, but I was so desperate to take that thing out.
Maeda, Masashiro, and Shibata were dead. They were dead, and Leila had killed them. She had forced them into a fight they weren't prepared for, one they couldn't possibly win.
What made Leila want to jump off a roof was that she knew she'd make the exact same decision. That Knightmare needed to be destroyed, and its traitorous pilot along with it. If it hadn't had the potential of reigniting a battle they had no hope of winning, she would have blown his head off when she saw him celebrating. She wanted to kill him. She needed to kill him. That kind of powerful piece had to be removed from the board.
The door behind her swung open. She snapped to attention.
"At ease," Smilas told her. She came back to parade rest. Smilas went around behind his desk, some paperwork in hand. "I've put forward the W-0 unit in its entirety for the Legion of Merit. Every member surviving or otherwise, will receive our nation's highest commendation. Their sacrifice will never be forgotten."
"On behalf of the W-0 unit-" Or what was left of it- "I thank you."
Smilas nodded. "It is the least this country can do. Now, to the matter at hand." Smilas unrolled a map, pointed to Southeastern Europe. "We've lost the Balkans," he informed her. "It's a total warzone. There are seperatist groups popping up all over the place, urging for secession from the EU. Maybe they think it will save them from Britannia, but who knows?"
He pointed to Hungary. "We've contained them at Budapest, but for how much longer is anyone's guess. They gained access to Hungary's meager Sakuradite fields. It will be enough to fuel their operations locally for some time."
He shifted to the Nordic countries. "These bastards can all rot in Hell," he breathed furiously. "I just received word they've offered the Empire free range of movement through their waters. They will not contest any invasion by sea. We're outflanked to the north."
The world could do with a few dead Vikings, Leila thought.
"Russia is mobilizing her troops," he continued, "but we'll have to station even more troops on the border with China, lest that spillover into Eurasia."
"Sir," Leila interjected, "tell the Russians to hang Asia. We need as many troops for the defense of Central Europe as is possible."
"No, we don't."
Leila blinked. "I'm sorry?
Smilas plopped down into his chair, his posture slouched in a way she had never before seen. "The Council of Forty has sent out feelers to request an armistice," he explained. "They've decided the situation is unsalvageable."
Leila's jaw dropped. "No! They can't...That's impossible!"
"Poland is refusing to allow Russian troops on their soil," Smilas said. "Not that I blame them, mind you, but even if the Bear wasn't looking to its own border security, we wouldn't be able to ship them through without Poland's permission."
"Are you insane?" Leila demanded. She leaned low over his desk, planting her hands on the top. "Are we not the United Republic of Europa, the EU? Didn't we bind ourselves together for exactly this kind of challenge?"
Smilas glanced down, just for the briefest instant. "I don't disagree," he said, "but I'm out of options. These fools will sell out all of Europe just for a chance to be the Viceroys of their own Areas. The politically astute will not fall with the rest of us." He smiled sadly. "Democracy has spoken."
A cold rage settled in Leila's stomach. "Then what use have we for it?"
Imperial Encampment, Strasbourg, Occupied Germany
Suzaku swallowed a mouthful of beer from a can that had been distributed to everyone. A cigarette burned in his left hand.
He had a grand total of four men left out of his original command. The rest were dead or too injured to continue, some even crippled for life.
We were all just cannon fodder, in the end. They deemed this casualty rate acceptable.
Similar casualty numbers were being reported everywhere, especially after the Battle of the Rhine. Far too many men, on both sides, had been killed in this three day long massacre. Even where they sat was in the rubble of a ruined city, annihilated in the pitched fighting, bodies rotting in the street. The corpse brigade was working in the background, hauling the cadavers toward a mass grave somewhere outside of Mainz.
"That was some good work you did there, Suzaku," Margrave Jeremiah complimented him. They sat in a circle, Shnee and Ledo to his right and left, Jeremiah and some new guy with the unlikely name of Ashley Ashra across from him. "I was able to tap into some of the footage from the fight while you were crowdsurfing. Impressive performance."
"Very impressive," Ashra agreed, his mien alight with interest. "You oughtta speak to my boss. He's got an eye out for talent."
"Your boss?" Suzaku queried.
"Yep. From the Order of St. Michael, under Grandmaster Shin Hyuga Shaing."
Suzaku raised an eyebrow. "An Eleven as Grandmaster?" he asked incredulously.
Ashra fixed him with a hard glare. "Honorary Britannian," he corrected.
Suzaku was sheepish. "Right, yes, sorry. It's just, I didn't expect anyone to have been raised that high."
"The former Grandmaster, Manfredi, may he rest in peace," Jeremiah explained, "saw Shin's talent early on and groomed him as his successor. I'm sure they'd make a space for you."
"Have you joined up then, Lord Jeremiah?"
Jeremiah shook his head, smile strained. "I haven't had the honor."
Ashra clapped a hand to Jeremiah's shoulder. "Just say the word, and it's yours!" he declared with a laugh.
Jeremiah rolled his eyes.
Suzaku smiled. It's good to see that someone has found their place in the world.
Suzaku's unit had failed, and been wiped out. Where did that leave him?
"Honestly, though, boss," Schnee griped, flushed red with drink as Suzaku took another swig, "you didn't have to cut my freaking hands off."
Suzaku exploded into laughter, his mouthful of beer spraying into the middle of their circle. Alcohol dripped down his flightsuit as he laughed. "I'm-I'm sorry!" he said, guffawing. "I didn't kn-know how else to get you out!"
"I could have kept fighting!" Schnee claimed.
"Your legs and your head were cut off," Ledo deadpanned.
"Was but a scratch!"
Suzaku laughed again, along with everyone else. Still chuckling, he took a drag off his cigarette, enjoying the burst of nicotine that shot through him. For just a moment, he thought he saw Lelouch and Nunnally sitting there with them, smiling.
I will make a better world, he promised. All of this, what happened to you, I will make it mean something.
Suzaku's head shot up. Cecile was waving from the side of the Lancelot's transport trailer, a happy smile on her face. Suzaku hurriedly flicked the cigarette to the side, jumped up and ran towards her. She hopped off the trailer, sprinting for him.
They met in the middle, her arms thrown around his neck, his around her waist, their lips met, and the world melted away.
It reasserted itself a few moments later, as they both blushed at the cheers and whistling that erupted around them.
Trauma Ward, Frankfurt General Hospital, Frankfurt, Federal Republic of Germany
Ryo rubbed his face, exhausted. The survivors of the W-0 Unit sat around Akito's bed, waiting impatiently for their XO to awaken. Akito was covered in bandages, and a plastic tube fed him down his throat. He had lost his left eye, and there was a chance he was going to lose his right leg below the knee. His left hand had been crushed, but had already undergone reconstruction. Considering the others were dead, it was a welcome reprieve.
Ayano sniffed. There were bandages on her cheek and forehead, but otherwise she was fine. Ryo's own hands were swathed in bandages from where he'd burned them. They stung, even through the medicine, but he could still use them.
He placed one of those burned hands on her shoulder. "He's gonna be fine, Ayano," he reassured her.
She nodded. "I know," she said, her voice small.
Yukiya was pulling allnighters with the cyber ops people; otherwise he'd have been there too. Anne was the same.
Ryo looked down at his comatose friend. What I wouldn't give for us to swap places.
There was a knock at the door. Ryo and Ayano turned to see Leila standing there.
She looked haunted. Her cheeks were shallow, her hair brittle. Her eyes were shadowed by bags. She was still in her flight suit, just like Ryo.
Man, even haggard, she's hot.
"I hate to intrude," she said hoarsely. "But we have to go."
"Are we being deployed?" Ryo asked.
"No. We're heading to Berlin. The Council of Forty has reestablished the government there. The W-0 unit is to receive the Legion of Merit for our service during the Battle of the Rhine."
"Is that what they're calling it?" Ryo asked. "I'd have gone with the 'Ass Rapin,' but maybe that's just me."
"Regardless, that's where we're heading," Leila said.
Ryo raised an eyebrow. "What? No reaming for my language? Or my disrespect?"
"I don't have the luxury of being upset about your foul mouth," Leila said. "We need to go, now."
Something was strange, Ryo could tell. Maybe it was just grief from what had happened to Akito and the rest of the W-0, but Ryo didn't think that was all. There was a strange light in Leila's eyes; a quiet fury being held just barely on a leash.
Just what the Hell is going on?
"Is there anything else?" he asked.
Leila shook her head. "All will be explained on the plane."
"We're taking a plane?" Ayano asked. "What about the RAF?"
"We don't have a choice," Leila explained. "The roads are crammed with soldiers and refugees. There's no time."
"Why the big rush?" Ryo asked. "What's so-"
"Enough," Leila interjected. "We're leaving, and that's all there is to it. Now come on. Everything will be explained on the flight over." She left without looking at Akito.
Ryo glanced over to where Akito's body lay on the bed. He nodded to Ayano. "Come on, there's nothing we can do here. Let's go."
li Britannia Estate, Pendragon, Archduchy of Arizona, Holy Empire of Britannia
"And so, Your Highness, that's why we came to you," Ruben's granddaughter, Milly, finished. The buxom blonde bowed her head as she held out the envelop containing the USB drive with their proof.
Euphemia nodded to Alfred, who proceeded to take the envelope from the girl and passed it to the Princess.
"From the bottom of my heart, I hope this is but a misunderstanding," Euphemia said, clutching the packet in her hand. "I pray that it is not true, that you have falsified this footage in some way. I hope you understand that I am not demeaning you. Only that to accept this as proof is to accept atrocity."
Milly bowed her head. "I know, Your Highness."
"Henrietta," Euphemia said to one of her maids, "prepare rooms for Miss Ashford and Mister Cardemonde. They are, henceforth, under my protection. Sir Alfred, ensure that a security detail is assigned to them at all times."
She received confirmations from both in reference. "You must be tired," she said. "You may retire to your chambers."
Rivalz bowed to her. "Thank you, Your Highness."
The lovers departed the room.
Once the door clicked into place, Alicia stated, "If that footage is published, you'll be signing their death warrants, Your Highness."
Euphemia sighed. "Yes, I know," she agreed.
She couldn't protect them. Not from her Father. Not from the Imperial Bureau of Investigation. Euphemia was gaining influence, it was true; but she would never have the kind of influence these two needed to keep them safe.
Probably not even myself.
"Which is why I want them underground immediately," she said. "Ruben and his family, too."
"You intend to publish?" Clara asked incredulously.
"I do," Euphemia said with a nod. "Clara, Alicia, you're fired. Find some other employer. Alfred, you are dismissed from my service."
"That won't protect any of us," Alicia said dismissively. "We'll all be dead before the week is out."
"Alice!" Euphemia said, leaning forward. A hand was placed on her shoulder.
"We aren't afraid, Your Highness," Alfred said with a smile that made Euphemia's stomach twist pleasingly. "We will not leave your side."
"Speak for yourself, I'm certainly afraid!" Clara retorted. "There's no way the Emperor doesn't have us under surveillance! Do you seriously think that no one here is on his payroll?"
"Have leads on that, do you?" Alfred asked pointedly.
"Alfred!" Euphemia said, that pleasant feeling gone. She swatted his hand from her shoulder. "I won't have us throwing accusations at each other."
"Apologies, Your Highness. Miss Lanfranc, I beg-"
"Oh save it! Of course I forgive you, ya big dummy!" Clara said with faux cheer.
"Getting back to the point," Alicia said, adjusting her glasses, "the fact of the matter is, His Majesty hasn't moved against us because we're not significant enough yet. This changes that."
"Yeah, it paints a target on all our backs!" Clara repeated. "And it'll be for nothing! This will get suppressed as soon as it's out there!"
"I don't think so," Alicia disagreed. "The Britannian people are a passionate one. So long as a war is just, they'll support any sacrifice needed to attain victory. If we can cast doubt on the righteousness of the cause, it may be possible to increase our effectiveness a hundredfold."
"Regardless, I want these murderers behind bars," Euphemia said, choosing now to end the discussion. "We will present the evidence at the next session of Parliament. Clara, Alicia, you are dismissed."
The two ladies bowed to her and departed.
Euphemia stood from her seat and approached the window. She gazed outside. It was raining, casting a depressing gray tone over the li Britannia estate.
Alfred approached her and placed his hand on her shoulder again. "We won't get the individual killers, Your Highness. Any of them."
"No," Euphemia agreed. "But we will get the regional commanders, and I doubt they'll go down alone."
Euphemia snorted. "I don't need you to agree with me, Alfie," she said. "Just...be there for me, when I make the plunge."
"As you say, Your Highness."
She smiled. Warmth was radiating from where his hand was touching her. She covered it with her own.
"Euphie," she corrected him softly. "In private, call me Euphie."
War Room, Avalon, Above Occupied France
"As you can see," Duke Calares began, "our forces have breached the defenses around Budapest. Progress is slow, but we are taking key streets and city sectors. If the present condition continues, we should have Budapest wrapped up in two weeks."
"We don't have two weeks," Gino argued. "The Russians aren't going to sit on their hands while we carve up Europe. I'm surprised we haven't seen any of their flags yet."
Nonette agreed, though she didn't show it. The entire War Council stood around a digital representation of the map of Europe. Modifications had been made to show the extent of the Empire's progress, which ended at the Rhine in the West, but was more tentative and fluctuating in the East.
"I agree with Sir Weinberg," the Grand Duke said. "The Euros ground our offensive to a halt at the Rhine. The reason we've gotten as far as we have is that their entire Knightmare arsenal was neutralized and we advanced quickly enough to prevent them from blowing the bridges. Those advantages are now gone." He glared at Schneizel.
The Prime Minister ignored the obvious implication. "It should also be noted that we took the Low Countries. And," he smiled smugly, "Sacred Albion has been returned to the fold."
Calares banged the table alongside several others. "Huzzah!"
"We have also received feelers," Schneizel continued, "from Norway for a separate peace. I expect to receive even more in the coming days."
"That's going to dry up when they realize we aren't coming," Gino retorted obstinately. "With the bridges out all over the Rhine, all that's left is the North Sea and the mountains. It was a bitch and a half to get through the Pyrenees, and we needed defections to get through the Alps." He narrowed his eyes at Castor and Pollux. "And then there's Pa-"
"Ukraine," Nonette interrupted. She sent Gino a warning glare. He returned it, not backing down, but Nonette rushed to cut him off. "Ukraine will let us know whether we'll have to deal with the Russians anytime soon. Haven't our intelligence sources stated that both they and Poland are refusing Russian troops passage through their highway networks?"
Schneizel nodded. "They are," he confirmed. He smiled. "Leave it to the Slavs to undermine European stability at a crucial moment."
A round of laughter went around.
"We burned Paris!" Gino barked, snapping all heads to him. "There's not telling how many people we killed! Aside from the fact that the city had surrendered-" he glared fully at Nonette this time. She pursed her lips, "- there's the simple fact that we will never be able to make up the time we lost torching the city! The whole reason we're having this conversation is that their illustrious Highness'-" he stabbed a finger at the twins, "- thought it would be a great idea to repeat the Bonfire of the Vanities! We're stuck here because of them!"
A cold silence descended around the table. The brothers Pollux looked fit to explode. Nonette could only stare at Gino in horror.
What have you done?
Schneizel coughed. "Sir Weinberg," he said, "your concerns are noted and appreciated. The very points you raise were all factored into our decision making process."
He smiled, a cruel smile filled with every ounce of malevolence that Nonette thought the man could muster. "Rest assured: everything is proceeding as planned. This war is won. All we await now is the final blow."
Office of the Ambassador of Japan to China, The Forbidden City, Beijing, Chinese Federation
"What do you mean he won't let us through?" Lelouch demanded.
Kaguya bowed her head deeper. "My Lord, I do apologize," she said, "but Mr. Andropov says the Russian government has no intention of letting us pass through their territory, for any reason."
"Did he say why?"
"No, My Lord. Only that the sovereignty of Russian territory would be protected."
Lelouch fumed. Of all the times to pull this crap. He turned to one of the servant girls. "Bring him in here. Now!"
The girl bowed. "Right away, My Lord," she said. She scurried out of the room.
"Europe is falling to pieces," Lelouch said to Kaguya, "the Empire has conquered the Franco-Anglosphere, the East is aflame, and they're concerned about their sovereignty?" He snarled. "Something stinks here, Kaguya. They're being intentionally obtuse, and I want to know why."
Kaguya nodded. "I heartily agree with you, Your Highness. However, I should note that there has been centuries of enmity between Russia and China, since the days of the Mongol Empire. Such longstanding feuds are capable of engendering mistrust between potential allies."
That was true. The Russians had spent nearly two centuries yoked to the Mongol horde. It was possible the Russians still felt a great deal of resentment of their centuries past enslavement.
Now isn't the time for ancient feuds! The enemy is on the move! It's on your very doorstep!
Surrenders were coming in from all of the rebel territories. Every day brought more of the Federation back into the fold. Now was the time to strike.
Lelouch turned to Kallen. "Tell Urabe to begin amassing our troops on the Russian border," he ordered. "Inform the Russians of our every movement so as not to arouse their concern. I do not want to start a fight with the Bear."
"On it!" Kallen saluted and left.
"The Russians are very likely not to heed our warnings," Kaguya warned him. "They have made it quite clear that they do not trust you."
"True," Lelouch agreed. "But the courtesies of diplomacy must be observed."
Kaguya bowed her head.
The door to the room opened, the maid servant reappeared. "His Excellency the Ambassador of the Russian Federal Republic, Mister Dmitri Andropov." She gave a brief bow to Andropov and let the man in.
Andropov gave Lelouch a quick nod. "Zero. To what do I owe the pleasure of your summons?"
Lelouch cut right to the chase. "We need access through EU lines for our troops and material if we are to assist you in the defense of Europe. The border must be opened, and our troops afforded every advantage they may enjoy to reach the frontlines."
Andropov sniffed. "Zero, as I made clear to the Lady Sumeragi, the Russian people will neither accept nor allow the movement of foreign troops on our sovereign territory."
"Why?" Lelouch demanded, growing impatient. "Our nations are both at war with the Britannian Empire. Chinese arms and Japanese Sakuradite could be the deciding factors that win this war. They certainly can't hurt."
"Be that as it may, our nations are not allies, and not one of the European powers has recognized the legitimacy of your government," Andropov explained. "And given your penchant for terrorism, that is unlikely to change."
Lelouch fumed. "The EU were one of several providers of arms and funding for the Japanese resistance movement in the years prior to the Black Knights," he retorted. "What, pray tell, has changed?"
"Those resources were provided to what was declared the legitimate government-in-exile," Andropov countered. "You overthrew what was internationally recognized as the legitimate government in the form of Prime Minister's Sawasaki's office and Cabinet. Every member of that government is now either dead or missing. The EU has neither the obligation nor the inclination to partner with a terrorist regime."
Kaguya leaned forward. "What is wrong with you?" she asked. "France and Albion have both fallen, half of Europe is either occupied or in flames, and you're arguing semantics? Has not Britannia wiped whole nations from the face of the earth?"
"We will not justify your own sins by pointing to Britannia."
Lelouch clenched his fist. He slipped off his helmet, surprising the ambassador. "Obey!" he commanded.
Andropov stiffened. His eyes lit up a hazy red. "Yes, Your Highness!"
"What the Hell is going on?" Lelouch demanded. "What's the real reason you're not letting us through?"
"I don't know," Andropov answered monotonously.
"What do you mean you don't know?" Kaguya asked. If she was surprised by the man's sudden cooperation, she didn't show it. "You're the ambassador! They must have told you something!"
Lelouch raised a hand. "Kaguya, he won't listen to you," he told her. She blinked questioningly at him. Lelouch repeated the question.
"I have no idea why the Foreign Office is acting in this matter," Andropov answered. "I have been pushing for months for an alliance with your nations, but have been rejected every time the discussion was had."
"You what?" Kaguya asked. "All this time, you've been-" She cut herself off, looked to Lelouch. "Your Highness, something is very wrong here!"
"What are your current orders?" Lelouch asked.
"To stall you for as long as possible."
The hairs on the back of Lelouch's neck stood up straight. "Why?"
"I do not know."
Before the man had even finished, Lelouch was turning to Kaguya. "Advise the Tianzi to move as many of her troops to the border with the Russians as she possibly can," he ordered. "Get all naval assets on high alert. Something big is coming, but I don't know what."
"It shall be done."
She gave him a parting kiss on the cheek as she left, a flush to her complexion.
Lelouch shook it away. He didn't have time to contemplate it.
There was someone he needed to speak to. Someone who might know more.
Reichstag, Berlin, Federal Republic of Germany
The German Reichstag little resembled the Parliament building of old. The original Reichstag had been destroyed during the final stages of the Second German Rebellion, when Franco-Russian troops bombarded it wholesale during the Battle of Berlin. Germany had been partitioned into smaller constituent states, but protests and a plebiscite conducted ten years later had allowed for the reunification of Germany. It was argued at the time that the referendums had been held in accordance with the EU's longstanding doctrine of self-determination.
In reality, it was because the Holy Empire of Britannia had just won the First Pacific War against the then-Empire of Japan, and was fast emerging as an economic and military superpower, with a new expansion minded Emperor at the helm. The result was that it was recognized that the EU, broken and bloody from twenty years of war and economic depression, would need to forgive its member states' past sins in order to prepare for the inevitable confrontation with the Britannian Empire.
The new Reichstag was austere, stately, and painfully claustrophobic to Leila. All around her were soldiers, staffers, aides, and, of course, the sainted magistrates of the Council of Forty. They were all prim and proper, beating their chests for war; those esteemed plutocrats who behind closed doors were preparing to sell out the entire continent so they could grasp at some small vestige of power in the New World Order.
It took everything in her power not to just whip out her pistol and put these traitors down.
"For her heroic service above and beyond the call of duty," the President of the Council of Forty intoned, "it is my honor, and my privilege, to bestow upon Major Leila Malcal, Lieutenant Ryo Sayama, Lieutenant Akito Hyuga, and Lieutenant Ayano Kosaka the Legion of Merit." The dark haired woman held up the medals in question. "Standing in for Lieutenant Hyuga is Major Malcal."
She and Smilas stepped over to them. The President pinned the medal on Leila's breast, then handed her the one to give to Akito. Leila restrained the urge to strike. The President did the same with Ryo, who took the medal from her stiffly.
The President returned to the podium. "Secretary General Gene Smilas will now present to you a few prepared remarks for this auspicious occasion." She gestured to Smilas. He took it with a gruff thanks.
"Honorable representatives of the Council of Forty," he began, "and esteemed dignitaries from across the EU, I thank you for this honor." The chamber broke out into applause. Leila gripped the medal box with iron fingers. "It is good and proper that we met here to honor and remember the deeds and sacrifices of those who could not be on this stage. They who were injured and in recovery, or crippled for life, or gone from this world to whatever awaits us on the other side.
"I shall speak frankly. I am a military man, and can think of no other way. We have been at war with the Empire for seven years. Seven long, bloody, heartbreaking years. In that time we have lost the Atlantic, the whole of Africa, and control of the Mediterranean. Personal intrigues and betrayal cost us the Spaniards and the Italians, and now, blind incompetence has brought the enemy to our very doorstep."
Leila reveled in seeing the traitors squirm.
"For too long," Smilas continued, "this war has been run by politicians and bureaucrats, obsessed only with the powers of their departments, the comportment to their status, the wealth of their sycophants!"
Cries of protest were starting to arise from the assembled delegation.
The President approached Smilas angrily. "Gene," she hissed, "this wasn't-"
"Now those same spineless jellyfish," Smilas barked, "seek to surrender our lands, our cultures, our very way of life, to a race of butchers and maniacs! Well, I will not have it!"
Members started to get up and shout at him.
"Get him out of here!"
"You dare! You dare!"
"Silence this upstart!"
"Who do you think you are?"
"This body is incapable of defending and preserving the dignity and honor of Europe!" Smilas bellowed. "Therefore, let it be dissolved!"
"Gene!" the President shouted. "How dare-"
Leila pulled her pistol and, though she was sorely tempted to blow the woman's brains out, fired a shot into the ceiling.
Guns flashed throughout the chamber. Soldiers streamed in, guns at the ready, forcing the honorable members back into their seats.
"From this day forward," Smilas declared, "the Army will be taking full control of the war effort until this crisis has abated! Until the last Britannian fool has been excised from this continent, and Europe stands free, united, and invincible! EUROPA INVICTA!"
"EUROPA INVICTA!" Leila shouted with the others.
Soldiers throughout the chamber thrust their fists into the air.
li Britannia Estate, Pendragon, Archduchy of Arizona, Holy Empire of Britannia
Euphemia wasn't sure what had awoken her. It was dark in her room, the shades drawn against the flashes of thunder outside. Her hair was combed out and loose, and she wore a sheer bed gown translucent on her ivory skin. She sat up in bed, rubbed her forehead, moaned.
Euphemia blinked, starting to come to full wakefulness. "What? Is someone there? Alfie?"
She felt a pressure building up in her temple. "Uuuhh...what?"
She rose from her bed. Her head swam. Her thoughts were thick, muddled. "What...is...it?"
She grabbed the poster of her bed for support. "The-The de...desk...what?"
She wandered over to her desk. "Wh...at?"
She pulled the envelop containing the USB out of her drawer. She slid it out of the envelope.
Through the fog she staggered to the door, opened it. Outside was a shadow, a shadow darker than all the shadows in a hall of darkness.
The shadow slid its arms around Euphemia's waist, kissed her on the lips. As Euphemia melted into it, a shadowy hand cupped her buttocks, while another squeezed her breast. Her mouth filled, the shadow's hand slipped the USB from hers. The shadow pulled away.
The fog swallowed her whole.
Cecile Croomy's Trailer, Camelot Staging Area, Strasbourg, Occupied Germany
"How on Earth did you get calimari?" Suzaku asked incredulously. The fried squid tentacle practically wiggled around on his fork as he put it in his mouth.
Cecile winked at him saucily. "That's a trade secret," she said conspiratorially.
Suzaku laughed. He wasn't going to complain. Cecile couldn't cook to save her life most days, but it seemed she pulled out every culinary trick at her disposal to make the morsel slithering down his throat taste heavenly. Perhaps she had been cooking the wrong culture's food. Or maybe it was the teriyaki sauce?
All he knew was that it tasted fantastic.
Maybe the secret ingredient is drugs?
Cecile sat down across from him, the jolt from the impact causing her bosom to ripple. She was wearing a low cut blue top that exposed the rising slopes of her breasts, the bottom hem tied up to reveal the flat expanse of her navel. Suzaku was thinking he might want to try something else for dinner tonight. "I was thinking we would visit the beach down at Marseille," she ventured as she dipped her own calamari into some honey mustard. "Go boating, swim in the Mediterranean." Her pale skin flushed at the cheeks. "Find a secluded cove, perhaps?"
Suzaku swallowed hard, though there was nothing in his mouth. "That-" He coughed. "That sounds like fun." He turned an eye out the window. "We won't have to bring Lloyd along with us, will we?"
Cecile laughed. "Oh, Heavens no!" she assured him, still laughing. She touched her hand to her lips. "Lloyd wouldn't be caught dead in a pair of trunks!"
Suzaku chuckled. He rested his hand on his chin. "It would be interesting," he noted, "to see you in a bikini."
She flushed to the roots of her hair. "Suzaku!"
Suzaku laughed. Cecile leaned forward, giving him a jaw dropping view down her shirt. His laughter dried up.
"And here I thought," she said silkily, "that you were a gentleman." She pulled at her shirt front, causing her chest to squish together. He swallowed again. She gave him a light, teasing smirk. "Perhaps I should...educate you, on how to treat a woman?"
Suzaku's expression froze. "I, uh… that is..." He took a sip of tea, then said, "I'm always up for learning new things. Provided I have a good teacher."
She gave him a smile, one filled with promise. "I assure you, I-"
They both jumped when there was a knock on the door.
"Seriously?" Suzaku cursed. As Cecile went to get the door, he held up a hand. "Wait, I've got it."
He reached the door handle, silently grumbling about the slackening of his pants, and jerked the door open. "What?" he growled. He came to stiff attention, gulped. "Um, s-sorry, Lady Enneagram!" he yelped.
The Knight of Nine crossed her arms, eyebrow cocked. "I do so hope I'm not interrupting anything," she said. "Wouldn't want to take time out of your busy schedule."
"N-Not at all!"
She rolled her eyes, handed him a sealed envelop. "That's the summons to your Knighting ceremony," she said. "Two o'clock PM, tomorrow. Do not be late."
"Yes-I mean, No, I won't be late!-I mean, I'll...I'll be there," Suzaku said lamely.
Enneagram hummed. "Right. See that you are. And Kururugi?"
"Yes, My Lady?"
She looked him up and down. He followed her gaze and grimaced. He was wearing a sleeveless T and a pair of baggy shorts.
Guest Apartments, The Forbidden City, Beijing, Chinese Federation
She was attached to the wall by manacles, but they were loose enough that she could sit and lay on her four poster bed comfortably. The prison room was richly garnished, and she had books aplenty to pass her time. The white gown she wore was supposed to be conservative, yet little was left to the imagination against that skin tight silk.
Even after what she'd done, Lelouch couldn't bring himself to hurt her.
Amber eyes watched him sadly as he sat across from her.
"For whatever it is worth, I am sorry," she said. "They had me before I met you, and by the time you converted me, it was far too late."
"Were you ever going to warn me about the betrayal?" he asked her.
"I did in the end, did I not?"
"Yes. But like you said, far too late." He ran a hand through his hair. "Russian troops are forming up on our borders. Will they attack?"
"Even if I show them the FLEIJA footage?"
"It depends on whether or not they believe the threat. And whether they believe you have more. Diplomacy must be successful. You cannot afford to add the Russians to your list of enemies."
Lelouch nodded. He stood. I must do what I can.
"What will you do with me?" she asked.
"I think we both know the answer to that," he said.
She gave a slow nod. "Come see me? Before the end?"
"I'll have to anyway."
"Not as an executioner, Lelouch. As a man to a woman."
He swallowed the lump in his throat.
"You believe they plan to attack?" the Tianzi repeated.
Zero nodded. "The chatter we're picking up, combined with the amount of troops that are being positioned on the border, can leave little room to doubt. The EU appears intent on launching an invasion of the Chinese Federation."
"That doesn't make any sense," Xingke said. "The Imperials have swept through Europe like a scythe through grass. Why would the EU want to pick a fight with the Federation at this time?"
"I don't know," Zero admitted. "It's possible the Russians have been paid off by the Empire, or that they have decided to go on their own. Nationalistic sentiments were increasing all throughout the EU for years. The Imperial Blitzkrieg may very well have been the final straw."
He turned to the Empress. "Whatever the reason, we need as many troops on the border as is possible."
The Tianzi pursed her lips. "Xingke," she said, "what is the current disposition of our forces?"
"Fragile, Your Majesty," he answered. "All of our supply lines, transports, and units have been designated for cleanup operations throughout the north. If we redeploy them now, without a clear plan in place, it will turn to chaos."
"How long will it take to draw up those plans?"
"At least three days, a week at most."
"Your Majesty," the Lady Sumeragi said, "we may not have three days before the EU crosses the border."
"What we may need," Xingke interrupted, "and what we can do are two entirely separate things. One does not simply turn around an entire army."
"Nevertheless," Zero said, "it must be done. We have already informed the Indians of the necessity of reorganizing their troops along the border, and they are in the process of doing so. The rest of the Federation must do the same."
The Tianzi tapped her throne with irritation.
Now! Why now!
"And what of FLEIJA?" she asked. "Can the Russians be tempered with threat of its use?"
"We have but one left, Your Majesty," Kaguya informed her. "It will take at least a week to have the materials for the implosion device, longer for multiple rockets. And none of our troops are in place to take advantage of an opening."
"I have submitted a diplomatic request to meet with the Prime Minister of Russia," Zero added, "and have sent the footage from the initial deployment, but there is no guarantee that he will meet with us."
The Tianzi's nostrils flared. She turned to Xingke. "Do what needs to be done, Commander," she ordered. "We will not lose our Empire at the moment we have regained it!"
Xingke bowed. "It will be done, Your Majesty."
Above Paris, Occupied France
This is so surreal, Suzaku thought.
The Lancelot flew in the Emperor's Honor Guard, flanked by several members of the Knights of the Round. The Avalon was directly behind them, mammoth in its size and power projection. They were on course for the city of Versailles, the one-time seat of the Ancien Regime.
But to be in the Emperor's Honor Guard, he thought. This is insane!
A blonde haired Rounds Knight by the name of Gino Weinberg had been the one to extend the invitation, on behalf of the Emperor. Evidently, His Majesty had witnessed the showdown in Mainz and been suitably impressed.
To be recognized by the Emperor himself! A gleeful grin played across Suzaku's features. My hard work is paying off!
"Imperial One, beginning descent," a mechanical tone stated. "Advance guard, cleared to begin descent."
Suzaku adjusted the yoke so that he was in sync with the others. He had been wedged into the formation between Sir Weinberg and Dame Anya Alstreim. To their left was Dame Enneagram, and on their opposite side was Sir Bradley and Dame Dorothea Ernst. Sir Bismark Waldstein, Knight of One, headed the Guard.
On the ground below, Lord Jeremiah lead the head of an armored column, owing to the prestige of his own heroism during the Battle of France.
Versailles was a suburb of Paris itself, and had been surprisingly untouched by the fighting. There was a sort of regal austerity; fitting for a town once built for kings. They landed with aplomb in the town square, where Suzaku could see the white faces of the building that he hadn't been able to see from above. The streets were wide, and seemed more for walking than driving.
Maybe Cecile and I should tour this place once this is all over. He shook his head. Maybe think about the issue at hand, Suzaku.
As he marched, to the right he could see a plenty blonde reporter that looked a lot like Milly, and a cameraman who looked a lot like Rivalz. He confirmed it for himself when he saw Milly's happy wave.
He grinned at them, wished he could wave back.
Good to see they're ok.
"Present arms!" Jeremiah ordered.
Their lances rose, forming a steeple. Two long rows of Knightmares stood in a column parallel to one another, their capes flapping in the wind. Between those Knightmares marched Knights in full regalia, theirs swords held before them. First was a selection of frontline battle commanders who, like Jeremiah, had distinguished themselves in combat. Second was the Knightly Orders, led first by Lord Farnese, then du Villon, then Saint-Gilles, then- then the Knights of the Round.
Jeremiah blinked with surprise. He tilted his head.
Shang is being marginalized, even here.
At first he thought it was because of Shang being an Eleven, but that thought was blown out of the water when he saw who was tailing at the end of the Rounds.
This is insane!
Suzaku's heart was pounding in his chest. His hands were sweaty inside his gloves, though his brow was, thankfully, clear of perspiration. Amid the flurry of capes and white Victorian dress coats, he was certain he stood out in his brown dress uniform, his captain insignia pinned proudly to his lapel. He had been advised to choose a white mask for the procession, starched and pressed to a near sheen. He had no sword to speak of, but he had been given the singular honor of bearing the Union Jack. It flapped proudly in the wind above Suzaku's head.
Though he kept his eyes straight forward, he was aware of the strange looks he was getting from all quarters; from the civilians watching from their windows, to the soldiers on the ground, be they ally or enemy. He didn't blame them; he couldn't believe he was here.
They made it to the head of the procession. As the Rounds lined up on either side, Suzaku marched forward. He stopped exactly ten feet away from them, then turned to face the retinue at the rear, flag planted into the ground.
At the end of the parade, the Royal berth rolled forth, a massive blue platform shaped like a pyramid. Surrounding it at floor level were all the members of the Royal Family, haughty and proud. At the top of the pyramid was the Emperor himself, stoic and solemn. Trumpeters dressed in white and purple heralded his coming.
The pyramid came to a stop. The Emperor slowly descended, his every step measured and calculated, the clicking of his boots loud over the din. The Royal Family bowed to him as he passed them by, then fell in behind him at double rank.
Suzaku stood stock still, only his head moving to acknowledge the passing of His Majesty. He spun on his boot heel to follow his master, flag raised over his head again.
His throat tightened painfully as he realized who was just behind him.
What cruelty is this, brother Schneizel?
Euphemia's fingernails bit into her hands. The sting of cut skin was nothing against the ripping apart of her heart. Her dark blue dress was impossibly tight on her.
He's right there! Right there!
It was taking everything in her not to reach out to him.
Why would you do this to us?
She glanced over at her brother, but he wouldn't look her way.
Resentment swelled within her.
You will never have the Throne!
Suzaku took his place at the top of the staircase, his wonderful, horrible presence ushering them inside. Euphemia could sense the sneers all around her as they passed him; she bit her cheek against the need to lash out, defend him.
She knew why she was here, and she hated every second of it.
This is for my peace efforts, isn't it? Revenge for my attempts to end this war.
How could you? How could you?
Ball Room, Versailles
Jeremiah adjusted his cravat subtly. The ballroom was packed to the gills with courtiers, Knights, officers, and Royalty. Jeremiah stood at the front rank, alongside Brondello, Ashra, and two other men he didn't recognize. They were all to be recognized for their achievements during the Battles of France and the Rhine.
Kururugi was somewhere near the back, an act of petty discrimination that set Jeremiah's teeth on edge. The boy had made a powerful, ferocious stand in the face of overwhelming odds. He deserved to be standing up there with Jeremiah and the others. He'd said as much to him in the antechamber.
"The fact I'm even here is victory enough," the young man had replied cheerfully.
There was to be a party at Jeremiah's hotel room, to which he was cordially invited. Jeremiah looked forward to rubbing Suzaku's presence in all of their faces.
The same invitation had been extended to Shin. He couldn't do otherwise; the man was far too dangerous, even politically isolated as he was. Perhaps especially as he was.
The trumpets sounded. The column marched forward, their boots stomping imposingly on the white floor as they crossed the hall.
His Majesty sat upon a grand throne that wouldn't have looked out of place in a nineteenth century throne room. His demeanor was austere, and he stared down at them from a raised head.
They came to a stop five yards from the throne, clasped their fists to their breasts.
"YOUR MAJESTY!" they all cried out. "WE LIVE TO SERVE!" They bowed as one.
The Emperor waited a beat, then stood. "All men are not created equal," he began. "Some are born faster. Some are born smarter. Some stronger. Some weaker. This is the universal truth of existence."
He gazed out over the assembly. "In the annals of war and peace, in politics and economics, no nation has ever approached the heights to which our Holy Empire has ascended. None would dare try. None would have the courage to accept the burden that we have assumed, the mantle of responsibility that we have wrapped around our own shoulders."
He raised up a hand. "We have cast off the weaknesses of our species, and broken the limits of human possibility. By accepting the precepts of Saint Darwin, we have parted the wheat from the chaff, culled the sick from the herd, and reaped a mighty bounty."
He gestured to Jeremiah and the others. "Today we honor those who, for however brief a moment, have transcended the boundaries of human capacity, and have given us a glimpse of the glorious future that we strive for."
The Emperor sat back down. Prime Minister Schneizel el Britannia stepped forward. "Sir Ashley Ashra, step forward."
The red haired Knight approached His Highness, for once his behavior entirely respectful.
"For gallantry in the face of the enemy," the Prime Minister said, "we do hereby award you with the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross."
"I thank you, Your Highness." Ashra bowed so that the medal could be placed over his head. He bowed again once it was finished, and returned to his place in the column.
"Sir Luigi Brondello," His Highness called out.
Brondello visibly swallowed. Jeremiah resisted the urge to pat the man on the back. He approached the Prime Minister a tad quicker than Ashra.
"For gallantry in the face of the enemy, we do hereby award you with the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross."
"I-I thank you, Your Highness!"
There was a little tittering around the hall at his stammer. Brondello blushed from his position. A quick look from Schneizel silenced them. The Prime Minister placed his medal around the man's neck. Brondello hurried back to his place in the column.
"Margrave Jeremiah Gottwald."
Jeremiah's boots clicked easily across the floor. He took his place.
"For gallantry in the face of the enemy above and beyond the call of duty," the Prime Minister said, "we do hereby award you the Victoria Cross."
Jeremiah's chest squeezed. There was a lump at the back of his throat, even as the room erupted in cheers around him.
"I..." Jeremiah swallowed heavily. "I thank you, Your Highness."
The medal was placed around his neck, and Jeremiah rejoined the line.
There was a low buzzing in his ear. The Victoria Cross!
The highest military honor of the Holy Empire of Britannia. He could never have imagined that he would have been so honored.
The rest of the ceremony passed by in a whirl.
Suzaku smiled from his position at the rear of the column.
You certainly earned it, Lord Jeremiah.
The ceremony passed relatively swiftly, considering the size of it. There were over a hundred men and women being honored for their gallantry in combat, though as they reached the end none of them rose as high as Lord Jeremiah in the standings.
Finally, his turn came about.
"Captain Suzaku Kururugi," His Highness announced.
The murmuring in the hall was loud, hundreds of low voices echoing off the pristine walls. The Prime Minister made no attempt to silence them.
Suzaku marched forth from the rear of the column, his back ramrod straight. He caught Cecile's eye, briefly. She wore a yellow dress fitted to her figure that exposed the rounded tops of her cleavage. She gave him a reassuring nod.
He studiously attempted to ignore the pink-haired Princess who once ruled his heart, though he could see that her expression was surprisingly bright.
He stopped before Prince Schneizel, and bowed.
The Emperor arose from his throne.
Everyone in the room came to swift attention. The murmuring stopped instantly.
He came to the top of the dais. One look from him, and the Prime Minister stepped aside. He stretched out a hand. Bismark Waldstein himself unsheathed his sword, bowed, and handed it to the Emperor.
"Kneel," his sovereign rumbled.
Suzaku went on one knee immediately. His heart hammered so hard, he worried it would fly from his chest.
"Wilt thou be a sword of retribution, an avatar of justice?" the Emperor intoned.
Suzaku swallowed. "I will." His voice sounded so much smaller.
"Wilt thou swear thyself to the Emperor of Britannia, its offices and powers, and bind itself to thy future?"
"Wilt thou serve me body, mind, and soul, till the very day you die?"
Suzaku bowed his head even deeper.
"I will, Your Majesty!"
The Emperor tapped his left shoulder with the sword. "Then arise, Sir Suzaku Kururugi," he said, "Knight, of the Rhine."
He tapped Suzaku's other shoulder. "Knight, of Seven."
Suzaku heard audible gasps. He was sure his own was one of them.
"Knight, of Rounds."
Office of the Second Consul, Presidential Palace, Tokyo, United States of Japan
Ohgi placed the phone down. Exhaustion pervaded him.
"That's it," he said to his gathered friends. "That's the last of my duties discharged."
He closed his black filing book and handed it to Yoshida, who would be taking over duties as the Interim Second Consul.
As he looked around, he saw there wasn't a dry eye in the room.
"Hard act to follow up, Ohgi," Yoshida said, his voice thick. "Goddammit, Ohgi. You really set the bar high!"
Ohgi laughed. "Not that high. Not after all the crap I pulled."
"We all pulled it," Inoue reminded him.
Ohgi sighed. "Those girls ever fess up?"
Minami coughed. "Futaba's innocent of any wrongdoing," he said, "but I still recommend we discharge her from the government. The same with Hinata. But Minase's guilty through and through."
"No trace of geass, then?" Ohgi asked.
Minami shook his head. "None whatsoever. She won't tell us why. Says she'll only speak to Zero."
Ohgi rubbed his mouth. "Then she's gonna be waiting a while. We-no," he stopped himself. "That's out of my hands now." He gestured to Tamaki. His friend grabbed the handles on his wheelchair. "Let's go."
The Palace was a flurry of activity as they left. Everyone moved to and fro, files in hand, documents, coffee cups. An armed escort brought them outside, and Ohgi was loaded into a van that would be heading to Viletta's apartment.
Out the window, his friends and, now former, compatriots saluted him. He saluted them right back, then relaxed into his seat. He was on the outside now. He'd no longer be apart of high stakes meetings; never again would he be in on decisions that would decide the fate of Japan.
His eyes were wet.
"I think I miss it already."
Master Room, Hotel de Versailles, Versailles, Occupied France
Suzaku's hair was plastered to his forehead. He brushed it from his eyes as he sat up, licked some of the perspiration from his upper lip. He felt drained, but in a good way.
Cecile lay on the bed still, her chest heaving as she tried to catch her breath, arm over her eyes and a contented smile on her parted lips. Suzaku took the opportunity to admire her, scanning first from her pink lips and naked bosom, down her belly to the delta of her thighs where evidence of their lovemaking ran in rivulets to the bed sheets beneath.
He frowned when he saw the dark marks on her hips.
"Sorry about this," he said, running a gentle hand over purple bruises the size of his fingers. "Didn't mean to squeeze you that tight."
Cecile gasped a chuckle. "It's...It's alright, I-" She took a few deep breaths. "I liked it...I liked it a lot."
He spotted blood on the sheets. "I didn't hurt you, did I?" he asked.
"A little," she admitted. "Only...to be expec...pected." She brought her arm down, a shy smile on her face. "You're my first."
Suzaku blushed. "Oh." He scratched the back of his head. "I, uh, I hope I performed...adequately."
Cecile laughed. She sat up, her breasts swaying, and kissed him on the lips.
"I love you," she breathed against his mouth. "I've loved you from the first. I..." She grabbed his hand and brought it to her chest. He cupped her heavy bust, squeezing it gently. She kissed him again. "I'm yours," she whispered. "Now and forever, I'm yours."
He knew how he was supposed to respond. It may have even been how he felt.
He knew, but he couldn't. He gripped the back of her head and closed his mouth on hers. He released his hold on her chest and skimmed down her body till his hand was between her thighs. Her legs snapped shut on his wrist, her fingernails raking across his back.
As he pressed her down to the bed, he imagined that her short dark blue hair was a pink bounty, silk between his fingers; that her wide hips rested at the end of a slender waist; that the gray eyes shining with adoration were a bluish violet.
I wish I had never met you.
He pushed that girl out of his mind, and focused on the woman in his arms.
Suzaku was much more rough when he stroked Cecile this time. Judging by how deeply she groaned and how high she arched her back, she didn't seem to mind.
Jeremiah Gottwald's Hotel Room, Waldorf Astoria Versailles - Trianon Palace, Versailles
"It is utterly outrageous!" Saint-Gilles declared. "An Eleven joining the Knights of the Rounds! Unthinkable."
It was taking everything in Jeremiah not to roll his eyes. The boy had killed more men then the four of them combined. Not to mention the fact that he and his command were the only reason why they had skated through the mountains with such low casualties in the first place. Suzaku had more than earned the right.
But was the Prime Minister expecting the elevation to Rounds? Jeremiah wondered. There had been a slight curl to His Highness' lips, a sneer if Jeremiah perceived correctly. Knighthood had been a guarantee given Suzaku's accomplishments, but Rounds should have been far out of reach.
What game are they playing, I wonder?
"But a Victoria Cross!" Farnese grinned at Jeremiah. "Excellently done, My Lord! If anyone should have made Rounds, it's you! Such a great honor bestowed upon yourself!"
Jeremiah adopted a self effacing smile. "Thank you, Lord Farnese," he accepted graciously. "I can only strive to continue to serve the Empire."
Saint-Gilles laughed. "Such humility! It does an old man good to see such a shining example of chivalry."
Jeremiah wanted to gag.
His hotel room was packed out to the hall with people, almost all of whom had been honorees at the ceremony. He had received more than one glad hand and well wisher, though the presence of the Knightly Grandmasters ensured that their brown nosing was brief. Jeremiah made connections with a large number of them.
"If I may ask," Farnese broke into his thoughts, "where is your young niece? I would think she would be the belle of the ball."
Jeremiah smiled tightly. "Spending the evening with Sir Ashra. He's taken quite the liking to her."
Saint-Gilles chuckled. "Ah, young love."
I sincerely hope not.
There was a sudden hush throughout the room. Jeremiah and the Grandmasters turned toward the disturbance. His eyes widened.
Shin Hyuga Shaing had entered the apartment, an arrogant smirk on his face. His attendant, Dame Row, stood just a step behind him, her cold gaze resting on Jeremiah.
Shaing stopped before him. "Congratulations are in order, My Lord Jeremiah," he said. He held out a hand. "My compliments on your Victoria Cross. I can think of none more deserving."
What poison pill do you thrust before me, Shaing?
Though conversation continued, Jeremiah could feel every eye upon his back. Just how much political capital would he lose in this room if he took Shaing's hand?
And this bastard knows it. But what choice do I have?
He still had the Princess.
Jeremiah took Shaing's hand easily. "Lord Shaing, your words are well received, as is your presence," he lied.
Shaing smirked. "I would not have missed this for the world."
Quarters of the Knight of Nine, Avalon, Above Occupied France
"How long are we going to keep fighting?" Gino demanded forcefully. "We killed millions of people just so we could get ground down on the Rhine!"
Nonette pinched the bridge of her nose, exhausted with the conversation. Gino and Anya were both in her apartment, sitting at her coffee table. Once steaming hot tea sat tepid on the table between them, along with fresh scones and biscuits that hadn't so much as been touched.
"We fought," Nonette said at length, "as we have always fought, to enforce the Emperor's will. That we have stopped at the Rhine is merely a temporary setback."
"That's bullshit and you know it!" Gino retorted.
"We have enough reserves to last seven months," Anya pointed out calmly. "Maybe. Maybe not even that much. We may not even make it past the Rhine."
"Exactly!" Gino said, punching his open palm. "So what was all this for? So a bunch of goddamn Euro plutocrats can sit atop their thrones while Britannian blood runs in rivers? Those maniacs screw the entire war effort, and the Emperor just lets it go!"
Nonette glared at him. "Careful, Gino. You speak of His Majesty."
Gino waved a dismissive hand. "I'm speaking for those who can't speak anymore because they're dead!"
"Does His Majesty realize just how much anger and resentment he's going to create as a result of his actions?" Anya asked. "There have already been protests over grain and fuel prices. Taxes will soon increase. This is sure to anger many in the nobility."
Nonette didn't have a response to that. The problem was, the two of them had a point. How many had died for the dream of coming home? How many who were living would accept this stalemate?
"They will fall in line, as is their duty," Nonette said aloud. "They will fall in line, because they don't have a choice. His Majesty has ended obtained satisfactory results in France."
"Satisfactory?" Gino demanded.
"The war will be won," Nonette continued as if he'd never spoke. "It will be, because His Majesty wills it. We are the instruments of his will, and we will crush the Euros by summer's end. This I am certain of."
Gino leaned back on the sofa. "I'm not," he said, "We were all fighting this campaign with one eye on the fuel gauge." He leaned forward again. "And the idiots responsible for us losing this war are still in charge! Still in line for the Throne!"
Anya nodded her agreement. "Even if we make it through the North Sea, there's the entire breadth of Russia to consider. Not to mention Zero and the Chinese. The opportunity to regain our ancestral lands is gone."
Nonette rolled her eyes. "Lady Alstreim, does your family even have ancestral lands in Europe?"
Anya blushed. "Not as such, no," she admitted. "But that doesn't change facts."
You're only here because you're crushing on Gino. Nonette winced inside. That was uncharitable.
"His Majesty has assured us of victory," she repeated with finality. "That should be the end of it for both of you."
"This is going to cause a civil war, Nonette," Gino stated boldly.
Nonette arched an eyebrow at him. "If there is a rebellion, we will crush it," she said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. "If there are traitors, we will kill them. It's as simple as that."
"Just like that?" Anya asked.
Nonette nodded. "Just like that. We are a Monarchy. The Emperor has decided."
"And you have no problem with this?" Gino asked.
Nonette sipped her tea. "None whatsoever."
Gino stood up. "Well, I do." He grabbed the badge of his office from his coat.
"Gino," Nonette warned, alarmed, "don't do something you'll regret."
"I don't think there's anything I'll regret less," he retorted. He tossed the badge onto the table. "I cannot agree with His Majesty's conduct of this war." He scowled. "My parents waited decades to reclaim what was stolen from my grandparents in Bavaria. They would never have signed on for it if they knew what we were going to do."
"G-Gino!" Anya cried out.
Nonette stood up. She placed a hand on his chest. "Don't do this, Gino," she pleaded. "Please. Don't throw away your future."
For a moment, she saw him waver; but his expression turned to stone. He pushed her hand away from him, turned around, and left.
Nonette's hand hung in space where he had once been. She was vaguely aware of Anya chasing out after him, trying to call him back. She sat back down in her seat, took a sip of tea, and stared at his cold cup.
Parque du Versailles
The night was warm. The Parisian lamps that lit the park cast a romantic glow over the cobblestone walkway that Sayoko rolled Nunnally down. Sir Brondello was a little ways behind them, his trained eyes keeping a lookout for any sign of danger.
Nunnally thought he was casting that eye a little too frequently towards her escort.
Ashley held a strawberry ice cream cone, a pleased look on his face. He wore his red Knight's uniform, for lack of any other attire, which Nunnally would have thought rather dashing in any other circumstance. She was certain that any other woman would have been positively ecstatic to have so prestigious a Knight courting them. Given that she was a hostage against Jeremiah, she found it stifling.
He seems genuine, she considered. But looks can be deceiving.
She took a long, slow lick off of her own vanilla cone, keeping him carefully in her peripheral vision. He followed every motion of her tongue, a hungry look in his eye that had nothing to do with what they were eating.
He's so obvious! But is it a true reaction, or is he playing a part?
"If Your Ladyship would like," Sir Ashra suggested, "there's an antiques shop just outside the park we can visit. I'm certain they'll have something you'll like."
Nunnally smiled. "I'd love to go!"
Brondello gave a loud, pointed cough behind them. "My Lady, it is rather late," he said. "Perhaps it would be better to call it a night?"
Ashley waved a hand. "Nonsense, the night is young yet!"
"I second Sir Brondello's suggestion, My Lady," Sayoko interjected. "It nears one in the morning. My Lady must be up early if she wishes to have breakfast with Lord Jeremiah."
There was a sudden tightness in Ashley's expression.
"I am certain I could wake up in sufficient time," Nunnally made a show of protesting. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the Knight relax.
"Perhaps," Sayoko allowed. "But would you be in any fit state to enjoy it?"
Nunnally sighed, pretending to be put out. "I suppose not," she said in a tone of disappointment. She looked up at Ashley. "When do you think you'll next be available, Sir Ashra?"
"It's 'Ashley,' My Lady," the Knight said. "Whenever it's just us, call me that."
"Okay," Nunnally agreed with a nod.
"And I always have time for you," he promised.
Nunnally took his hand in her own, running her fingers over his wrist. "Thank you so much, Ashley," she all but whispered, batting her eyelashes at him.
His face flushed, but it was the quickening of his pulse that told her the older man was being genuine. Whatever his feelings, they were real.
Would you betray Shaing for me? Nunnally wondered. How far will you turn for me?
Nunnally didn't feel the slightest shred of guilt for what she was doing. This man was holding her hostage, forcing her and her brother's Knight to act as their future figurehead.
The Throne will be my brother's. I have seen it. I have dreamed it.
The end of the Areas. The end of the wars. The end to ugly imperialism, racism, and genocide.
Lelouch would bring an end to all these things. No one would stand in his way. Not Shaing, not Ashra, not Father, not Zero.
Nunnally was drawn from her thoughts by a blob of loud voices shouting angrily in the night. The others didn't quite seem to have heard it yet. Nunnally perked up her ears.
"DEATH TO THE MONARCHISTS!"
"NO KINGS! NO CROWNS! WE'LL BRING IT CRASHING DOWN!"
"NO KINGS! NO CROWNS! WE NEVER WILL BOW DOWN!"
That doesn't sound good. "Does anyone else hear that?" Nunnally asked, though she needn't have.
Both Sayoko and Brondello had already tensed up, while Ashley had placed his hand in his coat.
"We need to return to the apartment, now," Sayoko said.
Ahsley nodded. "Back the other way," he said.
Even as he said that, a large mob came marching around the corner, torches and protest signs held aloft. The different protest chants that had been going had been swallowed up by a universal one:
"VIVE LE FRANCE! VIVE LE FRANCE! VIVE LE FRANCE!"
Nunnally picked up the sound of shattering glass, shouts and screams, even the pop pop of what could only be gunshots. She gasped as she was suddenly lifted from her chair, a familiar weightless sensation passing through her. She found herself clasped to Ashley bosom, staring up at him with wide eyes.
"Leave the chair!" he ordered, every inch the soldier. "We gotta go!"
Brondello and Sayoko took up positions in front of and behind them, weapons flashing into their hands. Fire erupted from a second story house. Machine gun fire rattled in the air a couple of blocks over. The thunderous roar of an explosion threatened to drown everything out.
"Wh-What's happening?" she asked Ashley.
"No idea!" he replied. "And I'm not in a hurry to find out!"
The Emperor's Private Quarters, Avalon, Above Occupied France
"What the Hell was that shit you pulled on the Rhine?" Smilas demanded. The now Dictator of Europe looked impossibly indignant, his hair in disarray, spittle flecking his beard.
Charles raised his hands in a placating gesture. "It wasn't us," he assured the man. "We believe it was Peace Mark saboteurs. I've already put the Glinda's on it."
"Because they've been so reliable in the past," Smilas said sarcastically.
Charles bowed his head to the validity of the query. "I have assigned my best to it," he said. "I can do no more."
Smilas huffed. The soon-to-be Emperor of Europe puffed on a cigar. "Your man almost killed my top lieutenant, and yet you give him a promotion?"
"You were the one who sent her into battle, Smilas," Charles reminded him.
"Because I believed you had betrayed our deal."
"Smilas, how on Earth would I maintain control over all of Europe? I can barely hold on to what I have now. I need a partner, an equal partner, to help shoulder the burden."
Smilas grumbled quietly. "When the time comes, I want Britannian armaments to put down the rebellion in the Balkans. The situation there appears to be spiraling."
"You'll have it," Charles promised.
"Good. Smilas out."
As soon as the feed winked out, Charles rolled his eyes. "Fool. He can no more hold Europe together than I can. This European Empire of his will crumble to dust within five years."
"You received Gino's resignation, didn't you?" Marianne asked Charles.
The two of them sat in his private apartment, glasses of wine in hand. Charles loosened his cravat and sat down across from her. Marianne, in Anya's body, had adopted a skimpy little black outfit that was entirely tasteless given the girl's age.
"I have," Charles acknowledged, taking a long sip of his wine.
He delighted in the long silence that ensued as Marianne shook Anya's head, hands waving. "And?"
He tilted a bemused eyebrow. "And what?"
Marianne crossed Anya's arms. "Don't 'what' me, Charles!" she said petulantly. "Don't tell me you've accepted it!"
Charles shrugged. "Alright, I won't tell you," he agreed.
"That's- You- OH!" She threw a biscuit at him, which Charles ducked with a laugh. "Anya is positively distraught! You know how smitten the girl is with him!"
Charles snorted. "What do I care for teenage love affairs?"
"Considering I'm a part of this particular affair, it should concern you deeply!"
He gave her a hard look. "Why? Are you planning on sleeping with the boy?"
She smirked at him. "Jealous, Charles?" she asked. "If Anya does, I'm sure to be somewhere in the mix!" she chortled.
"Then perhaps I should just have him killed."
Marianne rolled Anya's eyes. "Oh, please, Charles." She waved a hand. "I'm not Nonette. I don't pursue men I could have babysat! But I rather like Anya. When I do finally leave this girl's body, she should have some kind of a going away present for all the trouble I've put her through!" She laughed. "Like little Nunnally and that Ashra boy! Manfredi really liked him, you know? A shame we only found out from his ghost."
Charles pinched the bridge of his nose. "I think you're just trying to play matchmaker," he grumbled. "You tried to set up Schneizel and Cornelia for years, as I recall."
"And it was working, too!" Marianne said proudly. "Why, Schneizel was on the very verge of proposing, before you elected to send our children into hiding and spoiled everything!"
I will never understand women. "That's-"
The communications blister built into his seat beeped. Charles hit the mute button on it.
"That's hardly a valid criticism to throw my way," he continued. "We did that for their own good."
"But the cost, Charles!" Marianne protested, holding Anya's hand before her. "The cost! Cornelia throws herself into warfare, Schneizel into politics, and the stupid girl ends up dead before they can reunite!" She rubbed away a pretend tear. "Oh, how Shakespearean in its tragedy!"
"The lives of others are not lived for your-"
The comm system shrilled suddenly, overriding the mute. Charles glared at it.
I am trying to enjoy some quality time with my wife! What could possibly be so urgent?
"One moment," he told Marianne. He hit the 'Accept' button. "This had better be damned good," he growled.
"Your Majesty!" the voice of Kanon Maldini shrilled. "A thousand apologies, but we have an emergency! An insurrection is breaking out!"
Charles sat up straight. "A what?" he demanded.
"Five districts in Paris have gone into active revolt!" Schneizel's bed mate said. "Fighting has broken out in Marseilles, Amiens, and Bordeaux! The people are in the streets everywhere!"
Charles burned with fury.
"Get our troops on full alert! I want this rebellion suppressed immediately!"
"Yes, Your Majesty!"
Charles clicked the line off. He turned to inform Marianne, only to see her already on the move.
"You should inform V-Two of the changed situation," she advised, throwing on Anya's pink Rounds duster.
Charles nodded. "I'll tell him to go ahead and begin the contingency." He narrowed his eyes. "Nothing will stand in our way."
Guest Apartments, The Forbidden City, Beijing, Chinese Federation
Lelouch and Kallen's boots tapped down the hallway as they approached her prison cell.
"Are you sure this is what you want?" Kallen asked him.
"No," he said. "But it has to be done. I can't take V-Two's Code, but I can take hers. There's no choice."
"Her memories could still return," Kallen pointed out.
"At this point, I doubt it," he retorted. He felt exhausted. "She's gone, and a lot of good men and women have died because of it. I won't let this go any further."
Kallen shuddered, touched a hand to her belly.
"Are you alright?" he asked.
"Yes, it's nothing," she said. "Just feeling a little queasy. It'll pass."
Lelouch nodded. "Wait for me out here."
She pressed his hand, nodded, and stepped aside.
Lelouch entered the room, shut the door behind him. She was in the same white gown, and she gazed at him with the same sad eyes.
"You know what's about to happen," he said.
"I'm...I'm sorry," he said. "This is the only way it can end. I wish it weren't."
"Don't," she said. "You are a King. A King's wish has power."
He had nothing to say to that. He removed his helm, pulled down the mask that shrouded the lower half of his face.
He walked over to her, gently caressed her cheek.
"I love you," he confessed. "I'll never stop loving you. Wait for me, in C's World."
A single tear rolled down her cheek. "I love you," she said. "You had better not be late."
He leaned down to her, and she up to him.
Their lips met softly.
Lelouch held the kiss for as long as he could, then pulled back. He felt the thrum of geass in the air. He kept his eyes closed, not wanting to watch as the tattoo left her forehead.
His eyes snapped open. He looked down.
Amber eyes gazed up at him. Amber eyes he knew. Amber eyes he missed so much.
The power faded as woman looked to man and man to woman.
The woman looked about. "Where...are we? I've had the most peculiar dream."
Lelouch gaped at her. Hesitant joy thrilled through him.
Redo of the Rebellion R2: END